Mission Essentials Four: Prayer

I remember listening to a great talk by Dick Dowsett on prayer.  It would’ve been around 1997 ish in the big top at Skegness for Word Alive (part of Spring Harvest).  His talk was rooted in Ephesians 1 and I can still picture Dick bouncing on his heels as he exhorted us to make prayer an attitude.  This re-vitalised my view of prayer.  As a young Christian, I had a view of prayer as an activity.  I return to this message often and find it to be comforting and challenging, depending on what kind of day I am having.

Yes,  I engage in prayer as an activity, but I find it most helpful to see prayer as an orientation or an attitude.  The depth of prayer is found in my heart first, then in my words. The richness of prayer is given an outward vesture in my words and actions.  Am I a person of prayer? How does prayer play a part in my spiritual life?  And how can it form an essential part of our mission as churches?

131349989_1a79dcc0b9How easy is it for us to bluster on in mission without prayer?  We have the good idea, get the meetings going and find all the practical details are in place.  Are we guilty sometimes of forgetting to pray?  How should we pray for our mission?

Let’s take a look at Paul’s words in Ephesians 1, and see if they resonate with us today.  We will hopefully draw out some principles for churches and praying for mission and maybe also some ideas for us as individuals regarding prayer.

Why should we pray for mission?  

For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints..  (Ephesians 1:15, ESV)

In the first part of this letter, Paul sets out the basis of the faith of the early church.  He writes of the ‘riches of his grace’, ‘redemption through his blood’ and being ‘sealed with the promised Holy Spirit’ – it is clear that Paul has been deeply affected by what God has done for him. It is for this reason that he then prays for the church in Ephesus.  God has done something amazing for him, through Jesus, and he wants this to spread throughout the region.  So… he prays.  That appears to be his starting point.  Everything Paul writes to, and does, in Ephesus is rooted and founded in prayer.  Maybe this tells us something. We should begin mission with prayer.  Our mission should find its origin in prayer.

How should we pray for mission?

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers..                     Ephesians 1:16, ESV

There are two simple things in this verse.  First, the fact that Paul never ceases in prayer. Secondly, he prays for the people he is writing to.  The people of Ephesus were learning about faith, but Paul tells them he is praying for them.  He is thinking of them.  His heart and mind are turned towards them, because of what God has done for him.  How do we do on these two aspects of our church’s life and mission? Are we ceaseless in prayer?  Or is it all to easy for things to stop us?  Are we guilty of ‘just getting on with it’ without realising that the whole activity of mission ought to be soaked in prayer.  Perhaps as churches, we could mutually encourage each other to let prayer be part of our mission – at the beginning, in the middle and at the end.

The second half of verse 16 guides us to pray for our communities.  If we are holding an event and expecting guests – let’s pray for them.  If we are not sure how many people are going to engage with something that we are doing – let’s pray that people will come.  Let us turn our thinking, planning or worrying about mission into prayer.  Pray for opportunities, pray for growth, pray for the people that we meet.

Prayer could become an attitude in our churches, not just an activity.  With this attitude before us, it could be that opportunities for mission become greater, it could also be that more people catch the vision and become involved in mission.

Eight simple tips on prayer and mission

  1. Find the pray-ers in your church!  – some people epecially love praying and will do it beautifully dutifully.  Find them and ask them to pray.  Praying is a gift and some people have it in greater measure than others.
  2. Get people to sign up to pray for events whilst they are going on – some people may not be able to help with Alpha or Messy Church, but they can pray!
  3. Write a special prayer for mission and growth – share it with your church leaders and encourage it to be put in your news sheet or included in your weekly intercessory prayer.
  4. Set up a monthly prayer group or meeting, specifically to pray for your community – so not praying just for churchy things, but for everything and everyone in your community.
  5. Start every planning meeting or conversation with a prayer – wherever it might be.
  6. Ask people you meet whether you can pray for them
  7. Pray for growth in church and in the daily office (if that’s your thing)
  8. Keep a prayer journal for the church – what did we pray for?  Encourage people to write down their prayers at home.
  9. When you walk in your community; pray – offer the community to God.

Mission Essentials Two: The Meeting

The papers are shuffled.  The chairs scrape into place.  The low-level chatter comes slowly to a pause.  The coffee has been sipped. It’s time for the meeting to begin.  You look around and work out how the meeting will go.  Will it stay on time? Will there be any drama?  Will I get across what I want to? I wonder what the football score is?

Meetings can be dull.  I wonder what coping mechanisms you have developed over the years to cope with the tiresome travails of interminable meetings?   In the church we are guilty of perpetuating the need for meetings. Almost to the point where everyone is unaware of why they happen in the first place! The BCC show W1A brilliantly satirises the aimless sycophancy of some meetings – production meetings in the show are punctuated by inane mumblings and thoughtless reactions to a pre-arranged agenda. Ring any bells?

Maybe your meetings are otherwise.  Maybe they are fantastically run, creative, thought-provoking and always achieve their aims.  Maybe.  I find the idea of some meetings intriguing:  How do certain national leaders behave in meetings?  How did the England cricket team’s Ashes debrief meetings go? Any meeting behind a closed door holds a moment of mystery for us.

a meeting

In the church we have loads of meetings.                                 Meetings to plan things.             Meetings to discuss things. Meetings to choose things. Meetings to brainstorm things.   Meetings to network.               Meetings to feedback.         Meetings to arrange meetings. Meetingszzzzzzzzzzzzz – sorry, I nodded off for a moment….


How can we use meetings effectively and efficiently in our Christian mission? Let’s explore some ways that we could make our meetings as relevant as possible. We will use Acts 15 as a blueprint for good, positive mission-focused meetings.

Where? is important

“Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem. (…) When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders.. ”   Acts 15:2, 15:4 ESV

Paul and Barnabas were keen to spread the news of the Gospel to all people – they wanted Gentiles to take their place in the church.  They knew that there were certain barriers to this happening; cultural and religious matters which could prevent this expansion. They promoted their cause at a meeting!  The Council of Jerusalem was the place to be.  Everyone who mattered was there, from each wing of the fledgling fellowship of early Christians to the hardline Pharisaical thinkers.  Paul and his friends got their timing just right.  For us it might be a challenge to know where and when to discuss things that pertain to the church.  Maybe we could find a local forum that is already meeting to promote our cause or to tell people what we are doing.  It may be that your local council has an open part to it’s meeting.  It would be brilliant to go there and speak clearly of the life and good news that we can share with those in our community.

When? is important

Just before Chapter 15, we read that Paul had “opened a door of faith to the Gentiles”. (What an excellent phrase.)  This was due to the work that Paul had done in spreading the message amongst those who didn’t believe.  But in the Council of Jerusalem, Paul and his friends give a passionate discussion about how they could overcome the issues that could potentially divide the church.  Both Peter and James speak about the covenant faithfulness of God and work their way towards a resolution.  This meeting was timed to coincide with the effect of growth in the church.  Growth lead to certain growing pains and a possible split in the church.  The early apostles met together at this time to find common ground and to best move the church forward.

Who? is important

All the important people seemed to gather in Jerusalem for this council meeting.  The apostles (Paul, Peter, Barnabas, James etc), the elders of the church in Jerusalem, believers from the Pharisees and other members of assembled church.   A real mix of insiders and outsiders, the leaders and the led, the important and the less-so. We read that there was “much debate” between those who were there.  This is an encouragement to us in our meetings, because we don’t always see eye-to-eye with everybody.  Healthy disagreement is good, as it helps us to see things from other perspectives and discover a richer understanding of the things we might be in disagreement about.

What? is important

At the council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 it was religious practices such as circumcision that was high on the agenda.  It could be that we have other, more pressing matters to discuss at our meetings.  Let us make our meetings be part of the vibrancy of our mission life together and not just a dull necessity.  Let’s meet in the key places, let’s meet at the right time for our community and people, let’s do our best to include the right people, let’s include some prayer, let’s include the views of as many as possible. May our meetings be positive, full of God’s Holy Spirit and worthy of God’s mission in our church life. It could be that the where, when and who of our meetings follow the blueprint of the council of Jerusalem and lead to the kind of growth that the early church saw!