A few years back, I visited a church that prayed for another church in the community. I was taken aback, as I'd not ever seen this practice in my many years of church visits. The church they prayed for that day was All Saints' Episcopal Church. Curious, I asked members if something was happening at All Saints' that prompted them to pray for them that particular day. I was told they pray for another church in the community every Sunday; nothing unusual was happening at All Saints' that prompted their prayers. (See on.adn.com/2dGKru9 to read the blog post about it.)
In the intervening years, I've made hundreds of additional church visits but never seen the practice duplicated. However, it made such a deep impression upon me, I dug a little deeper to see what motivates a church to do this.
I talked with pastor Lon Elliott of that particular church, Scenic Park Bible Church, about this practice. He indicated they still pray for an individual local church each week as a regular part of their service. Although he is unsure of the date they began that practice, it's been ongoing for many years. He said it was sparked by "some of the struggles and challenges that churches in our area and around the nation were facing. I recall there was an African-American church Outside where a gunman went in and shot several people, and I was burdened for those folks." Elliott said he realized "that was an extreme event, but the Bible says in the book of Ephesians that there is spiritual warfare being waged, and our church decided we needed to support the other believers of Anchorage through prayer."
In preparation for this column, I contacted a number of local pastors to see if they practiced prayer for other specific local churches every week, but most indicated they did not. Several Pentecostal churches said they'd done this in the past but were not currently doing so. Clearly, I did not contact the majority of local churches, but I believe I visit more local churches on a regular basis than anyone else in town. If your church is praying for other churches weekly, I'd love to hear from you and find out more about this wonderful practice.
Unfortunately, many churches and denominations have become convinced that their take on the Bible and the gospel is the only interpretation to be followed. As such, members often become exclusionary and fail to remember that many God-fearing members in those other churches are living up to their faith in the way that they honestly believe. I'm not Catholic or Orthodox but I can say most of their core beliefs echo the basics of Christianity followed by Evangelicals and mainline churches.
Pastor Elliott clarified the purpose of those prayers, saying: "Our prayer for the churches is not based on them agreeing with our point of view about everything, but on the fact that the Body of Christ is so much bigger than our little part of it. All true Christ-followers need the support that presenting them to the Father will give. And we do not pray to change other churches to our specific point of view, but rather we ask them what they see as needs and pray for their concerns, and that the good news of Jesus Christ will be advanced."
Describing the process they use, Elliott noted: "We call the churches we will be praying for, before our next Sunday prayer time. We ask if they have concerns we could bring before God for them. Sometimes they will have specifics for us to pray for; some churches don't answer at all, but we pray for them either way. We are convinced that we need to support each other this way."
Personally, I call that leading by example and doing so with a servant heart. Scenic Park Bible Church also prays for our nation, and different missionaries and missions organizations worldwide, whether or not they financially support them.
"We value the privilege we have to come before God," Elliott concluded, "and hold our spiritual family up to Him for care and help and blessings. With all the clamor and rush of life, this is a quiet way to do what we ought to do for each other."
Greg Gilbert, pastor of Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, wrote in an insightful 9 Marks Journal article, "Why I Pray Publicly for Other Churches," that the practice helps him in "crucifying my own spirit of competition," noting, "It's so easy for pastors to subtly (if not less than subtly) begin to think of other churches as 'the competition' instead of fellow proclaimers of the gospel in their city." Gilbert says it underscores that "we all have the same mission … to proclaim the gospel of Jesus and make disciples."
Commenting on the rarity of this approach, just as I first felt when I encountered it, Gilbert says: "Believe it or not, the practice of praying for other churches is so rare in many Christians' experience that many don't know exactly how to process it. More than once during my pastorate, a visitor to Third Avenue has walked up to me with a very concerned look to express surprise that such-and-such church is having troubles. After all, why would the pastor of one church pray for another church if there weren't serious problems afoot there?"
The practice of praying for other local churches as shown first to me by Elliott and his church are worthy of emulation. I'd love to see more churches doing this, as it truly emulates the work and practices of the early Christian church and commendable Christian practice.