For the past several years, we’ve worked diligently to cultivate a culture of prayer on the Kentucky District (a network of churches). When we gather for district events—we pray. It’s the most important thing we do.
I can’t think of anything that brings more vitality to the life of the local church than God’s people praying together. Creating a culture of prayer requires a deep commitment on behalf of leadership. Modeling corporate prayer is a form of discipleship for everyone involved—every time we pray together we teach people that it’s okay to pray together.
We include extended times of corporate prayer at District Assembly and Conventions, Pastor and Spouse Retreat, the District Christmas Celebration, Mid-Winter Retreat, missional area gatherings, special training days, teen and children’s events, etc. Again, at this point, prayer is merely part of what we do. The more we pray together, the more natural praying together becomes.
Our times of corporate prayer are never cut short. We don’t pray for five minutes and then go back to our seats. Sometimes we pray for a half-hour, other times for over an hour, sometimes longer. We do this at every event, every single time—no exceptions. As much as we pray together, amazingly, it never feels like we have prayed enough.
At first, implementing intentional times of corporate prayer felt difficult. People resisted it. Oddly enough, some people fail to grasp the power of prayer. They’ve neglected it for so long that they don’t value it anymore—so they ridicule. That is what religious people do with things they don’t understand. I find it strange that anyone who identifies as a “Christian” would complain about praying too much.
Nonetheless, the more we pray together, the more natural praying together becomes. At this point, people come to district events expecting to pray. In other words, the culture has shifted—prayer is on the agenda.
A Posture of Corporate Prayer
How we pray is an integral part of creating a culture of prayer—details matter. Creating an atmosphere of receptivity is essential. Minimizing distractions, teaching people to prepare their hearts for intimacy with Jesus, and illustrating the importance of order are all critical components of corporate prayer. With this in mind, the following describes what happens when the district comes together for corporate prayer.
We always gather close to one another, never leaving people spread out across a room or separated by seats. Everyone is invited to gather around the altar at the front of the sanctuary or auditorium. The altar represents a place of sacrifice: a place of “laying down one’s life.” Often this reminder is spoken aloud while people are coming forward.
We usually sing a chorus of praise as people make their way to the front. Music is an essential part of setting the tone of the prayer meeting, as we desire to enter His courts with praise. Once we are in place, we take time to clear our minds and assume a posture of humility. We hold hands or lay our hands on the people’s shoulders next to us in a spirit of unity—this creates an environment of intimacy. When you stand shoulder-to-shoulder with another person and pray together, it changes the atmosphere of the room.
We invoke the manifest presence of the Holy Spirit—inviting Him to make His presence known. We pray prayers of praise, repentance, thanksgiving, and supplication. We pray to be filled with the overflowing presence of Jesus. Sometimes we pray with joy, other times we lament. Sometimes we pray boisterously, other times, we listen in silence and share words of encouragement as the Holy Spirit leads.
We pray prayers of intercession. We pray for prodigals to return home. We anoint people with oil. We pray for physical and emotional healing. We pray for deliverance from any and every form of bondage. We pray for families, communities, cities, pastors, churches, spiritual leaders, schools, public servants, government leaders, and those who are marginalized and oppressed.
We pray extemporaneously and orderly. We pray the Holy Scripture—especially Psalms. Everyone lifts their voice in a concert of prayer, some quietly, others loudly. We pray in different languages when our Hispanic, African, or Chin sisters and brothers are with us. Various pastors and leaders help lead our times of corporate prayer. Although someone is responsible for directing these gatherings (master of ceremonies), no one person controls the flow of these special times of prayer. I like to think of the MC as the discerner of the Spirit.
Praying Against the Enemy
We take up the mantle of spiritual warfare. We pray against Satan. When I say, “Satan,” I mean any form of spiritual wickedness or demonic influence. I often remind people that when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, the Devil didn’t show up physically, sit down, and start talking to Him. Jesus didn’t see the Devil with His eyes. We realize that we will probably never see him either. Part of the Enemy’s scheme is to keep his presence unknown; he’s always lurking in the shadows.
We pray with the realization that Satan comes against us the same way he came against Jesus: in the mind. He always comes cloaked in a thought—disguised in the way we think. Evil spiritual entities manipulate our feelings and impress lies upon our lives through the portal of the mind. In Matthew 4, when Jesus resists the Devil, He speaks the Word to him with authority. We understand that it’s not going to be any different for us. Thus, we exercise authority over the Enemy during these times of corporate prayer by speaking against him directly.
We realize that when we speak to the Devil, he is forced to flee—not because of who we are, but because of the authority of the One to whom we belong. We know that Satan will always come against the church. Therefore, when we pray corporately, we come against his dominion collectively. We understand that we can’t take ground from the Enemy as long as the Enemy has ground in us.
Prayer In The Local Church
Initiating times of corporate prayer in every local church remains part of the vision of the Kentucky District. We appeal to every pastor, leader, and congregation to make corporate prayer the centerpiece of all they do. I realize that churches that have not been taught to pray corporately need time to adjust. We do not advise informing your congregation that you are immediately canceling another service and calling everyone to the sanctuary for an hour of prayer.
However, I am convinced that if pastors lead with discernment, corporate prayer can become central to any congregation. I would advise starting by incorporating shorter times of prayer during the regularly scheduled services. Invite people to come fifteen minutes before church starts and pray together around the altars. Take time to study various models of prayer—A.C.T.S., Tabernacle Model, The Lord’s Prayer Model, Waiting/Silence, etc. Do not merely gather people around the front and start taking prayer requests without spending time listening, praising, thanking, and repenting.
Interestingly, some churches are uneasy with the idea of praying more, which doesn’t surprise me. The American Church today looks a lot like the Garden of Eden after the Fall—it’s mastered the art of hiding and making excuses. Intimacy with the Word has been replaced with fig leaves. Why would anyone who identifies as a Christ-follower be skeptical of setting aside more time for corporate prayer in the life of the church?
People are apprehensive about corporate prayer because they are afraid of vulnerability—fearful of letting their guard down. They would rather wear figs leaves at a distance than get close enough for God to see them for who they are. People instinctively know that full disclosure means something has to change. What they fail to realize is that God sees them anyway, and wants to set them free.
Jesus Himself teaches us to pray corporately: “Our Father in Heaven,” not “My Father.” God declares, “If my people (plural), who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray…” Thus, while individual prayer is essential for every follower of Jesus to thrive, corporate prayer is indispensable for the Body of Christ to remain healthy and vibrant.
Opposition to corporate prayer in the life of a church is a spiritual condition. The Devil is the only entity in the universe that doesn’t want God’s people to pray together. So, how have we remedied people’s lack of desire to gather for corporate prayer in Kentucky? By praying anyway—there’s no other option. The closer we get, the closer we desire to be.