"What's wrong with that church?" she asked me in a hushed voice as she leaned in close. There I stood in the lobby of our church in 2008 with one of the members looking for insider information. "Which church are you talking about?" I responded, genuinely confused.
"The one you prayed for this morning during worship," she said.
Then it clicked. She was so taken back by the fact that I had prayed for another church in our city that she assumed, based on practices many Christians learn in "prayer meetings," my prayer was my way of saying: "Something is wrong. I can't really tell you about it but I can alert you by 'praying' for them."
Most evangelical churches that are faithful to preach the gospel are eager to do God's work. While they represent this in a variety of ways, it usually includes baseline expectations of evangelism and discipleship. They organize their meetings, hire their staff, train their volunteers, structure their programs, and build their buildings with these intentions in mind. If they have been at it for any length of time and God has blessed their labor, they have seen fruit. Lives have been impacted. Homes have been changed. Relationships have been deepened.
Yet many local churches are tempted to conduct themselves as if they didn't know any other local evangelical churches existed around them. Or, if they acknowledge them, they are chasing "end-of-the-year bonuses" by competing with and beating out other churches in ministry. Add to this the fact that many pastors struggle with finding their identity in the size of their church, and it is no wonder that many forget the kingdom for which we are laboring.
Caring about the Family
Inherent to being a disciple of Christ is your identity with and care for other Christians. The imagery used to describe these relationships ranges from body to family. From the very first pages of Acts, the people of the church are depicted as caring for each other. Resources were given from one's overage to care for another's lack (Acts 2:42-45). As Christians were scattered and evangelistically fruitful, the new local churches practiced what they first learned in Jerusalem (1 Thess. 1:6-9).
But this loving attitude was not localized to only those within their assemblies. They were even encouraged to share the lessons they were learning with each other (Col. 3:16). They didn't just share the lessons they learned; they shared their funds as well (2 Cor. 8:1-7). Included in the litany of ways Christians cared for each other was the instruction to practice praying for one another (Col. 4:2-4).
Why Pray for Other Churches
When natural disasters take place, churches act lovingly to care for other affected churches. But why must we wait until problems strike and only help in physical ways? I propose that we act now with the greatest resource we have and for the greatest goal: that churches reflect the character of God.
Here are five reasons why churches should pray for other churches in their city:
(1) It encourages congregational humility. You need to be reminded that there are other faithful Christians praying and laboring to the same end you are—to magnify Christ by seeing sinners forgiven and transformed.
(2) It will stimulate relationships between church leadership. "I don't know what to pray for"—well, in addition to praying for their church based on what you read about churches in the Bible, leaders of faithful churches can spend time together in order to know each other better and learn what to pray about. They can learn what challenges they are facing, what they are encouraged by, and what they would love to see God do with their assembly.
(3) It helps build networks of known faithful churches. Perhaps members of your church should attend a good church closer to where they live that would better connect in locale to their personal evangelism and increase their chance of hospitality with Christians from their church.
(4) It can help provide protection against the prince of this world, Satan. Prayer is a powerful weapon that calls in cover fire to protect churches from attack. Satan loves to distract, divide, and destroy churches' witness for Christ. May you fulfill your duty to be alert and demonstrate your concern shown in your prayer for other churches.
(5) It strengthens our evangelistic witness. We know that our love and unity has evangelistic potential (John 13:35; 17:21) and this is largely worked out within our local churches. But it is not limited to that arena. When our neighbors learn how we love and appreciate our partners in the gospel across the city, it leads them to understand how the gospel unites and motivates people.
I asked our elders once, "What if we prayed for revival and God gave it, but He gave it at another gospel-preaching church in town? Would we rejoice or be disappointed?" I think this question gets to the heart of what is truly motivating us in ministry. I pray it is a love for Christ, a confidence in His promise to build His universal church, and a desire to see many faithful witnesses for Christ multiply in your church and beyond.