Tonight we meet for prayer in the sanctuary at 7pm. It's the first of six special prayer meetings called by the overseers and ministry team.
We'll meet the 2nd and 4th Mondays of October, November and December. If you can meet in person at 4041 Bahia Vista Street, please do. If you can't, please join others online at the same time.
This is a call for the core of our church to gather in prayer. And you get to decide whether you're the core or not.
Why are we praying?
I believe this "wilderness experience" of 2020 is a time of purification and testing to humble us and to see what's in our hearts. And for us to make the most of it, we need to be in prayer.
In my teachings the past couple weeks, I've said that in the desert experience we learn to rely on God to provide and to protect. I have been focusing on how it applies to each of us personally. But I want us to also consider how it applies to us as a congregation and as a ministry.
We have some serious decisions in front of us. No emergencies. No fires to put out. Nothing to vote on. Nothing urgent, just important decisions about opportunities regarding our future as a congregation.
When we shut down the programming of the church for the pandemic, my concern was that as soon as it was over we'd just go back to whatever we were doing before Covid. The other way to say that is, I was afraid we wouldn't learn anything in the wilderness. I was afraid we'd come out no different than we went in.
I mean that about us as a congregation, but also the larger Church.
And, lo and behold, many pastors and churches across the U.S. seem to be focusing their efforts on protecting their right to assemble. And yes, I think the right to assemble is a good thing; we take advantage of that.
But while many are fighting to keep from losing what they had, a number of pastors like myself are eager to see the Church take hold of something we haven't yet had -- or at least haven't had in a long, long time.
We see this as opportunity and we don't want to miss it.
It is, by nature, a less public conversation. And by nature, larger churches are less nimble, and they have more to lose in the conversation. Nevertheless, I've seen even some large churches start to role out plans about new ways of being church. And many of the private person-to-person conversations are filled with conviction and desire around a scary and exciting question that's difficult to raise publicly.
But here it is:
What if there's a better way to be Church?
I've written about the difference between doing church and being church. I've spoke about the four devotions we should be gathering around. There's certainly way more to say about that, but I'm not going to try to say it here.
My hope here is to keep the conversation going and to call us to prayer around it. I believe God is inviting us to consider what his Church should look like as we emerge from 2020 -- and what role our congregation should play in that.
I said at the beginning of this year that the prior ten years was a season of laying to rest what was, and that 2020 would be a year of giving to birth what would be. I had no idea the labor would be so long and difficult.
I'm reminded of what Jesus said in John 16:21, "A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world." I relate to that with regard to this season of labor. And I believe that what this season gives birth to will replace the anguish with joy -- if we give don't give up.
We are in labor. I believe the whole world is in labor of sorts. Certainly the Lord's Church is in labor as it seeks to give new birth to those whose hearts haven't yet heard the gospel.
But I also feel like our congregation is in labor. And we don't yet know what we are giving birth to.
Will it be a new way of being Church? Or will it look a lot like what we've been? It's yet to be seen. But if God is in it, what we give birth to will be the right thing.
But right now we are in labor, and the labor is prayer.
I wrote last week that the call to prayer is like Gideon calling his warriors to get a drink. Honestly, everyone knows that when you call a church to prayer, less than 10% show up. But God used less than 1% of Gideon's army to work a miracle.
Today, I'm saying the call to prayer is like the birthing mother's urge to push.
We're feeling the urge to push. It's time to pray. Perhaps God is even calling some of us to a season of fasting. We may be tired already, but when you're in labor, you have to go through with it.
I believe we are in labor, and the labor we're being called to is prayer.
What should we pray?
I'll put questions on the screen tonight to help us in our thought process, but the goal is simply to pray however God leads us. We are praying to listen to God, to hear from God. Prepare your heart around the following questions:
As we pray tonight I want us all to pray as we are led. We won't take turns praying. There won't be open mics. We won't be sharing prayer requests. We'll just be gathering in the same room to pray to God at the same time.
If one person prays out loud so that those who are near them can hear and agree, wonderful. If another bows silently, praying to God in their heart, beautiful. If one lies prostrate before God with their arms stretched out, amen. And if another wanders around the room with their arms raised high, hallelujah.
We are gathering to pray. We are in labor.
See you tonight.
Pastor of Sarasota Community Church since 2009.