Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Teaching Prayer in the New Year

We all Need Prayer -- Teaching Prayer in the New Year

Beth Fender, Coordinator of New Streams for Illinois Great Rivers Conference of the United Methodist Church, describes the need to teach sustained spiritual practice within congregations:
Many local churches need help with teaching the basics. In our day, when many of our new members did not grow up in the church and are unaware of much that lifelong church members take for granted, there is a great need for introductory sessions for adults on a variety of topics. Furthermore, since we now have several generations of church members who grew up in an era in which the church valued membership over discipleship, many faithful, lifelong members may be ill-equipped in many of the same spiritual practices. One important topic for both new and lifelong church members is prayer, particularly an introduction to a variety of prayer practices.
Prayer needs to be taught for those who have never attempted the regular discipline of a daily devotional practice, as well as for those who have unsuccessfully attempted such a practice in the past. Many of the church leaders (both laity and clergy) with whom I work have attempted to establish a regular pattern of spiritual practices or daily devotions with varying degrees of success. One does not often rise to leadership in a church without encountering this often unspoken expectation. However, I frequently encounter leaders who express frustration at their seeming inability to sustain the spiritual practices necessary for effective ministry. While there are many reasons for this struggle, three in particular seem to be the most prevalent: a devotional regimen that is incompatible with the leader’s personality or stage of spiritual development; a lack of familiarity with various spiritual practices; and a lack of accountability structures to encourage adoption of and long-term commitment to spiritual practices.
Often church leaders have been encouraged by some well-meaning mentor in the past to practice spiritual disciplines that may be a poor fit for their personality. For instance, while journaling is a wonderful tool for spiritual growth, asking someone who thrives on movement and creativity to spend significant time sitting and writing is unlikely to produce positive results, even if you provide colored pencils. On the other hand, this person may enjoy body prayer or liturgical dance—practices that might frustrate someone who prefers structure or needs to spend significant amounts of time in silent meditation. Unfortunately, many people believe that prayer means being seated with hands folded and head bowed—and must always involve words. With such a mind-set, it is clear that liturgical dance could not possibly be considered “real” prayer, and an opportunity for spiritual growth is suppressed or lost.
Other church leaders may have learned to practice certain spiritual disciplines that worked well for them at an earlier stage in their spiritual development. Those practices may have worked so well that now the leader has grown spiritually to the point that new practices are needed to sustain continued growth.

What a great time of year to renew your prayer practice and to make plans to each others.