Since childhood, I have been convinced and committed to the power of prayer, which is the miraculous reality of God's living presence and responsiveness in the intimacy of conversation with each of us, and all of us together. I have seen repeatedly that it changes everything-especially me!
But since the start of my season in vocational ministry as a clergy I've discovered in the church that prayer is often ensconced with myths, misperceptions and assumptions that have discounted its efficacy. I've heard it described as what a few senior adults do every Friday at 7 a.m. in the church parlor, freeing the "real" congregational leaders to spend their time in administrative board meetings wrestling instead with budget matters, roof repairs or what time the Sunday worship service might best be held. And when church prayer is offered beyond Sunday morning worship service liturgies, it is usually in the context of prayer concerns named for those who need healing, protection, comfort from grief or loss, or who desire strength to weather an unexpected tragedy or unwanted change.
I longed for a way to help bring prayer, heartfelt prayer inviting God to do the new, the amazing, the impossible, the miraculous in and through both our own personal lives and in the collective life of every congregation, to the center of everything. As Oswald Chambers aptly pointed out, the food of the body of Christ-which is the Church-is prayer. I knew that moving this kind of prayer to the center of everything, ongoing, for all ages, enables a congregation to feast on prayer rather than just snacking on it now and again...and would transform the atmosphere from routine (and possibly discouragement) to holy expectation and hope in the God who can do "exceeding abundantly beyond all we can ask or think, according to the power that works within us." (Ephesians 3:20)
And best of all, I was certain that everything changes when a church shifts from only praying to the God of comfort and healing to also praying to God the Almighty. The miraculous God, the One who can break through our resistance. The One who, when we add to our existing prayer lives a request for God to bring the new and unimagined, shifts us from our posture of potentially looking down and in with discouragement, to up and out with expectation, openness and hope. We move into a new season that will likely become game-changing, mind-blowing, history-making. That is, if we really believe prayer makes a difference-and that the Almighty loves to respond when we surrender ourselves to a new next chapter of spiritual adventure up ahead.
So back when I was tasked to design and launch the Missional Church Consultation Initiative (MCCI), a renewal/revitalization resourcing effort to help plateaued and gradually-declining congregations jumpstart a new season of fruitfulness, I knew that only helping them reorganize or put new programs or staff into place would not alone fundamentally change their trajectories. I was convinced to my soul that only by creating and fueling an ongoing breakthrough prayer movement across the the congregation first, adding to the existing prayer life of the church this request of God to break through anew with hopes, dreams and possibilities-both in individual members' lives and in the corporate church life together-would it become possible for the Spirit to breathe new life and direction in and through everything. So I created a "Breakthrough Prayer Initiative" training for the MCCI pastors and their teams, with the intent to equip them with the how-to practical skills and guidance to launch and sustain one. It became the very first step of resourcing in the MCCI for every participating congregation, as we quickly saw that the more thoroughly this was imbedded into all of congregational life, the more supernatural renewal and revitalization unfolded in mission and ministry.
The impact in MCCI congregations was so dramatic that within only two years, the Breakthrough Prayer Initiative training event expanded out further and also became a stand-alone 4.5-hour training event for any pastor with church team of at least five or more leaders along. We had learned that even if an established church does nothing else differently, launching and fueling a vital Breakthrough Prayer Initiative movement resulted in fruitfulness and change. And we saw clearly that it requires a critical mass of leaders to team with the pastor to effectively get this underway back at their church-with the laity leaders often the ones pushing the pastor. For this reason, the Breakthrough Prayer Initiative training event, no matter where it's held, is only open to pastors who bring along a team who will help partner together to implement their excitement and inspiration for igniting and orchestrating a Breakthrough Prayer Initiative back home afterwards.
My email archives, my files, my mind and my heart are filled to overflowing with stories from pastors, leaders, members and congregations about how the Almighty has miraculously responded to Breakthrough Prayer Initiatives that have made their way throughout children's ministries, teen fellowships, mission groups, Sunday classes, small groups, administrative councils, even church trustees and finance committees - and also into the lives of faithful church members. The Breakthrough Prayer Initiative training has already been invited into 15 different United Methodist annual conferences, and has traveled into many more through two books I've written describing how to launch one in your own setting.
We are clearly in a season, here in the United Methodist Church, of a burgeoning breakthrough prayer movement-a simple one-that is gathering spiritual momentum as it spreads. This simple additive component to our existing prayers, asking God to break through anew with new possibilities and open doors and that we will surrender our personal and collective lives in order to courageously follow, has shown itself to be do-able even for those whose previous assumptions about prayer have been swathed in misunderstanding, skepticism, or worse.
I believe deeply, passionately, that what God wants most is a chance with us. And inviting God to do what God longs to do, via a regular breakthrough prayer practice, can make all the miraculous difference both today and for eternity.
Rev. Sue Nilson Kibbey, Director, Office of Missional Church Development