I sometimes wish I could have been there.
The new church at Jerusalem was in its infancy. There was an unmistakable excitement and anticipation among the believers. They began to gather together as a body shortly after Peter preached his message at Pentecost. Luke describes their actions in succinct phrases: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers” (Acts 2:42, HCSB).
I wish I could have been there to see it.
A Desire to Know
You see, I have this curiosity about how they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and, especially “to the prayers.”
What did the gathered church actually do to be so devoted to a ministry of prayer? What forms did it take? Just how did they come together as a group to pray?
I suppose we are not given those details in the Bible because the way they came together to pray is not as important as the mere fact that they did pray together. The early believers obviously did not just pray; they devoted themselves to prayer.
Where Have All the Praying Churches Gone?
In one of my early research projects on American churches, I discovered that the most evangelistic churches placed a strong emphasis on corporate prayer. Those churches did not simply depend on the latest evangelistic program to reach their communities; they prayed in earnest for the salvation of persons, as well as offering many other intercessory needs.
As my research continued through the years, I noted that same consistency: healthy churches emphasized prayer as a vital part of their corporate life. Like the early church at Jerusalem, they devoted themselves to prayer.
But I also noticed in my research that the decline in churches across America has been commensurate with the decline in corporate prayers. For many churches, a time of prayer is limited to one or two people voicing a public prayer in the worship services. There is no intent to involve all the people in prayers. Other churches have declared that they will have a prayer meeting one evening a week, with many churches choosing Wednesday evening as that time of corporate prayer. Sadly, most of those churches only have list of those with physical needs and perhaps the name of a few missionaries. The list is hurriedly prayed over so the small number of people at the meeting can get to “more important” activities.
Where have all the praying churches gone?
A Call to Devoted Prayer
As the role of corporate prayer has diminished in churches, so has the outward focus of those churches. The members began to care more about their own needs than those of the lost and hurting in the community. Some churches have major conflicts over music styles, times of worship, colors of carpet, and other issues because many of the members see the primary role of their church is to meet their needs.
When churches stop praying together, churches cease to be healthy.
Perhaps, you are like me, and you would like to know just how the early church came together to pray. If we knew their methodology, then we could replicate in our church.
But the Bible is silent on how to do corporate prayer.
Yet there is no doubt we are to pray when we gather. In fact, we are to devote ourselves to prayer.
I am often asked by church leaders for suggestions to help their churches become healthier, to reverse decline trends, or to get the church members focused on what really matters. I do not have a lot of the answers, but in this case I have one.
Call the people to pray together. Call them to devote themselves to prayer.
Then, and perhaps only then, will God begin to do a great work among His people.