Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man. Luke 21:36 NIV
In my previous blog post “What can the righteous do?” I established that the moral foundations of society are being destroyed all around us; and that the mandated response of the righteous, as spelled out by Jesus, is to watch and pray.
The question of the hour now becomes, why does it seem that this priority to watch and pray is not being heeded by the Church? My use of the word “Church” refers primarily to expressions of the Body of Christ in Western culture including both the Church universal and individual churches. In order to answer this question, and propose a remedy, it is necessary first to understand the dynamics that have shaped the typical Sunday morning church service in the West in recent years.
In the past forty years there have been two movements within the Church that revolutionized Sunday morning services, most notably within evangelical and protestant expressions. The first was a worship movement which began with an outpouring of the Holy Spirit during the Charismatic Renewal and Jesus Revolution of the 1970s. It was marked by a proliferation of Spirit inspired praise songs that lifted the corporate worship experience into a new realm of God’s presence and made extended, Christ exalting worship the center piece of a church’s Sunday service. It continues to this day and reflects the Biblical precedent of Revelation throne room worship.
The second dynamic that changed the Sunday morning service is best described as a movement that embraced relevance and excellence for the purpose of evangelizing the unchurched. The result was a shift of focus in service planning, from us (churched) to them (unchurched), and it was fueled in the 1990s by the church growth and seeker sensitive movements. No matter where church leaders fall in their opinion of these two influences, the salient redemptive feature was that the Church once again began to think about evangelizing lost friends and neighbors. For good or for bad, most evangelical churches continue to this day to seek to communicate “relevance” through their messages and “excellence” through their facilities, programming, and every aspect of their ministries.
Visit any given church, on any given Sunday, in any given community in this nation, and I would venture to guess that the dynamics I have just described in the two previous paragraphs will permeate every aspect of the service. At the outset there will be a worship band leading twenty to thirty minutes of engaging praise and worship. Excellence, relevance, and visitor friendly will be the bywords. Greeters will meet you at the door, and a visitor center and aroma from a coffee bar will draw you in. The meeting place will have a contemporary design, with one or more large projection screens, state of the art sound systems and upholstered chairs. The service will include a friendly individual or two giving announcements, a greeting time, and special music selection presented during the offering. The sermon will follow a text from the Bible, with a view to some practical application in the Christian life, with a few personal illustrations thrown in by a pastor dressed in jeans. There will be an opening and/or closing prayer, and even perhaps an offer for some personal counsel or ministry to those seeking it.
Has this been your observation? Now think about it, is there a glaring omission from this picture? There is for me, particularly given the premise stated at the outset of this article – that the moral foundations of society are being destroyed all around us; and the mandated response of the righteous, as spelled out by Jesus, is to watch and pray. The reality is, church services that fail to address the chaotic disintegration of our world that every righteous soul is vexed with day in and day out, and offer no opportunity for meaningful prayer and intercession as a remedy, have ceased to be relevant. A prayerless church is an irrelevant church because it is not adequately preparing its people for the trying times in which we are living.
While we have all benefitted from what God has done through the movements of past years in awakening the church to worship and to reaching the unchurched, it is now obvious we desperately need a new move of God to awaken the church to prayer. Leaders of a prayerless church are like the crew on a sinking ship who are more concerned with the passengers comfort and entertainment than mustering them to the life rafts. It’s time to muster people to watch and pray rather than sleep and play.
Thankfully, the move of the Holy Spirit to awake a slumbering church is already gaining momentum. God is alerting His people like the five wise virgins to begin storing up oil in their lamps through a praying lifestyle. In the past thirty years the number of ministries devoted to being houses of prayer has grown from 25 to over 10,000! There are now 24/7 houses of prayer throughout the world including a presence in every Muslim nation. God is birthing a hunger for prayer and intimacy with Him that is unparalleled. Although championed by forerunner type of ministries it is now setting churches afire for prayer as well.
Would you join me and countless others in praying for this prayer movement to continue to grow and increase? Pray specifically for the churches in your area, particularly that their pastors might awaken their slumbering churches by making watchful prayer a top priority in their services.
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