Pastor tells how surrendering to God led to 40,000 praying for all Nashville residents by name

A woman prays
A woman prays | Reuters/Brian Snyder

Correction appended

A Tennessee pastor who specializes in church planting shared how he was able to coordinate about 40,000 Christians from more than 400 Nashville area churches to pray for every single resident of the city by name.

Dave Clayton, founder of Ethos Church in Nashville and leader of the group Onward Church Planting, spoke at the Exponential Conference Wednesday at First Baptist Orlando in Florida.

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Clayton talked about how a decade ago he and some friends planted a church. By its fifth birthday, the church had grown and had planted churches of its own.

Despite this major success, Clayton told the Exponential crowd that following a major gathering of the congregations, he recalled God calling him to do more.

“And He said, ‘Dave, I didn’t call you to gather a crowd. I called you to penetrate a crowd and then transform a crowd and then release a crowd not just for the city but for the nation and the nations,’” said Clayton.

Clayton talked about how he and his family had “a crazy journey of surrender” as he and the other leaders reassessed how Ethos was organized and how they made decisions.

“All of the people except our closest friends thought we were losing our minds. ‘Dave’s having a mental breakdown. They’re burning out, they’re leaving the church. What’s going on?’” explained Clayton.

“And I go, No, for the first time you’re seeing a leader who is under the authority of a true Senior Pastor and He’s calling the shots.”

Francis Chan, founder of Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, California, speaks at the Exponential Conference at First Baptist Orlando in Orlando, Florida on Tuesday, March 5, 2019.
Francis Chan, founder of Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, California, speaks at the Exponential Conference at First Baptist Orlando in Orlando, Florida on Tuesday, March 5, 2019. |

From there, Clayton was inspired to coordinate a massive prayer effort to get as many local churches as possible to pray and fast for every single citizen of Nashville by name.

Some churches protested the idea, noting that churches were “competitive” with one another. But he responded that he was “just walking in obedience.” Eventually, more than 400 churches across the Nashville area signed on.

“Forty-thousand leaders, 30 straight days of praying and fasting for every person in the city,” explained Clayton amid loud applause. “Every denomination, young and old, black and white, a hundred different languages represented in that group of churches.”

“Right now, those 40,000 leaders are literally writing hand-written notes to everybody in the city saying ‘you matter to Jesus’ and we’re saying God, you do unprecedented things because we’re surrendering to Him and we’re doing it together.”

Clayton’s effort, known as “Awaken Nashville,” garnered mainstream media attention, with the Tennessean recently reporting about the event which began on Jan. 27 and concluded Feb. 24.

Each person involved had a list of 15 people to pray for during the time period and addresses to send cards to, drawn primarily from publicly listed phone records, according to the Tennessean.

Clayton also told those gathered that God is not looking for the “most strategic” or “most skilled,” but rather “the most surrendered.”

“The way to more is not strategy and skills and speeches and systems,” declared Clayton. “The way to more is on the downward path of surrender.”

“If we want our churches to do more, it’s time that we, as senior leaders, get really committed to becoming less.”

Clayton drew inspiration from the New Testament book of Ephesians, written by Paul of Tarsus, which noted that the city learned about Christianity “because of this little church of nobodies.”

“Paul says, ‘listen Ephesian church, you didn’t get here because of your strategy, or your intelligence, or your systems. You got here because of your surrender,’” Clayton added.

Clayton’s talk about the value of surrendering to God and how it created a large ecumenical prayer event was part of the multiday Exponential Conference.

Scheduled for March 4-7, the theme for this Exponential Conference is “Made for More: Mobilizing God’s People, God’s Way.”

Francis Chan, a notable pastor and best-selling author, gave remarks Tuesday at the conference, stressing the importance of pastors always remembering that Jesus Christ, rather than themselves, is the head of their church.

“He is our head right now. So in light of that truth, how should I act? We all believe that He’s our head, right? What if He wasn’t the head of the Church? How would you do things differently? Think about that,” said Chan to those gathered.

“I realize that a lot of times I don’t act like He’s the head of the Church. I don’t act like I’m just like an arm. And I don’t really humble myself, ‘Lord, You’re the head of the Church. What do You want me to do?’ The arm doesn’t do anything unless the head tells him to do it.”

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Dave Clayton left Ethos. He currently still serves at the church.

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