As we were heading toward a ministry meeting, I was talking deeply with Philip Thompson, professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Heritage at Sioux Falls Seminary, about the state of the contemporary church. During our walk down the street, Philip dropped a quote on me that stuck deep in my mind and heart. He said, “Whoever marries the spirit of this age will find himself a widower in the next.”
It took me a few moments of playing mental pinball with the phrase before its deeper meaning settled and I began to make connections with the contemporary state of the western evangelical church. This quote by William Ralph Inge, an English clergyman, writer, and professor born some 150 years ago, prods us as spiritual leaders to take care of the ways in which we accommodate to the culture of the day in hopes of solving the problems of the contemporary church. Certainly we as church leaders are called to adapt to changing cultures and styles, yet spiritual leaders are directed simultaneously through scripture not to conform to culture in ways that allow movements of thought to “squeeze us into their mold.” Yes, times change and the local church must understand and react to those changes, but never with a mind to compromise or abandon the historic doctrines and practices of Christ’s bride—the church.
One way to help us provide necessary adaption strategies without moving toward conformity is to lean into the teachings and practices of the scriptures and the church that have weathered the winds of centuries of cultural change. In other words, what doctrines and practices do we see the church faithfully adhering to throughout the ages, including among others the early church, the reformation church, the early Baptist church, and today’s faith-filled and Spirit-led congregations?
Prayer is one of these essential practices. Polycarp, the second century church leader and martyr, wrote, “Therefore, forsaking the vanity of many, and their false doctrines, let us return to the word which has been handed down to us from the beginning, watching in prayer, persevering in fasting, beseeching in our supplications the all-seeing God not to lead us into temptation.” Centuries later in a more modern era, George Mueller, who died in 1898, wrote, “Only a life of prayer and meditation will render a vessel ready for the Master’s use.”
With the essential nature of prayer in mind, I am asking us in 2017 to explore anew as a conference of churches our practice of prayer in our lives as spiritual leaders and in our local churches. As I started my tenure as the NAB executive director, I called us all to a season of prayer for the conference. Now I am calling us all to an entire year of prayer for the renewal of the spiritual discipline in prayer for both ourselves and our churches.
I want you to know, though, that this call to prayer will not come as a loud shout, like an overwrought coach screaming from the sideline with face distorted and muscles clenched. Instead, this call to prayer will come more as a conversation, even a whisper, with the NAB leadership team as a whole—Dan, Norm, Stu, Kent, Cam, and Richard—reminding you to return to an essential need of the church, not only for this season but for all seasons. Through our words and actions, we are going to call you to prayer.
Over the next weeks, these leadership articles will remind you of some important aspects about our interior life of prayer that propel us to be a people sent into this world. As you read them and you plan for your ministry in 2017, begin to consider how you can renew a conversation about the practice of prayer in your congregation.