“Ask and you will receive.  Search, and you will find.  Knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks, receives.  Whoever seeks, finds.  And to everyone who knocks the door is opened.  Who among you will give your children a stone when they ask for bread?  Or give them a snake when they ask for fish? If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly father give good things to those who ask him.” – Matthew 7:7-10

In 2010, the Board of  Discipleship conducted a study of the fastest growing rural congregations.  I remember being interviewed and asked what our “secret” was.  I explained that I was one of the greenest pastors on the planet earth and I was struggling with what it meant to be a female pastor (back in the day) in rural America.  My “secret” had very little to do with me as a leader or my skill as a preacher.  It was an intercessory prayer group of four men that met with me every Thursday morning for two hours and prayed with me.  We would fervently pray for those who were ill, unemployed, struggling with addiction, the sojourners in our community and those who did not know God’s transforming grace through Jesus Christ.  We prayed for the spiritual health of our church, our church leadership, God’s guidance and for a vision for our community.

When the study was published, I admittedly was a little surprised that the number one thing that these fast-growing rural congregations had in common was an active prayer ministry.  I knew I leaned on that prayer time, because I needed God desperately to help me lead the congregation, but surely more experienced pastors had other “secret” skills that led to their church’s vitality. As I have matured in my ministry, I have learned that a deep prayer ministry is at the heart of every vital church.   I am not saying every church that prays is growing, but I would say every vital growing church has at the center of it a powerful prayer ministry.

In the midst of Pandemic recovery, I am not sure any of us, no matter our experience, have a “secret” skill that will lead us into a  new day, apart from prayer. Many churches are feeling discouraged and stuck in this season.  Prayer has the amazing ability to shift the focus from our deficits and defeats to the power of God.  Prayer helps us to anticipate where God wants to lead us next.  It can transform a church from “Woe is us” to “Woe did you see what God just did?” 

As we reboot, we need to assess our prayer ministry.  What is our church’s prayer ministry like during this season?  Gather your intercessors and begin seeking God’s guidance and will for your mission field.  I also commend to your reading, Ultimate Reliance, Breakthrough Prayer Practices for Leaders (Abington Press, 2019) by Sue Nilson Kibbey.

Ask, seek, knock, and trust that God will give us all good things.  As we seek God’s guidance in prayer, may we have ears to hear and hearts willing to follow.

Lead with love and grace,

Dr. Leah Hidde-Gregory
Executive Director of Evangelism, Mission & Church Growth