Pastor's Blog

I didn’t grow up in an evangelical church and there are some evangelical traditions that continue to baffle me. One of them is the “unspoken” prayer request. For those unfamiliar with the tradition, an “unspoken” means that you are asking others to pray about an issue that you know about, but you don’t want those who are praying to know what the details of the request are, usually for privacy or confidentiality reasons.  Occasionally we receive “unspoken requests” on our e-mail prayer chain. When we do, we do not publish them. Here’s why.

 

If there is an issue that is confidential or needs to be kept private for some reason, putting an “unspoken request” out there is NOT a good way to protect the privacy of the matter. Issues that are confidential and private usually make for very meaty gossip – and when you put an unspoken request out there for others, you are telling them you have some meaty details about a very private issue, and you are essentially inviting their fallen human nature to come taste the delicate tidbits. You are creating the opportunity for them to ask about the matter; you are, in fact, subtly inviting them to ask you about the matter – out of genuine concern, of course – so they can pray more intelligently, of course – and their asking with such honorable motives will make it acceptable for you to be relieved of the secret. Not really.  That's just the lie we tell ourselves.  In short, unspoken prayer requests are a socially acceptable mechanism that evangelicals use to justify gossip.

 

James, the brother of Jesus, alludes to Elijah’s prayers regarding the withholding and sending of rain. Elijah prayed alone, and James encourages us to pray likewise, concluding that “the effective prayer of a righteous person has great power” (James 5.16, ESV footnote).

More people praying doesn’t mean more power with God. Prayer chains should actually be called news chains. Yes, we pray for the items, but they are a convenience to spread news and awareness when that is desired and necessary. We pray as a matter of fellowship, not effectiveness.  As far as "effective praying", ONE person is sufficient.

So, if you are privy to information that no one else should have, PRAY ABOUT IT YOURSELF. God will listen. Maintain your integrity and everybody else's and keep the matter private.  Cast your cares on your heavenly Father in your own prayer time. You will be spiritually refreshed and confirmed in your faith when you see Him answer.

 

 


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I was recently criticized by a believer from another fellowship for preaching from the Bible because it is offensive to people in our culture and is not therefore “missional” enough. The critic believed that the pastor’s job is to build and administrate an efficient institutionalized corporation that “gets the job done.”

 

I choose to take the criticism as a compliment.

 

Despite claiming a loathing for corporate America, Americans and American culture are still very business-and corporation-oriented. We are comfortable with the business corporation as a model for other things that we do, including ministry. We feel that a well-oiled efficient institutional machine is the best way to get things done, and we like to assess everything we do because the business model says that success is always measurable and quantifiable. We appreciate professionalism. If you really want to do ministry, you go through video training under a professional (and it’s crucial that he’s from out of town!) accompanied by a logo-stamped binder full of nifty pie charts and statistics and memory-friendly alliterated guides with offset pictures of sunsets and seascapes that house inspirational quotes that teach you how to get the job done.

 

The apostle Paul didn’t hesitate to adapt to the cultural characteristics of his target audience (as all missionaries try to do) and so perhaps he would use these very things if he were a missionary to modern America. And may God bless those who do use them!

It’s just that God has led me to see the Christian mission as being primarily about building souls (or lives or persons) and NOT about building an institution.  Yes, an institution is built in the process – but the institution is the means, not the end. The institution doesn’t do the job; the people do.

The mission is about real people relating truths that have gripped them to other real people who need those truths. I preach from the Bible in hopes that the Spirit will use a truth from the message to grip someone who will in turn run with it and apply it to bless another soul, one human being to another. The key to that process is for those involved to be real and genuine. For all of its strengths, the one thing that the professionalism of corporate America is NOT about is genuineness. And that is, in large part, why I tend to avoid it as a ministry model.

Our church is more of a family or a small village than a corporation. It doesn’t accomplish enormous newsworthy tasks. It doesn’t attempt to reach the masses. But there is a lot of ministry going on, soul to soul. I love when I see the Spirit of God using one ordinary genuine life, warts and all, to touch and powerfully move another ordinary life.  It happens in tiny moments in ways that are neither measurable nor quantifiable.  They are often well-nigh invisible to the observer.  And yet somehow lives are changed and the work gets done.

 

“Isn't it funny,” C. S. Lewis wrote in Prince Caspian, “how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back, everything is different?”


That observation is profound enough -- even without a picture of an island sunset.

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