Systems Thinking: Personal Prayer

prayer2I’ll admit it: I struggle with prayer.  I always have.  I understand how it works, I know lots of different ways to do it, and I believe in its power.  But I have always struggled to pray well because it has always been outside of my systems thinking.  I’ve always thought about prayer as needing to be “authentic” – and by authentic we normally really mean spontaneous.  And I don’t do spontaneous.

But this week I was challenged by a prayer warrior to have “established and formal” prayer.  That sounds like a System to me!  And that I can get my mind around.  So what does a Personal Prayer System look like?  Here are some aspects I think need to be in place:

An Appointment

A Prayer System starts with having a time designated to pray.  It is important to have the time blocked out or it will get used for something else.  Just like anything else, if we don’t make time to pray, we won’t do it!

A Direction

Once you have time set aside to pray, a Prayer System needs a direction for the prayer to go in.  There are lots of ways to pray, and lots of things to pray for.  So choose one!  Choose a way (or many ways) to pray, and what you are going to pray about regularly (family, self, sins, church, the lost, etc).  Then stick to the plan flexibly – there are times you may need to shift your plan.

A Team

A Personal Prayer System starts with you praying, but it also needs people praying for you!  Find 2-4 reliable, trustworthy people and ask them to pray for you – as part of your system.  Then work them into the system by creating a scheduled sharing of praises, needs, and answers to pray.  Make sure to include those answers as encouragement to them to keep praying!

An Evaluation

Finally, a Prayer System, like all systems, needs some way to evaluate success.  Define what success looks like for you (time in prayer, answers to prayer, daily impact on life, etc).  Then create the scorecard – what you are going to track and evaluate (days I prayed, number of prayers clearly answered, number of times God clearly moved, etc).  Now evaluate, redesigning the system as necessary.

When we have a Personal Prayer System, our prayer becomes “established and formal”, and our lives, families, and ministries will be covered continuously in prayer.

How can systematic prayer transform your personal prayer life?

to the Center

English: A of . This church is situated in Sym...

None of these things is bad in itself.  We should belief the right things, act the right way, and have outer signs of our faith (faith without works is still dead).  But a church that is focused on the perimeter loses its focus on the center, which is Christ.

Rather than focus on the line between “us” and “them”, what would it look like if the church was focused instead of Jesus and Him Crucified?

A church focused on the Center will understand that we are all journeying toward Jesus – sinners and saints.  This journey then becomes a unifying thread between the found one and the lost one.  Both need to be moved in the same direction, just in different increments and ways.

A church focused on the Center will allow the lost to experience the community of the found, for there the lost experience Jesus.  This experience becomes a common experience between the lost and the found, a starting ground for conversation.

A church focused on the Center will view evangelism as discipleship, as it draws the lost toward Jesus and the found closer to Jesus.  They will see that discipleship begins before conversion, not just afterwards.

The Center focused church creates less distinction between the lost and the found, as it views both as travelers journeying in the same direction and moves to create commonality between the two.  When the lost and the found are together, the commonalities between them are readily apparent.

But the Center focused church will also create more distinction between the lost and the found, for the fruit of their lives will quickly display who is drawing close to Jesus and who is far from him.  When the lost and the found are together, the differences between them are readily apparent.

This is a church I want to be a part of – a church that takes seriously Jesus’ call to full discipleship of those found and those lost.

What do you think a center focused church might look like?

To love my enemies?

Two bombs. Three deaths. 130+ injured.

No motive. No answers. No one to blame. Yet.

My prayers go out to Boston, those affected, and their families.

How do we respond to tragedy like this? What is our paradigm for making sense of injustice like this in our world?

Blame? Revenge? Calls for Justice? This is often our first response. Shortly after the event, some vowed that those responsible would “feel the full weight of justice.”

And yet as Christians, our response must begin with prayer, mercy, and forgiveness.

Prayer for those affected: those injured, those who suffered loss, those whose peace has been taken from them. Prayer for those in authority: those who must oversee restoration of men and women, those who must restore trust, those who must lead us through. And Prayer for those who took these lives, that they might come to saving faith in Jesus Christ.

Mercy toward those affected: medical aid, housing aid, counseling, food. Mercy toward those leading: patience, willingness to follow, giving them the benefit of the doubt. And Mercy toward those who took these lives, that they may be given the chance to be reconciled to God rather than condemned to Hell.

Forgiveness. The story of the Good Samaritan teaches us to love our neighbor. But it also tells us that our neighbor is not only those like us, or those we like, but includes those who are the most different from us, those we hate. Jesus tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. And Peter reminds us that God desires that ALL might be saved.

What is our response to today’s events as followers of Jesus? To reconcile all things to God (2 Corinthians 5), including those who cause us harm. I am challenged to do this by Alex, a young Christian who forgave and prayed for salvation for the man who killed his parents.

Prayer. Mercy. Forgiveness.

What’s in a Name? Part Two

Part Two of a Three Part Series

Since many churches are changing their names or considering doing so, it is worth looking at why they do so and whether it is necessary or biblical.  Two assumptions lie behind most church re-branding: the idea that denominational affiliation is a detriment to evangelism and the idea that church attendance is somehow equivalent to evangelism.

“Having Non-Christians AtteA Different Church Buildingnd Our Church is Evangelism”

While I don’t think any pastor in America would say it this way, our actions speak louder than our words.  Long ago a shift occurred from encouraging our congregations to share their faith to encouraging our congregation to bring people to our worship services.  The message lines up with American culture: let the experts handle this.  If you want your kids to be educated, take them to the teacher (expert).  If you want to become proficient in dance, sign up for classes with an instructor (expert).  And if you want your friends to know Jesus, bring them to hear your pastor (expert).

This isn’t exactly wrong.  In fact, the experience of Christian community and worship is an experience of Christ, and is a major step on the path toward entering the Kingdom of God.  However, this is only part of the picture, not the entirety.  The problem is that this trend has led us to a point where Christians never share their faith, but instead focus on inviting their friends and family to a church service or event.  We have intentionally or unintentionally taught our congregations that their part of evangelism is to bring people into a church building.

When people think this way, then they think that we need to do whatever it takes to get people to come to our church building/service/event.  Our church has to be named something that will get people interested or at least that won’t keep them away.  (As I mentioned in Part One, our assumptions about how people view our denomination leads us to change our name just in case it will keep them away.)

What this leads to is a focus on targeted marketing.  We have to understand the people in our community so that we can market our brand successfully.  And the goal of that marketing is to get them to visit our church building/service/event.  There is nothing wrong with presenting ourselves to our community, and we want to make sure we have a positive image and voice in our community.  But we are entering a world where people do not wake up on Sunday morning and say “Let’s go to church!”  In fact, the majority of people will never darken the door of a church according to Alan Hirsch.

Instead of doing what we can to get people into our church building/service/event, we should be doing what we can to get our church (people) into our community!  We are worried about what we can do to get people in the door.  But if we would worry about what we can do to get into the community – schools, community groups, our neighbors’ homes – it won’t matter what our name is.

People will become a part of our church when they have a relationship with us.  And if they have a relationship with us, they won’t care what our name is!

Re-branding our church in order to get people in the door isn’t wrong, it just isn’t effective.  People just aren’t coming, and it isn’t because of our name, it’s because of the culture we live in.

To move our communities into our churches we are going to have to move our churches into our communities.  Any ideas how to do that?

What’s in a Name? Part One

Part One of a Three Part Series

Since many churches are changing their names or considering doing so, it is worth looking at why they do so and whether it is necessary or biblical.  Two assumptions lie behind most church re-branding: the idea that denominational affiliation is a detriment to evangelism and the idea that church attendance is somehow equivalent to evangelism.

“Our Denominational Affiliation is a Hindrance to Evangelism”Christian Denomination Logos

For whatever reason, many churches think that their denominational affiliation is a hindrance to evangelism.  That people in their community have such bad ideas about Baptists/Methodists/Episcopals/You Name It that they would never even consider attending a church with that brand association.  This has led to a rise in non-denominational churches and the use of the word community in many church names.  Churches with strong ties to their denomination take the name off but continue the affiliation.  I even spoke with a pastor who told me he didn’t tell anyone what denomination had funded their church plant because they might get the wrong idea about the church.

I think this is a misguided assumption.  In the early 2000’s, the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention (or should I say the Southern Community Convention?) commissioned a study on the topic (information I obtained in correspondence with the Illinois Baptist Association, the study is no longer available in print).  What they found was that church goers had strong opinions about denominations.  So your denominational affiliation has a definite impact on Christians who are looking for a new church.  But those who did not attend church had no opinion whatsoever about denominations.  They did not care what denomination a church was affiliated with, because they didn’t know much about any of the denominations.

So, denominational affiliation may be a detriment to attracting Christians to your church, but that isn’t evangelism.  Denominational affiliation is not a significant factor for a non-Christian to attend a church.  The biggest factor for them is who invited them.  If you invite them to your church, they might show up.  If you don’t, they won’t.  And most new Christians choose a church based on who led them to the Lord.  They will attend church with that person, mostly regardless of denomination.

So why does this assumption stick around?

First, because people hear anecdotes from their family or friends about negative evaluations of denominations.  People are almost always more trusting of a story than a study, and so these hold a lot of power.  One negative anecdote can counter ten positives ones.  Second, because people have their own negative evaluations of denominations that they project onto others.  If I think it, then so must everyone else.  Third, because of the rise of post-denominationalism in American Christianity.  We are less committed to our denominations, so we hold them with less regard.

Let’s stop thinking that we need to change our name because of our denominational affiliation, and start focusing on living out our denominational distinctives so that people in our communities are drawn to Jesus.

What about you?  Let me know your thoughts on denominations and church names.