Jack Miller, in his book Outgrowing the Ingrown Church, makes a distinction between two types of prayer meetings: Maintenance and Frontline. Miller confesses to having led both kinds in churches he pastored.
Here is how Miller describes each:
The Maintenance meeting was largely designed to maintain the the existing life and ministry of our congregation. Believers came to be edified by a Bible study that took up most of the hour and to pray for the internal needs of the church. Expectancy seemed to be at a low ebb among the attenders, evidenced by the fact that none of us bothered to keep a record of prayers offered and answered. I also do not think that Christians came to this prayer meeting expecting to meet God in a life-changing encounter.”
“…The conception and format were designed more to preserve the status quo…”
In other words, Miller is saying that people came to the meeting, perhaps out of a sense of duty, and perhaps a sincere priority. They may have acknowledged that God was present because, afterall, God said he would be. But they were not in any way effected because of God’s presence. And the prayers offered were probably from the sick list, and for some generic “blessing” on various ministries and programs.
On the other hand,
“By contrast, people came to the Frontline prayer meeting to be changed. They discovered what Augustine had emphasized, that man’s chief need is to fellowship with God, to find fulfillment in Him, and to experience the abiding presence of Jesus. (Psalm 27.4; Psalm 36.7-9; John 14.18-23; John 15.1-10) So they came to be changed, and they were changed because Jesus kept his promise to be wherever two or three gather in his name. (Matthew 18.19-20) From him they received grace to confess and forsake their sins, to be touched with his compassion for the lost, and to go forth to ‘put feet on their prayers’ through witnessing by words and deeds of love.”
“…The Frontline prayer assembly has a revolutionary purpose. The prayer of those who attend it is summarized in the words: ‘Thy Kingdom Come’. Their spirit imparted desire is to see the power of God’s kingdom revealed and to see the social segregation of the ‘turned-in’ church replaced by a welcoming community of faith and love.
Having spent most of his pastoral ministry leading the maintenance oriented church, and despearate to experience the presence of God, Miller “began to pray for the Spirit’s presence… with almost everything I did. I especially began to pray with shameless boldness for his working in our prayer meeting. I asked God to give us His Spirit that we would know how to pray, that our hearts would be surrendered to His missionary will, and that we would leave the prayer meeting freed of guilt and fear and ready to witness fearlessly for Christ.”
Frequently Miller asked God to visit the church and equip the people with three things:
1. His self-forgetting love for others.
2. his wisdom for praying specifically and intelligently
3. His boldness for prayer and risk-taking witness.
Miller says a Frontline Prayer Meeting itself becomes an expression of kingdom power when the following conditions are met:
2. Oneness of Purpose
A surrender to the will of Christ as revealed in the Great Commission, and a willingness to take “risks” in obeying that will. (Acts 1-4)
As our church, Walnut Hill Prebyterian, ventures into 40 Days of Prayer, on our journey toward becoming a House of Prayer, we would be wise to learn from Jack Miller’s insight and experience.
“Lord, be gracious to us, and shine your face upon us.”