“Pray for our church. We may not be able to continue beyond this Sunday,” an earnest young man pleaded. He explained that his church was in a tailspin. Their interim pastor had left in the midst of a conflict. Attendance had fallen so low that the church could be forced to disband.
I offered to help. A “town meeting” had been scheduled for 4:00pm Sunday afternoon so the congregation could discuss the situation. When I talked with the elders I concluded there was no clear sense of direction.
I wondered, “How can this church experience a rebirth of faith, love, obedience and unity in Christ?” The answer was clear. We needed to lead the congregation to an act of faith in our Lord’s promise to be in our midst when we gather together in His name and agree in what we ask Him to do. Reviewing Matthew 18:15-20, I observed that the promise of His presence was given to believers who are trying to restore a sinning brother.
We needed to lead the congregation to agree to an act of faith claiming our Lord’s presence to be in our midst. We must ask Him to be present, not as a mere figurehead like the Queen of England, but as the active Head of His church. We must pray that He would actively take charge and restore the church to unity under His authority.
So that’s what I proposed when the congregation assembled. They agreed and we went to prayer. For about forty-five minutes one after another earnestly prayed. When it was clear that they were through praying I prepared to close the meeting, assuring the congregation that I would seek to meet with the former interim pastor and the elders within a week to seek reconciliation since the conflict had centered in their relationship.
Before I could close the meeting I noticed a scowling man off to my right stand up. “Wait a minute! I want to say something!” Angrily he blurted out, “If these elders knew how to lead the church, they wouldn’t need to invite this man out here to help them!”
What could I say? What could the elders say? We were the targets of his attack. Defending ourselves was hardly wise in a situation like this. Yet this man was trying to rekindle the fires of strife. I knew only God could save this meeting and this whole reconciliation process. I knew only God could silence this man. So I began to silently pray, “Lord, don’t let this man break up this meeting in renewed strife.”
I breathed a sigh of relief when I heard one member after another respond with gracious words of peace and support for the ministry of reconciliation that had begun. No one offered to join this disgruntled man’s attack. A brief discussion followed. The questions and comments were shared in a good spirit.
The meeting closed with prayer and my heart was overflowing with thanksgiving. Our Lord had indeed taken His place in the center of our meeting. He was obviously present and actively in charge because all but one man agreed in an act of faith to invite Him to do so. Like chicks who have obeyed the cluck of their mother hen and gathered together under her wings, so we had trusted Christ to unite us under His authority. There we found Him faithful to fulfill His promise, bless us with His presence and His great reconciling Power.
On Thursday evening we had the reconciliation meeting with the elders and the former interim pastor. Two other ministers joined me in moderating the meeting. Again we asked the Lord Jesus Christ to be present and take charge. This was not an empty formality. We humbly confessed our helpless dependence on Him to reconcile us under His authority. Many of the members of the church were praying.
When the discussion began to heat up we stopped and prayed for our Lord’s gracious, reconciling work among us. We returned to prayer a second time when we saw that we were deadlocked and midnight was approaching. Several men prayed. Then there was a pause. One man broke the silence by asking another for forgiveness. One after another followed his example until everyone had shared in reconciliation. We closed with the doxology and a benediction.
The need to repent and return to Christ is by no means limited to churches that are falling apart and facing closure. Churches that are large and growing can drift away from faith, love and obedience to Christ. No one may even notice that He is being reduced to a powerless figurehead, while the transfer of authority takes place and others take charge.
Obviously this is what happened to the church at Ephesus. They did a lot of good things, but they left their first love for Christ. This could be fatal unless they repented (Revelation 2:1-7). The church at Laodicea was doing so well without Christ, that no one noticed He was outside. His letter to that church did not indicate there was any immorality, false doctrines or church fights. Yet Christ was outside knocking. When He said “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him and he with Me” He was not sure that anyone would respond (Rev. 3:20). He was ready to vomit that lukewarm church out of His mouth (Rev. 3:16).
There is no eternal security for churches. We must keep our love relationship with Him as our Head alive and well, or cease to be the church, the living body of Christ (Ephesians 1:22-23)! There are warning signs that evangelical churches all over North America are in urgent need of a fresh encounter with Christ as our Head. A Gallup poll revealed:
While religion is highly popular in America, it is to a large extent superficial, it does not change people’s lives to the degree one would expect from their level of professed faith. In ethical behavior, there is very little difference between the churched and the unchurched.
The small church in Acts turned the ancient world upside down (Acts 17:6). “So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed” (Acts 19:20). The apostles ministry turned so many to Christ from idols that the idol makers in Ephesus feared their business would be shut down (Acts 19:23-28).
We are weak today because we have forgotten the importance and purpose of corporate prayer. The purpose of corporate prayer is to unite the church in meeting with Christ in humble submission to His all powerful headship. Prayer meetings should be aimed at restoring and maintaining our corporate relationship of faith, love and obedience to Christ.
The Christian faith is unique. No other religion has a founder who has risen from the dead and is able to actively take charge of His church from His throne in heaven. If we love Him supremely we want Him to be obviously present in our midst as He promised. We know we need Him to take charge of us in His great wisdom and gracious power. We expect Him to wash and cleanse our churches (Eph. 5:26-27). We trust Him to lead us into heavenly harmony with Himself and one another so the world may believe our witness (John 17:20-23).
The power of our faith is in the headship of Christ. When the church ceases to unite in prayer confessing our humble dependence on Him, we lose His power to overcome the world, the flesh and the devil. Then we become weak like any dead religion that has no union or partnership with God in heaven.
We can enter the way to recovery and revival by listening to His voice, repenting of past failure and opening the door inviting Him to come in as our beloved and honored Head. That’s the spirit in which great awakenings have always begun.
This post contains excerpts from Oliver W. Price’s book, The Power of Praying Together, which was recently re-released as Pray With Christ. You may order this book, as well as A Leader’s Guide for Praying With Christ Obviously Present And Actively In Charge, Forgotten Secrets To A Live Prayer Meeting, from Bible Prayer Fellowship