Launching the Ship:
Guidelines for a Successful Prayer Summit
Archie Bunker and his son-in-law, “Meathead,” were having a theological discussion. As usual, Archie had the last word:
He [God] made everyone the same religion…Christian, which he named after his son, Christian…or Christ for short. And that’s how it was for years. One religion until they started splitting them up and to all them denumerations. But there’s still only one religion: His up there.
For once in his life, Archie was right. It’s one thing, however, to analyze a problem; it’s something else to bring those “denumerations” together.
Perhaps God is calling you to be part of the solution. Could it be that he would want you to be the “Hezekiah” of your community? You’re convinced that John 17 is not merely define rhetoric. You have a great burden to see the church become one in your community and accomplish its redemptive mission. So where do you go from here?
Perhaps you feel like the Lone Ranger, or Elijah. I’ll start out by reminding you that Elijah’s perception was wrong. He wasn’t The “last of the Mohicans,” or the “lone stranger.” There were, in fact, more than seven thousand others who shared his theological commitments. I’ve observed that the Lord is raising up people of like passion from all over the country.
People who have a heart for revival.
People who are bridge-builders.
People who are men and women of prayer.
People who long to see the true Body become one in mission and purpose.
People like you…
If you’re convinced a Prayer Summit could be God’s desire for your community, where do you begin? Let me give you some suggestions.
How to start a Prayer Summit
I have no divine lock on how to run a successful Prayer Summit, but I have had some valuable experience in that arena. The following guidelines come out of that experience.
1. Assemble a core of interested Christian leaders.
Become a seed-planter. On a one-to-one basis begin to talk about the possibility of getting together with a group of local leaders to seek the presence of God and discover his agenda for your community. You need not be a pastor! Many laymen have been involved in Prayer Summits. These interested leaders should have several characteristics. They should be:
- believers; committed followers of Jesus Christ.
- representatives of the broader Christian traditions.
- burdened for revival.
- men and women of prayer.
- free of scandal.
- respected by the Christian community.
- leaders in their own denominations.
- willing to risk.
- Charismatic and non-charismatic.
2. Secure a respected, well-accepted leader to convene the Prayer Summit.
This leader should be known as a bridge-builder. Usually there is someone in each community who is trusted and highly respected. It could be a layman or a staff member of a parachurch ministry. Most likely he will not be a novice or new to the community. If the Prayer Summit is perceived as “owned” by either Charismatic or non-charismatic elements, it will be hard to “sell.”
Remember Hezekiah. Though he was ridiculed for the idea, this twenty-five-year-old novice king convened one of history’s greatest Prayer Summits.
3.Assemble a well-respected leadership team.
Although one person may have more visibility than the others, it is best for the Summit to be “sponsored” by a group of five to six pastors who represent different theological traditions. I would also look for those who are in it for the long term, who have a persistent vision of seeing a community impacted for Christ. These leaders make up the core.
It is best that a Prayer Summit not be sponsored by a local ministerial association. If sponsorship grows out of a Charismatic ministerial fellowship, for example, non-charismatic probably won’t show up.
4. The concept must be sold to local pastors.
The vision must be communicated. After a core has committed themselves to the concept, the idea needs exposure to the broader evangelical community. A breakfast meeting is often a good platform for sharing the vision. The goal is to discover, initiate, and sustain a comprehensive, inclusive work of God in your community.
Remind these key leaders that unity is a biblical idea, that Satan attacked and destroyed the unity of Israel and is the enemy of unity in the Church. “Protect them from the evil one, so that they may be one” (John 17:13-21)
Furthermore, throughout history God has raised up men and women to call the Church to repentance and renewal. Old Testament reformers called Solemn Assemblies. The Church used to as well. Thus the idea of a Prayer Summit is neither new nor unique.
I would communicate to them some idea of what to expect at a Prayer Summit. Assure them that hundreds have “taken the risk.” Perhaps it would be good to thumb through this book and jot down some of the testimonies of pastors who have attended previous summits. There’s nothing like a satisfied customer.
It would be helpful to anticipate what their fears might be and try to address them. For most, it’s a scary experience to commit themselves to live in close proximity with Christian leaders from diverse backgrounds. We have discovered that a no-host breakfast is a good place to begin communicating the vision. I would suggest you hand out a questionnaire to determine interest and provide you with follow-up materials.
Be persistent. Follow up with phone calls. If necessary, a little peer pressure works wonders. We asked a local Christian radio station to suggest that parishioners ask their pastors or leaders if they plan to attend the Summit. Believe me, it works.
5. Locate and book some facilities.
If a third of the evangelical community has expressed a desire to participate, it’s time to secure a location for the Summit. The retreat center should be within a reasonable distance of “home base.” Be sure the environment you select is conducive to worship. Traffic noise along with the general hustle and bustle of life should be noticeably absent. Nature settings are always desirable. We found that it is always less distracting to have a food service handle meals and related details.
Continue recruiting until the last day. Many sign on at the last minute.
6. Prepare and mail some pre-Summit instructions.
These instructions should include such items as:
- how to get there.
- what to wear.
- sleeping provisions.
- what to bring, what not to bring.
- starting and finishing times.
- who is included.
We have toyed with alternatives to a Monday-Thursday format, but shorter versions have not proven as effective and lasting.
7. Make arrangements for transportation.
Your goal is to have all the participants go together rather than drive their own vehicles. Pastors are notorious for coming late and leaving early. A rented bus or a church bus will suffice. Having them change seats every 20 minutes helps them get acquainted. If possible, a brunch all the way to the retreat center accelerates the networking process.
8. The Summit should contain both Charismatics and non-charismatics, mainline and independents.
Strive for a good cross-section of the evangelical community. Least valuable would be together with only your own group or denomination.
I’m not a Charismatic. I’ve not spoken in tongues and I don’t have any desire to. However, I often speak in Charismatic circles and enjoy rich fellowship with these delightful brothers and sisters. While nature seems to dictate that “birds of a feather flock together,” that is not the mandate for the Body of Christ.
Diversity must be joined with diversity if Christ is the head of both. Against tradition, against common sense, Methodist “sparrows” may have to share their nests with Presbyterian “robins” and Lutheran “canaries” if the local community is to be impacted by Christ, the head of a “flock.”
9. Assign responsibility for registration.
This is a critical role. Often the tone for the whole retreat is set by this person. He is responsible for room assignments, collecting of funds, and providing participants with packets of material (which would include a schedule, pamphlets about the retreat center, and a list of the names and addresses of the participants as well as a personal note of welcome). The register is usually the first to welcome the registrant’s. It helps to have an outgoing, warm, hospitable person fill this role.
We’ve found it helpful to assign roommates. Preferably, put folks together who don’t know each other or are from a different church background. It’s a stretching experience.
10. Appoint a listening team.
Because the program is unstructured and free-flowing, it is important to have a sense of what the Spirit is doing. The listening team’s (three to four leaders) task is to be the “eyes and ears” for the group. They confer regularly with the leader to help him discern the Spirit’s agenda. They should be sensitive to the participation profile, paying attention to those who don’t join in or who tend to dominate. Usually the listening team meets each evening after the last session for evaluation and prayer.
11. Arrange the room so that interaction is made as simple as possible.
The best arrangement is probably a circle. Be sensitive to such things as lighting, heat, and noise. It’s good to have a member of the listening team sit next to the group leader. This way they can be in communication without disrupting the group.
What Do We Do at the Retreat Center?
Let’s assume that at this point you are at the retreat center and ready to roll. What’s next?
Guidelines! The participants need some basic instructions that will set the stage for their time together. There are several things to be considered.
1. Participants should be sensitized to the varying traditions of worship represented in the room.
Some are used to all praying at once, others pray at one time. Some would normally speak in tongues, others would not. Some are more comfortable in a liturgical environment, others are more casual in their worship. Some are vigorous and fervent in their prayers, others are more pensive and subdued. There are those who affirm another’s prayers with a sort of verbal commentary as they “second” the prayer and encourage God to “do it.” When asked to be considerate of other traditions, participants do just great. On only one occasion do I remember a group “taking off” and having to be reminded again of possible offense.
2. Participants need an explanation of the basic components of the Prayer Summit.
A Prayer Summit is composed of four basic elements. These include prayer, singing, the reading of Scripture, and personal response. There are no scheduled speakers. However, there are “teachable moments” when the leader or some other designated person may comment appropriately for ten to fifteen minutes. In one Summit, a pastor was describing some serious problems on his home front. Dr. Howard Hendricks happened to be present. I asked him if he’d take fifteen to twenty minutes to talk to us about marriage. We hung on every word, particularly in light of the hurting pastor and his needs.
Singing is a vital dynamic in the Summit process. On a given day, seventy-five to one hundred songs will be sung. There is no structured list of songs; they simply grow out of the flow of the prayer and reflection. I strongly suggest no instruments be used. There is nothing more powerful than voices singing in beautiful harmony-a harmony, by the way, which is often masked by a piano. Also, the normal worship leader must not control or dominate the singing part of the summit.
As a general rule, something is lost when you use a pianist or a song leader. Song leaders are wonderful for church services, but can actually hinder the flower of a Prayer Summit and take the focus off the Lord. In this special environment, a pre-planned list of songs takes away from the spirit of spontaneity.
I usually begin a Summit by asking participants to take five to ten minutes to jot down several passages that talk about the wonder and majesty of God. Then I ask several to “establish the perimeters” (more on that in a moment). I ask them to pray that God would protect us all from the Evil One and his hosts. I also invite several to ask God to meet with us in a singular, significant, life-changing manner.
Following those initial requests, we usually shift our focus to center on the greatness of God. Scripture is used to sharpen our focus and direct our prayers. We literally turn Scripture into prayer. Someone will read Isaiah 6. Another will spontaneously start singing “Holy, Holy, Holy.” “Thou Are Worthy” often grows out of the reading of Revelation 4-5. Prayers focus on the wonder and majesty of our God. This focus may hold for several hours.
This lifting up and exaltation of God inevitably brings great rejoicing and an increased sensitivity to sin. As God begins to reveal his presence, spiritual shoes come off. The group is holy. The songs become more intense and meaningful. They gradually shift to the Cross and the wonders of our deliverance from sin. Tears start flowing. Confession begins. At first it’s general and generic and impersonal. As emotional ice begins to thaw, as the Spirit prompts, the confession, the worship, the adoration becomes personal, genuine, and life-changing.
Don’t be surprised if folks fall to their knees or prostrate themselves on the carpet. Some will stand, many will raise their hands in worship.
3. Participants should receive instructions concerning the first communion service to be held later that evening.
Challenge them to be certain that they are prepared to partake in a worthy manner. Of all people, Christian leaders should know the importance of a prepared heart, a good conscience before God and man. It might be that the Spirit would prompt you to spend the last hour before dinner preparing for communion.
As we approached our first communion with one group, a pastor stood and said, “I don’t think any of us should take communion. We’ve sinned against each other, we’ve talked against each other’s ministries.” And he was right! This began a two-hour time of making things right. The communion service that followed was nothing short of glorious.
4. Don’t try in any way to force confession or reconciliation.
These things will happen at the proper time. Sometimes it’s well into the second day before hearts open up and healing begins to take place. AS soon as a participant begins to reveal his burdened heart, encourage three to four pastors or leaders to surround the brighter and lay their hands on him and likft him in prayer to the Father. These are precious, sacred moments. Moments never to be forgotten. Moments that words cannot describe. Moments with lasting impact. They’re wall-shattering. Suddenly, labels make no difference.
5. Don’t be afraid of silence.
Expect to have times when you’re not sure where the group is going or what should happen next. You must believe that God has an agenda and that he’s not trying to hide it, even though we don’t always perceive his workings. I’ll have to admit it gets scary at times.
6. Influence the group’s direction by reading specific passages that focus thoughts and prayers in an appropriate direction.
For example, if you want to have them reflect on their lost Jerusalems with walls down and gates burned, begin reading from Nehemiah, chapter 1. Imagine the group sitting with eyes closed as you read a few verses at a time and then wait for their response.
You read that Jeremiah fasted, prayed, and wept for days after hearing of Jerusalem’s plate. You stop. There is silence. Then someone begins to pray. “Forgive me, Lord, I’ve never fasted, I’ve never wept over my Jerusalem.” You continue reading and reach the section where Nehemiah confesses his sins, and you stop and wait for a Spirit-prompted response. Often person after person begins to seek reconciliation with God and man.
Another meaningful exercise is to pray through Joshua 5 and 6, asking the Lord to prompt insights concerning how to take a city. It’s amazing how effective a prayer/instructional time can be. God does indeed prompt insights relevant to the battle for our cities.
If the focus shifts to family, Ephesians 5 and 6 would be appropriate. This will give direction and focus to their prayers.
7. Be sensitive to time.
Try not to run on an hourly, predictable schedule. It’s more than likely you’ll average an hour and a half per session, sometimes more. Time does, however, get away from you. On one occasion we sent the men out six at a time for a “beach walk.” It was a wonderful sight to see groups of six walking down the beach, arms around each other, singing at the top of their voices. We all gathered in a natural amphitheatre at Haystack Rock and had a spontaneous worship service. Over fifty men saying their hearts out…right through the lunch hour.
8. As the Lord leads, provided participants with some personal time where they can be alone with God.
Often they need time to debrief, to reflect, and to deal with some personal agendas. We usually provide them with an hour or more each afternoon of for “solitary time.” In this regard, it is sometimes an appropriate to ask them solitary time. In this regard, it is sometimes an appropriate to ask them to maintain a “discipline of silence.”
9. Occasionally it is entirely appropriate to break participants into small groups for a short time.
We often break the larger group into groups of five or six and ask them to find a spot where they will feel comfortable to pray. It would be typical to find them in dorm rooms and other nooks and crannies. If the weather allows, they will be outside.
The Lord may prompt to you to suggest they complete a written assignment. On one occasion the Lord directed us to have the men write out their vows to God. At communion time, each man repeated his vows to God with their brothers serving as supporters and witnesses. These were precious moments of consecration and renewal. Another writing idea would be to have the participants write a psalm of praise to God.
10. Provide opportunities for participants to publicly declare their love for God.
Make it clear that you are not asking them to tell you why they love the Lord. They are to tell the Lord why they love him, and let their peers have the privilege of listening in on the conversation. Usually I put a chair in the center of the circle and suggest that Christ is sitting there. Participants are invited to come and kneel before the chair and verbalize their love of the lord.
It’s a wonderful experience.
11. Use the “Perimeters of Control” as a general guideline for the group process.
There are several defense perimeters that must be repaired and maintained if the individual believer is to maintain spiritual health and stamina. Satan surely is attacking each of these arenas or battlefields. The flow of the Summit often precedes along these lines.
The first perimeter is the individual and his relationship to God. If that is weak, Satan has access to all the other parameters. Most of the prayer at the beginning of the summit seems to focus on one’s relationship with God. Much of the “healing” at the Prayer Summits take place at this level.
The second perimeter is the pastor’s relationship with his wife. Here we usually encounter great areas of weakness. Pastors wives are the walking wounded, often sacrifice on the altar of ministry. I remember so well a dear brother pouring out his heart over the state of his marriage. His wife was chronically depressed and suicidal. We surrounded this dear brother and lifted him and his wife into the hands of the Great Physician. At a dinner three weeks later she told the pastors how God had wonderfully healed her on the very day we had prayed for her.
When you sense prayers beginning to focus in this area, it is often prudent to reinforce the emphasis by reading from passages relating to husbands and wives. Let Scripture direct their prayers!
The third perimeter of control is the family. Certainly the wise pastor puts the concerns of his family ahead of the concerns of the congregation. Many pastors are burdened by children out of control or in need of a special touch from the Lord. Oceans of tears are shed over concerns of marriage and family. Many are devastated by prodigal kids. Bitterness toward God for his seeming lack of concern is not uncommon. A Prayer Summit provides the environment to deal with these heavy, heartbreaking issues.
The fourth perimeter of control is the church board or governing body. A pastor is foolish to attempt to correct congregational problems if he faces a divided, carnal leadership team. But politics, power-plays and seeds of discord abound in leadership teams. Satan knows he can neutralize a church by prevailing in any one of these perimeters of control.
The fifth perimeter of control is the church family. If the board and leadership are divided, the congregation will be ineffectual in living out the gospel. And God will not put healthy spiritual babes in an unhealthy spiritual environment. Churches with ongoing internal feuds will not receive the blessing of God. Satan knows that and keeps the fires of division burning.
The final perimeter of control is the community. Generally speaking, it is foolish to develop evangelism strategies if any or all of the other perimeters of control have been breached by the Evil One. The community needs to hear the beauty of the gospel played out through the lives of those who dwell together in unity. Genuine edification must precede evangelism.
The flow of a Prayer Summit seems to follow these perimeters of control. It is helpful to have them in mind so that you and the listening team can answer the question, “Where are we?” I should underscore, however, that seldom are two Summits the same.
12. Be a full participant yourself.
It is important that you, too, responded to the Spirit and share with others the gift of your need. It is inconceivable to me that you would not need to sit in the hated chair and let others minister to you in some area of your life.
13. If possible, use a leadership team approach.
We try to have at least two and preferably three leaders. While one may serve as a facilitator, he is in constant contact with the others. In fact, we always sit together so that we can converse quietly, if necessary, as the Summit unfolds. We are constantly asking such questions as:
Where are we?
What is the Spirit doing?
What is the area of need to which He is directing us?
What Scripture would reinforce direction?
Has the style of worship offended anyone?
When should we put out the chair?
Are the men tired?
Is it time to break into small groups?
Furthermore, the leaders are in constant touch between sessions, and meet each evening to pray and review the events of the day.
14. Prayer Summits are worth it.
Prayer Summits are marvelous tools to bring pastors in a local community back to obedience to the John 17 mandate. They are also excellent tools to bring healing and unity to local church boards and communities. An Episcopal pastor told me that the changed life of one of the pastors impacted his entire community.
Yes, lives are change. A pastor’s daughter wrote me the following note following her dad’s attendance at a Prayer Summit.
When dad told me he was going to the Prayer Summit I got extremely excited for him and what I knew he would experience. He believes it was the most incredible four days of his life!
He talked for hours about it when he got home and the change is REAL! His ministry has never been so real to him, his heart for the lost is burning deep within! His vision for the world has returned like never before.
His sensitivity to my family is truly awesome. I love dad dearly and praise the Lord for the growing relationship we now have!
I look at him and have to ask if this is the same man who has been my father for eighteen years! And I say no! What an answer to prayer.
Now, that’s a testimony. You can’t fool a teenager!
Taken from Dr. Joe Adrich’s book, “Reunitus: Building Bridges to Each Other Through Prayer Summits”.