I am going to share something about building a culture of prayer that might make some of you unhappy. But I believe that it is a problem that keeps some churches from experiencing the power that prayer can provide. There is an expression out there in the church world that is kind of dangerous. The expression that I am talking about is “the gift of intersession.” This expression in part came about from the talk, in maybe the mid 1990s, about spiritual gifts. In taking assessments and writing books people would put, “the gift of intersession” alongside things like “the word of wisdom” and “prophecy”. Over time this has led to a separate class of people who are the “prayers”. This caused 3 unfortunate things:
1. It has brought an intimidation to the average Christian about prayer.
Since most will not feel like they have “the gift of intersession” they will feel inferior in prayer to those special people. They mistakenly think that because they are not the super prayers why even bother to pray. This takes away the many joys of prayer to so many Christians.
2. It has driven many in the life of prayer to weirdness.
In some churches and ministries this situation has created a separate group and culture of people that are in the prayer world. Because of this they deal mainly with each other and create their own vocabulary to describe common experiences. This new vocabulary and ways of dealing with things take on stranger and stranger forms since they never have to explain themselves to those who are not a part of the group. This then leads to a wider gulf between them and the rest of the church. It not only hurts the church because they stay away from prayer it makes the people who are praying feel distant because no one joins them in prayer.
3. It takes away the power from the rest of the gifts.
Probably the greatest danger of this “gift of intersession” is that it takes away the life of prayer from the gifts that also depend on prayer. Those with the gift of leadership will encourage others to pray, but miss the empowerment that their gift would gain through prayer. People with the gift of administration might never think that prayer is part of how they are to operate. Each of the gifts that God gives us to serve the church is empowered by our prayer life and cannot be put aside for only certain special people who pray.
There are a few things to help with this problem. One, be careful not to exclude the whole church when you talk about people on prayer teams. Two, try to find new ways to get more people involved in various aspects of prayer. Three, highlight the importance of prayer with every gift of the Spirit.