In 1968, after Paul’s father, Jack Miller, joined the faculty at Westminster Theological Seminary, he decided to visit Francis Schaeffer in L’Abri, Switzerland. He encountered something there he’d never seen before—a praying community. Prayer operated at the center of L’Abri’s life. That is, the life of the community orbited around prayer.
Paul reflects, “Dad was an ordained minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, a seminary professor, and a newly minted Ph.D., yet prayer operated at the periphery of his life.” The vision Jack saw at L’Abri was so powerful that he went on to create a missions organization (Serge) and a church (New Life Glenside) that revolved around weekly prayer meetings.
seeJesus has been deeply impacted by this legacy. We have three weekly prayer meetings where we pray for one another and for larger ministry concerns. “Prayer meetings,” shared one staff member, “are where we push on the ‘boulders’ in life and ministry—the things that seem too big, too hard. And over time, we have seen God move them!”
Next year will mark ten years since A Praying Life was first released. It has sold almost 400,000 copies, and our team has reached nearly 30,000 people through seminars alone. While those are easily the biggest numbers of anything seeJesus does, Paul Miller and Bob Allums, A Praying Life Director, began to long for deeper impact.
“We’d lead a seminar and everyone would get excited,” shared Bob, “but three weeks later, they were back to business as usual. We realized that, while we were helping individual Christians pray, we were barely scratching the surface when it came to cultivating a praying community within the church. And the community is what sustains the individual praying Christian over the long haul!”
Part of the difficulty in helping churches grow to be praying communities, Paul and Bob knew, was that pastors and church leaders—like Jack before L’Abri—struggle to pray themselves and often don’t know what it looks like to center a church on prayer. While big moments and crises propel churches deeper into prayer, in normal life, prayer functions more or less like the other programmatic parts of a church (see illustration).
“The problem,” Paul says, “is that the ‘Normal Church’ plan works just as well for creating a business: leadership, marketing, and funding. But the church is not a normal business. It’s a Spiritual business. The capital “S” is deliberate. It’s the only business where, uniquely, the Spirit of Jesus functions at the core.”
“We often have powerless churches because we have the wrong blueprints,” says Paul. “When prayer takes its place at the center, the Spirit begins to work in new ways. The apostle Paul makes a tight connection between the Spirit and prayer that looks like this: Prayer>Spirit>Jesus. There are a thousand ways to say it, but a praying community makes space for the Spirit, who in turn brings us Jesus.”
But it is one thing to share a vision for a new way of “doing church” and another to begin to do it.
“I think of what we talk about in the A Praying Life Pastors’ Conference like a new fitness routine,” says Jon Hori, West Coast and East Asia Director. “Everyone is pumped about it when it is first introduced, but the hard part is working it into your life. That’s where having buddies at the gym helps!”
In late 2017, we began working on the seeJesus “gym:” A Praying Life pastor cohorts. A cohort is a group of 4-5 pastors and a seeJesus trainer who meet for 12 weeks on a web conference platform. The group has two goals for their hour-long meetings: (1) to learn to pray and (2) to pray. They learn through book study, open discussions, and sharing ideas. They pray through five key areas in each of their lives and watch what God does.
This fall, we’ll start our ninth pastors cohort. Jon Hori and Bob Allums report that facilitating cohorts has been the most exciting part of their ministry this year. “We were the unbelievers when Paul first suggested the idea,” shares Bob, “but boy were we wrong! God has been at work, and it’s been an absolute joy to be a part of it.”
James Pavlic, a pastor who participated in the first cohort, shared, “The cohort was so much better and different from my expectations. There were and are ‘lessons,’ but they are short, and we spend more time talking about what God is doing, what we are desiring for him to do, and actually praying about these things.”
“I was recently asked to speak at a pastors’ event about prayer,” said Luke Simmons, “and I sensed that this cohort was an invitation by God to not be a phony. It made me want to pray, and prayer soon became much easier as I saw some momentum build and sensed God working in a number of fun ways.”
Dave Goffney, another participant, describes the impact the cohort has had on his church: “We pray more as elders and staff, even changing our monthly rhythm to have more intentional prayer times. When I preach on prayer, it is informed by my own growing prayer life and is much more ‘real’ than intellectual/theological. I am praying with another guy on a weekly basis, and that wouldn’t have happened without the cohort.”
If you’d like to join a cohort, visit seejesus.net/pastor-cohort.