The Prayer Summit:
Where Reunitus Begins
Prayer Summits work. Pastor Donald Roth attended a Prayer Summit in Cedar Springs, Washington and penned an article describing his experience. He writes:
Our goal is not to talk about praying, but to pray; not to discuss God, but to meet with God; not to discuss man’s agenda, but to seek God’s agenda. Shouldn’t Baptists and Presbyterians and Charismatics and Lutherans who love the same Lord come to love each other as brothers and sisters and as co-laborers with Christ?
The tear-streaked face of Dr. Joe Aldrich [President of Multnomah Bible College and Biblical Seminary] communicated his brokenness, passion, and his vision to see John 17 fulfilled.
During the past year he had traveled up and down the West coast of the United States leading over twenty small interdenominational groups of pastors in four-day prayer retreats. The purpose was prayer–no program, no agenda, just prayer!
Six months later, thirty pastors–six of whom were Canadians–representing several denominations, met at Cedar Springs Christian Retreat Center in a small, intimate chapel. It was their first prayer retreat.
We began with Dr. Aldrich encouraging us to pray and worship, permitting God to set the agenda. Spontaneously different pastors led the group in prayer, a cappella singing of choruses and hymns, and reading of Scripture.
During those days we were to sing over two hundred times, read dozens of passages of Scripture, and sense God’s presence in a way that few of us had ever experienced.
At the closing of the first full day of prayer, worship, and eating meals together, bonds of trust and camaraderie had formed among the men. Denominational distinctives did not surface during the entire time together, but a common love for the Savior did.
The next day began where day one ended–praise, worship, and singing. But that day a new dynamic was to emerge. Dr. Joe invited each of us individually to share with fellow pastors personal needs and struggles we were experiencing in our family life and ministries. With bonds of trust and love firmly established, pastor after pastor opened his heart: church splits, tensions with church board members, spiritual fatigue, discouragement, emotional and physical burnout, hurting children and wives, and more.
What became obvious was that these pastors were a weary group of spiritual warriors, each one bearing scars and carrying heavy loads of physical, spiritual, and emotional baggage as a result of front-line battle with the Enemy.
Empathetic hearts responded spontaneously as fellow pastors quietly gathered around the hurting pastor. Tears of compassion were shed with love, and acceptance was freely offered as they prayed for spiritual healing and renewal.
It was apparent that this experience was a first for most pastors. Loads were lifted, burdens were lightened and I was reminded of the Scripture: “Therefore confess your faults to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed” (James 5:16, TLB).
The third day, renewed and refreshed pastors prayed for individual churches, board members, families, ministry friends, and that these flames of prayer power would spread.
The last evening was highlighted by two-and-a-half hours of worship and sharing the Lord’s supper. Before the Lord and his fellow ministers, each man was served communion after reciting a recommitment to his personal call of ministry.
During those wonderful days, God did a work of grace and restoration in the lives of thirty pastors as passion for ministry was rekindled.
This account could be repeated dozens of times. If we truly seek him, he may be found! He is pleased when we seek him with our whole heart.
A few excerpts from multitudes of letters illustrate that regardless of the location, time or constituents, the results are uniformly the same.
“I was prompted to complete a work God had begun in me at the Summit, but which I was not ready to let go of then. For years I have held my associate in judgment, and today I released him, asking his forgiveness. The brothers prayed for a rooting out of pride and selfishness in me. I now feel a greater freedom and love toward George than I ever have. That’s what this is all about, isn’t it?”
A North Idaho pastor
“It is hard for me to know how to express in a letter what the Prayer Summit…meant to me. You might remember me with the Salem pastors’ group. I was the one who cried for two days. God has been very gracious to me during this time. He has granted me the privilege of experiencing brokenness before him. I never knew how precious that could be. I am learning the freedom that comes from brokenness.”
A Salem, Oregon, pastor
“The move of God was so deep and so great I felt reluctant to participate in the vocalizing of prayers because it was evident to me that such a holy thing was taking place it should not be entered into and participated in lightly.”
An Aloha, Oregon, pastor
What Makes a Prayer Summit Work?
Why do they work? Because extended time In God’s presence changes things. In fact, it’s the only thing I know of that has a chance of bringing together born-again representatives of great ecclesiastical diversity in genuine corporate fellowship.
Pastoral conferences won’t do it. Workshops won’t do it. Commissions on unity and humanism won’t do it.
Only a powerful, sustained time in His presence will tear down ancient walls, build bonds of love, and link brothers in common cause.
When two separated brethren find themselves at the feet of Jesus, at the foot of the same cross, the distance between them shrinks to almost nothing. As they worship together, weep together, and minister together, things change. Caricatures are eliminated, issues are brought into balance, and hearts are knit in common cause.
As pastors humble themselves before God and each other and allow others to minister to them, unity is inevitable. Each sees the other in an entirely new light…as broken people…as wounded soldiers…as discouraged pastors…as needy people…as brothers indeed.
Imagine singing seventy-five to one hundred songs a day for four days! Words can’t describe the worship, the two-hour communion services, the prayers and reading of Scripture, the extended times of complete silence before God. One can literally see the healing, restoring work of the Spirit of God. Add to that the times of laying on of hands and praying for each other and the deliverance is from sin and its bondage.
The lessons learned about openness, transparency, and authenticity will reshape ministries. Clergy invite other clergy into their lives as instruments of ministry and deliverance. A new vision of worship is marking many churches.
At every Prayer Summit there is forgiveness and reconciliation. Pastors embrace pastors with tears coursing down their cheeks. There is great joy and laughter that knows no bounds.
Why does it work? Because all the things that need to happen, happen. When God controls the agenda, when the Holy Spirit orchestrates the time together, nothing is missing, nothing is left out, nothing is overlooked.
What are the Components of a Prayer Summit?
Successful Prayer Summits all seem to have at least twelve common components. Let’s take a look at them one by one.
1. There are no hidden agendas.
The Prayer Summit is not a platform for ministries to recruit for their causes. Truly, the only agenda is to meet with God. No books are sold, no albums made available, no speakers speak, no musicians perform. One Pastor writes: “The [leadership] helped us experienced a significant moving of the Spirit of God without ever themselves becoming the focus of attention. It was like going to a conference with Jesus as the guest speaker. It would be difficult to overstate the significance of this event and others like it in the Northwest.
In a very real sense, leaders don’t know what will happen in the next hour. I well remember our first Prayer Summit held at the Cannon Beach Conference Center on the Oregon coast. Believe me, we were cruising uncharted waters. To our amazement, fifty-five pastors from Salem showed up all, I am sure, skeptical about the whole idea. I guess I was foolish enough to risk it because of some valuable past experiences with small groups.
While at Dallas Theological Seminary I taught Group Dynamics for a couple of years. I was familiar with the components of a successful group experience. Four days of prayer and worship from morning to night, however, bore no resemblance to those tidy principles.
After a surprisingly wonderful first day, I turned to Terry Dirks, one of the team members, and said, “Terry, we have three more days. What in the world are we going to do?” We decided to stick with the original plan and let God control our time together. The rest is history!
2. The Holy Spirit orchestrates the time together.
We’re not dealing with rookies. These leaders are veterans who desire nothing more than to meet with God. The time is fluid and free-flowing. One pastor leads in a prayer that prompts another to start a song which prompts another to read a Scripture or pray or sing or express a thought. About the only fixed items in the schedule are the meals, though we have worshiped and prayed our way through several of them.
3. The participants represent nearly every church fellowship.
There is a faithful remnant to be found in just about every denomination. The goal of a Prayer Summit is not to bring together conservatives and liberals. Like oil and water, they don’t mix.
Nor is it to get denominational leaders talking. The goal is to link grass-root shepherds with grass-root, Bible-believing, God-honoring shepherds, regardless of their church affiliations. The goal is to provide an environment which melts them and fuses them as one. And it happens.
I remember one pastor from a separatist fellowship who asked forgiveness for his denominational arrogance and acknowledged that he now believed the others in attendance were his true brothers in Christ. Sadly, he went on to say that he could not continue to meet with the men when they returned home. He would be censored for such association.
4. The participants come from the same geographical area.
There is a reason for this. We want people to go back as united brothers to the same neighborhood. We want them to know the pastors in the churches they drive past every day. We do not want them to disperse to the four winds. Our desire is that they continue to pray, worship, and strategize together. Dozens of groups meet weekly as a result of the Summits.
5. The participants are significantly bonded to each other.
Relationships do continue after the Summit. Pulpit exchanges take place. Regular, joint evening services are held. Prayer concerts are not uncommon. Salem, Oregon, has had three to four corporate meetings averaging over three thousand in attendance. Portland had a corporate gathering titled “An Evening of Joy” with 13,500 people in attendance. A number of areas have sponsored elder/deacon seminars. Several churches have taken their elders away for Prayer Summits. One church has taken several large groups of parishioners on a prayer retreat.
6. Prayer Summits involve people of the same sex.
We discovered that men are not nearly as apt to open up and express their heartfelt concerns if women are present. Some struggle with pornography. Not a few need deliverance from sexual abuse in their childhoods. Though this is not a hard and fast rule, we have found it best to separate the sexes and provide separate Summits for men and women. Incidentally, the women we’ve dealt with prefer to have their own Summits.
7. Next to meeting with God, a second purpose of the Summit is to seek God’s plan for impacting a specific geographical area with the gospel.
A caution: We westerners move toward the programmatic too quickly. Still, we desire pastors and leaders to go back to their community with their eyes opened to the power of tactical unity. We desire that they continue to worship, pray, communicate, and reach out together.
Ultimately, we believe God is leading the church back to John 17 so that the world may know that God loves them. Therefore the “Church of Salem” must roll up its sleeves and begin to pray and plan to mount a sustained effort to influence the city.
The emphasis must not be on “taking” a city. That implies a decisive, once-and-for-all victory that is not likely because the battle for cities will rage until the Lord returns. The goal is not an “event” in which we spiritually map of city and then take it. The goal is to sustain successful warfare until the Lord returns–a much more difficult challenge than an event centered operation. Difficult because in our “instant everything” culture, we are not used to long sieges. A “now or nothing” mentality won’t cut it.
Please don’t misunderstand me. Mass public events are part of the program, but they are just that–one part of a sustained, ongoing strategy to move as a unified army until the Lord returns. Each individual church where Christ is honored must see itself as part of a bigger hole. We’ve violated the truth of John 17 for too long.
8. Each Prayer Summit ends with a unique covenant.
These covenants are unique in the sense that each group constructs a description of what their unity will look like when they leave.
Each group has committed itself to meet on a regular basis. Each has committed to gather again for another Prayer Summit. Many agree that they will never again undercut other ministries or speak ill of their brothers in Christ. Some have set up quarterly Prayer Summits where they spend a day together in worship and prayer. Some groups agree to join as couples for an evening of food and fellowship. The first time the Vancouver, Washington, group met, they had eighty men and women in attendance.
9. The prayer Summit is the “engine” of revival for a local church and its surrounding community.
“How many of you,” I ask a Prayer Summit group, “actually believe God is going to bring revival to your church? To your city?” Even after some coaxing, not a pastor raised his hand. What we see–our expectations–is usually what we get. Part of faith is visualizing something beforehand and then acting in concert with its realization. As the pastors realize they are not alone, that their fellowship need not be limited to their “own brand,” that corporately they can impact a city, faith builds a vision returns.
Salem, Oregon, pastors believe that when revival starts in the Northwest, it will begin in their town. The way they’re going, that’s a great possibility.
10. Prayer Summits are painful and traumatic.
Divine surgery is often excruciating and humiliating. It hurts to heal. At the proper time a “hated chair” is put into the center of the circle and those who need prayer, forgiveness, deliverance, and healing are invited to sit in the chair and bare their hearts. As one dear pastor said, I’ve wept more in the last four days than in my lifetime.” Yes, friend, pastors are hurting people. When they are assured they have found a safe environment, a setting where they can be sheep rather than shepherds, they flock to the chair.
Inevitably, when the session with the chair ends, pastors approach us asking if the chair can be put out again because they want an opportunity to be prayed for. One church leader resisted the heavy hand upon him for three days. The last night he wrestled with God and finally agreed to deal with the sin in his life the final morning. In a letter written to me he proclaimed, “I will never be the same again.”
As burdens are shared, as sins are confessed, as relationships are healed, the pastor on the chair is surrounded by volunteers who come to lay their hands on him and pray. Often they come because they are struggling with the same issues.
A mainline Pastor sobbed as he poured out his broken Heart. His daughter had taken to the streets. They hadn’t heard from her for months. He was bitter toward God. His ministry was at a standstill. I was touched as pastors hurried to his side, laid their hands on him, and stormed the course of heaven on his behalf. I was especially touched to see Baptists and Charismatics praying together for this brother.
11. A Prayer Summit isn’t limited to pastors.
As I mentioned previously, when I was in the pastorate, I took my board away on similar prayer retreats. All church business was left behind. Our only agenda was to be in His presence and seek His will for our church and community. Some churches are taking groups from their congregation away for their own Prayer Summits. If I were back in the pastorate, it would be a must.
12. A Prayer Summit should involve at least one-third of the leaders of a given evangelical church community.
We call this a “critical mass.” If one-third of the evangelical community leaders are meeting together for four days of prayer, they have enough people involved to carry on the momentum when they return.
That covers the twelve main components of a Prayer Summit. But what is involved in launching a Prayer Summit? We’ll look at that next.
Taken from Dr. Joe Adrich’s book, “Reunitus: Building Bridges to Each Other Through Prayer Summits”.