C hallenging times call for fervent prayers from God’s people. How should we then pray? In Part 1 of this series, I mentioned praying for new sight, so we can have God’s perspective on the crises may go through. In this article, I want to suggest praying through the five-fold ministries of the church: apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher.
In his letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul refers to how Jesus our risen Lord has given his church the gifts that “that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12). All five of these can best be seen in the life and ministry of Jesus as he expresses the love of God to both Israel and to the world. Surely the ascended Jesus who now sits at God’s right hand in glory intends his ministry to continue through his church.
The five ministries of the church
Apostles are sent by God to pioneer something new. They expand God’s kingdom by initiating new ministries, planting new churches, and are almost always visionary risk takers who see the big picture.
Prophets are those given by God to align the body of Christ with God’s kingdom purposes. Prophets are focused on justice and righteousness as they receive messages from God in order to reveal, direct, or clarify. They warn and challenge people to get back in alignment with the things that matter most to God, revealing the heart of God.
Evangelists are those whom God commissions to share the gospel with those who do not yet know our Triune God and move them towards becoming disciples or followers of Jesus. They call people to repentance and faith in Jesus. Evangelists also encourage Christ’s body to share the good news of the kingdom with those outside the church.
Pastors, sometimes referred to as shepherds, are those God appoints to care for the health, safety and wellbeing of the body of Christ. They feed, lead, and care for the sheep of God’s flock, and equip God’s people for service in the community.
Teachers inspire people to learn and to grow in God’s grace and knowledge and to understand and apply the rich spiritual truths of God’s Word. They are passionate about knowledge and digging into the deeper things of God, not satisfied with shallow understanding. Their focus is to explain, train and pass on wisdom to others.
We really do need all five of the so-called five-fold ministries functioning in our churches. All five of these different functions build on one another and create a catalytic impact in their combination. Each tends to “see” their world through a somewhat different lens. What if we were to learn to pray through each of these various lenses?
1. Pray like an apostle
Apostles see like Jesus when they perceive a spiritual harvest that is ripe and ready in the fields of this world. Jesus was seeing the spiritual opportunity in Samaria, a place of cross-cultural hostility and hatred for many generations (John 4). Jesus in alignment with God the Father’s heart, seeing the Samaritans’ need for the gospel, breaks all cultural norms by speaking with a Samaritan woman and her community. The encounter with Jesus results in a whole new people group meeting the Savior of the world. Jesus is our ultimate reconciler who breaks down walls of hostility between all groups.
A group called Circuit Riders, an offshoot of YWAM, are moving apostolically right now and praying for a harvest in the very place where George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis. They are hosting open air street preaching and testimonies about the gospel to thousands of people with the result of hundreds coming to faith in Christ! Imagine a spiritual harvest occurring at the venue of a national tragedy. Many are being baptized in these same streets! That’s an example of praying like an apostle.
How can you pray apostolically today?
Pray, “Father, send your witnesses and raise up brand new ministries of outreach which will break down walls of hostility and bring your peace.”
Let us pray for a spiritual harvest of every tribe and tongue in the midst of turbulent days. “Lord, send a credible witness to every suffering man, woman, and child!” Let us all pray for new churches to be planted and for a greater harvest of souls.
2. Pray like a prophet
Prophets see like Jesus from God’s perspective, hearing from God and also helping others to hear from God. Jesus lived prophetically when he said that he only does what he sees his Father doing and only says what he hears his Father saying (John 5:19).
About a month into the COVID-19 pandemic, I was with a group of prophetic intercessors via Zoom for a time of listening prayer. One of our intercessors clearly heard from the Lord about the duration of the ten plagues in Egypt during the days of Moses. This intercessor shared that the Lord was intending to confront each of the ten “gods” of the Egyptians—which required a rather extended period of time. This changed how we prayed in our own crisis; we sensed that God’s heart may be to bring about significant and deep change in our world through the pandemic.
While we obviously wanted the pandemic to be over, we stopped praying, “Lord, please bring about a quick end to this painful pandemic!” Instead we began to pray: “Lord, be completely thorough and achieve all that you desire to accomplish during this pandemic season! Not our will, but yours be done.”
How can you pray prophetically today?
Instead of bombarding heaven with our many words over all the troubles that upset us, prophetic perspective would have us begin by seeking to hear first from God with a time of listening prayer: “God, what are you seeing right now? What would you say to us in the midst of our present crisis?”
3. Pray like an evangelist
Evangelists see like Jesus who leaves the 99 to go search for the one lost sheep (Luke 15). In the context of fresh persecution and injustice, having just witnessed the stoning of his friend Stephen, Philip, filled by the Holy Spirit, goes into a witchcraft-infested population to reap a tremendous harvest of souls (Acts 8).
In the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, one church in Michigan invited hundreds of their neighbors to begin (via Zoom) their Alpha course, a program that introduces the basics of the Christian faith. Even in the midst of great fear and uncertainty, these bold witnesses sensed great receptivity to the gospel from their neighbors. So they prayed and were moved to action.
How can you pray evangelistically today?
Pray, “Lord, open our eyes to see the people around us who need to meet Jesus today!” Pray for persons of peace who show remarkable openness to the gospel for themselves and their neighbors in chaotic times, and for courage and boldness to act on every opportunity to share Jesus.
4. Pray like a pastor
Pastors see like Jesus when he, our Great Shepherd, was concerned about his sheep being scattered and vulnerable to division and spiritual attack, and therefore prayed for their spiritual protection from the enemy and for great unity in John 17.
When we pray with the heart of a shepherd, we find our hearts full of compassion for all groups that are being vilified and labeled with prejudice. Shepherds are encouraged throughout the Scriptures to protect the sheep from wolves and other predators who seek to scatter and devour the sheep, especially those who are most vulnerable. Shepherds will be fierce when they need to be fierce, and unashamed to speak the truth boldly in love in order to defend God’s people from things that endanger the flock.
How can you pray like a pastor today?
Pray, “Lord, help us to be one, even as Jesus and the Father and the Holy Spirit are one!” Today in the midst of one group being pitted against another, let us pray that our shepherds will draw a bigger circle to include those who equally need the Father’s love and healing. Let us pray against divisions between groups and polarization even among followers of Jesus.
As Jesus followers, let us pray that we would keep our eyes on Jesus our Great Shepherd, and follow his example of sacrificially loving others in the midst of trials. “May God’s kingdom come and God’s will be done in these turbulent days.”
5. Pray like a teacher
Teachers see like Jesus, the master teacher, when he taught his disciples to pray in the same way that he prays. In the Lord’s Prayer (recorded in Matthew 6:9-13), Jesus teaches us to pray out of intimacy with God the Father, for God’s kingdom to fully come and God’s will to be fully done in our own lives as it is in heaven. And Jesus charges us to pray (paraphrasing verse 12): “Lord, forgive us our sins as we choose to forgive those who have hurt us!”
How can you pray like a teacher today?
You can pray, “Holy Spirit, teach me to pray like Jesus taught his disciples to pray!” Out of that, pray, “Lord, enable us to be compassionate and to forgive others who have wronged us in the same way we receive God’s forgiveness for ourselves” (Ephesians 4:32).
We learn from real-life examples of those who choose to rise above their own personal and painful losses to inspire others. We note the example of George Floyd’s family who publicly exhibited a spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation as opposed to a spirit of revenge and retaliation. His family openly expressed their distress that violence and looting was not honoring to George’s memory as a “gentle giant,” instead encouraging peaceful protests.
Let us pray that the tragedy associated with the death of George Floyd would act as a catalyst for significant and redemptive change. Let’s ask God for a truly concerted effort to fully address and eradicate all forms of systemic racism within the U.S.
Praying through a new lens
Our Lord Jesus wants us to pray in complete alignment with God the Father’s heart. Try praying through a different lens today: “Holy Spirit, teach us to pray in greater alignment with God’s heart as expressed in these five-fold gifts so we may advance Jesus’s kingdom in our world today!”
Jim Harrison served as a pastor in Hopkins, Michigan, for five years before beginning work in the global mission field. He served with RCA Global Mission for 25 years as a missionary in Estonia and in Bahrain, then served the Reformed Church in America as the coordinator for prayer mobilization.