Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Lausanne Occasional Paper 42: Prayer in Evangelism
Prayer is fundamental to evangelism. It is fundamental because the work of redemption is the work of God the Holy Spirit (‘God the Evangelist’) even as it is focused on the glory of Christ: the Lamb that was slain for the sins of the world. Prayer acknowledges God’s primacy in the saving of lives, human inadequacies (‘Not by might, nor by power …’) and fulfils God’s command that Christians ask Him to act. In Ezekiel 37, for example, the prophet is commanded to proclaim the promises of God to the dry bones, but Ezekiel is also commanded to pray to the wind – the Spirit. The latter is commanded so that the bones can indeed live. The praying and preaching in Acts 1-6 reflect the same.
This chapter frames the central role of prayer and the work of evangelism in the larger context of ‘transformation.’ That is, the eschatological end or the completed work of God portrays His intent for all things – individual people, human institutions as well as the created order – to be transformed by His power and grace. If the field of God’s activity is for the transformation of all things, then evangelism – the proclaiming of the Good News of Jesus whereby people believe in and surrender themselves to Christ – is a work within the larger sphere. Furthermore, at the core of both transformation and evangelism is God the Holy Spirit in answer to prayer.
If transformation can be pictured as the whole wheel, and evangelism as its hub, then prayer is the axle. We refer to it as ‘The Prayer Core.’ This core is also part of the ‘guiding coalition’ at the heart of both evangelism and transformation in a community, city or nation.
We will speak to the strategies of prayer in the follow progression:
- The Core (the axle): those who are committed to covering the whole field in prayer and leading and multiplying this prayer force
- The Sphere of Evangelistic Activity (the hub): whether out of the local church, parachurch, mass crusade, small group, one-on-one, etc.
- Transformation (the whole wheel): to include all aspects of human activity and society
We also identified common strategic values in all three of these areas. They are:
- Relationships: members of a prayer force must be friends with God, with each other, especially between mentors/coaches and learners.
- Communication: using every available media to inform, encourage, delight, challenge, teach, guide and inspire.
- Pray (for more prayer): wanting more prayer across the spectrum, we must pray for a spirit of prayer to be poured out by God.
- Repentance: prayerlessness indicates trust in something other than God.
- Biblical instruction/theology: The necessity of prayer, the grasp of the commands and the promises of God, and the proper attitudes, actions and motivations of people who pray must be taught.
- Exhortation: preaching and teaching for motivation, inspiration, instruction, and vision-casting.
- Accountability: chaos, spiritual pride, biblical errors and un-Christ-like personal behaviour can occur without accountability.
- The local church: prayer at every level honours what God has ordained, encourages the welfare of congregations, and lifts up the arms of pastors and teachers.
- Unity: modelling oneness in the midst of diversity, reconciling people, clearing up grievances, and working with one mind (the mind of Christ) empowers our prayers.
The Prayer Core
For prayer-filled evangelism the following is needed:
- Raise up the Core. The foundation of prayer for transformation and evangelism resides with the Prayer Core. Like a nuclear generator, it is where the ‘heat,’ motivation and vision resides. The Prayer Core is made of individuals with the call of God upon them to fill all aspects and activities of evangelism with the presence, grace and power of God. This comes through prayer. Like the evangelists themselves, they are a work of the Holy Spirit to accomplish God’s work. If the work of the evangelist is an arrowhead, then prayer comprises the mass behind it. The raising up of this core is begun in heaven. God places in certain hearts, through the Scriptures, the burning desire and conviction for a core to form. They are, too, the guiding coalition. The prayer core calls others to the work of prayer, inspires the faithful to persevere, attracts others to join, grow and persist, thus expanding the core. They too, set the tone, model the intensity and teach the biblical vision for prayer and they mentor people in prayer. They exhibit the necessary discernment, maturity and insight in the dynamic relationship with the Holy Spirit and the constantly changing circumstances of evangelism and transformation. The Prayer Core is sprinkled with key Christian leaders whose track record of personal integrity and holiness and church leadership is honoured.
- Prayer, teaching and preaching: This Core of committed praying people, prays for prayer to grow. Through the Bible and anecdotes from history and contemporaneous accounts, this core group teaches the necessity of prayer. Through preaching, we can prophetically summon, inspire and motivate others to pray.
- Catalytic events: The Core group prime the pump of prayer by planning and executing activities and gatherings that will captivate and press home the need for God to act and people to ask.
- Communication: Through all available media, the Core keeps itself informed, refreshed and motivated by providing information and stories about God’s activities
- Establish relationships: Generally, all works of God are begun, expanded and sustained among friends who love God and each other.
- Identify strategic leaders: Core members are always on the look-out for respected and capable church leaders who will join their ranks and enhance the prospects of qualitative and quantitative expansion with the backing of local congregations.
- Expand the Core. The goal of any evangelistic or transformational work is to soak it with expanding resources from the Holy Spirit. A Billy Graham Crusade, for example, constantly expands the prayer core through intercessory teams, leadership prayer meetings and, especially, ‘Operation Andrew’ where an ever-increasing team of hundreds, thousands and tens of thousands of people cover every person who attends an evangelistic meeting with weeks of prayer – praying for each by name. Expanding the core necessitates …
- Prayer, teaching (training) and preaching: These never cease to be critical, either in the foundational activities or in seeking to expand the prayer core.
- Multiply …
- Pastors: A sustained and responsible expansion requires pastors. They are the gatekeepers to local churches and have God-given authority and responsibilities. This, too, honours the local church as God’s principal mechanism through which His work on earth is accomplished. By multiplying pastors, however, a vision that transcends the local church (for a community, city or nation) grows up among the shepherds and helps fan the flame of prayer in local congregations
- Prayer groups: Both small and large cells of prayer, varying in size and type (in church, among churches, etc.), are central. They give prayers a sense of belonging, mutual care and foster deepening relationships of trust which lead to greater confidence and clarity, and more powerful praying.
- Networks: Often, there exist multiple networks of prayer across a given geography. If they do not exist, they need to be encouraged and nurtured. Networks, by nature, have access to large groups of people. These various networks, however, often do not work in either cooperation or unity. To expand the core, networks need to see each other as partners.
- Communication: Expansion requires regular, quality information, inspiration and testimonies. Expansion needs reassurance, excitement and a well-informed membership.
- Mobilize and network the Core: The Prayer Core group, like any group, needs to be led, given a sense of order, marshalled and employed for specific purposes, connected to others like themselves so that a spiritual synergy and momentum arises.
- Prayer, teaching (training) and preaching
- Calendar: The calendar needs to answer basic questions like, what is happening? What needs to be prayed for? When is prayer needed? Why is it critical? Who is involved or invited?
- Prayer requests.
- God at work;
- local, regional, national, global.
- ‘Dreams and visions.’
- Links to be established amongst all members of the core group.
Prayer Strategies for the Evangelization of Cities and Nations
Prayer is both a form of, and a tool to support evangelism. Many have come to Christ through a dream, a vision or a revelation without direct human communication of the gospel. Although very often there has been a person praying for the one whom the Lord has spoken to through the dream or vision and usually the Lord inthe dream directs the person to a man or a woman to go and see. This is the sovereign work of God in response to the cry of God’s people, through prayer, for the lost of this world. Others, whose hearts have been prepared by the prayers of the saints, come to Christ through hearing or reading the word of God. There is an increased understanding that the sooner prayer is introduced into the planning stage of evangelistic activities the greater is the impact and the fruit that emerges from that activity. Evangelism that is birthed out of prayer produces much fruit, but evangelism without prayer is largely sterile.
If the church is to be effective in evangelising the community it serves it must first commit to a strategy of prayer that will prepare the individual hearts of people to receive and positively respond to the gospel message, as well as impact the spiritual soil of a whole city, thus creating an environment of openness to the gospel in the hearts of the unsaved.
Strategies for effective prayer, as with effective evangelism, usually come from mature, passionate leaders trained and motivated by the biblical examples of the life changing nature of prayer and its impact upon the lives of people. There are today too few leaders who have learned and experienced the power of prayer themselves, hence the not uncommon assumption prevalent across the church that prayer is a worthwhile optional support for evangelism, rather than a strategic tool for effective evangelism.
This thinking must be changed and proper teaching and training given in our Seminaries, Theological Colleges and Bible Colleges in order to change the mind set of the future generation of spiritual leaders. A theological understanding of prayer and its impact on aligning the hearts of people with the purposes of God in the salvation process, would do much to encourage more believers to commit to prayer as a strategy and evangelism as an activity worthy of their time and effort. Local Pastors must also take responsibility to instruct and lead their congregations in the development of new understandings and the implementation of new strategies in prayer, directed towards focusing the whole church back to the importance of engaging in the Great Commission.
One of the best methods of instruction and motivation for people is the modelling of strategic principles by their leaders. If the leaders do not pray it is unlikely their congregations will pray. If they themselves are not committed to evangelism then neither will their congregation be. If leaders do not have and/or cannot inspire a vision for the church to impact their whole community, the people will not be motivated to work towards the extension of the kingdom of God. Their commitment is not likely to go beyond the day to day running of their church programmes.
Most pastors understand today that the task of evangelization of a whole community is beyond a single church or individual to achieve. Past efforts, which have been largely unproductive, are encouraging pastors to look to other pastors for relational and co-operational support. Pastors prayer groups are springing up in many cities and nations to provide the opportunity for the first time in many years for combined church initiatives to be initiated thus providing greater momentum and support to the task of evangelism.
Church leaders must assist their congregations to expand their vision to also embrace this ‘city mindset’ that longs for people to be added to the kingdom rather than looking only for more people to be added to the membership of their church. Our experience is that people are quick to respond to a clear vision presented byresponsible and trusted leaders. They are simply waiting like sheep for a shepherd to show them the way.
Effective prayer and evangelism strategies are dependent on healthy local churches to implement the God inspired visions that will flow from properly trained leadership. Strategies must be developed to resource the local church. Many resources are already available through the highly effective work done by the numerous national and global prayer networks and ministries around the world. The availability of the Internet today has revolutionised communication processes, and the availability of resources to assist leaders in the task before them of training up their local people, is almost unlimited. Church leaders must be encouraged to connect with these resources to inform, encourage and motivate the local church into effective prayer strategies in their community which will lead to more effective evangelism. Well prepared and resourced strategies are much more likely to succeed, and in turn inspire further involvement by an ever increasing number of Christians in the mission of world evangelization.
Prayer alone does not do the work of the evangelist. It is an essential and vital part of a process without which evangelism will lack power and fail to produce results. Prayer, however, is not passive and strategies of taking prayer from the pew into the city must be developed. Such strategies will include:
- Formation of citywide and local Church Intercessory Prayer Teams to focus on specific issues of prayer. These teams will require proper training, mentoring and mobilization to enable them to engage in effective prayer ministry in their community.
- Undertake research in an endeavour to discover ‘hidden’ hindrances to the reception of the gospel within given communities and the development of strategies to counter and/or remove those hindrances through prayer. There are many examples of places which have become known as ‘hard’ places to evangelize. To ask the question ‘why’ is to begin a process of understanding that brings much enlightenment to many unanswered questions of the past. Yesterday’s ‘defeats’ are being turned into today’s ‘victories’ as an ever increasing understanding of spiritual issues affecting cities and nations is being gained by a church hungry to reach the lost.
- Taking spiritual responsibility for their community by prayerwalking the streets of the city, praying for every home and ultimately for the salvation of every person. Our media is daily full of the needs of our communities which require a spiritual response not generally available to our community and governmental leaders. This provides the church with a wonderful opportunity to, in a spirit of humility, become part of the answer for the communities felt and expressed needs. Strategies to match the prayer resources of the church with the felt and expressed needs of the community open up almost unlimited opportunity for the church to regain lost credibility with the world we seek to reach. We believe that results achieved through prayer are multiplied by the degree to which prayer is focused to the specific needs of individuals, churches and whole communities. Such multiplication of answered prayer will inevitably lead to a greater harvest into the kingdom.
God’s prayer strategy for the evangelization of a city is based upon obedience by the whole church throughout the community, city or nation for biblical transformation. This transformational road is dependent upon God and His church working together. Each of us must recognize that His kingdom is to come and His will is to be done in the city where He has sent us.
In Jeremiah 29, the prophet gives us an exciting glimpse into the workings of God and the cooperation of His people to effect His will and bring His blessing upon a city that was anathema to them. Notice these instructions are ‘to the surviving elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets and all the other people carried into exile’ (Jeremiah 29:1-2). This is the involvement of the whole leadership and congregation working together. These instructions given by God to His people are relevant today as we consider God’s prayer strategy for the evangelization of a city.
Your (elders, priests, prophets and all the other people) investment of life and resources in your city will bring peace, prosperity and welfare (Jeremiah 19:7). Such involvement will create the needed climate for the reception and the acceptance of the message of God through Jesus Christ by your life. The surrounding context gives to us the fuller picture of God’s prayer strategy for the evangelization of your city. It is as we demonstrate a deliberate permanence of settling in, that peace, prosperity and welfare will come. You must decide you’re going to spend the rest of your life in this new place (verses 4-6).
This is one requirement for a prayer strategy for a nation, that we sink our roots into the community. Make an investment of our lives and all that we are in the city for which we are praying, so that God’s presence, grace, love and life may flow in you and through you to bring blessing to your city.
Besides being committed to live in the city or the nation, there is also the strategy of praying specifically for the city or the nation. It is God’s will that we plan, persist, and passionately join together with fellow Christians in unified corporate prayer for all aspects of the city. It is this kind of prayer that brings the blessing of peace, prosperity and welfare to the city. Notice what God says through the prophet in verse 7: that our involvement in and prayer for the city will result in the blessing of God. Jeremiah writes: ‘Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.’
Furthermore, God says, stay focused! Do not listen to or be deterred by others. You are in that city by divine appointment and you are to remain focused. In the due course of time, God says, I will tell you when it’s time to stop and when to leave (verses 8-10). When you respond in complete assurance that God is in control, He will reveal His plans for you individually and corporately in your city. He knows all about the history, obstacles, and concerns about your city, and God has a plan to resolve all these issues. His desire is for your complete welfare and future that is filled with Him in your city. Take ownership of your city. See the city as having been given to you to pray for and pastor, whoever you are, at whatever level of involvement God has placed you in the city. You are His conduit of blessing for your city. That is God’s plan (verse 11).
We will all discover that plan as we call upon God. It cannot be over emphasized how important and pivotal is prayer in this whole process of the evangelization of cities. Come to God that He might come to you. Pray to God that He might reveal Himself to you and to your city. Ask the Lord to reveal and remove the offences and obstacles of the city that prevent His presence and blessing from coming. Examine its history, values or cultural behaviour that are offensive to Him.
The promise is that God will listen to you when you pray this way for the city. Seek Him with all your heart in relation to the city and nation in which He has placed you. Have confidence in Him. Display faith and trust in His ability to answer in ways that are supernatural and spiritual. When you do this, He will bring you to the place in life where He wants you to be (Jeremiah 29: 4-14).
Repentance: Answer/research the Matthew 5:23-24 questions: ‘What issues does God want us to correct?’ As an individual; as a church. For example, racial reconciliation; nation to nation; theology; gender issues; church to community.
Preparations for Prayer: Ezra 7:6-10: study it (research the stories), do it and teach it. A. Murray: ‘The man who mobilizes the Christian Church to pray will make the greatest contribution to world evangelization.’
Enlistment of Prayer: Develop prayer bases; prayer rooms; prayer centres (‘houses of prayer’); ‘24/7 cells’; prayer cells; churches; prayer chains; networks and events; appoint local-church, regional/national prayer network leaders; schools of prayer; prayer walking.
Communication of Prayer News: Establish throughout the various media to report progress for praise and encouragement; problems for intensified or expanded prayer; inspiration: biblical teaching and exhortation; biographies.
Praise/Celebration: Praise festivals; days of thanksgiving; banquets and feasts.