‘Prangelism’ is a new word that I have just invented. The purpose is to overcome a rather strange divorce that has taken place in the Western Church. We have created something called ‘doing evangelism’ which is the occasional activity of many churches and we have taken intercessory prayer and separated it off into the specialist activity of people called ‘intercessors’.
I had the privilege recently of interviewing a pastor from a very large church in Brazil and I asked him if there were any obvious factors to which he could contribute the growth of his church. He thought for a minute and said, “I really do not know. The spiritual climate of the country is very open. The two things that I have observed is that nearly all our people are involved in prayer and nearly all are committed to personally sharing their faith and bringing their friends to Jesus.” In other words, they practice ‘prangelism’!
Over the last 25 years, there has been a coming and going of a number of prayer movements. Many of these have prayed faithfully for the nation but have themselves been dislocated from the local church and from mission itself. Alongside this, we have created the label, ‘ministry of intercession’ which is nowhere mentioned in the New Testament. Intercession as an important part of prayer is clearly taught and exercised by Jesus. To label intercession as if it were a ministry gift in the same way as ‘apostle’ or ‘prophets’ is to encourage it to become a specialist activity of the few. This, in turn, can lead to the response, “If I do not have that ministry then that relieves me of any responsibility to be involved.” It would then be left to this rather elite group of people to hide away and storm heaven on our behalf. But in the New Testament, prayer and evangelism are closely linked, not just through the cooperation between a person praying and the evangelist but very often those evangelising were the praying people.
I do not want in any way to understate the value of prayer or the value of those who have given of themselves in this way as I among many have been the beneficiary of it, but I do, however, want to make a plea for the twinning of prayer and evangelism.
In Ephesians 6, Paul writes about the spiritual armour. He encourages us to ‘stand’ with our feet shod with the gospel. Standing in prayer here is related to the gospel of peace being proclaimed. There is no indication in scripture that we are to wage war in the heavenlies in a complete vacuum from engaging in the visible battle on the ground. Moses would have been wasting his time lifting up his hands for hours on end if Joshua had not been in the valley fighting the battle.
How this relates to today?
It is foolish to get involved with evangelism without prayer and it is of limited value running prayer ministries that are not directly linked into the process of mission. We need evangelists who see prayer at the heart of what they do and who are themselves committed to being men and women of prayer. We also need those who feel a call to prayer to come out of their ivory tower and get linked into something happening on the ground.
It is not that easy to be committed to pray for people, but it requires a lot more courage to speak to them of the love of God. We could retreat to our prayer closet and feel the work is done.
I often have wondered after all the praying for revival that many of us have been involved in and sometimes feel so discouraged about, that God may be quietly saying to us ‘ revival will only come when someone takes the trouble to go and communicate to the people.’
When we pray for revival in a vacuum, we often forget that the revivals under men like Wesley and Moody were obviously under-girded with prayer but they happened because someone was willing to get off their backside (Wesley put his on a horse for hour after hour!) in order to tell people that God loved them.
It is often quoted that there is no revival without prayer, but you would be hard pressed to find many revivals without the gospel being preached. Jesus sent us out to preach the gospel. Part of that process must be prayer as we depend on Him but it cannot replace the going.
Where is ‘prangelism’ best experienced?
1) In the life of the local church
Whatever God is going to do on the earth, it will be through the local church. The church began in mission, grew in mission and is now in danger of dying for lack of mission. It has to recover its central calling and that is mission. As it does so, it must also rediscover a passion to pray.
At a local church mission that I was recently involved in, the minister admitted that they had been a lot further behind in their planning than in previous times. This had caused them to give far more time to prayer as they realised how much they needed God to act. It proved to be an incredibly effective 10 days of mission with an extraordinary number of people both attending events and wanting to discover faith for themselves. It did not go unnoticed that the greater prayer had resulted in greater fruitfulness than expected.
It was said of the great Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon, that when he was asked for the secret of the success of his ministry and the reason why so many were impacted by his preaching, he would point them to the group of people praying throughout his services in what he called the ‘engine room’.
We have just finished a most amazing week in our church’s life. We decided to set aside a room on our premises for a 24/7 week of prayer. There were a whole variety of things around the room to stimulate us to pray including writing prayers and answers to prayer for others to identify with. What was remarkable was not only that several hundred people came at all times of day and night and the extraordinary sense of the presence of God in the room, but also the element of intercession was very clearly linked to the longing people had to reach their friends. It engaged at a very real level with very real people. The experience of that week seemed to combine the personal encounter which is life giving to the individual, and intercession linked to the outreach purposes of the church.
2) In the life of the evangelist
This includes preaching evangelists, those who use their gift in day-to-day speaking to their friends and, of course, the rest of the church who have a desire to witness to their friends in the ordinariness of life.
Jesus gives us a great model for evangelism. Everything He did flowed out of His relationship with His Father. In Luke’s gospel alone, there are at least seven recorded times that Jesus withdrew to pray and we can assume there were a great many more than that. One can imagine that these were times both of intimacy and of intercession. The effect of that prayer was that He touched other people’s lives with love and power.
The apostle Paul, whose evangelistic ministry had such a powerful effect wherever he went, was a man of prayer. In Acts chapter 16, we read of the start of the church in Philippi. In this account we are told of the first three people converted in that city. Before each one came to Christ, we read that
Paul was in a place of prayer. Out of his prayer life flowed his evangelistic effectiveness.
It is clear that prayer was absolutely foundational to all that both Jesus and Paul did. There is no indication that either had links to a prayer ministry some place else that was isolated from what they were doing. They were engaged in prayer themselves and had others around them who prayed. They saw that the work of proclaiming the good news of the kingdom required them to be people of prayer, since prayer at its heart is a demonstration of a relationship with, and complete dependence on, our heavenly father. In reading the accounts of the Celtic Christians, it is quite apparent that those noted for their fearless mission work, men like Cuthbert and Aiden were themselves also men of extraordinary prayer.
Many of the most effective large-scale ministries of our generation have demon strated the powerful combination of prayer and evangelism. Billy Graham covered the cities with prayer triplets. Reinhardt Bonke has praying teams operating throughout his crusades, as does Carlos Annacondia in Argentina. If it is true on the large scale it will also be true on the small.
I remember some years ago leading a mission to a large university in Britain. We were booked to run a meeting in the union at lunchtime. When we arrived it was teeming with young people all enjoying lunch and not looking like they wanted to listen to preaching! The group got up to play but almost none of the large crowd of several hundred students took any notice. When they asked me to speak I said that I did not see much point. I could think of better ways to be humiliated! They said that they would pray and insisted that I go ahead. (It is always easier to send someone else into battle!) As they prayed I got up to speak and as I had predicted nobody listened. Suddenly a student, who had gained a degree of confidence due to an ample supply of drink, started shouting abuse. Sensing a battle, the whole place went completely quiet. For the next 20 minutes, he asked every question you would want to ask about the gospel and everyone listened in rapt attention. It proved to be a turning point in the mission and many students came to Christ in the following days. Out of an impossible situation, God responded to the prayers of a few people to turn a situation around.
As I have been writing this, I have heard of a church in South America who have been seeking to open up the nation to the gospel through television. They put in a bid to buy a television station and the offer was accepted but they only had a fraction of the sum required. It seemed the dream God had given them was being frustrated by the huge financial gulf that stood between them and its fulfilment. The whole church gathered to pray, crying out to God. The next day all the money arrived and the nation is now being influenced by the impact of Christian television. As we pursue God’s agenda of reaching the lost, we will hit barriers, but through prayer, He will make a way.
Prayer and evangelism go together. If I am accused of being out of balance on what I am saying on prayer, I am willing to take that risk in order to restore balance to a situation that has needed correcting to make us more effective.
‘Prangelism’ may be a new word but it is only the remarriage of a Biblical partnership.