Prayer meetings were either total chaos or totally controlled when as a new pastoral team member I was given charge of the newly formed Prayer Ministry in 1997.
Our 5000-member church had a group of 5 Sunday intercessors and the traditional Wednesday prayer meeting.
The first Sunday when I walked into the prayer room to check things out, one person was singing, one was praying in tongues, another was flipping the pages of the church weekly. It was all “guided by the Spirit”. The Wednesday prayer meeting was the exact opposite — it had a fixed format led by the pastor. The first kind of meeting was intimidating and chaotic; the second could be quite boring.
One Sunday in January 2000, the “Spirit-led” quintet suddenly announced that the Lord had asked them to move to another church — and they were leaving immediately.
I was shocked at the sudden announcement, but yet at the same time, it was an opportunity to build something new. The senior pastor and I started a recruitment process.
By that time, I had come across concepts based on the book, Conversational Prayer, by Rosalind Rinker. It was a treasure. It established a protocol, yet there was also freedom to listen to the Spirit.
As new members started coming in, I trained them to pray on one topic at a time, adding to one another’s prayers as inspired by the Spirit. If somehow we were “stuck”, we listened to God and shared with one another as to how to proceed. Having that understanding and agreement united us in the Spirit and made it a great community builder. Members were free to choose which Sunday they wanted to come to pray, logging their attendance online; some loved the prayerful atmosphere in my office, and would come every Sunday!
Praying in groups of 5-6 at a time, sometimes more, the topics would vary, based on what we sensed should be emphasised.
In the 18 years of heading the prayer team, we averaged 35 members annually; I made it clear at the end of every year that if they were led to another ministry, they were free to go. It was quite startling to the leadership to know I had this policy, as the standard procedure was to persuade people to stay, even if they wanted to go! These small movements of some people leaving and others coming in, refreshed the ministry. But it was interesting that the total number of intercessors stayed constant.
Each prayer meeting had a sense of structure and yet liberty; a balance between freedom and protocol; space was given for the Spirit to come and guide us as we sat still to listen. There was freedom to learn, freedom to fail. It was a community of people learning to pray. We spanned the generations from the 20s to the 60s; there were people who had overcome poverty, others who grew up with a silver spoon in their mouth and everyone else in-between. It was the desire to pray that united us. We always ended the session with the group splitting into 2s or 3s to pray for one another; friendships were formed that way. Best of all was the presence of the Holy Spirit in our midst.