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FIRST-PERSON: Do you pray for the denomination?

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Twenty-four percent.

According to research done for LifeWay Christian Resources, that’s the percentage of Southern Baptist ministers who pray for their denomination during an average week. A summary of that information can be found in the May/June issue of Facts & Trends magazine. My column in that issue addressed the findings, but with the Southern Baptist Convention less than two weeks away, prayer for the denomination is very much on my mind.

We face serious issues as a people. Frankly, we need a renewal to prayer and seeking God’s leadership through prayer if we are to navigate successfully the challenges ahead. A study recently released by Barna revealed that those professing to be “born again” think or act virtually the same as non-believers, yet we don’t seem to have urgency about changing our behavior.

That alarms me. We will never have a spiritual impact in the lives of others if there has not been a spiritual transformation in our own. And I daresay there has never been a major move of the Spirit that was not preceded by people being on their knees and faces before God.

And this is why we must pray. I wrote in my Facts & Trends column that it is not the quantity of prayer we offer, but the quality -– the focus on God, the submission to His authority. We quip, “prayer changes things,” and it does. It really does. But I wonder if this is more fodder for bumper stickers than a passionate belief among Christians. If it were for a stronger belief Southern Baptists would spend more time pleading with God to use us to reach humanity for Christ and waste less energy on unnecessary denominational maintenance and infighting.

For instance, I’ve been extremely encouraged these past several months by the desire expressed by younger leaders to be involved in the denomination. They have a desire for productive changes that keep Southern Baptists focused on the Great Commission.

However, mixed with their mostly constructive comments is some unconstructive criticism. Younger leaders, how much time have you spent praying for the denomination, its focus and the changes necessary that will keep us a useful instrument in the hand of God?

But I pose the same question for those currently in leadership positions across the denomination. We often quote 2 Chronicles 7:14 — if “My people who are called by My name humble themselves, pray and seek my face, and turn from their evil ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land” (HCSB) -– but the fact is that we are not leading the people in our churches to sanctified lives. Barna’s research shows as much.

What’s at stake? Since 1845 Southern Baptists have pursued the peoples of the world. In that time, our message of Jesus as the way, truth and life has stayed the same but our methods in conveying that message have changed, albeit too slow, at times.

We currently find ourselves at a crossroads. SBC Executive Committee President Morris Chapman best defined our challenge at the Baptist state executives meeting in Albuquerque. He said that Southern Baptists have a choice to make: be a denomination that reaches the peoples of the world with the Gospel or relegate ourselves to being a regional denomination. We are three years removed from that challenge and have yet to give a definitive response.

Our churches have become so homogenous that we close ourselves off to the very people we say we need to reach — not to mention our fellow brothers and sisters in the faith. We need an infusion of methodological creativity. These times call for drastic measures, such as when the paralytic’s friends ripped up a roof and lowered him through because that was the only way he was going to encounter Jesus. Are we willing to go to such extremes?

So, where do we begin? At the basics: On our knees. In Facts & Trends I also quoted Randy Sprinkle, former prayer strategy coordinator with the International Mission Board. He said: “Prayer works. Prayer is work. Prayer leads to work. Prayer is the work.”

Let’s get to work. The period at the end of this sentence is a good time to start.

    About the Author

  • James T. Draper Jr.