A few years ago, when I was the lead pastor of a church I had planted, I found myself in the middle of a minor conflict with some of the people who had planted the church with me. They were expressing concern and questions about the direction the church was moving.
Lots of people are talking nowadays about going from “doing ministry” to “life on mission.” And it’s an important and necessary shift we need to make if we’re going to really learn again what it means to follow Jesus.
But the transition to missional living is easier talked about than practiced.
Freaked out by evangelism
This showed up in my life when I realized that living on mission is more than being nice or being a good neighbor. Living on mission involves learning to proclaim the good news of Jesus in a way that’s contextually appropriate, authentic, and winsome.
But this just freaked me out. I’m not a natural evangelist. Actually, the thought of evangelism terrifies me. My palms get sweaty, my heart races, I’m looking for the exit and thinking of excuses to give for why I need to leave now.
I’ll jump at the chance to tell you about a great movie I just saw, or my favorite coffee shop, or that amazing restaurant we ate at in Charleston (it was McCradys).
But when it comes to evangelism, it doesn’t come naturally for me.
And it’s easy to see why. Most of what I’ve seen and experienced in terms of what evangelism looks like has been either:
- Walk up to a stranger and ask if you can talk to them about Jesus (coercive evangelism!)
- Just be a really, really nice person (evangelism by osmosis?)
These are just two ditches on the opposite sides of the road, and neither one really works. I just haven’t had an imagination for how to engage in a way that looks like Jesus.
God is already at work
One of the main problems about both options above is that they both start with something we can do. This is actually one of the main obstacles we run into when trying to start living on mission: we start by thinking, “What can I do?”
But what if God is already at work in our neighborhood? Living a life on mission would need to start with seeing where God is at work, and joining him there.
As our friend David Fitch says, “If we truly believe God is at work in the world, we must take the time to pay attention, listen, and discern what God is doing in the lives of those around us.”
I realized that starting some kind of evangelistic program would be skipping this first step of discerning what God was already up to.
How can I engage in a practice that would help me pay attention to what God is doing? I wondered.
The surprisingly simple first step
One day, I was sharing this struggle with a friend, and she said, “Deb, you’re not good at evangelism, but you are good at listening to God in prayer. Why not use that gift to take a first step into evangelism?”
That sounded like a great idea, but how? I asked. That’s when she suggested the surprisingly simple first step that I’ve been practicing regularly since then:
But initially I had no idea what this was. I had images of walking through our neighborhood like a wandering nomad with a cardboard sign and a megaphone, shouting about conspiracy theories and how the end is near.
But thankfully I got some help and training others who were prayer walking their neighborhoods regularly. It was simple and fun! It wasn’t weird or off-putting for anyone.
Basically I’d just take a walk in my neighborhood and intentionally pay attention to what God was doing and saying, and I’d try to cooperate with him when I noticed something.
“Walk around and listen to God? That I can do!” I said.
Sounds simple, but it took some practice. Eventually we got the hang of it and began training our missional communities in a simple framework for prayer walking.
A framework for prayer walking
So prayer walking simply a way of paying attention to what God is doing. Jesus said he only did what he saw his Father doing (John 5:19). As we prayer walk our neighborhoods, we imitate Jesus by asking to see what our Father is doing.
How do you actually do it?
Just walk and pray! But more specifically:
- Be “normal.” It will just look like you’re taking a walk.
- Pray quietly under your breath or just be quiet and listen.
- Be open to interaction: saying hello, meeting someone new, stopping for a conversation.
- Pray for God to bless the people and homes and businesses you see.
- Listen and look for any impressions God gives you: pictures, scriptures, etc. (be aware of emotions or bodily sensations – this is often God revealing something to you!)
How do I pray?
Basically, ask God to show you what he is doing, and see what you notice.
- What would it look like if the God’s kingdom came more fully in this place? What would be different?
- Ask God to bring his kingdom more fully in this place.
- Ask God for insight on how you can be present here with these people, discovering what he is up to.
- Ask the Spirit to reveal the Father more fully to the people here (including you!).
Through this practice we are joining God in his missional work in the world!
Give it a try by yourself, or better yet, invite some friends to join you. Do this with your small group or missional community.
An outline for a prayer walk
- Plan a time to prayer walk and let your community/friends know.
- Gather everyone together first, and create groups of 2-4 people.
- Cast some vision for prayer walk (use the notes above or our printable guide below).
- Pray together for God to show you what he sees and feels while you walk.
- Agree on a time for everyone to be back to debrief (you’ll want 30-60 minutes).
- Start prayer walking – listening to God and noticing things as you walk (have people move off in different directions so you don’t look like a herd).
- Gather back up and debrief: process any insights, impressions, breakthroughs, and struggles together.
Life on mission starts with paying attention
If you’re like me and feel a bit “evangelistically-challenged”, prayer walking can be a first step in learning learning to live on mission.
I’ve begun to see with new eyes and feel God’s heart for my neighborhood. I’ve met neighbors that I probably would not have met because I was out walking while they were picking up their mail or washing their car. I’ve heard stories as I’ve asked questions and been curious about the people.
Prayer walking is one of the ways I’ve gotten unstuck when it comes to living on mission. I actually look forward to it, too!
What have you found to be helpful?
Have you ever tried prayer walking? How did it go? Leave a comment below to tell us about your experiences prayer walking, and anything you’ve found helpful.
I love this story. Maybe you’ve heard it:
A young woman was preparing a ham dinner. After she cut off the end of the ham, she placed it in a pan for baking.
Her friend asked her, “Why did you cut off the end of the ham?”
She replied, “I really don’t know but my mother always did, so I thought you were supposed to.”
Later when talking to her mother she asked her why she cut off the end of the ham before baking it, and her mother replied, “I really don’t know, but that’s the way my mom always did it.”
A few weeks later while visiting her grandmother, the young woman asked, “Grandma, why is it that you cut off the end of a ham before you bake it?”
Her grandmother replied, “Well dear, otherwise it would never fit into my baking pan.”
Numerous studies confirm that the American church is in decline.
Alan Roxburgh, in his book Joining God, Remaking the Church, Changing the World, shares the following statistic:
- If you were born between 1925 and 1945, there is a 60% chance you are in church today.
- If you were born between 1946 and 1964, there is a 40% chance you are in church today.
- If you were born between 1965 and 1983, there is a 20% chance you are in church today.
- If you were born after 1984, there is less than a 10% chance you are in church today.
Reading, both widely and deeply, is a vital discipline for any leader. But reading is especially important for the Christian leader, because our way of leadership (following Jesus) isn’t just pragmatic. It’s a inherently theological pursuit that demands we reflect deeply on our relationships regularly.
We asked our team to give us a few favorite books from 2018, and we’ve got a list below, in no particular order. (Note: these aren’t necessarily books that were released this year, just books we happened to read this year.)
I came to know the love of Jesus for the first time at a church plant.
I then had the privilege of being a part of one of the most impactful church-planting churches in the Midwest for over ten years, having a hand in the start-up of various campuses and plants. [Read more…] about How (Not) to Lose Your Soul as a Church Planter: 3 Shifts