Another book in the “Growing Healthy Churches” series by 9Marks, Prayer: How Praying Together Shapes the Church, both challenges and encourages us all to think more deeply on perhaps the churches biggest overlooked spiritual discipline.  AND…perhaps the reigning world champion of the “Lowest Attended Event for Every Church on Earth” title – the prayer meeting.

I had the helpful experience of hearing the author, John Onwuchekwa, speak at a church planting conference a few years back, so I was very excited to dig into not only this topic, but his perspective as well.  He didn’t disappoint.

Onwuchekwa is the Pastor of Cornerstone Church, Atlanta…and to be very transparent, I was a little surprised that in a completely different ministry context than me…prioritization and participation in prayer in the church is still a challenge.  What is the deal?  Onwuchekwa helps us come to grips with that.

This book helps us towards the goal of “learning how to pray better and more as churches.” [15]  Specifically, the authors purpose is to examine how prayer shapes the life of the church.  Much as been written about our individual prayer lives, but how do we pray together…as a church? Why is that important?  How can we be more consistent in weaving it into our DNA?

Now, it’s probably safe to say that most churches don’t completely ignore prayer…but rather minimize it. In both time allowed for corporate prayer and that invisible way we either celebrate something and hold it as critical, or the way we can regulate it to the ‘nice to have.

“Where prayer is absent, it reinforces the assumption that we are OK without God. Infrequent prayer teaches a church that God is needed only in special situations.  It leads a church to believe that there are plenty of things that we can do without God’s help, and we need to bother him only when we run into especially difficult circumstances.” [19]. Of course we wouldn’t come right out and say that…but we are saying that…right?

With a vulnerable mix of humor and honesty, Onwuchekwa talks about his own journey to prioritizing prayer. Through the loss of his brother, he was helped to “reinforce a forgotten truth: prayer is vital and necessary to spiritual life. Prayer is like breathing.” [22]

Quoting Millar, the author defines prayer as “calling on God to come thru on his promise.” [33] When we call on the LORD, we call on not only his name, but his nature.

Here’s then how that comes together in the local church, where a community of believer of Jesus gathers to live life together.  As Dever likes to point out – it’s impossible to answer the question of ‘what is a Christian?’ without talking about the church…and if the church shares a corporate hope in Christ, prayer [should] reflect our togetherness in Christ. [37]  AMEN.

Even looking at something like the Lord’s Prayer [Matthew 6:9-13] shows us that prayer, particularly gathered prayer, is to pray that God will continue to establish his gospel work through the local churches. [48]

This was something that was part of our culture as we planted Highlands Bible Church.  Planting a church makes you face an undeniable reality – there are things that you cannot do yourselves, no matter how hard you try.  God must establish his church. [Matthew 16:18].  After planting a church, you are faced with a subsequent undeniable reality – there are still things you cannot do yourselves, like the work of the gospel in the hearts of those who come.  We must continue to pray for God to establish his gospel work through the local churches!

This is how then praying together knits us together in that most important purpose – the making and maturing of disciples of Jesus Christ. [Matthew 28:18-20] “As we pray this way together, he forms us into a community of people who confess our dependency on him is not primarily circumstantial.”  [51]

It’s fine to pray for Aunt Betty’s knee.  We are told to pray for all things, but if we aren’t praying for the big things of God – the ministry of the gospel in the hearts of people – we are off base.

Onwuchekwa nails it – “The church gathers to meet together – we should be hearing the word preached, sang and read. And in response, we pray.  We gather to meet him together in large part through prayers that are responses to his Word.” [78]. AMEN!  God’s Word must be the foundation of all we do, it should be the central part of our gatherings.

The author gets practical in “how to” pray using the ACTS model of prayer:  Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication.  This is a model that few follow at HBC and we are still working on it, but I was encouraged that we seem to be headed in a solid direction.  The idea is not just to run into God’s presence with a list of requests…but rather spend time in His presence. As Onwuchekwa writes “unpack the attributes.” [80]

I also appreciated how practical he gets in “how to run a prayer meeting.”   Start with the Word, and then pray for “primarily kingdom-minded, whole body, major life concerns.” [100]. This is helpful and convicting.  We can pray for the “small stuff”…but again, what is the weight of what we pray for showing a priority?

Realizing all this is in a church is a marathon, not a sprint.  It’s a long walk. It’s being consistent.  It’s being patient. It’s a culture change. It’s being prayerful.

And it’s worth the effort.  Thanks, Pastor John.

 

One thought on “Book Review – Prayer: How Praying Together Shapes the Church

  1. I agree that it is so worth the effort. Starting this conversation now is so pertinent in the context of the larger issues moving through all denominations currently.
    This is the beauty of books and writing. More perspectives caught for posterity than can possibly be captured and portrayed in other forms of mass media.

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