Please forgive the disjointed rambling that follows. I will doubtless look for an opportunity to edit this into some more cohesive form later but needed to get my thoughts down.
I was in a long discussion the other day about what motivates church. I was talking about how a particular church was motivated and driven by fear in the things it did and the decisions it made and the friend I was talking with was saying that we need, as churches, to be led more by prayer. My argument was, I will admit, very negative and pessimistic where as my friend was clearly more optimistic. In hindsight I see we were both making the same argument from different sides.
When things don’t work in a business the obvious thing is to look at your working processes. Do you need more management, less management, streamlined procedures, tighter control, downsizing and on and on. These decisions can be made based on factual data and with an eye to the financial bottom line. They are decisions that can often be made based on fear. Fear of competition, fear of job losses, drop in market share and they are decisions you often see churches making. It might be the introduction of Messy Church or all ages worship or breakfast church or a whole variety of other things. These are all things that can happen for two main reasons. one is a fearful, kneejerk reaction to a drop in congregation numbers or an inability to attract families, the other is a prayerful reaction to the same thing. Both can lead to the same decisions but there is a vital difference.
When we act out of fear we act in our own strength and that rarely is sustainable. The things we do disappear under a lack of interest and commitment, that relationship fails, attendance drops, volunteers disappear.
When what we do grows out of prayer however it’s chance of success is so much greater because God is on our side. It’s reacting to that still, small voice, that nudge that follows prayer that is important.
This has been a difficult thing for me to get a real understanding of. Although I accept I’m saved by Grace I need my faith to work out in a practical way in many respects and I find formal prayer difficult. Every denomination has a format for prayer that is predominant in their church. If you grow up within a church you often take that on unconsciously. Prayer for me has always been something others have done, exhorting God to do what they need of Him. As a Christian who came to God later in life I had viewed prayer as a long conversation with my dad. In conversation we rarely call people by name more than once and most of my prayers started “hey God” and then headed into a rambling mess of questions, pleas, angry rants, apologies and awkward silences. This was nothing like the formal prayers I heard in church and so I rarely prayed publicly with or for someone. I was very much a “Go into a quiet room and shut the door” kind of prayer person which is fine. It is, after all, scriptural.
I spent a long time coming to understand public prayer, praying out loud around others and came to a number of realisations that, while probably obvious and well known to others, were a revelation for me.
First and foremost is that public prayer, prayer groups and prayer meetings aren’t about God as much as they are about building up the children of God, firing them up. Praying privately we know God is listening and God is on our side but we are only human and in some ways we need to know we are not alone in what we are asking of God. When we pray for God to step in, be it because of a terrible disaster, illness affecting a member of the church or an outreach venture the church is considering or anything else, we know two or more of us are standing together and that is massive.
Matthew 18:19-20 19 20 two or
Which brings us not so neatly back to the original point. Many churches are motivated by a fearful reaction to the world around them. Many other churches are motivated by a prayerful reaction to the world around them. Fear can lead you to pray. Fear can lead you to attempt things in your own strength. It seems to me that successful churches are the ones who let prayer lead them out of the darkness and into being like Jesus, the unsuccessful ones are the ones who let fear keep them in the darkness and build rules and procedures to try and hold the dark at bay.