Okay, you’ve read and heard this verse many times. But let’s read it closely and carefully one more time: “All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer” (Acts 2:42, NLT).
Look closely at those last three words in the verse describing the first church: “and to prayer.” Those words are neither incidental nor are they a postscript. In fact, they may well represent the pinnacle of the work and ministry of a local church. Prayer is just that important.
I cannot recall one time any church leader or member argued that prayer is unimportant, particularly in the life of churches. The question, then, is not rhetorical. If prayer is that important for churches, why do many churches give weak or no emphasis to prayer? Why is prayer more happenstance than strategic?
As a starting point to answering those questions, let us look at the challenges we see in prayer ministries in churches. Specifically, we see three mistakes churches make in prayer ministries.
Mistake #1: Going for the Big Numbers
“We will show how important prayer is in our church, so we are going big,” said a pastor whom I was coaching. I appreciate his sentiment but, frankly, most churches cannot sustain large numbers participating in prayer ministries.
Instead, the most effective prayer ministries we’ve observed began with a small number of church members participating. Prayer is powerful with a few committed members. We call such church members “prayer warriors” because they are on the frontlines of spiritual warfare. Many pastors can quickly give you the names of prayer warriors in their churches if you ask them.
Prayer does not have to include many members. In fact, some of the most powerful prayer ministries in churches have included fewer than 10 people.
To be clear, we have seen some incredibly large prayer ministries in churches. Almost all of these ministries began small and grew organically. One church asked someone to pray for the church once a week. They were able to enlist eight persons, so they asked them to pray on a different day of the week, with two obviously on one of the days.
Over about at ten-year period, the church had 168 people praying, one for each hour of the day for a week. When the 3:00 AM Tuesday prayer warrior finished praying at 4:00 AM, she called the next person to begin praying. It is a powerful ministry with a waiting list now, but it began small.
Mistake #2: Depending on the Big Event
When I was a pastor of a church in Birmingham, I invited a well-known and respected prayer and conference leader to speak and lead our church to a greater emphasis on prayer. I led a big push to get as many people at the event as possible, and we had over 500 members participate.
The conference leader did a great job and motivated us to become a true house of prayer. To be clear, this leader did everything right. I was the problem.
I put forth a concerted effort toward a big event, but I did not lead our church to become a consistently praying church. I put all of my effort into the event and almost zero effort toward organizing a sustained prayer ministry in our church.
You can imagine what transpired. Our emphasis on prayer faded quickly.
Mistake #3: Praying That Does Not Include Praying for the Pastor
A church member recently asked me where her church should begin to develop a prayer ministry. I responded quickly, “Begin an intercessory prayer ministry for your pastor.”
Frances Mason is with the Lord now, but she was one of the greatest prayer warriors I have ever known. Much to my surprise, she gathered over 100 people to commit to pray for me as their pastor every single day at noon. Regardless of where they were or what they were doing, these men and women paused and prayed for me even if it was for just a few seconds.
I began to sense God’s power in my life like I have rarely known. The church became more unified than it ever had. It was amazing: over 100 people were praying for their pastor every day.
In nearly seven decades of life, I have not seen pastors attacked and demoralized as much I have today. Ministry drop out is accelerating. Depression and anxiety among pastors are pervasive. Criticisms of pastors have grown, probably exponentially.
We believe in prayer. We want our churches to be healthy. We know healthy churches are led by healthy pastors. My prayer is for a prayer movement of intercessors for pastors. It is time to take on the Enemy directly. It is time to be prayer warriors for our pastors.
Thom S. Rainer is the founder and CEO of Church Answers. With nearly forty years of ministry experience, Thom has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of the local church and its leaders. He also served for twelve years at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he was the founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism. He has been a pastor of four churches and interim pastor of ten churches.
Rainer has written numerous books, including three that ranked as number-one bestsellers: I Am a Church Member, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, and Simple Church. He cohosts the popular podcasts Church Answers and Rainer on Leadership. His latest books include I Am a Christian, I Believe, and Pray & Go. He and his wife live in Franklin, Tennessee.