In my journey following Jesus, I have always sought to be a growing Christian and have a deepening life of prayer. When I, along with our core group, planted New Beginnings Christian Fellowship in 2002, my personal prayer life was very active. Shortly after starting the church, I experienced the deaths of two sons and a grandson, and I fought Stage IV cancer. My body, my life, my family, and my ministry were in serious jeopardy, but God, in His grace and mercy, held it all together. It is my faith in Christ that has kept me sane and has helped me continue to grow.
For many years, I was trying to hold life, family, and ministry together. Survival, recovery, and faithfulness were the watchwords of my life. By 2015, I had recovered enough for God to begin to show me that something was missing in ministry. It troubled me and I considered leaving Kokomo and starting somewhere afresh. As I sought the Lord on this, I sensed Him calling me to stay right where I was and begin to teach His Church to pray.
I have always had an active, growing prayer life, but I was not fostering a culture of prayer within New Beginnings. As I was reflecting on God’s invitation, I remembered that there is only one place in the scripture where the disciples directly asked Jesus to teach them something, and that was to pray. I had to admit that the missing element in my church family was genuine communal prayer.
God’s invitation led me to humble myself and embrace the conviction that I would become the pastor of a praying church, not just be a pastor of a church that said prayers. The communal prayer culture I was called to grow was going to be worship-based, scripture-fed, and led by the Holy Spirit. Together, we would learn to seek God’s face, not just His hand. The choice was made, the path was determined, and the die was cast. Over the past three years, this has been a wonderfully amazing, painfully difficult journey, but God’s reassuring voice has led me to the conviction that this is the right thing to do. It is what our world needs: Churches that pray communally.
In building a culture of prayer, it all had to start with me and emanate from our church leadership. Hence, I had to begin with the Elder Board. At first, it was like we were trying to drive a car with square wheels, but our meetings have grown in such a way that they now begin with a time of worship and prayer, flow from the scripture, and focus on the character of God. Our rhythm is patterned after the Lord’s Prayer. This has absolutely changed the tenor of our meetings and has been transforming the lives of the Elders, spilling into congregational life.
Our Elders then started a worship-based, scripture-fed time of communal prayer on Wednesday evenings we call the Encounter Service. Worship-based, communal prayer has been incorporated into our adult Sunday school time as well. Our pastoral prayer time during our Sunday worship service has transformed into a time of communal prayer that is also structured after the Lord’s Prayer.
No matter how it is explained or shared, one thing I have come to realize when it comes to prayer is that it is something that must be tasted with our hearts, not just our minds. Since communal, worship-based prayer has gripped my heart, New Beginnings has developed a more evident, healthy, and growing dependency on God. The result is that prayer and a praying heart and mindset are developing in our congregational life. Many of our people have been empowered to live for Christ and share their faith in ways they never were before. They also are more willing to pray with and for others. Along the way, it has become evident that we have picked a fight with the devil where he used to have us sleeping. He doesn’t like it, but the fight is worth it. I am sad to share that some people have chosen to leave because of our communal prayer focus, but I rejoice to report that others have come. God is transforming us, and He is being glorified.
I then set out to invite other pastors to grow in this arena. I needed a band of brothers to help me stay on track. I finally found a couple of pastors who were hungry for God and His supernatural touch and who were willing to meet with me. We began meeting early on Thursday mornings, growing to a total of six pastors, including myself. We are discipling one another to pray communally and encourage each other to “export” communal prayer back to our churches. Last February I hosted a half-day Pastors’ Prayer Summit where six pastors came. In September, I hosted another one where twenty-two pastors attended. I am now planning another half-day Pastors’ Prayer Summit in March. I trust that this will glorify God, edify His Church, and continue to grow.
I have rededicated myself to Acts 6:4 as a key to pastoral ministry. Communal Prayer is not something I was trained to do or lead, but God has led me to mentors and brothers around the country. Within our own conference, God has opened the door for me to be part of the Blue Ocean movement and an Ethos cohort. I have personally benefited from the growing relationships I have with Kent Carlson and Cam Roxburgh. Communal prayer will not be the only thing I do, but with God being my Helper, it will be the first thing I do and continue to lead my congregation to do so we can be His people “for such a time as this.”
Watch Jeff Russell’s Testimony of Transformation
Pastor Jeff Russell | Transformation Story from Strategic Renewal on Vimeo.