This article was originally published in Edition (7) of Prayer Magazine,  Jul-Sep 2006.

Q. What do you mean by Dynamic Prayer in the Local Church?

A. Put simply, what we have been seeking to develop here at HTB are regular prayer meetings that are well attended, lively, enjoyable and effective.  In practical terms, this has involved combining worship and a variety of prayer in roughly equal proportions with an agenda that is varied and relevant to everyone present.

Q. What lays at the heart of Dynamic Prayer ?

A. Without a doubt it’s the presence of God.  One of the verses we often refer to is Deuteronomy 4:7 which says “What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him?”  I think Moses takes us to the very heart and essence of Prayer in this verse, and it seems to me that it is borne out by Jesus’ teaching in the New Testament as well, by saying it’s all about the presence of God with his people.  Once we see that, it becomes very hard to think any more about prayer meetings being boring!  If they are, surely we have to have a good look at how we are conducting them because there ought to be nothing more exciting in the Christian life than being in the presence of the God we love and who loves us.

Q. How practically can we make this happen?

A. We need to understand that it’s all about relationship.  One of the most exciting things about the Christian life is that it gives us the potential to grow a relationship with our eternal and omnipotent God.  It is always true that we have all sorts of needs but if we see prayer meetings only as an opportunity to present the proverbial shopping list to God, I think we are missing much of the point.  First and foremost, we come to him to relate – after all he knows all our needs and we would never be able to list them all anyway – and I think this recalibrates the entire approach.  Our main aim is to seek to touch the heart of God and to please him and, whilst we have to leave him to be the judge of our success, if we achieve that in any measure surely the time has been well spent.  We need to set our needs in that wider context.

Q Tell us about how you see the relationship between prayer and worship?

A. We see worship as absolutely central to our meetings.  Someone once asked me at one of our conferences “Isn’t all this worship you have in your meetings really just padding?”  I hope I was reasonably polite but I couldn’t have disagreed more!  In fact, as time has gone on (and we have been running these meetings here now for the past 15 years or so), it strikes me that the importance of worship in prayer meetings simply cannot be overstated.  I often think of the story about Paul and Silas in prison in Acts 16 where we are told that after being flogged and put into stocks in the inner cell “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God,…” (v25).  You see the very combination of prayer and worship that I am talking about and you only have to read on in the story to see what dramatic results it lead to with the jailer and all his family ending up as new believers that very night.  In our earlier meetings here, we didn’t always have worship leaders and certainly didn’t always have highly skilled ones but I don’t think you should let that stop you from worshipping.  Even if you are just a few people without a worship leader, it is still possible to use a CD player or to sing anyway – to me it’s the attitude of heart that is so important and, if we are seeking to touch the heart of God, and we leave worship out of the equation then we are surely hampering ourselves very significantly.

Q. How do you position prayer and worship meetings in the life of HTB?

A. No one ever questions the holding of services on Sunday and the way I see it is that prayer meetings should also be part of the corporate life of the church.  I see it as vital that church members should have the opportunity to join together in prayer and worship on a regular basis for the life and work of their own church.  Indeed the current prayer meetings we hold here grew out of just a handful of us getting together once a week to pray for our services on Sunday because I had the impression that, as we had weekly services, we ought to pray for them on that frequency as well.  Everything we do now has developed out of that and, down the years, we have seen a lot of praying into a much wider agenda including the Alpha course, church planting, social action and the different areas of paid work that our members are involved in amongst many other topics.  As well as these domestic issues, we also seek to balance our agendas with wider issues relating to our city, nation and the nations because, as we see it, it is God’s world and he expects the prayers of his people to reflect that.  E M Bounds said “God shapes the world by prayer.  The more praying there is in the world, the better the world will be…”

Q. How do you get people to engage in the different topics you pray about in your meetings?

A. We try and have variety at all our meetings.  By that I mean a mix of worship and prayer, different styles of prayer and to keep things moving.  For example in our weekly one hour meetings we would normally follow a programme starting with 10 minutes of worship because that seems to be the right place to start!  After that, there would be a short welcome and introduction with feedback of answers to previous prayer whenever possible.  By introduction, I mean an encouragement to prayer rather than a preaching slot because we are determined to maximise the time available for prayer and worship and to keep the talking to a minimum.  So we would allow no more than 5 minutes for the welcome/introduction and feedback before moving into praying for a variety of topics for the following 15 minutes or so followed by a further time of worship (about 10 minutes) with the remaining 20 minutes spent again focussed in prayer on further different topics.  Someone needs to lead throughout and that is key to the proceedings.

Q. What do you mean by different styles of prayer?

A. I mean we need to develop a variety of different ways of praying together.  In our experience, this is very important and the reason for that is that variety brings a far greater ability to persevere in prayer meetings.  I know one hour is not very long but we also organise more extended meetings and the challenge to persevere relates to the weekly meetings anyway because of their frequency.  In Acts 4:24 we are told that “…, they raised their voices together in prayer to God…” so we do that, we pray in small groups, sometimes we have silent prayer, sometimes we have worship and prayer combined, sometimes we sing in prayer, sometimes one person leads in prayer and so we find, with this type of variety and combination, that the time seems to pass much more quickly and easily than if we are limited to just one way of praying together.

Q. Who do you hope will attend your meetings?

Everyone!  That said, in practical terms, what I hope to see is a good representation of the wider congregation.  I do not see the meetings as being for “specialists” and our aim is to see the development of what we call “prayer-based activity”.  I love it when we see younger people like students at meetings and they bring a great deal of energy and enthusiasm but I also love it when we see older, perhaps retired, people as well and I want to see people from all the different stages of life between the two as well.  Another thing that concerns me is to see people who are involved in the work of the church, whatever that may be, also involved in the prayer of the church and that’s what we mean by “prayer-based activity”.  For example, one of our prayer meetings is on Tuesday morning at 7am and we run our Alpha courses here on Wednesdays.  It’s great to see people who are involved in the leading and helping on the Alpha course there on Tuesday morning praying for the Alpha course!  It is also great to see people involved in different areas of work coming together to be prayed for as they are, of course, some of the church’s principle missionaries in their worlds of work and they need to know the support and the prayer of the church accordingly.  In this connection, we have been organising prayer meetings followed by networking breakfasts more frequently here recently.

Q.  Do you think that the leader of the church needs to lead the prayer meetings?

A. He or she can do but they don’t have to.  In my case, I do lead a lot of our meetings and I am not the pastor.  Our vicar, Nicky Gumbel, attends nearly every week and I am in very close contact with him and the other leaders here anyway.  I see that as important because the whole point of prayer meetings is that they serve the wider church and, therefore, the person leading them needs to be very aware of (and in agreement with) the vision and direction of the church.  It is vital that, when we pray together, we are in harmony with the goals that have been set by the church’s leadership and so I do think that it is necessary for the person leading the prayer meetings to be in very close touch with the heartbeat of the church.  In the final analysis, of course, we all need to believe that we are following a vision of God and our job is to unite and pray for that vision to be fulfilled.

Q. How do you share what you have learnt with other churches?

A. We have developed a day conference called “Dynamic Prayer in the local Church” and that includes a combination of teaching and doing.  The main talks are on vision and practicalities and there are seminars on leading prayer meetings, personal prayer, prophecy and worship in prayer meetings.  There is also a time for questions and answers but I think the most important element of the conference is the time we spend praying and worshipping together at the end.

Q How do you see the relevance of Dynamic Prayer in the Local Church going forward?

A. I see it as complimenting all the other streams of prayer that are flowing increasingly today like Prayer Week, Prayer Magazine, 24/7 and so on but I do see prayer in local churches as a vital part of the mix.  We need all the prayer we can get and we need huge prayer meetings going forward.  My point is there is a progression about that – it has to start with individuals praying effectively, it has to include effective prayer in the local churches and, beyond that, there is not limit to what can be built.  The point is that the bible and church history teach us that you cannot bypass prayer and have revival and, therefore, I see the expression of dynamic prayer at the local church level as of huge potential concerning the re-evangelisation and transforming of society.  Of course, it will take masses of hard work like running Alpha courses along the way as well but that’s another story!

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