The church is convinced of their need to personally engage this lostness through the truth of the Scriptures and the conviction of the Holy Spirit.
The Sending Church Elements are a framework for growing as a sending church. They point out the strengths and weaknesses of churches in missions. Embracing Spiritual Conviction describes a transformation of the sending church, in which a theology of mission flows from the peoples' minds into their hearts. This series will address why spiritual conviction is important and explain the means God gives us to grow in conviction.
In the previous article "Embracing Spiritual Conviction Through Prayer: The Church's Steering Wheel," we considered the impact that an individual can have on their church when he or she prays passionately for God's mission. Travis McGowen witnessed his church move from little global awareness to sending their first family—to the very people group of whom Travis had been interceding. If that is the kind of thing that can happen when one person is faithful to pray, imagine the possibilities of an entire church praying together!
What the Bible teaches about corporate prayer and mission
When we consider corporate prayer in the Scriptures, several examples may come to mind. One of the most notable is in Acts 13 as the leaders of the church at Antioch were worshiping, fasting, and praying together. This is the context from which the momentous sending of Barnabas and Saul launches. We should not make light of this connection that Luke, the author of Acts, made for us. It is ripe with meaning.
Corporate Prayer is the Appropriate Response to Salvation
Before we begin to leverage corporate prayer as a means to an end (namely, the fulfillment of the Great Commission), we must see it for what it is: an appropriate response to so great a salvation. As a gathering of church leaders, specifically "prophets and teachers" (Acts 13:1), there was much to discuss and much to do. The growing church surely needed exhortation and instruction. But the leaders were busy "worshiping the Lord and fasting" (v. 2). They had not yet become too busy to remember who had assembled them all in the first place. It is likely that the nature of their little gathering reflected these simple worship lyrics:
Open up the sky / Pour down like rain / We don’t want blessings / We want You
Or, if you prefer, the scene also embodies the lines from Psalm 116:12-14:
What shall I render to the Lord
for all his benefits to me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation
and call on the name of the Lord,
I will pay my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people.
The psalter's response to God's salvation is lift it back up in worship together among those who had also experienced it. This is the heartbeat of corporate prayer.
Corporate Prayer is a Confession of Dependence on the Lord of the Harvest
Common to modern missiology, so common in fact that we do not recognize it, is the watering down of the Great Commission. With noble desire we wish to make it achievable, and that by the hands and blood of men. Thus we labor to to break it down to a formula of unidentified, unengaged, unreached people groups with an eschatological deadline for reaching them all. If we were to pause long enough to consider the breadth and length and height and depth of the commission to which we've been given, just as when we meditate upon the One who gave it, we would tremble with our inability to achieve it, and thus our complete dependance on him "to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us" (Ephesians 3:20).
This is pictured clearly in the pre-Pentecost sending of Jesus' followers in Luke 10. Jesus began his instructions to them by defining the conflict within his mission: "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few" (v. 2). It makes sense to assume that his next directive would be to then send out his laborers. But instead he said, "Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest" (v. 2). It served as three-fold reminder of our posture toward the mission:
- Pray "earnestly to the Lord"
- Pray to "the Lord of the harvest"
- Remember it is "his harvest"
This is similar to Jesus later admonitions for his disciples to ask for anything in his name (Matthew 18:19, 21:22, Mark 11:24, John 14:14, John 15:7, 16, 16:23). This confession of dependence seems to the doorway into God's presence, provision, and power for mission. And yet it is the opposite of so many of our human and cultural inclinations, such as busyness, pragmatism, accomplishment, immediate gratification, productivity, and self-sufficiency. No wonder God would have his followers inaugurate their obedience by crying out to him!
Corporate Prayer is the Key to Building Unity Amidst Diversity
The beginning of Acts 13 is a remarkable example of unity amidst diversity. Not only was it a smattering of Jewish and Gentile backgrounds, nor just a group of ethnically varied men, the collection of leaders were identified specifically as "prophets and teachers" (v. 1). These are two of the different kinds of leadership gifts given to the local church according to Ephesians 4:11.
These two kinds of leaders do not always get along so well. The prophets are wired to call out sin, distribute warnings, and push others beyond self-focus, something the church desperately needs. The teachers are closely associated with the "shepherds" of Ephesians 4:11, who often minister most fruitfully amidst the needs the church. Since many churches today are structured according to the leadership of a senior pastor, however he is gifted often becomes the impetus which shapes the entire leadership culture.
In other words, we naturally pursue unity amidst uniformity, not unity amidst diversity.
Through the leaders at Antioch, God instructs us otherwise. What was the binding agent among this diverse group? It was the power of the gospel, in the unifying Person of the Holy Spirit, through the humbling, leveling practice of corporate prayer. And just look at what God did through it!
For perhaps an even more encouraging picture of corporate prayer, consider Acts 4:23-31. Here, not only were the church leaders gathered in prayer, but the entire body of Christ. No wonder "the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness."
Photo credit: GospelMag.com