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DEVELOPING PRAYER MINISTRY TEAMS

 

AN INTRODUCTION TO THE CONCEPT AND FUNCTION OF PRAYER MINISTRY TEAMS IN THE PASTORAL CARE MINISTRY OF THE LOCAL CHURCH    

 

Her name is unimportant. Her need was very important. She had reached a point of desperation in her life. Her physical condition was deteriorating without any medical reason that her doctors could identify. So she had made an appointment at a local Church with the hope that prayer might bring some resolution to her situation. The Church in question was not her home Church. In fact, her own Pastor had advised her not to take this step because he did not believe that prayer for healing or wholeness was legitimate in this day and age! Taking the initiative to make the appointment was, then, no small step on her part. She felt enormously vulnerable. But she was also enormously desperate.  

 

The three people who formed a prayer team and were asked to meet with her were virtual strangers to this lady although she sensed immediately that they were genuinely friendly and caring. All four people had made a mutual commitment to meet together once a week for one hour over a period of six weeks. At the end of that time, they would evaluate their commitment and seek to assess what, if anything, had transpired during that period.  

 

I sat in on the second of the six prayer sessions as an invited guest. The lady herself had agreed to my presence as an observer and I did my best to blend in with the woodwork so as not to be a distraction to the ministry of the Team.   I can now report to you that the hour I spent with those four people in that room changed forever the way I understand Pastoral Care. Up to that point, the term "Pastoral Care" was, for me, something that related to what the Pastor did in his or her 'official' capacity. During that hour I watched three "ordinary, plain vanilla Christians" minister to a hurting person with such sensitivity, maturity and insight that I came away convinced that the responsibility of Pastoral Care is meant to belong to the whole Body of Christ under the supervision of the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ.  

 

Under the guidance and gifting of the Holy Spirit, that prayer ministry team was able to identify that the woman’s physical condition had an emotional base and, through faithful prayer and loving care and some “sanctified” common sense, they saw emotional and physical healing begin to emerge in her life. I sensed the Lord say into my spirit that evening, "Mike, this is my Church ministering and building itself up in love."   My heart rate increased as I anticipated the future.  

 

Since that time back in 1987, I have worked at developing prayer ministry teams wherever I have served as a Pastor and we have seen some delightful answers to prayer offered by caring teams of people. That is why I want to share with you the concept of Prayer Ministry.   Let me say up front that this journey has not been without its heartaches; situations when prayer seem to go unnoticed by God. But there have also been times when a greater measure of wholeness became a reality in the lives of people.  

 

Many of us were raised in Churches where the Pastor was generally considered to be the person trained in theology and counselling and was, therefore, the obvious (only?) choice if we needed someone to advise us and pray with us on issues that related to our Christian life.   If we faced some problem or crisis, we could, of course, tell our friends and they would pray for us. However, an appointment with the Pastor would ensure that we would get the best quality advice and counsel that was available....or so some of the thinking went!  

 

It has only been in relatively recent years that we have begun to recover the biblical concept of the Body of Christ with its accompanying truth that every member is gifted by the Holy Spirit for ministry. Within that principle, we are exhorted in Scripture to "confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed".(James 5/16). Many of us have been uncomfortable with the vulnerability that this verse seems to require. Yet we are exhorted in this simple but powerful directive to acknowledge our “sin” so that we can lovingly and supportively pray for each other. The word “sin” used here conveys the sense of “faults”, “frailties”, “weaknesses”. The outcome of that acknowledgment and the prayer of friends is meant to be a new measure of wholeness and healing in our lives.....spiritual, emotional, relational and physical.  

 

If you check the passage in James 5, you will notice who it is that is called to do the praying. It is an exhortation to the whole Church. Such prayer is not the sole prerogative of the Pastors or Elders. We gladly affirm that the Pastors/Elders are to have a significant role in such a prayer ministry.   However, it is a very unwise Pastor who tries to do all such praying or who under-estimates the prayer ministry that God wants to exercise through other members of His Body. Many in your Church family are no doubt gifted with wisdom, insight and sensitivity to pray for others and you will be the poorer if you do not create the appropriate settings and atmosphere in which their ministry can take place.   What follows is an attempt to explain what we mean by Prayer Ministry and Prayer Ministry Teams. A paper like this will still leave unanswered questions but let’s at least put some basic concepts in place.  

 

WHAT IS “PRAYER MINISTRY”?  

When we take seriously the call of Scripture to “pray for one another” and we do just that, then we are ministering in prayer for the benefit and well-being of another person.   However, when we use the term “prayer ministry” in the context of this article, we are thinking more in terms of 2 or 3 people who specifically meet to pray for one other person and to do so with that person present.   There is wonderful spiritual power released when two or more people agree in prayer. "Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." (Matthew 18/19,20)  

 

Obviously, Home Groups are ideal settings for this kind of ministry and we certainly encourage this ministry of prayer to be exercised within the safety and security of a Home Group. Yet there are times when people need to receive specific ministry in a more private setting. Also we need to recognise that there are people who do not belong to Home Groups and this provision for prayer needs to be made for them.

 

WHAT IS A 'PRAYER MINISTRY TEAM'?

The term 'Prayer Ministry Team' is used in two ways. First, it refers to that whole group of people who have offered themselves to be involved in the prayer life of the Church. Secondly, it refers to groups of 2 or 3 folk who make up the overall group or team. These groups of 2 or 3 make themselves available to pray for another person who may have a special need at a particular time in his or her life. That need may be a persistent family difficulty, a health problem, a relational problem at work, a need for wisdom and direction, a spiritual problem in their relationship with God – these are just a few examples of need.

 

Often these people neither need or require extended prayer times. They simply welcome a “one off” prayer situation with some others who will pray for them.   Then again, the person requesting prayer may be facing a full-blown crisis - spiritually, relationally, emotionally or physically (something that may have been part of their lives for a long time) and it is God’s time to bring a resolution into that person’s life.  

 

The make-up of any given team need not be static; i.e. those 2 or 3 people may only be together for one situation requiring prayer ministry. However, there are benefits that can emerge if the same team stays together in on-going ministry for other situations. For example, they will become aware of each other's gifting or spiritual abilities and can, therefore, learn how to minister as a team by drawing upon the strengths that God imparts to the individuals in the team.  

 

WHY HAVE A TEAM....WHAT IS WRONG WITHONE-TO-ONE?  

There is absolutely nothing wrong with one-to-one! However, there are times and situations when prayer can be exercised more effectively with a number of people participating. A team provides checks and balances. A team can also provide insights that one person on their own may miss. There is also a greater sense of support and accountability in a team ministry like this.   Please understand that this prayer ministry concept in no way detracts from or substitutes for the personal and private prayer for others. It does not negate the need for the ministry of intercession. All that is contained in this article is in addition to the multi-faceted prayer life that already exists. This is another dimension that can further enrich the prayer life of the Church.  

 

WHAT QUALITIES ARE DESIRABLE IN A TEAM MEMBER?  

The qualities required in this area are not unlike those necessary for all other aspects of ministry.  

 

a. One who has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Only so can that person be a channel for God’s love and power.  

 

b. One who has a heart to minister as a servant to others. Jesus ministered as a servant and so must His disciples. This will involve an attitude of service  

 

c. One who is committed to their own personal, continuing growth. Failure to grow is to try and serve out of one’s poverty, not out of fulness. Being willing to prepare one’s own heart for ministry in this area is vital. We expect the preacher to prepare for Sunday. We expect no less of those who are committed in this ministry of prayer. This personal growth also involves a willingness to face one’s own journey and process of wholeness. If the person praying for another cannot face their own need (and, at times, their pain), they will not be able to face that reality in the person for whom they pray. In other words, we own the fact that we are “wounded healers”.  

 

d. One who is opento the leadership of the Holy Spirit. Finally, it is the Holy Spirit who does the ministering and it is vital to be sensitive to His prompting.  

 

e. One who is committed to seeing people made whole in Christ. Knowing and believing that Christ is committed to wholeness in our lives is a pre-requisite for prayer ministry.  

 

f. One who is also able to receive ministry from others. To “wash the feet of others” in ministry is one thing: to allow others to serve us in the same way is equally indispensable. Not being able to receive from others may well disqualify us from giving to others. Read John 13/1-14 and ponder that principle again.  

 

WHAT TRAINING OR EQUIPPING IS NECESSARY?  

Obviously, the suitability of people to be part of a team is important. The initial and on-going training or equipping of the team is also important. It is the responsibility of the Pastor and/or Elders to oversee the teams and be responsible to recruit, train, deploy, monitor and nurture such teams. But there is a need also for a few within the overall Prayer Team to look after the day-to-day and week-to-week details of responding to requests for prayer.  

 

I believe that it is necessary that a local Church build a number of pray-ers and prayer teams who can be trusted with this important ministry.It is vital that the Leadership affirms them so that the Church can be aware of who is trained and available for prayer at any given time.   These prayer team members need to understand and embrace the theological position of the Church and the practical application that reflects the posture of the Church in this regard.  

 

Initial training/equipping would take place at a time, place and frequency mutually suitable to those involved. Then there would be regular meetings of the combined Prayer Team that would also have a teaching component in them. Team Retreats would ideally also be part of the growth of the overall Team.   The teaching aspects would include an understanding of prayer (in this kind of ministry), the place of spiritual gifts, specific “models” of prayer ministry, learning to listen to God in prayer ministry settings, the dignity of the individual, basic insights into human problems likely to be encountered, learning to be responsive to the Holy Spirit...etc!   Of course, much of the best learning is experienced “on-the-job” or in a workshop setting because it’s important to avoid such training and equipping being nothing more than a theoretical exercise.  

 

NB: I need to say clearly that not everybody who offers for this area of ministry and undertakes the training will necessarily be suitable to continue into prayer ministry. It is the responsibility of the Pastors to monitor such suitability and, where it is lacking, to ask the person not to undertake this particular ministry while, at the same time, helping them to identify just how they are gifted and for what ministry.  

 

WHAT IS THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN PRAYER MINISTRY & COUNSELLING?  

There have been (and will be) times when prayer alone has not achieved wholeness and healing. Equally, there have been (and will be) times when counselling alone has not accomplished the needed results. Those who undertake Prayer Ministry training are not meant to function as counsellors but will need to recognise the validity of the counselling process as that may be needed.   In the training sessions, it needs to be emphasised that those praying need to be alert and aware for those situations that require counselling from people trained to provide that ministry.

 

It is important to note that prayer ministry of the kind outlined in this paper in no way replaces, substitutes for, or negates the legitimate role of counselling.   While some needs will be met through prayer, there will be times when the Team members recognise that the need within the person for whom they are praying requires a competent counsellor to come alongside and to work with the person through a counselling process.  

 

Prayer and counselling are not mutually exclusive. They are complementary disciplines or ministries and the value of both needs to be affirmed. Godly wisdom and discernment will be required to listen to the Holy Spirit as to what He is doing in the life of the person receiving prayer and to ensure that the very best and most appropriate care is given. If the Team feels that counselling is needed for the person concerned, they should report that to the Pastors without delay.   While there are times when God will move sovereignly and decisively in a person’s life, most healing and wholeness comes through a process. There are times when the process is as important than the end result. Prayer is not a “quick fix” for the world’s problems. We ought to respect the value of the process.    

 

IN WHAT SETTINGS DO PRAYER MINISTRY TEAMS FUNCTION?   The example given at the beginning of this article (where the commitment was to meet for one hour per week for 6 weeks) is just one possible scenario. Often the prayer commitment may be for just one occasion.   Initially prayer teams could first be available following the Sunday services and that they could meet with folk to minister and pray with them for a relatively brief periodof, say, 10 minutes. Any need requiring longer than that would best be addressed in another setting at another time.  

 

There are folk who come to Church with the kind of needs that will not be met by a general Family or Pastoral prayer during the service. Their need is for more specific prayer directed at the heart of their particular situation or circumstances.   These folk may be given the opportunity of remaining behind at the close of the service and, as others leave, they would, ideally, come to the front to be met by a Pastor or prayer co-ordinator. That person would ask 2 (at the most 3) others to go to one side with that person and pray with them. Obviously trust and confidentiality are key factors that largely determine the levelof sharing and prayer that takes place.  

 

The team and the person receiving ministry may feel it is desirable to stay in touch during the week following that prayer time on a Sunday. If that is mutually acceptable, then on-going ministry can take place. On the other hand, that prayer time following the service may be all that is needed to bring release and relief and the person goes on their way rejoicing.   Such a prayer ministry at the close of a service is also strategic in that sometimes the teaching or preachingof God's Word can uncover a need that was not evident when the person arrived at Church.

 

There may even be the occasion when the prayer team find themselves leading someone to initial faith in Christ! Whatever, during the service the Lord may uncover a need that ought to be resolved in prayer before the person leaves the premises. Prayer Teams are an invaluable asset in such situations.   Since the Word heard without obedience leads to hardness of heart, the need to respond in a specific way should not be unnecessarily delayed. Why should those people have to wait if Jesus is actively working in their lives right then and there? Such prayer ministry can powerfully strengthen the preaching of God's Word and add a new dimension to the value of our time together.  

 

HOW DOES SUCH A TEAM FUNCTION?  As a specific need arises and the need for prayer becomes evident in the life of an individual, he or she may request prayer for that situation. As indicated already, a prayer team may come alongside and pray with the person just once (say, Sunday morning) or, if it was considered necessary, they could meet and pray on numerous occasions - depending on the progress of answered prayer.  

 

In the second scenario, the team may set aside an hour, not all of which would be spent in prayer.   It would be part of the healing/praying process for the person to share something of the need with the team....for the team members to share any Scriptures that may become relevant to the situation.....and for times of quiet as all concerned wait on God. Sometimes God will give insights in those periods of quiet that are vital to the resolution of the person’s need.   In other words, there will be an ebb and flow of sharing, praying and waiting on God. It is up to the team and the person for whom they are praying to determine the nature of their time commitment and that, in turn, will be largely determined by the progress being made.  

 

One person in each team would be a leader or co-ordinator and that person would be the liaison between the team and the Pastors and/or Prayer Coordinator. Each team would be responsible for keeping its own records of ministry times. The Team would also keep the Pastors advised of progress without necessarily having to give them specific details. Confidentiality is a high priority commitment of group members.  

 

Prayer Ministry Teams can also be available for situations that arise during the week with no connection with the Sunday services. Some needs will not wait for a Church service! It may be that the Pastors need to call a prayer team during the week to minister in a situation that requires urgent attention.  

 

On-going hospitalisation is another setting in which a Team or, more likely, a member of a Team can call and pray with a person confined to hospital. Again, this would have to be at the request of the person in hospital and would need to be done in a way that respected the protocol of the hospital and the dignity of the person receiving that prayer ministry. Prayer Ministry Teams could be encouraged to share Communion with the person if their time in hospital was extended in nature.   Such ministry would in no way substitute for professional medical treatment. We are seeking to co-operate with every avenue God uses to bring wholeness to His people.  

 

If, after on-going prayer, the Team feels that it has reached a spiritual impasse or that it is faced with a needbeyond its ability to handle,the Team Co-ordinator or Pastoral Team should be advised and come alongside to help direct any further ministry.      

 

Your Kingdom Come... Your Will Be Done!

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