Diary of a wimpy church

January 30th, 2015

The delightful New York Times best-seller “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” details Greg Hefley’s misadventures in middle school as told through cartoon entries in his diary. He records his insights and questions, his frustrations and aspirations. He’s writing it now so one day when he’s rich and famous he can simply hand it to the paparazzi when they ask about his life. “Here’s my journal. Now shoo, shoo.”

Just like you can tell a lot about someone’s life by their diary so you can tell a lot about the life of a church by their prayers. It’s a window into the congregation’s values and concerns, hopes and fears.

I realize prayer requests are pretty personal stuff; I’m not trying to bash anyone. Still, it needs to be said: Most prayers offered in most churches would classify our churches as wimpy. Yes, wimpy.

In the churches I attend and visit, the most commonly voiced prayer requests are for:

• People recovering from illness or surgery
• Their caregivers, or sometimes their survivors
• People traveling
• Communities hit by a natural disaster
• The U.S. Military and their families

These kinds of prayer requests make for a wimpy church; they keep us weak and ineffectual. I know I’m going out on a limb here and some of you may be offended. But stick with me.

I want to share with you how and why these kinds of prayers keep us wimpy, plus three ways to transform your church to strong, brave and confident! Finally, I have three tips for how to make the transition gracefully.

The how and why of it

In a word, our prayers tend to be about us: our health, our safety, our comfort.

Of course, no concern is unimportant to a loving, caring God. All of our individual worries, cares and fears are burdens equally shared by God. That’s not the issue. That’s not what makes us wimpy.

Here is the issue: Our individual prayers for our health, safety and comfort generally constitute the sum total of the corporate prayers offered in worship as the body of Christ.

What’s wrong with that?

1. We say that we are the hands and feet of Christ, who came for the whole creation, but our prayers reveal that we only care about us — specifically, our health, our safety and our comfort. When did you last pray for the earth’s creatures? Or people groups you have never met?

2. We say we want young people in our churches, but our prayers reveal we don’t care much about the world they live in or will lead. When did you last pray about the causes of teen suicide or the things that bring them joy?

3. We say we follow Christ, but our prayers don’t sound much like his. He prayed for unity, strength under duress, God’s will above his own, God’s kingdom to come, right-sized sustenance, forgiveness for sins and debts as well as the ability to forgive others, guidance to resist temptation and for faith to increase among other things. Other than the Lord’s Prayer, do you pray these things?

Prayers that transform

Ready for prayers that will make your church strong, bold and confident? If so, here are three strategies for you to try.

1. Offer a pastoral prayer that addresses the concerns of the world in the past week. Read the newspaper or watch what topics are trending on Twitter, whether #blacklivesmatter; #iamcharliehebdo; #JeSuiJuif. Don’t shy away from praying about what the rest of the world is talking about.

2. The world is in the midst of a new baby boom with the growth of the digital and millennial generations. What would make the world a better place for these young people to grow up in? Offer prayers that address those concerns.

3. Read the Gospels to see what Jesus prayed. Begin to reflect his concerns in the corporate prayers of the church.

Tips for the transition

Likely you have been praying “us” prayers for a long time. It takes intentionality to make this shift. Here are three tips to help you make a smooth transition:

1. Don’t pray off the top of your head. Instead, prepare ahead of time. Otherwise you are likely to default to prayers that focus on familiar themes. Ask Spirit for courage to sustain you in this new way of praying.

2. Weave personal requests for comfort, health and safety into corporate prayers that reflect the needs of the world, the young and Jesus’ own prayers.

3. Understand that many people in the congregation already have these wider concerns on their hearts and minds. But they are following your lead about what’s “acceptable” to lift up. Your wise words will embolden them.

Church, if we get these things right, then our prayers will no longer weaken our churches. Instead, they’ll make us stronger, braver and more confident! Then watch out. The word is likely to get out.

Rebekah Simon-Peter blogs at rebekahsimonpeter.com.

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