by Bob Wheeler
A Praying Church: The Neglected Blessing of Corporate Prayer
Grace & Truth Books
170 pp., pb
It is a sad fact of modern church life that prayer meetings are poorly attended, if they still exist at all. Many churches no longer have them, and the ones that do typically see only a handful of people show up on a Wednesday evening. It was to address this sad state of affairs that Dennis Gundersen wrote his book, A Praying Church: The Neglected Blessing of Corporate Prayer.
Dennis and I are past acquaintances (and subsequent Facebook friends), having both attended Trinity Baptist Church of Montville, NJ in the 1970’s, where we had the privilege of sitting under the ministry of Pastor Albert N. Martin. Dennis has since gone on to serve as pastor of several churches in the Tulsa, OK area, and his is currently President and owner of Grace and Truth Books, which published the current volume.
Dennis, of course, is very much concerned about the demise of the midweek prayer meeting; but his take on the problem is a little unusual. He lays most of the blame at the feet of the people leading the prayer meetings, if we can even call it “leading” at all. Dennis notes that one of the pervasive problems with the meetings is the utter lack of direction. The person nominally in charge simply asks if there are any prayer requests, and most of the requests forthcoming deal with personal issues, especially health needs. It is no wonder then that many church members wonder what the point of it all is, and choose to stay home on prayer meeting night.
Much of Dennis’ book, then, is basically an instruction manual on how properly to lead a prayer meeting. In Chapter Four he specifically goes into what to prayer for; and points out that the spread of the kingdom should have priority – we should be praying for our missionaries, the persecuted church, our lost neighbors, and other churches in the vicinity. We should also make it a priority to pray for each other’s spiritual needs. This then could be followed by the various personal needs of the members. There is also a chapter by a fellow pastor, Larry Dean, on the qualifications for a prayer meeting leader.
The second half of the book consists of thirty devotionals which are ones that Dennis actually gave at the prayer meetings at his church. They cover a variety of topics related to prayer. One particularly interesting one is entitled “Devoting an Evening of Serious Prayer for Genuine Revival,” which apparently was intended for a special prayer meeting that lasted (apparently by design) longer than usual. In it he gives us a good definition of “revival.” He points out that the word “revival” literally means to “’bring back to life,’ to rekindle what was nearly extinguished; to fan the flames which have died out or become low, so that the fire rages hot again” (p. 144). In a word, it is the revival of spiritual life within the church, along with the accompanying power of the Holy Spirit in evangelism, that constitute a revival. We should all desire it, but are we praying for it?
On the whole the book is very helpful and worthwhile. We would want to make a couple of observations, however. At points Dennis seems to be reading modern church life back into the New Testament when he argues the case for the traditional mid-week prayer meeting. The prayers mentioned in I Tim. 2:1-8, however, most likely were a part of the regular weekly gatherings of the assemblies, apparently held on Sunday evenings in private homes (cf. Acts 2:46; see Acts 20:6-12 for a brief description of such a meeting). In many of the better modern churches something similar occurs in small group meetings. But what the Bible does make clear, however, is the importance of corporate in some shape or form, and Dennis cites several passages from the Book of Acts to underscore the point. We would simply add to that the promise that Jesus gave us in Matt. 18:19,20: “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (NKJV).
We also cannot help but wonder if the modern church’s spiritual problems do go beyond simple ineptitude in the way prayer meetings are led. Too often on Sunday mornings we have seen dull, formal “worship” followed by a sermon marked by poor exegesis, a flat delivery, and little or no practical application. Many of the men, including sometimes even the pastor, will stand with one of their hands in their pocket – can anyone even imagine Moses at the burning bush with one of his hands in his pocket? Where is the sense of the presence of God in all of this? Might not the underlying problem be with the spiritual life of the pastor? Too often the pastor has received a formal, academic education at a seminary or Bible college, who then treated the ministry as a job description he was being paid to fill. Where there is no spiritual life in the pulpit there is not likely to be found more life in the pew. Is it possible that the reason so few people attend prayer meeting is because they do not see the need for prayer? We leave it to each pastor to search his own heart and decide for himself.
On the whole, however, A Praying Church is a good book deserving of serious consideration. It can be ordered online directly from the publisher at www.graceandtruthbooks.com