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Prayer ministry helps church endure trials, see miracles

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–When members of this congregation get a phone call from the church, it’s not always a plea for volunteers to teach a class or serve on a committee.
Chances are it’s a call from the church’s prayer ministry.
Nell Bruce, prayer minister at Highview Baptist Church, Louisville, Ky., explained it this way: “We call people and say, ‘Mrs. Jones, this is so-and-so in the prayer room and I just called to let you know I’m praying for you this morning. Is there anything special I could pray with you about?'”
When this outreach first began, Bruce recalled, the caller often was met by silence on the other end of the line. “People would pause, and then you could hear them crying. They would say, ‘You’re the first person who’s ever called me from my church to pray for me.'”
That spoke volumes to Bruce, a lifelong Baptist and former minister’s wife, about how churches relate to their members.
“Why do Baptist churches call their members? Usually to ask them to do something,” she said. “It changes their hearts when they are called for prayer.”
That’s just one aspect of Highview’s wide-ranging prayer ministry, which the 77-year-old Bruce has directed the past 11 years as a Mission Service Corps volunteer under the Southern Baptist Home Mission Board.
Church leaders cite the prayer ministry as a vital part of what has helped the church not only stay healthy but grow in recent years, even amid an abrupt loss of pastoral leadership two years ago. That assessment corresponds with new research by the Kentucky Baptist Convention’s church growth and administration division. A statewide project to examine church health in Baptist congregations has identified prayer as a key common element among healthy churches.
“Vibrant, sincere prayer is a central feature in growing churches,” said Vernon Cole, director of the research project.
“A vital prayer life, where church people experience their prayer as making a real difference, is a necessary foundation stone in the refocusing of attitude and perception,” he added. “A disciplined individual and collective prayer life could hold the creative power for revolutionizing the church’s view of its potential.”
Bruce and others believe prayer is what kept Highview together during the dark days of 1995, when the church’s longtime pastor and music minister both resigned amid allegations of sexual impropriety. During the interim period before a new pastor was called, the church continued to grow. And since the arrival of a new pastor last year, growth has surged even more.
“In the storm we’ve been through, it’s because our people have been on their knees,” Bruce explained. “It’s God that sustained us. … It really told our people who he is.”
Through prayer, the congregation learned “a real reliance on the Lord,” added Jeff Goodyear, deacon chairman. “During the transition time, the church really focused on prayer.”
That sentiment is shared by Kevin Ezell, the church’s new pastor, and Norman Coe, associate pastor for administration and pastoral care.
Ezell said as a pastoral candidate, he was impressed by the “intense concentration” Highview’s members put on prayer routinely, but especially during the interim period. The church organized specific days of prayer, weeks of prayer and days of prayer and fasting during the interim.
“The foundation had been laid here for prayer years ago,” Coe added.
That prayer foundation was laid largely by the persistence of Bruce, who organizes volunteers, maintains a massive database of prayer needs and religiously spreads her passion for prayer.
About 200 people participate each month in the prayer ministry, housed in a suite of offices with a secured entrance for 24-hour access. The suite includes not just one prayer room but four.
One large room serves as a meeting place for prayer groups. Three smaller “prayer closets” offer focused places for individuals to pray for home missions, foreign missions and the church family.
Each room contains lists of prayer needs. For example, the home missions room contains names of every Southern Baptist home missionary; all city, county and state government officials; needs related to the church’s crisis pregnancy ministry; and other current requests phoned in from around the nation.
One part of Highview’s home missions prayer ministry focuses on students, faculty and staff at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Bruce has someone at Highview assigned to regular prayer for every seminary student and employee.
A previous emphasis was on praying for every Jefferson County police officer and firefighter by name.
The large room in the prayer suite also creates an ideal place for families to pray together, Bruce said.
“There’s something different about a trip to the temple, as it were, to go to prayer. This is an investment. Prayer is an investment in someone’s life or in our own life. These children will never ever forget their parents taking them to God’s house to pray.”
During Desert Storm, the prayer rooms at Highview were “filled night and day with families,” Bruce said. “They would come and point out (on a map) where Daddy was, and they would kneel and pray for Daddy and the others out there.”
Highview’s prayer ministry produces visible results, not only within the congregation but outside as well, Bruce said. “We’ve had miracles.”
She cited the case of a schoolteacher who picked up something from her desk drawer that she thought was medicine for her eyes but actually was Superglue. She was rushed to the hospital, where the doctors faced a dilemma: The potential cure to her problem could create a worse problem by tearing her eye tissue.
Bruce said the doctors asked someone to call Highview’s prayer ministry. Once the call was received, Bruce had dozens of people praying within minutes.
Soon after, back at the hospital, a tear rolled out of the teacher’s eye, then more followed until her own tears had flushed out the Superglue.
“Every church ought to have some sort of a prayer ministry,” Bruce said. “Every church can do this.”

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  • Mark Wingfield