A Call to Prayer
by Robin McCullough-Bade (September / October 2004 — Volume 20, Number 5)
Once, life was simpler. It seemed easy to be the church. Neighbors seemed to share similar values. Stores, malls, soccer tournaments, and work schedules yielded to Sunday morning as a time for worship. Churches were built, and people came.
No more. Simply look at the statistics in the Evangelism Strategy: Sharing Faith in a New Century: A Vision for Evangelism in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Since the inception of the ELCA in 1988, we have seen plateaus and declines in membership, worship attendance, confirmations, Sunday school attendance, infant baptisms, and adult baptisms.
Don Brandt, in his article "Growth or Decline in a Congregation: The Single Greatest Key," states that "the great majority of ELCA congregations have unrealized growth potential." I would agree. He understands that the growth potential is directly related to "each congregation's willingness to pursue a basic, overriding mission strategy." I would agree. But let us stop right there. Discerning the specifics of God's mission in a particular local setting takes time, prayer, commitment, and much conversation.
There is no doubt that each congregation is called to invite and train people to follow Christ as committed disciples, people willing to connect faith with daily life, to disciple others, and to work for peace and justice in this world. Discovering the specifics of God's mission lived out in a congregation means a willingness to live with an Advent attitude — waiting, discerning, praying, and pondering.
||How is God calling your congregation . . .|
||to bear witness to the good news of Jesus?|
||to take the message of God's love to the ends of the earth?|
||to move from maintenance to mission?|
||to change in order to become more effective, bold, passionate ambassadors to the love of Christ?|
Whereas Brandt suggests that the primary barrier to a congregation's growth is relational, I would say it is far more basic. It's about sin. Our human tendency — even in the church — is to jump to solutions with creative human plans, schemes, and plotting. If something has worked in another congregation, we plunge ahead and try it on the home front. Anything. Something. Fix the problem. We plow forward with programs and activities in the name of Christ but forget to pray for God's direction.
Brandt strongly urges a commitment to "the ongoing creation of new groups and ministries for new people." Certainly new ministries, such as additional worship opportunities or small groups, may be the process to revitalize your congregation and invite new people into faith, but first ask the question, "Where is God leading this congregation at this time?" The bottom line: Congregations are ill-advised to take a shortcut and plunge into any one approach without taking time in prayer and discernment.
|Discerning the specifics of God's mission in a particular local setting takes time, prayer, commitment, and much conversation.|
A Call to Prayer
Hopefully, all that we do in the congregation begins in prayer, but fervent prayer is essential as a congregation faces a plateau or decline. As we yearn for renewal and vitality in our congregations, let us pray for renewal. This prayer for renewal is not a passing question to God in the morning on the way to get the newspaper. It is not a prayer by a single leader of the congregation. Instead, this prayer for renewal is a heart-wrenching, clear-the-schedule, call-a-fast, get-on-your-knees prayer for all ages.
Calling the church to pray is precisely where the ELCA Evangelism Strategy begins. The goal is to "activate and mobilize this church to pray for renewal that is grounded in the Word [so that] every member, congregation, synod, churchwide unit, and institution might bear witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ." That is no small task. It is not completed in a single Sunday worship.
Fervent, deep prayer to discern God's direction takes time. Nevertheless, prayer is the beginning. By the grace of God, congregations rooted in prayer and God's Word will grow into vibrant witnesses to the good news of Jesus Christ.
Robin McCullough-Bade is a pastor, writer, and workshop leader. She lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She and her husband, John, are the authors of Our Mission: Discovering God's Call to Us (Augsburg Fortress, 2002).
Praying for Renewal
We begin in confession
We admit that we simply don't have enough clues or skills to be the church in these times in our local setting. We desperately need God's guidance and wisdom.
We set aside times for prayer
Jesus took time for prayer and prayed often (Luke 3:21; 5:16; 6:12; 9:18). Let us be intentional about setting aside time for prayer.
We invite others to pray
Jesus took key leaders with him for prayer (Luke 9:28; 22:39-46). In doing so, he invited others into a life of prayer.
We pray for courage
We pray for a spirit of courage to face new directions, trusting God to be our guide.
We call a fast. Like those of the Bible who tore their clothes and called for a fast, we loudly and clearly issue a call for prayer. A fast may be a drastic measure, but such are these times.
Need Resources on Evangelism and Prayer?
Consider book-marking these ELCA web sites on prayer and evangelism for your personal daily devotions. Or ponder sermon suggestions on the lectionary as you call your congregation to prayer. Take advantage of practical tips to expand prayer ministry and evangelism in your local setting.
www.elca.org/prayer and www.elca.org/dcm/evangelism