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Essentials Pastors Need To Know About Prayer-Teams

[Excerpts taken from pp. 101-112 of Coach Bill McCartney's new book Blind Spots, which can be purchased from http://www.christianbooks.com .  This book is a total must read--must use like a handbook and never give away--for every pastor who wants a blessed ministry.  Don't be satisfied to merely read these excerpts, they're only a foretaste of what lies hidden in his book, like nuggets of pure gold.] 

".I realize that if we're going to keep our fresh fire and energy and vision, we must have the protection of prayer.  A spiritual battle rages between the forces of heaven and hell, and we can't afford to enter the fight without committed prayer warriors encircling us.

A NECESSITY FOR LEADERS

Everyone who wants to make a lasting difference for Christ and his kingdom has to find a way to build and maintain an effective prayer covering.  Failure in ministry can often be traced to failure to create an active, unified prayer team.  When we disregard or neglect the crucial place of group prayer, we allow our blind spots to continue to plague and injure us.

          With a committed prayer team laboring for and with us, however, we tap into the infinite power of God.  We begin to see his mind and his will with increasing clarity.  We feel his heartbeat with growing certainty.  More and more, his desires become our desires, and we see his mighty hand acting on our behalf and for his glory.  [If you doubt what Coach is saying in this paragraph you need to read Jim Cymbala's Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, also available at http://www.christianbooks.com or http://www.amazon.com .  Also excerpts to his book are in this prayer section, available for a taste.  The Brooklyn Tabernacle is a vibrant story of a prayer-partner miracle that not only saved a church but built it up beyond their pastor's wildest dreams.]

          Jesus promises us, "If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.  By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples" (John 15:7-8, NKJV).  Our Lord tells us that when we abide in him--when we vitally connect to him in righteousness--then he answers our prayers and we "bear much fruit"--we carry out the justice that delights his heart.  And in that way, God is glorified.

          Perhaps no apostle enjoyed a more productive ministry career than Paul; and judging from the letters of the New Testament, no apostle asked others to pray for him more than Paul.  A coincidence?  I doubt it.

          "And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ," he wrote to the Colossians (4:3).  "Brothers, pray for us," he directed the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 5:25).  "Finally, brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you.  And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men, for not everyone has faith," he asked them again (2 Thess. 3:1-2).

          (And if he wrote the book of Hebrews, as many suspect, he also made the identical request of them.  See Hebrews 13:18.)

          But what kind of prayer should we request?

BACK TO MARK 11:25

The same verse that guides our meetings at Promise Keepers also directs our times of prayer.  Remember Mark 11:25?  Jesus said, "And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins."

          Without clean hands and a pure heart, our prayers go no higher than the ceiling.  But when we come together to pray according to a set of mutually agreeable ground rules, and when we refuse to begin without first making sure that we follow our Lord's command, watch out!  The sky's the limit.

          In the game of poker, four of a kind beats a full house every time.  The same principle holds true for prayer.  More power exists in the prayers of four believers who petition God in unity than in a house full of believers who pray with clashing agendas and attitudes. 

          This principle helps us to set some useful ground rules.  Before we pray in groups, we say, "Remember, our prayers are going to be voided if anyone here has anything against anybody in this room, or against anybody else."  One of the first times we began this way, at least two members of our team left the room to get squared away with other staff members.  [Wow!  This is making Christianity real!]

          Because God loves to honor his Word, we continue to see the fruit of praying in groups according to Mark 11:25.  As we emphasize restored and godly relationships as a precondition for effective prayer, we pray with far more genuineness and power.  And we see results.

          Do you want to know one reason why the growing divide continues to afflict the American church?  I would like to suggest it's because there has been no integrity when we pray.  One part of the church has "held something against" the other part, and neither part has learned how to forgive the other.  How can the Lord hear and answer our prayers for revival when the church remains seriously divided?  When we ask him for revival, which part do we want him to revive?

          The prayer component of any Christian organization or group has to rise at least to the level of purity described in the books of Leviticus or Numbers or Deuteronomy.  Moses told his people that if they wanted God to hear their prayers, they had to obey the Lord and surrender to his will.  The same remains true for us.

THE CHURCH'S BOILER ROOM

Group prayer, offered with integrity, is the boiler room of the church.  There we tap into God's power.  Without integrity in our praying, our prayer rooms are reduced to mere noise.

          It takes only one person whose heart is not right, who knowingly fails to resolve a conflict with another, to nullify the power of group prayer.  Let's say we fill a prayer room with representatives from several distinct camps, whether theological, ethnic, or cultural.  A few minutes into the meeting, someone starts praying in tongues.  A conservative believer hears the ecstatic utterance and feels grieved.  What happens?  The whole room shuts down.

          When we feel offended by the way someone prays--let's change the image and say that an individual starts dancing, or raising his hands, or speaking in Russian-our negative reaction turns off the spiritual power in the room.  We shut down the entire proceedings. 

          Or consider a more concrete example.  A current dispute in the Native American community concerns the use of drums in the worship.  Many conservatives consider any role for drums inappropriate since in times past the drums were given names and thought to be possessed by spirits [probably were].  Many other believers, however, feel that the drums [now] represent a distinctive characteristic of their culture and insist that as long as the drums aren't given names or possessed by spirits, their use in Christian worship services ought to be allowed [I kind of agree].  What happens if this issue isn't resolved ahead of time and one or the other group feels offended by what happens in the prayer meeting?  The whole room shuts down.

          To prevent such a thing from happening, we have begun to implement some ground rules for group prayer.  Dave Wardell and Rose Opp lead our prayer ministry, and I credit them with increasing the effectiveness of our Promise Keepers event prayer rooms.

          How does it work?  Suppose you see a group of individuals praying in a room.  You don't enter the room right away.  You stop at station number one, which challenges you to check your heart and consider whether you have unresolved issues with someone else.  If you're clear, you move to station number two, which explains the guidelines that direct how believers should pray in that room.  "If you don't agree to these guidelines," it says, "don't come in."  Once you clear stations one and two, you're welcome to enter the room and join the others already in prayer.

          A short while ago Promise Keepers invited about sixty intercessors from around the country, representing a wide variety of camps, to join us at our headquarters for three days of sustained prayer.  We brought them in for the expressed purpose of discussing what it takes to create and maintain an effective prayer room.  We told them, "Whenever we pray together, here are the ground rules.  If you can't agree to these ground rules, then we must ask you to leave."  They agreed, and we enjoyed three stunning days of prayer.

          Out of those meetings, we identified several key aspects to effective group prayer.  First, everyone must come in humility; a proud heart cannot pray effectively.  Second, every man in the room--regardless of ethnic, theological, or cultural background--must prefer others over himself.  Third, everyone must remain consciously sensitive to the differing styles and theological convictions present in the room.  Fourth, no one may "push" their own style.  And fifth, everyone must learn to function within a mold comfortable to all present.  In short, everyone must be of one accord and come to the Lord of glory on an absolutely equal footing.  [I'm going to add something that is related to "being in one accord": Don't spring something unknown in prayer before the group that you've not discussed with others in the group, so they can't really discern what you're praying for--or more importantly, they're not sure they want to add their "Amen" to your request.]

I LOVE MY JOB

On February 7, 2002, we hosted a group of about six hundred men (pastors made up about 40 percent of the crowd) in Washington, D.C.  We wanted to encourage pastors all across the country to form a prayer team of men led by a pastor-appointed, male prayer leader.  We hope to raise up a least thirty thousand of these special leaders.

          Pastor Ted Haggard of New Life Church in Colorado Springs rose to speak.  "There isn't anything about being a pastor that doesn't thrill my heart," he said.  "I love all of it.  I've been called by God, and I get to do just what he's gifted me to do.  I love preaching.  I love counseling.  I love funerals.  I love weddings.  I love fights.  I love every aspect of my job.  I love it all."

          As I looked into the crowd, I could see startled, disbelieving looks on hundreds of faces.  You could almost hear them thinking: I wish I could say that!

          At one point the speaker pointed to man sitting in the crowd.

          "Do you see that guy right over there?" he asked.  "That's my pastor-appointed prayer leader.  Do you know what he's done?  This guy is on fire for the Lord.  He's gone around and rallied the men of our church to pray for me 24/7.  I'm covered.  My family's covered.  The enemy can't get to me.  That's why I'm able to enjoy what I do so much."  [President George Bush has made similar remarks, and then gives all the credit to the Presidential Prayer Team that has been praying for him 24/7.]  [To learn more about Prayer Partnering and Prayer  Teams, log onto: http://www.UNITYINCHRIST.COM/prayer/partner.htm or http://www.UNITYINCHRIST.COM/prayer/excerpts.htm .]

          A little later in the program, this pastor's prayer leader came forward to speak.  From the moment he opened his mouth, you could tell he had two distinct qualities: fresh fire and deep humility.  This guy was alive.  He breathed excitement over prayer.  And he painted a thrilling picture of what it's like to recruit a guy and motivate him to pray.  He described how a guy grows and stretches through prayer.  His task was not to counsel, to correct, to advise, or to tell his pastor how to do his job.  His sole assignment was to get men in his church to pray.

          Sounds good, doesn't it?  So why not bless yourself with such a team?  [Again, to read a very real example of what happened to a pastor and his church when he did assemble such a team, read Jim Cymbala's Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, available at http://www.christianbooks.com or http://www.amazon.com .] 

          I believe that every pastor needs a male, pastor-appointed prayer leader.  That man has only one job: to recruit other men from the church to join a prayer team for the sole purpose of praying for the pastor, for the needs of the church, and for the community.  That's the total assignment.

CREATING YOUR OWN MALE PRAYER TEAM

Every man, every boy, grows up longing to be part of a team.  In his heart, every man yearns to be picked as a member of a winning squad.

          For his part, every pastor and church leader needs loyal teammates who will surround and assist him.  Most of the pastors I know feel isolated.  Often their isolation leads to deep wounds and awful loneliness.

          Enter the team!

          Pastors and church leaders need teams of men around them.  And men want to be part of a team.  What better way to meet both needs than to create teams of godly men who pray faithfully for their pastor or leader, church, and community?

          Do you know the story of the redwood tree?  A redwood tree, when it grows to maturity, reaches a height of a hundred feet.  But the roots of a redwood tree rarely go deeper than six inches to a foot into the ground.  So why doesn't a mild wind topple a redwood?  It's because the roots of individual redwood trees embrace and intertwine.  They grab on to one another and never let go.  That's how redwoods stand-they stand together.  Like a team.

          Pastor, do you realize the critical importance of a male prayer leader who recruits other men to surround you and cover you with prayer?  A team of faithful prayer warriors cannot help but enhance your ability to lead.

          We do not at all intend to undermine or demean the ministry of faithful women who for years have labored as effective prayer warriors.  Rather, as a ministry focussed on men, we seek to show men their God-ordained role in supporting their pastor and other leaders in prayer.

WE'RE GOING TO DO IT TOGETHER

Former Michigan football coach Bo Shembechler often said to his teams, "Do you know how we're going to win?  We're going to master the fundamentals.  We're going to block and tackle better than everyone.  We're going to throw and catch better than anyone.  We're going to protect the football.  And we're going to do it together.  That's how we're going to do it.  There are going to be no superstars on this team.  Everybody is going to be more interested in Michigan than in himself.  That's how we're going to win."  [Watch the old Gary Cooper movie "12 O'clock High to put this advice into a spiritual military setting--with the same results, winning by mastering the basics as a team.]

          Let me ask you a few questions. Have you ever requested that one of your men undertake to pray specifically, regularly, and passionately for you?  Have you ever asked anyone to start a prayer team like the one I described?  What do you imagine would happen if a male, pastor-appointed prayer leader called some of your men and asked, "Can I take you to lunch?" then sat down with each one, talked with each of them about the Lord, developed a kindred spirit, and explained, "Here's what we need you to do in this church?"  I have no doubt that many, if not most, men would jump at the chance.  There would be many who would say, "How high? How far? How much?  Tell me what you want me do.  I'm ready."

          But nobody asks these guys.

          I say there are men all over the church who could transform our congregations if someone would just mobilize them.  If we are ever to get the church together, if we are ever to heal the growing divide that plagues the church-then pastors must learn how to get their men into the game.  Women for the most part, are already lined up on the field.  It's the men we have to enlist, engage, and get active.

          Just yesterday, the head coach of a major college basketball team called me at home.  He's a believer under tremendous pressure. 

          "Man," he told me, "I'm praying.  I've been offered another job and I don't know whether to take it."  Then he described his whole difficult situation.

          "Here's what you need," I told him.  "We are going to build a team of men around you who understand Mark 11:25 and who are going to cover you.  And you're going to discover that in the midst of pressure and circumstances and everything else, you can find breathing room."

          We need to create such prayer teams for our brothers, especially for guys in high-profile positions to which the media scrutinize and reports everything they do.  I hear the words of the prophet Samuel ringing in my ears.  "As for me," he told his people, "far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you" (1 Samuel 12:23).  I envision putting teams of prayer around these leaders--teams of men who will love them and encourage them, not tell them how to do their jobs.  These prayer warriors will say, "We are your brothers in Christ.  We're proud of you, and we want you to be free to be the leader that God has raised you up to be."  I envision this happening everywhere.  And as soon as we take on the burden of another, we begin to feel his pain and struggle, and the experience knits us together.  Periodically, we'll feel compelled to call this brother to encourage him.

          When pastors and church leaders form these prayer teams, they'll discover the freedom and power of concentrated prayer.  Not only that, they'll discover a new ability to draw out of their men a higher level of spirituality and productivity that infuses them with a sense of worth and value, mission, and vision.

          And you know the best thing of all?  Every leader can have such a prayer team.  He just has to take the initiative to make it happen.

NABBING EAGLES

When I first came to the University of Colorado in 1982, I faced a difficult challenge.  The football program had fallen on hard times-it had won only seven games in three years-and we had to begin the hard work of rebuilding the program.

          Yet by 1990, just eight years later, the Associated Press had voted us the national champions.  How did we do it?  By attracting eagles.

          An eagle is an athlete who stands out.  He's not only an achiever, he's an overachiever.  In the world of evangelism, Billy Graham and Luis Palau are eagles.  In the world of acting, Morgan Freeman and Tom Cruise are eagles.

          For the most part, eagles like to flock together.  If you can get one eagle, you can get another eagle.  The problem was, before 1982, the University of Colorado Buffaloes hadn't attracted any eagles for a long time.  So what could we do?  We prayed and consecrated the football program to Jesus Christ.

          Before long God gave us Eric McCarty, a true eagle and a genuine fireball.  From that day on, whenever we brought in key recruits, we put them with Eric.  He loved people, he loved God, and he had great chemistry with young kids.  Eric became a catalyst for us to attract other eagles.  And soon we started getting the kind of talent that all great teams must attract and keep.

          Eagles attract eagles.   That principle works not only in football, but in most other spheres of life.  It certainly works in ministry and in the area of prayer.

          If you want to experience the difference that a team of male prayer warriors can make in your ministry, then find yourself an eagle.  Find a humble man in your church who loves God and others, who knows how to pray, who's filled with the Spirit--and challenge him to recruit other men to serve on a team dedicated to prayer.

          Did you know that in any average group of one hundred men, eighty can be influenced by the actions of ten others?  Ten men in any such group will naturally influence the others in a positive direction, while the remaining ten will resist and oppose virtually every positive thing presented.  Your task is to find those ten positive eagles and invest in them, train them, and set them loose to influence the others.

          Believe me, nothing is more fun than being with men of God who love God and who get together to do the things that men of God like to do.  That is pure fellowship.

          So get yourself an eagle.  Let him attract other eagles.  Get them praying for you, for your church, and for your community.  And then stand back and watch as God begins to remove the blind spots that keep us from approaching his throne as a unified family of believers.

          When that happens, you're off and soaring into the wild blue yonder."

TAKE ME WHERE I CAN'T TAKE MYSELF

When a blue-chip high school athlete looks around at different colleges, what factors help him to choose a school?  Most kids consider several variables: location, school size, winning tradition, community culture, etc.  But one of the biggest factors comes down to coaching.  Most athletes look for a program where they can learn.

          It's as if they say, "Coach me.  Please, coach me.  Take me beyond myself.  Take me where I can't take myself."  A good coach develops the ability to take his athletes where they can't take themselves.

          This is a definition not only of good coaching, but also of good pastoring.  Successful pastors take guys where they can't go by themselves.  Effective pastors understand why a guy isn't responding and go after him.  They see Jesus Christ in him, the hope of glory.  And they know that man is a dynamo just waiting to be unleashed for the kingdom.

          But what's the best way to tap into such a vast potential?" 

To find out, order Coach Bill McCartney's new book "BLIND SPOTS", available at http://www.Christianbooks.com

To research some other quality material on the subject of prayer, applying to both the congregation and for the individual believer, be sure to click on the "Prayer" section of this website.

"Unity Meditative Prayer-Groups is looking for a few good prayer-warriors (to quote the famous US Marine Corp ad). These groups are strictly for those who are interested in the type of prayer-group that will both strongly enhance their own personal walk with Christ, as well as assist in bringing powerful spiritual unity within the entire body of Christ. CLICK HERE to read more about these Unity Meditative Prayer-Groups."

 
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