Calling, Competence, Character

We wanted fat people. It was a cute way to get attention and recruit volunteers for the newly-minted prayer team. FAT stood for Faithful, Available and Teachable; response was good.

But that wasn’t enough. The ad in the church weekly drew attention, but it didn’t really get the people we wanted. Then, came the job description.

A job description is one of the best tools a ministry can use to recruit volunteers. List the talents you’re looking for, the duties you expect the person to perform and last, but most important, the benefits of joining your group.

For talent, I listed ability to pray Conversational Prayer style with a brief description of what this involves (some people can’t pray in a team, and this would help them decide if they really want to join); for duties, I expected people to sign up for either the 930am or 1130am Sunday prayer slots online — just one slot only per month — and to pray as a team for 1.5 hours. It sounds long, but when the group is moving in the Spirit, time flies.

The benefits were real — people develop the ability to hear the prompting of the Spirit when they start praying together and are hugely encouraged. Not only do they develop their gift, they also get to befriend like-minded people. In time, we had a regular group that would pray and then lunch together. We developed into a close community.

But as members got together, difficulties surfaced; some people would just go into a personal prayer zone, and lose track of the fact that others also wanted to pray out loud. As leader, I would tell them this, and they would be quite okay with me interrupting them if they went into their zone. So, that wasn’t an issue so long it was addressed.

Others went into hysterical weeping each time they prayed; another decided she was the group’s prophetess and wanted to give “prophecies” to members; yet another would manifest each time, freaking out the rest. So the prayer time stonewalled. Each got offended when I spoke with them, and left — while the rest sighed a sigh of relief.

Leaders set the standard. One thing that could be perfectly acceptable in a revival meeting — weeping, shouting out of prophecies, demonic manifestations — isn’t acceptable in a place where we’re supposed to be praying for the pastors and ministries of the church. It all depends on context and the leader’s discernment.

Much of the time, these manifestations were legitimacy issues — people needed to do these things in order to feel special and get everyone’s attention. Unfortunately, due to lack of discernment and fear of confrontation, leaders let these very needy people go on and on, while the rest of the group quietly leave until only the needy people and the leader are left. And the goal of the group, which is to pray for the church, and secondarily, for one another, isn’t achieved.

But every Sunday at the end of our prayer times, in our groups of 2s and 3s, people would minister peacefully to one another in prayer and prophecy and were blessed. I knew some looked forward to the prayer time because of the personal ministry at the end, but that was fine with me.

People need ministry and support, and the prayer ministry is a good place to receive it.

Starting a Prayer Team

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.