The Compelling Community by Jamie Dunlop is simply one of the most helpful books I have read concerning meaningful church membership. I have recommended it to several pastors and I am so grateful that my fellow elders have led us to study this in our weekly Family Bible Hour. Dunlop’s biblical arguments are compelling and his wise advice as to how to implement them is compellingly practical. The Compelling Community is, well, compelling! And I dare say that if we take these truths to heart, then our church will corporately make a compelling argument for the gospel of God.
One of the issues that Dunlop helpfully drives home is the importance of prayer in the life of the local church. I concur. In fact, if the church is not praying together, I would question whether such a church is actually “together.” The church that prays together gives evidence that it is a body of well-connected members, and not merely a bunch of loosely affiliated people who see each other occasionally. It is for this reason that I feel compelled to write to try and compel every member of our church to pray—together.
As a covenanted community, Brackenhurst Baptist Church is compelled both by God, and by our integrity before God, to pray—together. God expects us to pray. He commands us to pray; and this command is, either explicitly or implicitly, revealed as the responsibility to pray together (see Ephesians 6:18–20; Acts 1:14; 2:42; 4:23–31; 1 Thessalonians 5:17; James 5:13–18).
It is because of this conviction that the elders are restructuring our Sunday evening service to give prayer a more prominent place as we gather. Whereas, until now, the prayer meeting has been a separate gathering prior to the normal evening worship service, from now on our praying will be part and parcel of the service itself. In other words, our evening worship will commence at 5:30 PM rather than at 6:00 PM.
Last Sunday, we announced—via the weekly roundup, via an announcement in both Family Bible Hour and in the morning worship service, and via the bulletin—that we would be showing a missions video as a part of our prayer meeting that night. We were deeply challenged as we saw what God is doing in Iraq through his gospel. After watching the video, we broke into groups to pray. It was wonderful—at least for most of us. Unfortunately, I subsequently heard that some people (I don’t know who) felt “tricked” by this format into coming to prayer meeting. That saddens me, for a couple of reasons.
First, the idea that the elders would “trick” the membership is erroneous—especially since everyone was adequately “forewarned”!
This leads to the second reason why this is so sad: Why would a covenanted church member need to be “warned” that, if they come to church, we will be praying? After all, is this not what Christians do? Is not prayer a great privileged necessity that is granted to the Christian? As someone has well said that prayer is to the Christian what breathing is to the body. Did not every member of our church agree to the covenantal obligation that “we will not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, eager to make productive use of the means of grace”? Is not prayer a biblical means of grace? If you read through the church covenant, it is clear that, when the elders call the church together for prayer, the assumption is that the church will come together to pray. I appreciate what Leonard Ravenhill once wrote: “The self-sufficient do not pray; the self-satisfied will not pray; the self-righteous cannot pray.” May none of this describe any of us!
So, no, no one is trying to “trick” anyone into obedience! We are simply trying to compel church members to be and to do what, before God, they have covenanted to do. We feel compelled by the love of Christ to seek the best for each and every member. We are compelled to pursue the growth of a healthy church for the good of each member to the glory of God. It is for this reason that we continue, by biblical persuasion, and by pastoral encouragement and admonition, to compel the church to prayer. We are compelled by the conviction that this new approach to Sunday evenings will be a wonderful aid towards this goal.
As we gather on Sunday evenings, at least for the short term, we will not beak up into smaller groups but will rather have a more structured time of testimonies and the sharing of prayer requests with the congregation. Then, individuals (arranged beforehand) will pray for the needs. There will also be prayers of adoration, prayers of confession and prayers of thanksgiving offered in addition to the many prayers of supplication.
Since the two pillars of the Christian life are the Word of God and prayer, we will continue to have a time of instruction from God’s Word. We have limited the sermon to no more than twenty-five minutes (it can be done—consider last Sunday night!). For the next six months, we will work through Psalm 119 with a view to being Word-based in our prayer life, both individually and corporately.
We are excited about this next step of reformation in the life of BBC. We trust that each member will be compelled to pray as we seek to be increasingly transformed according to the Word of God alone, to the glory of God alone.