“Not long ago, I was in a church that clearly ‘gets it’ where prayer is concerned. Mountain View Community Church in Fresno, CA, hosted our ‘Can Prayer Save America?’ event this past February. From the time the conference opened, it was evident that prayer is simply a part of this church’s DNA.
“When we lead such a conference, we ask that the host church provide worship. We did not coach the worship team at Mountain View to lead in a certain way, yet the worship experience was loaded with prayer. Multiple times the worship leader prayed in between songs. His song selections were clearly related to the theme—crying out for God to send revival and spiritual awakening.
“Several times during a worship song, Mountain View people approached a microphone and prayed, reflecting the song’s content. At one point during a particular song, the main prayer leader asked people from the audience to pray bold, transforming truths related to revival and awakening. It was a powerful moment.
“But this church wasn’t just putting prayer front and center because it was a prayer conference. Prayer permeates its ministry each Sunday and throughout the week. Pastor Fred Leonard models prayer and disciples his staff to engage in prayer. They all keep prayer/spiritual growth journals—and for accountability, they must regularly share from their journals during staff meetings. Their weekly two- to three-hour staff meetings are characterized by an hour to even half of their meeting time, given to praying together.
“In Sunday school and small groups church leaders provide regular training regarding prayer. Every year they schedule at least two prayer initiatives—from a week to 40 days—during which the entire congregation is praying on the same theme. Mountain View wants every congregant to be discipled in prayer so that he or she knows how to pray with confidence. The leadership does not leave it to chance!
“The most intriguing thing that sets them apart from every other church I know: Anyone who steps into leadership (such as elders, small group leaders and those in teaching roles) must take a 12-week “prayer usher” class before they are qualified—and then they must receive ongoing prayer training.
“A prayer usher (a term coined by Dr. Terry Teykl) is trained in taking individuals and their issues before God’s throne of grace. They usher people—through praying for and with them—into God’s presence. These trained ushers are the ones who pray with people at the altar, visit the sick or encourage those in need of ministry support. The church also trains prayer ushers who are not directly involved in other leadership.
“Finally, Mountain View demonstrates a regional prayer influence by encouraging Fresno churches to pray together. Now a significant number of churches participate in a yearly prayer calendar that includes ten joint prayer events. Pastors pray together, within geographic clusters, weekly or monthly around the city.”
(“As Natural as Breathing,” by Jonathan Graf, Prayer Connect, Issue 4)
Building Praying Leaders
If you’ve served any length of time in any Christian congregation, you know what it is to deal with complaining saints. It’s one of the sad realities of church life. Lest we think its a modern phenomenon, just look at Acts 6:1—“the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.” Complaining Christians have a long lineage!
It’s fascinating to see how the leaders of the church in Jerusalem dealt with the situation that created complaining. It certainly would have been easy for them to step up and handle the unequal distribution of food to widows themselves. But they didn’t. They asked the church to choose other qualified leaders to handle this situation. Why didn’t they do it themselves? Because they had a prior commitment. “We will…give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4).
One of the key marks of spiritual leadership is knowing your calling and priorities. The apostles had those marks. They knew that heaven’s calling to them was for prayer and the ministry of the Word. It wasn’t that other things were not important or necessary. It’s just that they needed to make sure that prayer and the ministry of the Word was given the priority.
My friend Daniel Henderson often says that when he graduated from seminary, he came out with his sword sharpened on one side. We often train our leaders in the ministry of the Word, but neglect the ministry of prayer. A sword sharpened on just one side is not as sharp or effective as one sharpened on both sides. I believe that is a good description of much of leadership ministry today.