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The Prayer Circle – Who Makes Church Happen?

Thanks for meeting us at the prayer circle.

It can be easy to get caught up in the latest church trends and become exhausted, all in an effort to try and make church or ministry happen, to make it grow, to see it transform lives. With the active Headship of Christ, though, we have His life working through us which is what produces lasting fruit.

In this week’s session, we are inviting you to rest: to pray with a mindset that welcomes Jesus’s presence and intentionally lets Him take charge.

Crash and Burn, the Turning Point

When I started pastoring, our genre of churches promoted the idea that church growth was all about big days, hard work, and hard preaching. There was also a lot of competition between the churches over attendance and baptisms. Everyone operated on their own level of awareness—so my thinking was:

If it’s hard work—a German farmer can handle it.

If it’s competition—an athletic competitor can handle it.

If it’s hard preaching—I have trained for this. I will do well.

If it’s big days—I will be fun and creative.

Let me pause here and say that it brings pain and grief to me now as I write this reflecting on my inner self. But this was all I knew. At the same time, I want to extend grace to all who read this that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with these tools if they are God-ordained for your situation. No guilt is intended here—only a heart that needed to learn a better way.

We hit the ground running. On the first Wednesday night after a “hard” message, “Ruth” was saved. She was our “first fruits.” Then, we had “picture” day. I was on the parking lot snapping pictures with my Polaroid camera as families got out of the car. After that we had “baby” day and so on. Working hard was no problem. Arising every weekday morning at 5:30—I was live on the radio at 6:05—I had a goal to make 50 visits a week while overseeing administrative duties and studying for preaching. I often arrived home at 10 p.m.

DiAnne, who was pregnant with our third child (Jewel), asked me one day, “Have you noticed how Jason laughs and plays with Bo (a man in our church) after the services?” I actually had seen my son enjoying the ride on Bo’s shoulders. Her question gave me pause—but there was no significant change. Hard work and sacrifice was my way. One severe blow to our marriage due to this attitude was when I personally borrowed money from the bank in order to give to a church building project. When the payment stubs came in the mail, it hurt her deeply. She had sacrificed and lived on a shoestring budget through college and seminary and was looking for better financial footing for us and the children. With a third baby on the way, this brought even further insecurity. All of this was in keeping with my learned paradigm of ministry though. “Ministry happens when we work hard, promote excitedly, and preach interestingly.”

All in all, we seemed to be doing well. Attendance grew, we were becoming family, and we called “Dave” to be pastor of music and youth. He was a dear servant. He and I are best friends yet today. He fell in love with our secretary, Connie, and I married them. Connie was in my original youth group. Several came to know the Lord. We even started proceedings to expand our K-5 program to a full-fledged Christian school. But inwardly, I was dying. The combination of exhaustion, ignorance, constant responsibility, and mild turbulence amongst the leaders rendered me powerless, and I crashed and burned. I found myself crippled with worry, fear, and depression.

Since then I have learned that Jesus Christ obviously present and actively in charge is our paradigm for success. Why? Because the natural by-product of His activity is lasting fruit. In one short verse, He both promises and warns us. “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5). The fruitfulness of the church is determined by its intentional practice of abiding in the Vine. The barrenness of the church is most often found in its prayer-less busyness.

In the last 50 years, I have observed many trendy paradigms which have offered to build great churches or at least grow their attendance: bus ministries, big day events, church growth, visitation nights, seeker sensitive, emergent church, etc. Admittedly these all have some good ideas and good advice. But the good news of real church increase is found in her Head, Jesus. So, we must return to the original paradigm that Jesus left us, “And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). Jesus was saying, “Stay in touch, stay connected.” So, the disciples honored and obeyed His instructions and continued with one accord in prayer (Acts 1:14) and when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place (Acts 2:1). After Jesus sent the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, “they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). This precedent set by Jesus through those early believers becomes the template of Scripture-based corporate praying which enables the church to abide in the Vine and bring forth much fruit. This is the original paradigm for success.

Let’s notice the historical progression of the relationship of Jesus to the church as revealed in Scripture. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus promises to build His church upon who He is. At that time, Jesus was on the earth and the disciples were on the earth. Jesus was present and authoritatively in charge. After His ascension we find the disciples on earth and Jesus in heaven. After a period of ten days, on the day of Pentecost, Jesus sent forth the Holy Spirit in great power. “This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear.” Again, Jesus was present and in charge (Acts 2:32-33). Jesus was birthing and building His church from heaven. In fact, in Mark 16:20, we read that after Jesus was received up into heaven and was sitting at the right hand of God, “And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following.” He was present and in charge from the Throne.

Fast forward to Revelation chapter one and we see Jesus, the Son of Man, walking in the midst of the seven candlesticks which are the seven churches (Revelation 1:10-20). The glorified Christ is still walking in the midst of His church. He is still present and in charge. The potential of having Christ present and in charge fascinates my faith!

If we could grasp the possibilities of this cooperation with Christ in prayer that believes and practices His presence in the midst of our churches, it could revive and revolutionize our ministries. This thought has totally changed my life. I so want to pass it on. Let me encourage younger ministers to avoid getting caught up in the tools of the latest trend and miss the “Carpenter” Himself.

Joe Humrichous

Joe Humrichous is the executive director of Paradigm One and Bible Prayer Fellowship. The message of the sufficiency of Christ for both the pastor and the local church was birthed during a time of brokenness in his early ministry. Now after 50 years in ministry, Joe is passionate to share this reality as it applies to corporate prayer and church leadership. He recently served as a pastor at First Baptist Church in Covington, Indiana. He and his wife Teresa have 5 children and 13 grandchildren.

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