Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Prayer Leader Online Interview: Regional Prayer

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Prayer Leader Online interviewed Steve Loopstra, the executive director of Prayer Transformation Ministries, a Minneapolis-based regional prayer ministry.

Q. Steve, explain the vision of Prayer Transformation Ministries.
The vision of Prayer Transformation Ministries is to serve the church and the prayer movement by teaching, encouraging, supporting, and developing prayer on a personal, church, citywide and national level with the goal of seeing genuine, measurable transformation throughout every area of society. We very simply are all about prayer for and prayer toward transformation.

Q. In your experience, what is the most important skill prayer leaders need to develop as they seek to build a prayer culture throughout their congregation?
One of the most challenging aspects of being a prayer leader, I believe, is to develop the skill of learning to listen to what the heart of the Lord is for your particular congregation. Jeremiah 23:18 states: "But which of them has stood in the council of the Lord to see or to hear his word? Who has listened and heard His word?" The picture of this verse is someone who has developed the ability to spend extended periods of time in intimate consultation with the Lord, to hear with understanding and discernment, and to obey what he or she hears. Our culture would have us look for "programs" or "best practices" that we shop around for and then try to implement in our churches. I am convinced that the Lord who is the Head of the church has a heart and a plan for every congregation. As we see in Revelation 2 and 3, we just need to learn to spend enough time in intimate consultation [with Him] hearing and learning what His heart is for our congregation that is unique to us. There are certainly scriptural principles that we must also pay attention to. That simply means that we must develop the ability to know the ways of God. As George Otis, Jr. says, "If you want to know where God is going, follow His footsteps."

Q. Talk about the balance prayer leaders must maintain between growing their own prayer life, being trained, and working toward growth in the prayer life of the congregation by providing training opportunities.
Of course, the reality is that we are all “in process." That is why humility is so important to the Lord. It can be a genuine trap for a prayer leader to think that he has somehow reached a level where he can coast because he is leading others. That is a terrible place to be. We must be continually striving and seeking the face of God for ourselves. It is really that passion and hunger that will be the greatest lesson that other people will catch. All the other things flow out of our passion for Him. So we need to be careful to balance the "techniques" we learn and teach with an ever-growing, vibrant striving for more in our own lives.

Beware if you find yourself becoming a prayer technician. Part of this process, then, is to deliberately expose ourselves to those from whom we can learn, to ways of praying that are different from ours. We are to be watchmen of what God is doing in the world around us.

Q. The prayer leader’s relationship with the pastor is critical. What can a prayer leader do to establish a healthy relationship with the pastor?
One of the biggest issues between prayer leaders and pastors is the issue of trust. Your pastor needs to know that he or she can trust you. That means trust in the area of dealing with confidential issues. It has to do with the area of trust of the pastors' leadership. It means developing a relationship where the pastor can trust that the prayer leader isn't coming to them as the "prophet of God" with the infallible "word of the Lord." The prayer leader must always be a person under submission to authority. Many a relationship between prayer leader and pastor has been injured because the prayer leader thought that somehow they needed to make sure that what they thought they heard from the Lord needed to be implemented, no matter what. This is an area where we need to learn our area of authority, and where that ends. If the Lord gives us a word, we need to know the right timing and even IF we are to share it. Then, if we are convinced after much prayer, that we are to share it, that is where our area of responsibility ends. From that point on, it is the area of the pastor’s responsibility as to what he/she does with it. This gets back to the character traits that are so important of humility and brokenness.

Q. Have you observed a mistake or misunderstanding many prayer leaders fail to see in their own ministry?
You mean after taking the plank out of my own eye? Well, again, I think that one of the biggest mistakes we make is that tendency toward seeing our ministry, or what we believe God has spoken to us, as being "the center of the universe." I like to think of [the body of Christ] as an orchestra. An orchestra is made up of many instruments. Each person in the orchestra has been playing his own instrument for years, loves it, and knows the particular music that instrument makes. Each musician practices daily, and secretly wishes everyone played his particular instrument. You can play a great trumpet, violin, or clarinet solo, but if you want to play Handle's Messiah, that takes an orchestra. There are brass, string and percussion sections, and in each of those sections there is first chair, second chair, etc. There are times when one section plays when everyone else is silent. It doesn't mean one section or instrument is better than the other. It's [not all about individuals, it’s all about the group] to the Conductor. All that to say that we should not see ourselves more highly that we really are. This also means that local congregation prayer leaders need to be seeking ways to work together with other congregations in their cities to lift up prayer over their region.

Q. 2004 has been designated as a “Year of Prayer for Pastors.” You have provided significant leadership to this initiative. What has motivated your involvement? What are you hoping will be accomplished? How does this initiative assist the work of prayer leaders?
I guess my passion for the Year of Prayer for Pastors really comes out of my own 21 years of being a pastor, and understanding the pressures and demands that are a part of being true to that calling. My heart breaks for the thankless job of so many pastors who don't have the assurance that there are those who selflessly, faithfully pray for them no matter what. I would hope in some small degree, that as a result of this year of prayer, there would be individuals and churches that would continue to pray for their pastors as a lifestyle long after 2004 is over. I also pray there would be pastors out there who would be able to walk into the years ahead with a bit more strength and confidence knowing that they have people who pray for them, and seeing answers to those prayers in their lives and the lives of their families. I trust this Year of Prayer for Pastors can be an encouragement to prayer leaders in local congregations to remember, in the midst of all the struggles they face in implementing prayer, that the first priority is to pray fervently and regularly for their pastors.

Q. Tell us about the Twin Cities Church Prayer Coordinators Network. How does it function? How does it benefit prayer leaders? How can a city or region begin a similar network?
Our Church Prayer Coordinators Network is designed to be a place of encouragement and strengthen for those on the front lines who try to lift up and implement prayer in their congregations. We meet quarterly on a Saturday, from 9:30 to 11:00 am. We make available the latest resources that can help them in their ministry, give them opportunity to network with prayer leaders from other churches and encourage them with a time of teaching and vision-casting. I am, myself, a prayer leader in a local congregation. I can relate to the frustrations and challenges that we all face in this arena. I can't tell you how many times someone who was at the point of giving up attended one of our meetings and met someone who spoke into their lives at just the right point, with just the right words to send them back strengthened to keep on.

The way to start in your city or region is really to begin to call churches and find out who those prayer leaders are. They may not have that title, and will most likely be under the radar screen of the majority of people, but if you ask who champions prayer in their church, there will usually be a name that comes forward. Find a time to gather them together to meet and pray for one another. Set a regular time to meet. Then, and this is important, communicate with the pastors so that they know what is going on, and don't feel left out of the communications here. Ask for their blessing and help.

Q. Steve, write a prayer we can pray along with you that petitions the Lord on behalf of the men and women who serve our congregations in prayer.
Our loving Father, we know that prayer is so close to Your heart. The Lord Jesus modeled a lifestyle of prayer for all the ages. Prayer is our intimacy link with You. It is the way You have chosen to move Your hand in answer to the prayers of Your people. Yet too few in our churches understand that. Thank You, Father, for each one You have called to be a champion of prayer in their local congregations. Some, Lord, have never received any recognition or even a word of thanks, but they continue to be faithful to those things that You have placed in their hearts. We pray that You, the God of all grace, would even right now, speak that word of encouragement to them. We pray that You would keep them from the attacks of the enemy who would seek to have them just give up and quit. Grant to them a strength to keep at it that only comes from You. Give them a growing, intimate, and vital relationship with You that will enable them to hear what is on Your heart for their congregations, and for their cities. We pray that You would give them favor with their pastors and congregations. Grant to them a spirit of humility and service and let others see Your heart for prayer in their lifestyle and attitudes in such a way that it will be infectious to others. And we pray, Lord for a mighty movement of Your Spirit in prayer all across our nation that will bring a society transforming revival to our country. Keep us all faithful, fervent and hungry until the day You answer our prayers. And then when You do, we will make sure that You get all the glory and the praise, because, Lord, we acknowledge that it is really all about You. We pray these things in Jesus Name. Amen.

*Originally published in Prayer Leader Online ===>Click headline to join the Church Prayer Leaders Network @ http://www.PrayerLeader.com

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