the shape of leadership

Prayer Sets the Agenda

How God directs your church when you pray in the Spirit, with understanding and in agreement

It was mostly a “prayer filler.” I was baptized in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues when I was 8 years old. I was really excited because I come from a line of Assemblies of God pastors whom I knew greatly valued this gift.

For many years, when I prayed and had some extra time, I prayed in tongues to fill in the rest of the time. I assumed this was the application of Romans 8:26: If I didn’t know what to pray, the Spirit would pray for me “through wordless groans.”

But in my heart, I knew there had to be more to it than that. Jesus had told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem until the time when “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

Jesus was telling the disciples that the power of the Spirit was absolutely essential if they were going to accomplish His purposes. I knew there had to be more to praying in the Spirit than what I understood, but what?

Many people assume praying in tongues is an entirely private practice. I’ve learned it’s possible for teams, boards, groups and families to pray in the Spirit, with profound understanding of God’s supernatural leading, and in agreement with one another.

This, I’ve found, has multiplied benefits as we lead people, because it puts us and our teams in touch with the heart of God. In fact, I’ve found that “P3 prayer” is the most effective way for us to lead our people. Let me explain.

Praying in the Spirit

A few years ago, God gave me fresh insight into a passage of Scripture I’d taught many times.

Paul told the Corinthians, “For this reason the one who speaks in a tongue should pray that they may interpret what they say. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding” (1 Corinthians 14:13-15).

My prayer language isn’t just a filler or a practice that makes me feel close to God; it is a way for God to speak directly to my heart!

When I pray in tongues, the Holy Spirit is leading my spirit to pray in alignment with His will. So when I’m praying, my spirit is praying without soul interference. Think about it. I can pray 100% God’s will without my fears, assumptions and selfish thoughts getting in the way. The Spirit of God wants to guide our prayers.

With Understanding

But that’s not all. As I kept studying 1 Corinthians 14, I realized this kind of prayer can result in far more than just lofty feelings. I can pray with understanding ... and I can sing with understanding.

Yes, praying in tongues edifies us (verse 4) as it makes us feel closer to God, but it also puts us in touch with the mind of God to give us more understanding of His heart, His purposes and His plans.

In any relationship, we gain understanding when we listen, so as a regular part of my prayer time, I said, “God, is there something You want to say to me? Do You want to give me a word of revelation or an insight about somebody or something?”

So I prayed in the Spirit, and then I paused to listen to God speak to me. It was amazing. God started speaking to me every time.

I didn’t hear an audible voice. He doesn’t have to communicate in that way. God can speak directly to my thoughts. Sometimes He gave me a vision. Other times, He gave me a Scripture or a word. I felt more alive and deeply encouraged. And I felt humbled that the God of glory would share His heart and His mind with me.

Of course, it’s certainly not limited to me and our team. You can expect the God of wisdom and truth to share His heart and mind with you, too.

In Agreement

I then did what I always do when God works in my life: I shared these concepts with our staff and board, and I encouraged them to pray in the same expectant way. Praying in the Spirit with understanding revolutionized my prayer life and encouraged all of us. I was thrilled, and I assumed that was the pinnacle of my experience in prayer.

Then, one day my team encountered a crisis. We faced some critical decisions about our facilities and, as always, problems raising money. I gathered our staff, shared the situation, and said, “I don’t know what to do. We need direction. Let’s pray in the Spirit and see what God says to us.”

After we prayed in the Spirit for a while, I asked people to share what God had put on their hearts. Some had a passage, others had phrases or words, and a few had an image or a vision. As we talked, we realized each of us had put a piece into the puzzle, and together, God had given us the direction we needed.

I was amazed. This, I was becoming convinced, could radically change how I led our team and how we work together.

Many teams of staff or key volunteers are working hard, but their efforts aren’t closely connected. When they discover the beauty and power of agreeing with one another about what God has spoken to them, unity increases.

Write It Down

My friend Chris Railey, director of Church Multiplication Network, asked me to share the concept with the CMN Lead Team. As I taught the principles and led them in prayer, Mark Batterson mentioned a pastor who always recorded prophetic words from services and kept a written transcript of them. He often pulled out the files to read them and see the pattern of how God had spoken to and through people in the church.

I’d never written down any of the messages God had given our team. I thought of 1 Peter 4:11: “If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God.” This doesn’t mean prophetic words are on the same level as Scripture, but they are God’s communication to us, given for His glory, to meet the needs of His children. It’s God’s message for that house and that moment. If it’s that important, it should be recorded.

In Practice

The next Monday in our church staff meeting, I shared what Batterson had told us, and I said, “I’m going to write down what God says to each of you as we pray so we can keep a record of it.”

On the fly I decided to write as if God were speaking directly, so if someone said, “I sense God is telling us not to be afraid, but to trust His power and step out in faith,” I wrote, “Don’t be afraid. Trust in My power and step out in faith.”

I didn’t write every word each person said because some of the statements were long. I tried to capture the message clearly and succinctly. When everyone had shared, I said, “OK, let me read back over everything the Lord just spoke to us so we can come into agreement with it.”

When I started reading through the words God had given the people in the room, everyone started getting really excited because all the words were fitting together into one powerful message. All of us realized each person’s word was an important part of the whole. No one had to have the complete picture, but God gave each of us a part.

It was like each one spoke a sentence in a paragraph, and together, it was clear and compelling. God had spoken to each of us, through each of us, for all of us!

I knew there had to be more to praying in the Spirit than what I understood.

After reading the statements and getting a clear picture of God’s direction, I asked our team to gather together and lay hands on one another and come into agreement with what God had just spoken to us. We received it as from God, not human beings, and wanted to respond to it as such.

Some prayed in the Spirit, and some confirmed what God had said. We realized this was now a complete and powerful spiritual practice: we were praying in the Spirit, with understanding and in agreement — P3.

We couldn’t wait until the next week so we could do it again, and the next week, and the next. As with any new skill, we developed confidence as we practiced praying, listening and recording what God was saying to us. We learned to be more patient and listen more carefully, and God led us more specifically about our particular circumstances at that moment — not all the time, but more of the time.

Shaping and Sharpening

Prayer was no longer merely the way we routinely started our staff meetings; prayer set the agenda for our staff meetings.

With this profound new grasp of the text, I went back and studied 1 Corinthians 14 again. The verses almost jumped off the page. In verse 26, the apostle Paul says everyone comes with something — a hymn, a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation — so all contribute to the whole.

Verse 29 says two or three people give prophetic words and others “weigh carefully what is said.” The person who is leading and scribing the P3 time is listening with discernment to each word, weighing it, and writing down the core parts of the words the Holy Spirit leads them to include.

Verses 30-31 are about order: Each person shares in turn because each person’s contribution is essential. As a result, no one dominates the time, everyone is able to participate, and humility reigns because no one has the full picture. The results are instruction and encouragement.

Verses 32-33 again point to order. As people share, the person writing (often but not always me in our meetings) sets the pace. For instance, as I’m writing and someone else begins sharing, I say, “Hang on just a minute. I’m not quite ready.”

When I’m finished writing, I’ll say, “OK, I’m ready for the next one.”

This shouldn’t be a problem because the “spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets” (verse 32). You can hold the word when you need to, and you can release the word when it’s time. We’re not in a hurry to rush the process. We want to hear exactly what God wants to say to us by speaking through us.

This is the pattern we use in all our staff and board meetings, and it’s a process you can use, too:

  1. We spend several minutes praying in the Spirit.
  2. We pause for each person to ask, “God, what are You saying to me?” And we listen.
  3. I ask people to share what they sense God has spoken to them. As they share, I write it down in first person as if God were speaking.
  4. When everyone who wants to share has finished, I read back the messages in the order they were shared.
  5. Each time, the message becomes woven together into a word that’s encouraging and strengthening. Again and again, we gain insight and direction from our P3 times in prayer.
  6. We come together and pray in agreement, confirming God’s voice and direction.
  7. With this Spirit-directed agenda, we plan, delegate, schedule and work to serve God’s purposes.
  8. The topic of our P3 prayer is completely flexible. We may have a special event and need clear direction. We might face a daunting challenge and need a solution, or at least a step forward. We may be launching a new ministry or hiring a staff member.

A person in the congregation or community may have asked for prayer. Or we may want to pray for a visiting speaker, pastor or missionary. The ways to use P3 are endless because the opportunities and challenges are everywhere.

Benefits of P3 Prayer

For me, prayer is categorically different when I see it as a dialogue instead of a monologue. There’s nothing at all wrong about speaking to God in praise, thanks, confession and petition, but it’s thrilling when He speaks to me! Now, prayer is never boring.

Every time I pray, I anticipate that the God who spun the galaxies into the vastness of space wants to interact with me, to share His heart with me, and to give me a bit of His great wisdom.

Another enormous benefit of P3 prayer is authentic unity on our team. For years, I tried to unify our staff around my idea or my program. As you can guess, that approach didn’t always work. Now, as each person has a vital role in hearing from God and sharing His message, we’re united around the joy of playing our parts in establishing and extending the greatest enterprise the world has ever known: the Great Commission.

When I tried to be the head of our church, I created more messes than I solved, but there’s only one head — Jesus Christ. As the pastor, I no longer need unity around me and my plans.

My hope is for us to have unity around Jesus and His plans. And P3 is the primary method that keeps us on track with that purpose. By using this method of prayer and leadership, I’m not abdicating my God-given role; I’m fulfilling it.

Staff members know their role isn’t to accomplish my agenda or to ask God to help us accomplish the goals we’ve come up with on our own. Instead, each of us has the privilege and responsibility to hear from God, to be active participants in tapping into His heart and His plans. We’re passionate about His agenda, and we’re reaching and equipping people for His glory, not ours.

The people on our team were supportive of me before, but they’re even more supportive now because they feel more valued than ever. I’m still the pastor and team leader, but I realize all of us are far more effective — and far more joyful and passionate — if everyone is hearing from God about the direction of our church.

I’m more eager to meet with our staff each week and lead our church. I think this is what it means to be a Spirit-led church. Each time we meet, I come with an expectant heart because I’ve seen how God has led us in the past, and I have no doubt He’ll lead us in the future.

Perhaps most of all, using P3 has deeply encouraged me. Those who know me understand I’m an emotional person. I get excited, but I can become discouraged too. When I feel like a failure, when things don’t seem to be happening the way I hoped, when attendance isn’t increasing like I expected, and our contributions aren’t as high as anticipated, I can easily turn inward with all kinds of self-condemning and self-defeating thoughts.

But as we’ve practiced P3, God has often spoken through our staff members to me with words like, “Don’t worry, My son. I’ve got this. You can count on Me. I’m at work even when you don’t see it. You’re on My timetable, not yours. Trust Me.”

In The Art of Leadership, Max De Pree wrote, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.”

When we practice P3, we’re inviting God to define reality so we see people and situations from His point of view. As He leads us, our hearts overflow with wonder and gratitude. As we realize God has entrusted to us the ability to hear His voice, we serve with a wonderful blend of joy, excitement and humility. I’ll never go back to the days before P3.

With all my heart, I hope you’ll embrace P3 and sense God speaking to you and your team like never before.

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2020 edition of Influence magazine.
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