Whether your vision is for your city, the potential of God’s people working together in your community, or a vision for a language or people group where, historically, there has been no church – prayer must be central to your efforts.
In this brief article I want to outline some central assumptions that bear on the role of prayer in Partnerships; identify some practical areas of collaborative efforts of evangelism where prayer has been vital; cite examples*, and conclude with lessons learned.
- Designed in God’s image, man was to live interdependently, in relationship — in community. Adam’s choice of autonomy destroyed the divine relational plan. All of redemption has been mounted to address the restoration of God’s relational design. (1)
- The state of relationships has a powerful impact on the efficacy of prayer, the work of the Holy Spirit, and, therefore, on the process and outcomes of evangelistic efforts. (2)
- Satan seeks to proactively maintain man’s state of relational alienation: with God, with himself, with other humans, with the created order, and with eternal life. This is Satan’s principal means of destroying the credibility and effectiveness of the Church and its witness. (3)
The Role of Prayer In Collaborative Endeavors
Consistent with the “spiritual” nature of this Kingdom work, we have found that prayer plays a very significant role. The invisible and eternal God, who makes Himself manifest in His created order (see Romans 1:20), works through prayer in ways that, these days, may seem ephemeral or elusive as we seek to trace or document their influence. However, I am convinced that prayer is central to outcomes of collaborative evangelistic efforts at several points — four of which I seek to address in this paper:
- Prayer is an essential element in the “stone clearing, sowing, and watering” — the softening of spiritually hardened hearts — whether that be an individual, a community, or a nation. The early stages of evangelism will never be realized without concerted prayer.
- Prayer is essential to the spiritual restoration of relationships. These transformed relationships are, in turn, essential to the launch and sustaining of collaborative, Partnership-based evangelism initiatives.
- Prayer is essential in developing trust, building consensus around priorities, and setting Kingdom goals and objectives. Without this vision-driven consensus, collaborative evangelism efforts would be powerless.
- Prayer is essential to the durability of such collaborative efforts. Consider a vision that includes not only evangelization of individuals and the establishment of a national Church, but a national church planting movement that leads to national Kingdom-based transformation. Such a vision, rarely even seriously considered much less realized in the West, requires extraordinary staying power. Without prayer as a continuing key element within the Partnership and concerted prayer externally on behalf of the Partnership’s people and work, the cause is lost!
Prayer Essential to Softening Hardened Hearts
Over the last forty years of my experience is that focused prayer has a powerful impact on opening doors and hearts to the Kingdom. The reality of Jesus’ words to the disciples in John 4:35-38, “I have sent you out to reap a harvest where others have sown…,” is being demonstrated daily in the collaborative efforts in which we and thousands of others are engaged.
- In one “closed” country, faithful but lonely witness was carried on with little apparent results for over four decades. While this personal witness was underway, a growing awareness of and prayer for the people group — outside the country — was mounting. Today, a nine-year Strategic Evangelism Partnership of about ten ministries has seen over 20,000 documented baptized believers swept into the Kingdom and thousands more seeking Christ in dozens of local, home-based fellowships.
- Approximately one hundred years ago, in a Tibetan Buddhist country, missionaries and their families, over fifty in all, were martyred seeking to take Christ to the people. Following this incident, over the century, countless were moved to pray. A collaborative, Partnership-based evangelism initiative has seen tens of thousands come into the Kingdom and national leadership emerge for well over a hundred local fellowships and countless smaller, informal groups of believers and seekers.
- In an influential resistant people group, active Christian witness had been underway for over one hundred years. Not that long ago, there was not a single functioning church of the language group and translation of the New Testament was not complete. When an Evangelism Partnership for the language group was established, developing a global prayer initiative was identified as one of the group’s highest collaborative priorities. An internet-based prayer bulletin was launched along with a bimonthly “hard copy” prayer bulletin that has had wide circulation. Today, churches are functioning in this people group, the New Testament is complete, and each of the local fellowships is led by nationals.
- The “praying through the window” initiative (associated with the historic AD2000 Movement), between the years 1993 and 1997, engaged over 40 million believers worldwide. They actually signed a covenant to pray daily during the month of October for a massive harvest of souls among the major language groups in and around the “10/40 Window.” Focused prayer on this scale has never been known in the history of the church.
- And, thankfully, in this digital, virtual world of the internet, dozens of prayer networks and initiatives have developed. To sample the remarkable range of prayer initiatives, visit this website: https://praycog.org/links-to-prayer-organizations/
Prayer Essential to Restoration of Relationships — the Basis for Collaborative Endeavors
If the heart of the Gospel is restored relationships, collaborative, Partnership-based initiatives must be a classic test bed for dealing with this oft-ignored Kingdom principle. In recent years there have been countless experiences of having to address this issue proactively. Here are three illustrations.
- In an area of the world that is highly contested spiritually, hundreds of individuals were making enquiry about Christ. An inquiring individual might be exposed to the Good News via Radio, Bible correspondence courses, satellite-distributed content, literature distribution, and, more recently, social media, and, of course, personal witness. While interest was high, a lack of coordination of all of these elements was reducing effectiveness and seriously jeopardizing the security of many national believers. In an effort to bring coordination out of the chaos, fifteen leaders from eight different ministries gathered and diligently worked for three days and nights. When they arrived, only four of the fifteen had ever met. Difference in age, ethnic background, denominational/organizational histories, along with real and perceived theological differences created fear, mistrust, and an environment in which it seemed little could be accomplished. However, three to four times each day the men broke into small groups of 2-3, and were asked to share personal needs as they prayed for each other. By the end of the working meetings, each man had prayed for everyone else at least twice; had been prayed for by all of the others at least twice; and had learned about the real needs, personal spiritual journey, and relationship to Christ that each of them had. At the conclusion of their days together, tears filled the eyes of all participants as they sang hymns and asked to take communion together. They had hammered out a multi-point action plan that has since transformed follow-up work with inquirers in that region. Despite their extremely different backgrounds and traditions, they had agreed that through their work and prayer together, God had brought them to know and trust each other in a new level of restored relationships.
- Seeking spiritual breakthroughs in an Asian country that had been “closed” during most of modern missions history, seventy-four people gathered to pray and discuss the potential of working together in Partnership. Divisions in some of the relationships were so great, that a special international prayer network had been established to pray for each participant individually throughout the four-day working meetings. Similar to the example cited above, the group was divided into small, highly-focused prayer groups each day — allowing participants to share personal needs and to develop relationships. Additionally, in the most extreme cases, prayer and reconciliation meetings were arranged all three nights of the meetings to address the brokenness and hostility in relationships. (Remember that these are Believers — committed to world evangelization!) When the wider group acknowledged that they did want to move forward in a Partnership for the country, they agreed the concerted prayer and the pro-active restoration of relationships were what made the advance possible.
- A Partnership of nearly a dozen ministries was working on a bilingual project in a very sensitive country. The ministries were both national and expatriate. They varied enormously in size. Their “contribution” to the Partnership’s efforts varied greatly — from the natural contributing of significant resources by a major international ministry to the “widow’s mite” from an impoverished national ministry. Culture, size, ecclesiastical traditions, and perceived influence of the participants could hardly have been more different. They wondered how would they share “success” if God really blessed their joint effort? Prayer together eventually produced a remarkably simple solution: “Everyone can claim success for all that God does,” they agreed. Only one condition: “When a ministry reports on the project, and God’s work through the effort, they must simply indicate ‘We are seeing these results as we work together with other ministries in a Strategic Ministry Partnership.'”
Prayer Essential to Developing Trust, Consensus and Common Vision
My main experience has been in seeking to form and sustain effective working Partnerships for evangelism. My colleagues and I have always worked with highly diverse individuals. Coming from their extremely different backgrounds, developing relationships and personal trust is challenging enough. Developing trust in their ability to jointly hear the Spirit of God as they establish a common vision and action plan is still more challenging.
When a group is seeking a common vision and a related action plan for the first time or is doing an annual review of their plan and re-focusing for the next 12 months — prayer is essential. We have found that brainstorming the possibilities in small groups and then sharing them in an open forum is an important step. However, helping the group acknowledge that it can’t do “everything” and, therefore, must choose priorities, takes the need for trust and open relationships to another level. Prayer at each stage in this process is vital.
We have seen the importance of this from West Africa to NE Asia. Without prayer, practical, lasting Kingdom Partnership cannot emerge or be sustained.
Prayer is essential at the critical, consensus-building points in the life of a Partnership. The normal pattern is that, once a group has developed a set of ministry objectives the group then needs to go back into small groups to pray together over a list of possible action points needed to meet the objectives.
Only after they have prayed together do we then suggest that each person identify 2-3 points out of the longer list (frequently of 15-20 possible action points) that he or she feels the Spirit has spoken to them about. This exercise has consistently shown that, almost immediately, God directs the group toward a smaller cluster of 5-6 possible action points. Frequently the group agrees that this number is still too large to accomplish. Bringing the now shorter list to a final consensus of 2-3 top priorities, again, can only occur by going back into small groups of prayer and reflection. Only when they feel they have a sense of Holy Spirit’s leading do we encourage the groups to identify and agree on those priorities.
My colleagues and I along those with whom we work in these Partnerships are, again and again, both amazed and thrilled at what the Spirit of God does as people think and pray together! Should we be surprised? I think not.
It is this prayer-centered approach to developing commonly-held vision and agreed priority action steps that is a significant element in the success and durability of any Evangelism Partnership.
Prayer Essential to the Durability of Collaborative Evangelism Initiatives
I am deeply thankful that the Evangelism Partnerships in which I and my colleagues have been involved, have shown long-term durability.
In light of the short-term, often transitory nature of collaborative efforts in the Church elsewhere, what can explain the staying power of these Partnerships? I am convinced that no single element provides the explanation. Rather, a combination of the unique elements of these Partnerships (4) provides the enduring chemistry.
However, ultimately, prayer is the central power point in Partnerships which face: “impossible” spiritual odds, formidable relational issues, operational challenges that frequently seem insurmountable, and dreams of spiritual outcomes that are rarely even discussed much less realized in the West.
Prayer is the point in a Partnership at which the spiritual power is tapped, the listening to God becomes more natural, the Spirit works in hearts to deal with relational issues, and the hope of realizing the impossible dream is born. The conscious effort to encourage the on-going intersection of these wide-ranging elements through prayer is vital to the Partnership’s durability. When hope is fading, when consensus seems just out of reach, when the complexities of integrating widely diverse ministries into a common vision and action plan seems too complex, when old, unhealed relational wounds surface, or fears about another ministry’s motives produce caution, prayer is the consistent essential ingredient.
The facilitator or facilitation team of such a collaborative effort must be constantly vigilant to the dangers of sterile processes, planning, or efforts to encourage best practices across ministry lines. Prayer puts the Spirit of God at the center where His grace, power, insights, reconciliation, and hope can radiate through a group so diverse as to seem a hopeless candidate for any collaborative outcomes.
What To Make Of All This?
We continue to learn many lessons from the on going work. However, here are some recurring themes:
- Intentional, focused prayer is vital to defeat Satan’s offensive to divide and, thereby, neutralize the Church’s witness.
- That prayer must be both internal and external. Make prayer a constant priority within the Partnership. But, it’s vital to have a specific team of people “outside” the partnership to be praying regularly for God’s guidance, strengthened relationships, and real Kingdom outcomes.
- Intentional, focused prayer is vital to the development of trusting, open, restored relationships which is the basis for all collaborative Kingdom efforts.
- Intentional, focused prayer is vital to being able to bring about consensus and to develop action plans that empower lasting Kingdom cooperation.
- Intentional, focused prayer is too frequently considered an “add-on” rather than central to each step in planning, preparation, execution, and on-going sustainability of effective evangelism efforts.
- Intentional, focused prayer is vital if the Church seeks the power and refreshment offered as God’s gift in Psalm 133
* All examples cited in this paper are real incidents that have occurred in Partnership development and on-going operation. Only the specifics of names, dates, and location have been withheld due to security implications.
(1) Passages suggesting —
- Eloquent testimony to God, Himself, living in community of personalities, outside of time, can be found in sections of Job (1:5, 2:1, 38:7), Daniel (3:19-25, 4:13-18, 8:15-18, 9:20-23, 12:1, 10:4-11:2), and Ephesians (1:21-23, 3:9-10, 6:12-13).
- That God created man in His own, relationally-oriented image is clear in Genesis 1:25, 3:22, and 11:17.
- Broken relationships at five levels are outlined in Genesis 3:8 (with God), Genesis 3:10 (with man’s own “self”), Genesis 3:12, 4:9 (with others), Genesis 4:16-19 (with the created order), and Genesis 3:19 (with eternal life).
(2) Passages suggesting the impact of relationships on the life of the individual believer, the wider Christian community, and the witness of the Church are found in such sections as —
Matthew 5:23-24, 18:15-17, John 13:34-35, 15:11-17, 17:20-23, Romans 16:17, I Corinthians 1:10, I Peter 3:7, I John 1:7-11.
(3) Passages suggesting Satan’s explicit design on dividing the Body of Christ —
John 10:10, Romans 12:21, II Corinthians 2:10-11, James 4:7.
(4) These Partnerships are typically —
- Intentional — the result of conscious effort rather than the product of chance.
- International — reflect the true diversity of the growing global church committed to world evangelization.
- Integrated — provide a forum in which all elements of implicit to explicit Christian witness and service can be consciously coordinated to reduce duplication and increase the potential of realizing a common vision.
- Informal — usually operate by consensus on a platform of common vision rather than based on a formal constitution.