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Prayer Transforms a City





CITYWIDE TRANSFORMATION BEGINS

The first recognizable milestone was the First Citywide Pastors' Prayer Summit held in the fall of 1995. Attendance was modest considering the number of pastors in the city. Still, something was birthed as pastors set apart three days for prayer for one another and the city.

The group was diverse. Ministers from the Church of Christ sat down with pastors from the Assemblies of God. Methodists and Baptists joined together. Black, white and Hispanic men and women were in attendance. The local Catholic bishop came by to spend a few hours. The lordship of Jesus was central and prayer was the only agenda.

The pastors' walls came tumbling down. After only the first day together, the pastors' walls of self-protection began to tremble. In a moment of silence during prayer, one man confessed the shame and guilt that were weighing him down. Cautiously, he unburdened himself of the secret of his young daughter's unwed pregnancy. At another time it might have been a risky thing to do, only offering ammunition to those who would look for any opportunity to bring evidence of another church's theological weakness by exploiting a personal tragedy.

Thankfully, the atmosphere of prayer had already done much to change the hearts and natural inclinations of those present. Now the men and women gathered were more inclined to shed their own tears with their brother than to point their finger at him. Prayers and tears flowed freely as other men and fathers surrounded the wounded brother.

Moments later, another outwardly calm and collected pastor revealed his personal struggle and asked for prayer. At this, the dam burst. Ministry continued into the night. There was a new willingness to move beyond the pastoral facade. This unanticipated openness disarmed everyone, initially startling some but soon reassuring each one that when believers come together in the place of prayer, it can be a safe place.

The beginning of healthier relationships between city pastors was birthed during those three days as acceptance, trust and genuine concern grew among the pastors who attended. A covenant was signed, each one promising to be available to the other and agreeing to gather each month for prayer. Pastors who had historically been unable to gather around worship or the Word or even around simple good works were finding common ground in prayer.

AN UPHILL BATTLE

During the next couple of years things moved at a steady but uneventful pace. This was a time for prevailing prayer--a time when pastors in the city learned that the primary distinctive of prayer that prevails is that it refuses to give up.

It was a constant struggle to be willing to let one's guard down. Yet even during the long early months--when so many of the prayers sounded like orations from a pulpit and one wondered whether the goal was to impress men or to implore God--the pastors of the city persevered.

Prayer can affect an entire city. The second important milestone occurred with the Citywide School of Prayer hosted by a local church in early 1998. More than 500 people representing 26 nearby towns attended the weekend seminar led by Terry Teykl.

That weekend the concept that prayer can affect an entire city was given a larger scope. Now laymen as well as pastors were beginning to believe that prayer was the hope of the community. Concepts of city strongholds and spiritual gateways were shared, paving the way for a vision to see the city captured for the kingdom.

Later that spring the second pastors' prayer summit was held. As at the first gathering, the group was diverse. A healthy mix of race, gender and denominations was in attendance. Near the end of the summit, the decision was made to issue a public statement that would not only serve as an act of public repentance for the failures of the Christian community in the city, but would also alert Lubbock to our purpose to pray for the city and our commitment to love one another.

But something important was lacking, in spite of the initial fervor. Nothing was done toward the issuing of that public statement for the next several months. The momentum waned through the early days of summer.

The need for servant leadership. If there were an area in which pastors had failed since the initial prayer focus, it might have been in understanding Jesus' model for servant leadership. No one seemed willing to take a leadership role. Perhaps this was because each of the pastors participating in the monthly prayer gatherings chose to defer to the others.

On the surface this seemed the humble response; yet in fact, without leadership there had been no forward motion. It may have been that giving leadership to a citywide effort was simply one job too many for the already overcommitted pastors to tackle. After all, they had their own congregations to worry about.

It had taken more than two years to call the second pastors' summit because no one had taken the responsibility to convene the group. Now our fresh initiatives were lying dormant, waiting for someone else to act.

Eventually, a handful of pastors gathered to consider how they might move things to the next level. They began to plan events that might get the ball rolling once again. But as summer temperatures peaked, vacations and travel interrupted their best efforts. It was not until the early fall that seven pastors from the city finally reconvened to consider following through on issuing the public statement discussed the previous spring.

The pastors repent to a city. A brief statement was drafted, stating their desire to repent of the attitudes that were so evident among the body of Christ in the city and which were counter to the love Jesus intended His followers to have for each other. Central to the statement was the declaration of the pastors' intent to continue their commitment "to pray and to work together to create an atmosphere for revival in our city."

In the next two months, efforts were made to circulate the statement to other pastors in the city, asking for their participation and endorsement. The statement, surrounded by pastors' signatures, would appear as a full-page advertisement in the local newspaper during Thanksgiving weekend. Thirty pastors in the city representing Methodists, Baptists, Nazarenes, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Disciples of Christ, Churches of Christ, Assemblies of God, independents and charismatics signed the statement on behalf of their congregations. The advertisement ran in the Sunday paper on Nov. 29, 1998.

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