To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Medina, Streeter, and beyond: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
If you were to be asked what the key component of a vital church would be, what would you say? Would it be worship? Would it be Evangelism? How about a stable budget?
While all of these components are important to a strong and healthy church, they are not the key component of a vital church, at least not according to David Poling-Goldenne and L. Shannon Jung, the authors of our current book of focus Discovering Hope: Building Vitality in Rural Congregations. No, according Poling-Goldenne and Jung, the most important component to a vital congregation is Prayer. In the second chapter of Discovering Hope, the first chapter to actually speak about components of a vital church, their thesis is “Prayer is a crucial ingredient for effectiveness in congregational mission and ministry” (32).
Poling-Goldenne and Jung give multiple examples of congregations around the country who been very intentional about their prayer lives which in turn has led them to a revitalization of their church community. When talking about one such church in the town of Verona, New York, they wrote “They prayed and studied the Bible; they listened, let go, and ultimately let God guide and direct their ministry focus and priorities” (26). In these instances prayer is seen as the source when it comes to tapping into God’s power and God’s intent for our lives individually and our life as a church community (27).
This got me to thinking, how many times when it comes to ministry do I focus too much on my own agenda, and the way I think ministry should be carried out, and forget about turning to God in order to discern what God’s agenda might be for that particular ministry? In asking myself that question I had to be quite honest and say not too often. As a broken, sinful human being, too often do I rely on my own agenda and plan instead of seeking out the wisdom and guidance of God when it comes to ministry.
This question that I asked myself is one that we should all be asking ourselves, especially if you have been called to be a leader of this church community in one way or another. How often do you spend time in daily prayer, seeking God’s guidance, not only for your personal life, but for the vitality of our church community? While some, I am sure, will be able to truthfully answer by saying a lot of time, there will also be those of you who would have to honestly answer like I did, and say not enough time.
In the Gospels of Luke and Matthew our Lord lays out for us the ultimate model of prayer: recognizing who it is that we are praying to and has the power to answer prayer, admitting that we should be seeking God’s will instead of our own, asking God for the things we need, seeking God’s forgiveness in the places where we have sinned against God and our neighbor, and imploring God to bring us through every time of trial that arises in our lives. Jesus then goes on to explain that when we are persistent in our prayer, our Father, who is good and gracious, will answer our prayer according to God’s will.
This is all to say that if we want our church community to be vital and strong then prayer should be the central focus. We, all of us together, should be praying regularly and intentionally for the vitality of our church. When we pray regularly and intentionally we allow ourselves to get out of the way and let God in for God’s will to be done through our ministry.
So what would that look like for us as a community to focus on prayer as a way to have a vital church community? That question is going to be answered differently by everyone who takes the time to prayerfully consider that question. For me personally it means that I need to spend more time every day in prayer. I have made myself a goal to spend 5 minutes every day I am in the office, praying for the people in this church community and the role they play in its ministry. It also means that I will be more intentional about encouraging all of you to spend more time in prayer as well as giving you more opportunities to let your prayer requests be known. Most importantly this will mean beginning every gathering that takes place within the church or for the church in prayer; asking specifically for God’s will and intention for its ministry to be made known.
As Poling-Goldenne and Jung point out, “A praying church is a vital church. A vital church is a church meeting the needs of its members and a church in mission to its neighbors” (32). Let us focus on prayer and let God revitalize our mission to our neighbors and to our world.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit!