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The Problem of Prayerlessness

I have pastored two churches over the past decade, and I’ve been involved with networks, organizations, seminaries, collectives, and other groups of Christians. I’ve sat with visionary leaders who have churches filled with great systems. I’ve also sat with leaders who aren’t visionary and who have churches with poor systems. I’ve done ministry with gifted individuals, people with average gifts, and people with very little gifting or proficiency at all. I’ve partnered with attractional churches, missional churches, megachurches, medium churches, and meager churches. Throughout my experience, I’ve learned that these distinctions aren’t the most important; they’re peripheral and secondary. If I had to draw a line to create two categories of churches, it wouldn’t follow these distinctions. I’ve learned to see churches as those that pray and those that don’t. A church’s commitment to prayer is one of the greatest determiners of its effectiveness in ministry. Prayer is oxygen for the Christian. It sustains us. Click To Tweet

Prayer is oxygen for the Christian. It sustains us. So it follows that prayer must be a source of life for any community of Christians. It is to the church what it is to individuals—breathing. Yet many of our gatherings could be likened to people coming together merely to hold their collective breath. This would explain why people seem to have so little energy for actually living out the Christian life.

One Breath

But breathing together is what our churches need. Prayer humbles us like nothing else. When we pray, we’re reminded that prayer is not like other disciplines in the world that require impressive aptitude and increased exercise to bring about great results. If someone hopes to get rewarded or compensated for playing an instrument, for example, then he must first achieve a level of expertise through years of practice. Great results spring from a grueling, long-term regimen. There’s no initial payoff for novices of any kind.

Prayer isn’t like that because great results don’t come as a direct result of a grueling regimen and expertise. Great results come from our gracious Ruler, the great Rewarder and Reward of his people who cry out to him.

Many great accomplishments in prayer come from apparent novices. Abraham met God, and God offered to hear his prayer to spare the town where his nephew resided (Gen. 18:22–33). Moses met God at a burning bush, and not long after he successfully interceded for Israel (Ex. 32:31–34). In the forty days following Jesus’s resurrection and ascension, the disciples began to pray differently. They stopped praying for self-preservation and more for gospel faithfulness and boldness (cf. Mark 8:31–34; Acts 4:23–31; 5:40–41). God rewards the prayers of novices, which encourages consistent prayer in the lives of his people.

Examining what Jesus taught about prayer and how the first Christians approached prayer in the early church, this book offers practical advice for those eager to prioritize prayer in their churches. Part of the 9Marks: Building Healthy Churches series.

Experiencing God’s Power in Prayer

If prayer is like breathing, then it isn’t about our expertise. It’s about our experiencing the power of the One to whom we pray. It’s about the great expectations that grow in us when we have a genuine experience of the God who hears and answers. We don’t need experts, and that’s a strong encouragement to churches filled with many members and even pastors who feel like novices. I’ve experienced the beauty of weak prayers that meet a willing Savior. Our church has, too. It’s a lot like taking the first breath after having the wind knocked out of you. The experience makes you eager to take another, and another, and another.

Editor’s Note: Content adapted from Prayer: How Praying Together Shapes the Church by John Onwuchekwa. The post first appeared on; used with permission.

John Onwuchekwa

John Onwuchekwa (MA, Dallas Theological Seminary) serves as pastor of Cornerstone Church in Atlanta, Georgia.

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