by Jared Musgrove
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.
Praying together in small groups involves listening. To God and One Another.
Often when group leaders ask about prayer time, I want to encourage them to focus on small groups being the primary place for such intercessory ministry to one another. It is difficult in the larger Sunday morning gathering to connect, share, listen, and pray together.
I think it’s vital to remember the 1st century context in which Paul wrote his letters to the church. Most historians put even the largest congregations that could be accommodated by a 1st century house church at around 150. Most would have been far less and likely looked a lot like your current small group size. Paul didn’t write to large crowds, but sought to instruct smaller gatherings. And these commands of God given to us through many of Paul’s letters, particularly around prayer, intercession, and practice of spiritual gifts, are much easier to understand and implement in a home group where virtually everyone knows everyone else.
These smaller house churches in the 1st century, hopefully like our 21st century group gatherings, were places where everyone was personally acquainted with everyone else. Thus personal situations, gifts, and prayer needs would be more intimately known as well. This gives us a greater chance of making our groups a consecrated place of personal ministry in prayer. All it takes is creating space.
God’s Holy Spirit is the true leader of the group. And your church has vetted women and men who listen to Him and want to follow Him in your small group. This type of ministry begins with these human leaders creating a safe environment for people to pray. Out loud. Over one another. Asking for words of insight or encouragement to share with one another.
And it will be okay if someone makes a mistake. There will always be varying degrees of confidence in our group members (and leaders) about stepping out of only talking about God in order to invite Him to do work in our midst. There should be a group value of encouragement. Smaller groups of believers who practice this way tend to be much more edified, encouraged, and consoled by one another. And encouraged Christians are very bold with taking the gospel message out!
Creating space for a consistent ministry of listening prayer in your group helps people know that they are loved, valued, and invited to get in on what God is doing in the lives of those who share their circle. When we pray for one another, we contribute. We step out in obedience, we gain courage together, and our faith is increased as we honor each other in doing so.
And often, we see prayers answered!
But if we do not create such space for this in small groups, we can’t expect it to happen. This has to be built into the structure of your meeting time. If your group is dominated by only one leader, one talker, a bunch of opinions, small talk, or even entirely to someone teaching the Scriptures, the opportunities for participation in prayer together diminish. So too does the opportunity to grow together in faith.
Are we open to creating space in our weekly group meeting that makes prayer the central aspect of our community with God and one another?
Could it be risky? It might be silent for a while. And maybe it needs to be. How often do we really pause in quiet for two minutes or five minutes? Group leaders can keep the time. But what would it look like to create this oasis of silence and stillness, asking the Spirit to reveal, heal, and move in our group time every time we meet? The Spirit’s interruptions are the ones we want!
Creating the space for prayer not only helps with groups being orderly, but also makes a regular opening for very personal ministry to one another.
Maybe this time practically starts with repeating James’ invitation to your group each week: Is anyone suffering? Rejoicing? Sick? Anxious? Inspired? Then pray for one another as the Spirit prompts, prods, and behooves us. Invite your church’s elders into small groups for such ministry. Let everyone get in on what God is doing in your midst. Every group time produces a fresh opportunity for ministry. God wants to do work in your group. All it takes is to create the space and ask. His Spirit will do the rest. That’s about as practical as it gets.
*Author’s note: I have learned much about such prayer ministry in groups from the people of The Village Church, Frontline Church OKC, and Bridgeway Church OKC.
Dr. Jared Musgrove is the Leadership Pastor at The Village Church in Flower Mound, TX.