Every pastor wants a dynamic prayer ministry operating in his or her church so that the needs of hurting people seeking a touch from God can be met. Most pastors are all too familiar, however, with some of the problems inherent in prayer team ministry: team members who don't know how to address certain prayer needs or who inappropriately cross personal boundaries or who simply lack adequate training. Problems such as these can hinder the work of the Holy Spirit and render a prayer ministry ineffective.
The key is putting into place a well-thought-out structure and training plan for prayer team ministry. The church I attend, Church of the Holy Spirit-Episcopal in Tulsa, Oklahoma, has such a structure. And it is very effective. The congregation's rector, Victor A. Smith, has designed a prayer ministry that makes church members and visitors alike feel at ease. Prayer team members participate in an intensive training session and quarterly workshops.
These sessions form the basis for the ministry's ongoing success and provide the foundation for the confidence church members place in it. The format can be used by other churches and adapted to their needs and focus. Below are some principles that you as a pastor may find helpful in developing a prayer team ministry and in training people in your church.
PRAYER TEAM REQUIREMENTS
Following are some basic requirements our church's prayer ministry requires of all prayer team members, based on training sessions conducted by Victor A. Smith.
1. Compassion. The core motivation for prayer ministry should be compassion. "Jesus was moved to pray not so much by faith but by the compassion that overcame Him for those who suffered," Smith says.
Citing Matthew 9:36, Smith notes that when Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. In the story in which blind men receive their sight, Jesus was again moved with compassion, touching their eyes; they immediately received their sight and followed Him (see Matt. 20:29-34).
2. Expectations. The guidelines for prayer team membership, although seemingly self-evident, nonetheless set a foundation. At minimum these expectations should include the following:
**personal relationship with Jesus Christ
**a faith outlined by the creeds of the church
**an active membership in the ongoing life of the church
**a commitment to an active personal prayer life
**a commitment to confidentiality of what is said in prayer
**attendance at prayer team workshops or training sessions.
"People need to be able to articulate why they feel called to this ministry," Smith says. "Once they express this calling, then I feel free to let them go and to trust them with this ministry to the church."
3. Commitment. Prayer team members should prepare themselves by being in prayer for the church throughout the week and especially the night before a service. The members assigned to each service should meet to pray together for at least 20 minutes beforehand.
"During the worship service, a person is on duty and called to ongoing prayer," Smith says, noting that team members should also stay at their posts well after the benediction because people may still want prayer.
"Often these are the people who have been too embarrassed or intimidated to go for prayer while others may be watching. The service ain't over until God is done," he quips.
Smith also has a debriefing after the service with prayer team members, which results in their confidence being built and which also proves essential for the ongoing ministry. "Observe confidentiality, but join with other team members and share what good things God has done," he says.
4. Preparation. Preparation begins the night before. "Ask God to cleanse and prepare you to be a vessel for His ministry to others," Smith stresses. A spiritual checklist for prayer team preparation should include confession of sin, forgiving the offenses of others, spending time in intimate worship with the Lord, getting a good night's rest and planning the details of the trip to church the night before.
Praying for protection should also be part of the preparation. "Praying for others means seeking God's favor for them," Smith asserts. "This means you need to pray that you will not be adversely affected by any emotional turmoil, transference or spiritual warfare."
The team should meet prior to the service. During that time, members should ask God to send His focus and should contend for conversions and healings to occur during the service.
It's also important for the team to pray for others who will be ministering in the service: the preacher, celebrant, readers, chalice bearers, children's church workers, greeters, ushers, those in music ministry and so on. Pray for latecomers and newcomers and for one another to receive clear direction from the Lord.
5. Sacrifice. Being on the prayer team means sacrifice. "If you're called to the prayer team ministry, you're not there just to enjoy and receive," Smith says. "You're worshiping in a different way. You're attentive to what God wants to do. It's a sacrifice of attention."
During the service, team members should jot down impressions they feel the Lord has given them about needs of individuals or the congregation as a whole. In our church, Smith prays over these and reads them before communion takes place. For example, in several services after September 11, many prayer team members were impressed that the Lord wanted to deal with fear--fear for loved ones, job security and children in the military.
PRAYER TEAM DYNAMICS
Prayer team members will encounter all kinds of people and various degrees of need. It is important that they be prepared. Following are some commonly faced scenarios and practical suggestions for dealing with people who come up to the altar for prayer.
1. Being sensitive. "Wait for a person to approach you for prayer," Smith suggests. "Then ask the person what he or she would like prayer for." Jesus, for example, asked Bartimaeus, who was blind, what he wanted; then He healed the man according to his request (see Mark 10:46-52).
Smith emphasizes the importance of waiting on the Holy Spirit, being sensitive to His promptings and also being sensitive toward the person with whom you are praying.
After hearing a request, say something such as, "Let's take this before the Lord and ask Him what He desires to do." Start praying by asking the Holy Spirit to come. And keep your eyes open.
"This is usually the moment of spiritual warfare because this is the moment in which we anticipate that God will enter in; the enemy will try to prevent God's healing grace," Smith notes.
As the Holy Spirit leads, pray generally for God's blessing and peace. And as you pray, be gentle, compassionate and sensitive.
Throughout the prayer, watch the person to determine how the Holy Spirit is moving. Pick up on facial and bodily cues, keep thanking the Lord, and at some point bring in the original request for prayer. Ask the person being prayed for what he or she feels the Lord is doing. Continue thanking the Lord, and ask Him to continue blessing the person.
Don De Wolfe, a graphics designer who is one of our church's long-term prayer team members, says: "This kind of prayer opens a person up to a relationship with the Holy Spirit. The person gets used to a back and forth conversation with Christ."
2. Working with partners. Designate one leader when working as a team. "Leader," however, is a broad, flexible term because of the importance of the backup intercessor.
Team members find that as they work in unison for a person's needs, the Lord may give one member a prayer that will bless the person, and the other member may receive a visual image or specific words pertinent to the person's needs. If both team members receive insights, take turns in offering them.
3. Anointing with oil. Often the sweetest part of the prayer team's ministry is anointing people with oil as taught in the Scriptures. There is something very special and powerful in placing the sign of the cross on a person's forehead, a mark of sealing that person as Christ's own.
"We don't just pray for physical healing," Smith says. "We pray for healing in the mind, spirit and soul as well. Every single time we lift someone up, God does do something on some level. There's a peace or 'connectedness' with God. There's always some kind of healing interaction. On some level, God touches the person being prayed for."
4. Encountering darkness. Without a doubt, spiritual warfare occurs during prayer. That's why you must put on the full armor of God (see Eph. 6:11).
"Focus on the risen Lord and His truth to rebuke the enemy," Smith advises. "If you sense the enemy harassing you or the one you are praying over, plead Christ's sovereignty and power; plead the blood of the Lamb to cover you and the one for whom you're praying. Fixing your attention on the risen Christ disarms a spiritual attack."
When Smith prays for someone, he often mentally places the cross in the middle of his prayers. "I'm a visual person, image-oriented. Planting the cross for me brings me back to the moment. There's nothing more abruptly centering than acclaiming the power of the cross.
"When you sense confusion or conflict, or if there is an unreconciliation involved, or if there is unconquered sin or generational unreconciliation, proclaiming the cross's power can bring immediate release, focus, healing and clarity," he says.
5. Ministering to children or couples. Sometimes a parent brings a child, or a couple comes together for prayer. In such cases, one of the party subconsciously may want the prayer team to take sides. Children are especially vulnerable.
"Go out of your way to do everything you can to make the child feel at ease, loved, affirmed," Smith says. "Imagine how Jesus welcomed children and invited them to sit on His lap. He would do nothing to embarrass or traumatize a child. A brief, gentle, loving prayer is called for. Then follow it up with something to reassure the child."
MANIFESTATIONS OF HIS PRESENCE
It is important for prayer team members to understand how the Holy Spirit works in people's lives when they are touched by His presence during a time of prayer. When the Holy Spirit moves on a person, the person may experience some of the following physical changes:
**laughter, a smile, inexpressible joy
**slower, less agitated breathing
**trembling or shaking
**falling or resting in the Holy Spirit
**a sense of calm (often accompanied by images or visions)
**a manifestation of different forms of praise, such as tongues, a song or rejoicing.
"It may be that nothing happens that you can see," Smith says. "In that case, be honest. You can't conjure up something. Simply say, 'It seems the Lord would have us continue praying,' and continue to do so."
Just as there are different ways in which the Holy Spirit moves in the lives of people who are receiving prayer, there also are different ways in which He speaks or gives insight to the members of the prayer team.
But in order to receive His direction, prayer team members must first anticipate that something is going to happen. Encourage them to have confidence that God wants to move among His people, to touch and heal His children, and to offer His love, forgiveness and compassion.
"The wonderful part we as prayer team members play in this is that He desires to work through us. The part we play is to trust, ask, be open, listen and be bold," Smith says.
Be aware that the Holy Spirit may speak to members of the prayer team in any of the following ways:
1. Verbally: through recalling scriptures; in specific words or a word of knowledge; by a word or phrase shared by the one being prayed for that keeps coming to mind; by being led to ask a question; by discernment of conditions that come to mind; or by a prophetic word.
2. Imagination: picture images of a circumstance or experience; visionary images that may signify what God desires to do; symbols such as the cross, water, books, sheep or rocks (symbols may have significance to the one receiving prayer).
3. Emotional: The one praying may feel anger, jealousy, hurt--whatever the one receiving prayer is experiencing; the one praying may be overwhelmed with compassion and unconditional love--this is the heart of intercession.
4. Physical: Waves of joy or warmth may come over the one praying and the one receiving prayer; the one praying may experience pseudo-symptoms, such as a pain in a specific area of the body. (This can be a nudge from the Holy Spirit about how to pray for the one receiving prayer.)
5. Tongues and interpretation: Be sensitive. It may be best to pray quietly in tongues, especially if the person praying does not know the one receiving prayer. However, if the person praying feels led to pray in tongues, they should do so boldly, confident that the Lord will give the interpretation.
Prayer team ministry is one of the most vital aspects of church life. The wonderful thing is, it doesn't only benefit those who receive prayer. It also benefits those who offer their time to serve on the prayer team.
Brian Shaw, a mechanical engineer who is part of our prayer team ministry, maintains it has been as much a ministry to him as the ones for whom he prays.
"I've changed," he says. "I'm more sensitive to how God moves in certain situations, and I'm more willing to express it verbally. Now if I feel I have something from the Lord, I'm more willing to share it."
Don De Wolfe finds it both humbling and exciting to be used by the Holy Spirit as a tool in others' lives. "When I start praying, I don't know what the Holy Spirit is going to do," he says.
"Then I see what God is doing. You realize you haven't got a thing to do with this, that it's all God. You've yielded, and you've opened yourself up to the Spirit. If you stay open, then the Holy Spirit takes over, and you realize it's all God."
Tips for Prayer Team Members
Observing a few simple guidelines will make all the difference in how a person at the altar responds to prayer ministry--and even prevent problems.
1. Don't wear perfume or cologne while serving on the prayer team; some people are allergic to scents.
2. Use breath mints. Pastors: the church should have a supply on hand.
3. Wear a prayer team badge supplied by the church; it makes people feel more comfortable to know that the person praying for them is an official representative of the church.
4. Be sensitive about physical contact, especially across gender lines. For example, if you feel you should hold hands while you pray or put a hand on the person's shoulder, ask the person you're praying for if he or she is comfortable about this. If you sense the person being prayed for needs the laying on of hands as part of ministry, let a person of the same sex do that while you pray. The object is that everyone feels comfortable; this allows the Holy Spirit more freedom to work as He chooses.
5. Keep the prayer positive, authentic and tied to Scripture. If you sense the person being prayed for wants something for the wrong motives, simply cover that person with God's love and ask that His will be done in the person's life. Ask God to bless him or her.
6. Focus your prayers toward the Lord; the person being prayed for will follow your lead.
7. Keep your eyes open while you pray; this will enable you to watch for what the Lord is doing and help you respond appropriately.
8. During the prayer time, ask for feedback. Say something such as: "I sense the Lord may be doing something (or has done something). What do you sense right now?" Encourage the person to share what God has done or is doing during the prayer. Then encourage the person later to share what God has done with at least one other person. This helps seal God's work.
Classic Thoughts on Prayer
To make intercession for men is the most powerful and practical way in which we can express our love for them.
God does nothing but by prayer, and everything with it.
The purpose of all prayer is to find God's will and to make that will our prayer.
Prayer unites the soul to God.
Julian of Norwich
Prayer is the overflowing of the heart in the presence of God.
Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?
Corrie ten Boom
We must lay before Him what is in us, not what ought to be in us.
C. S. Lewis
The truths that I know best I have learned on my knees. I never know a thing well till it is burned into my heart by prayer.
Interviewer: You love people whom others regard as human debris. What is your secret?
Mother Teresa: My secret is simple. I pray.
If I fail to spend two hours in prayer each morning, the devil gets the victory through the day. I have so much business I cannot get on without spending three hours daily in prayer.
There is nothing that makes us love a man so much as praying for him.
A great many people do not pray because they do not feel any sense of need.
Pleading the promises of God is the whole secret of prayer, I sometimes think.
SOURCE: The New Encyclopedia of Christian Quotations. Compiled by Mark Water. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2001.
Robin Gallaher Branch, Ph.D., teaches Bible and Old Testament subjects at the School of Theology and Missions at Oral Roberts University.