How to do prayer ministry online

All Christians pray, but “prayer ministry” is a practice that lies close to the heart of New Wine values. By “prayer ministry” we mean something other than two (or more) Christians praying together in intercession, instead we are talking about facilitating a response or engagement with what God is doing, usually in a congregational setting. These times of response have become a central, almost a defining, feature of New Wine celebrations, and the encounters with God that they enable are for many people the main reason why they attend New Wine churches or come to United. Despite this, leading prayer ministry is rarely taught, perhaps even in our network sadly, and therefore is an area where we frequently hear that church leaders feel they lack confidence. That is only being exacerbated by the current season of closed church buildings and online services!

Of course, we understand theologically that God is always present. Some people therefore express confusion as to why we might invite the Holy Spirit to come, however what we see in the bible is that, although God is always present, there are different ways in which his presence can be manifested. Simply put, what we in New Wine seek to practice is to bring people into the manifest presence of God — which means that his presence is more tangible, or more powerfully experienced. For example, when Jesus was ministering in Capernaum, Luke records that “the power of the Lord was present to heal the sick”. This would not be worthy of comment if it were always equally true! In fact, Moses realises that the manifest (experienced) presence of God is so essential to a people who belong to God that he argues with God when the Lord suggests instead that an angel accompany God’s people on their journey (Exodus 33).

Ministering to people through inviting the presence and power of the Spirit to be more manifest also enables us to express several important postures. Firstly, it highlights our dependence on God. It’s not about us or our gifts, we need God to do something. Secondly, it models simplicity and expectation. If you’ve led an Alpha “Holy Spirit” awayday, you’ll know that few things communicate raw faith in God’s actual presence with us than asking him to do something now! Thirdly, it demonstrates our theology, enabling us to practice what we preach. Leaving space for God to demonstrate the truth of what has been sung in worship or preached from his Word follows the practice of Jesus and the first disciples, who combined proclamation with demonstration, and “preached the Word with signs following”. Learning to grow in faith and authority in leading prayer ministry takes commitment but the fruit of the encounters with God that it facilitates make it so worthwhile.

But how do we do this in the new reality of online services?

Let’s start by simply recommitting ourselves to prayer ministry as a value. We have to be intentional about this, often in the face of both our own sense of inadequacy and some reluctance or opposition from congregations who aren’t used to that level of expectation. We need to plan on having prayer ministry. This means writing our talks with the ministry that follows in mind. It means allowing time in the service for response — if your church tradition only allows ten minutes for a sermon, I would still urge you to consider including prayer ministry. Seven minutes of us with three left for God to move and help people receive what his Word describes seems far better than ten minutes of us! No-one can object to you ending with prayer… In your preparations, also be praying that when the time comes for response you will be clear about what you think God wants to do, sensitive to what the Spirit is saying, and have a natural authority to encourage peoples’ faith to receive it.

However, without a doubt the online world is different from our normal gatherings, so let’s consider some of those changes and how we might get round them:

  1. It is hard to signal a change of spiritual posture. In corporate gatherings, we often invite people to stand and then even to come forward to respond. These simple changes of physical posture help people to move to a different mode of engagement with God. So, in the online world, be intentional about this! Invite people to consciously refocus and open themselves to God’s presence in a new way. Whilst people watching at home may not be willing to stand, they may find it helpful to close their eyes and open their hands, just as we might suggest in a gathering.
  2. It is impossible to have a ministry team who can physically lay on hands (unless there are others in the household who can take that role). This puts more on you as the leader of prayer ministry — although we sometimes minister like this anyway — and you have take a clearer lead in inviting the Spirit’s presence and helping people receive, in line with what you sense the Spirit might want to do. We will probably find ourselves “coaching” more than we would normally (“some of you need to ask God for…”, “if you’re sensing this…”, “now, let the Lord take that from you…”, “receive his peace and blessing, let his love fill you now”).
  3. With pre-recorded services, it will be impossible to watch and see what the Holy Spirit is doing in the moment. It isn’t that easy even in 2-way formats such as Zoom meetings! However, we can still wait on the Spirit and give time for people to engage. We can and must also encourage people to be open and receptive to what God is doing. And I would suggest that we can even ask questions (though without being able to hear the response). By doing this, you will often help people to acknowledge how God is meeting them, which in turn raises faith and leads to deeper engagement.
  4. Finally, it will be harder for this to be a truly “Body” ministry. In corporate gatherings, people can bring words of knowledge or lead us in worship. Online this may still be possible with live services, but not with recorded services. That doesn’t mean that you can’t listen for prophetic words though! Recently in one service, I gave a couple of prophetic words that I felt would be for people who would later watch that talk. I then encouraged people to listen for anything prophetic that God would have them share with others, and was greatly encouraged to hear during the week how people had been phoning each other after the broadcast to share words of encouragement and blessing with each other.

When lockdown restrictions are lifted, we will rejoice to gather together in God’s presence again. It may well be though that, through this current season, we will learn new lessons and grow in ways that we never expected. Online gathering may well remain an increasingly important part of our Church life. Whether that is the case or not, learning how to effectively bring people into deeper encounters with the Lord is critical in this time when we are so aware of our many and varied needs. If prayer ministry was not something that you had introduced into your services before the lockdown, take the opportunity of everything being different and new to introduce it now. As people encounter God, they will only thank you.

Paul Harcourt - New Wine National Leader

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