5 Keys to Pray Effectively

A Call to Pray

Last week I posted this question on Facebook: “Learning to pray more and preaching on prayer this month. What have been the biggest influences on how you pray?” I received a number of comments, including some great book suggestions and even a movie suggestion! Here’s my favorite comment: “You can read books and see formulas but there is no substitute for just doing it!

Yesterday I preached the second sermon in our series Pray: Growing a Heart for the Things God Cares Most About. This message was simply, “A Call to Pray.” HERE‘s the audio. Below are 5 the five keys to effective prayer via Nehemiah 1.


Epiphany Resource for Parents

The season from Thanksgiving to Christmas is my favorite time of year! I love the changing weather, the music, the food, the gatherings, the special concerts, church events, and parties! However, our family tries to focus on the real meaning by utilizing an advent wreath, special readings, and participating in special events. But what happens when it’s all over?

experiencing epiphany

Lindsey Bridges has put together a wonderful resource to help parents recover from the holidays! Anyone need something like that? We sure do!

Book Review: Strange Leadership, 40 Ways to Lead an Innovative Organization

If you’re looking for a book filled with the latest and greatest innovative fads do not read this book. However, if you believe, like Greg Atkinson, that God is the Chief Innovator, and your best ideas and breakthroughs will come from the Holy Spirit, then read on.


This book is FULL of Scripture! Every idea and principle is solidly built on this foundation of Scripture.

Strange Leadership is really a book about being in tune with God and His Spirit. Atkinson argues this to be THE key to innovation. In the introduction he says,

This is at the very core of being innovative—to be so in tune with God; his dreams become your dreams.

Book Review: Creating A Missional Culture by JR Woodward (Downer's Grove: IVP, 2012)

I am entering a new season of life and ministry as I work with a team to launch Restoration Church (Fall 2015). The vision is to be a missional, multiethnic, and multiplying church. JR Woodward and the V3 Movement are significant influences and partners in the launch of Restoration Church, so a review of JR’s book, Creating a Missional Culture is relevant.

Creating a Missional Culture

In the intro Woodward states, “More than a strategy, vision, or plan, the unseen culture of a church powerfully shapes her ability to grow, mature and live missionally.” (p. 19). This is similar to what Sam Chand says in his book, Cracking Your Church’s Culture. I highly recommend Chand’s book as a supplement and stand alone resource on church culture in general.

Creating a Missional Culture is broken into four parts…

Part One: The Power of Culture

In this section Woodward answers the question of how culture works. He identifies six elements that create culture. They are:

1. Language

So, what does the language of the congregation you serve reveal? Do the words people speak reveal an understanding that God is missional in his essence, and that we, like him, are a sent people, and that we are to live in the world for the sake of the world? (p. 36)

2. Artifacts: three essential artifacts are given: Scripture, communion, and the hymns and liturgy.

How do the members of the church you serve approach Scripture? Do they seek a theology of mission in the Scripture, or do they recognize that Scripture is a byproduct of mission, revealing missional theology, which is forming them to join God in his mission? Do they look to the Scripture to inform or transform them? Do they spend more time critiquing the Scriptures or allowing God to critique them through Scripture? Does the community understand the Scriptures as static or dynamic? (p. 37)

When people come to the Table in the congregation you serve, do they remember that Jesus’ body was broken for all and that his blood was spilled for the whole world, and thus seek to be bearers of God’s saving purpose for his whole world? Or do they view themselves as exclusive beneficiaries of God’s grace? (p. 37)

3. Narratives

As you consider the congregation you serve, is the narrative of the community shaping people to love Christ more, be more like him and deeply engage the world in order to see God’s kingdom become a greater reality? (p. 38)

4. Rituals

Rituals answer the question, What are our core practices? When talking about rituals, we will look at rites, practices, and liturgies. (p. 39)

5. Institutions

Understanding how a congregation handle power distribution and how they maintain unity when it comes to their vision, strategy and marks of faithfulness helps discern the culture of the church. (p. 41)

As you assess the congregation you serve, ask yourself these questions: Does the congregation take a hierarchical or grass-roots approach? Does one person wield authority, or is authority revolving and dispersed (a polycentric approach)? Is there a bottleneck in the structure, or does the church take a more open-source approach? Is cohesion maintained by rigid authority or through relationships and collaboration? (p. 41)

6. Ethics

As you consider the congregation you serve, is there a clear understanding of what it means to be faithful and fruitful, and does it reflect something more substantial than how many people come to a service and how large the budget and building are? (p. 43)

Chapter 4, Polycentric Leadership and Missional Culture, was a breakthrough for me. The foundation for this concept is a shift in how Ephesians 4:11ff is interpreted. Rather than eliminating the apostolic and prophetic gifts, as most do, Woodward suggests a fivefold ministry pattern as essential for the church today!

Paul seems to say that without a fivefold ministry pattern, we cannot mature and become the masterpiece that God intended. (p. 59)

The beauty of the vision that Paul is laying out for us [in Ephesians 4] is that we learn to develop a diverse team of leaders who together can cultivate communities to be more like Christ. (p. 59)

Woodward suggests,

One of the reasons the church is losing the digital generation is we have failed to incarnate an approach to leadership which takes seriously the major shifts our culture is experiencing… These cultural shifts highlight the vulnerabilities of a centralized leadership structure, which I contend never should have characterized the church in the first place. (p. 60)

See Alan Hirsch and Tim Catchim in their book, Permanent Revolution, for an in-depth discussion of this topic. A review of their book is forthcoming.

Part Two: A Leadership Imagination That Shapes Missional Culture

In this section Woodward builds a foundation upon which a polycentric model of leadership can be built. This has been transformational for me and the team I’m working with. Absolutely central for all leaders to work through.

  • Chapter 5 – the challenging shifts of media, philosophy, science, spatial, & religion. Areas church leaders need to be aware of.
  • Chapter 6 – the story of leadership through biblical history.
  • Chapter 7 – deepening theological roots so that one can build a a strong and clear polycentric model of leadership.
  • Chapter 8 – embracing emotional health, dealing with brokenness as an essential aspect of polycentric leadership.
  • Chapter 9 – letting go of control. JR gives examples of the polycentral model of leadership in recent research, politics, art, business, and non-profits. This chapter alone is worth buying the book for.

Part Three: The Five Culture Creators

In this section Woodward deals with Jesus as the ultimate five-fold equiper-leader. He then gives a chapter each to full descriptions of the five-fold equipping ministry.

  1. Apostle (dream awakener), creating a discipleship ethos and calling people to participate in advancing God’s kingdom.
  2. Prophet (heart awakener), calling the church to God’s new social order and standing with the poor and marginalized.
  3. Evangelist (story teller), proclaiming the good news by being witnesses and being redemptive agents.
  4. Pastor (soul healer), cultivating life-giving spirituality within community and embodying reconciliation.
  5. Teacher (light giver), immersing ourselves in Scripture and dwelling faithfully in God’s story.

Part Four: Embodying a Missional Culture

This is the how-to section of the book. It’s full of examples and real life suggestions. If the church is to become a missional movement it’s leaders must wrestle with how to embody missional culture. Woodward’s book, especially this section, gives such leaders the fuel for fruitful discussion, prayer, and change.

Pastor/leader, do you, your team, and your church a favor and read Creating a Missional Culture together. I cannot wait to see how the church we are launching creates such a culture and participates in a missional movement. I hope to see you along the journey!

QUESTION: Have you read Creating a Missional Culture? If so, what have been your key take-aways?

The Circle Maker: Review and Reflections

This is my first blog book review/summary. I read 2-6 books a months. Topics that interest me include leadership, marriage, parenting, theology, biography, ministry, culture, technology, fitness, running, and other misc topics. My reviews will be more summaries and not in-depth or technical. But I hope they are helpful.


*some of the books on my reading list for this year.

I just finished The Circle Maker, by Mark Batterson. Picked it up in light of some major transitions I’m going through. My wife and I are praying about what’s next for us. We wanted to grow in prayer and had this on the shelf. Mark Batterson spoke at a conference I had recently attended. So it made sense to read it. Bottom line: it’s had a significant impact on our prayer lives. Hope the same for you.


The Circle Maker starts with the Legend of Honi

The majority of reviews on Amazon are high. 601 5-star. 66 3-start or lower. Of the negative reviews most cite the use of the legend of Honi as a concern. They claim Batterson is following the way of The Prayer of Jabez. That he is using non or unbiblical sources and taking scripture out of context.

One 7-page negative review (not on Amazon) started,

I have yet to read the entire text. However, the little I have read and some preliminary research has revealed troubling things about the text and author and certainly raises the question about whether it is appropriate for leaders, and pastors in church to teach from and recommend this text to the church.

Really? A 7-page rant on something you haven’t even read?

HERE is a well written negative review from Tim Challies. He also has a great list of other books on prayer (HERE). Yet I recommend The Circle Maker and have found it helpful for the following reasons.

While the story of Honi is a legend, it is found in credible sources. The Mishnah Taanit, and first century scholar Josephus record Honi’s story. HERE is a short summary from Josephus. Therefore, it’s not made up. Weather or not we should model our prayer based on it is another story.

The main question is whether or not the principles of the book line up with truth and scripture. You can be the judge.


Note these quotes from the introduction:

God is not a genie in a bottle, and your wish is not His command. His command better be your wish. (page 14).

Batterson builds on that foundation throughout the rest of the book on. This book is NOT about how to get what you want. Or how to grow your church or ministry by using a canned prayer. It’s about how to connect your life to what God wants.

Drawing prayer circles starts with discerning what God wants, what God wills. And until His sovereign will becomes your sanctified wish, your prayer life will be unplugged from its power supply. (p. 14)


The book has three major sections, DREAM BIG, PRAY HARD, and THINK LONG.


1. Dream Big

Is the principle DREAM BIG biblical?

The greatest risk is failing to circle the promises of God because we forfeit the miracles God wants to perform. (p. 51)

While taking OT promises out of context is not helpful. It is true that God wants us to pray with bold faith. For example, Jesus says,

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. John 15:16

God wants us to dream big. He wants our lives to bear much fruit. And they will as we seek and commit to His will, as revealed primarily in the Bible. Therefore, DREAM BIG!


2. Pray Hard

Is PRAYING HARD biblical?

Batterson begins the section quoting Luke 18 and the parable of the persistent widow. He builds this entire section on this concept, which I agree with.

Many have quoted the mantra,

Pray like it depends on God, and work like it depends on you.

Batterson adds,

It’s praying until God answers, no matter how long it takes. It’s doing whatever it takes to show God you’re serious. (p. 82)

I agree. And he adds that God either says YES, NO, or NOT NOW. He is careful to note that God is no genie, as noted above.

Batterson is careful to say, “Pray through the Bible.” (p. 94) He adds, “if you pray through it [the Bible], you’ll never run out of things to talk about [in prayer].

Most Christians, myself included, quit praying for things too soon. Therefore this principle is not only biblical, it is highly practical. YES, PRAY HARD!


3. Think Long

Is the principles of THINKING LONG biblical?

The Apostle Paul had a long view of life and prayer.

Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer. 5 Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules. 6 The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops.

Being a soldier, athlete, and farmer all take the long view. Christian disciplines require a long view. They require prayer that is sown now but reaped later.

YES, THINK LONG. Pray for things today, but also for things 10, 20, 50, even generations from now.


BOTTOM LINE: The Circle Maker is FULL of inspired stories and examples. They are not necessarily to be imitated. Rather, let them inspire you to DREAM BIG, PRAY HARD, and THINK LONG. All for the glory of God!


QUESTION: Have you read The Circle Maker? If so, what are 1-2 take aways you had?