13 Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 14 Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up, and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. 17 Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months, it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.James 5:13-18
One of the questions I have heard in my ministry has questioned the nature of membership in the modern-day church. I have had people ask:
“Pastor what is the point (or benefit) of being a member of a church?”
My response often falls within the context of something we have talked about before; “covenant.”
The act of professing our faith in God is baptism, and within the sacrament of baptism, you not only profess your faith in God (or your parents do it for you if you are an infant) but you also covenant with God. We make several vows in reference to our faith in God and in reference to how we will live out our faith here on earth as a member of God’s Kin-dom. This is broadly our understanding of faith though, not necessarily local church membership. However, as Methodists, we believe that these two acts are one and the same.
Because of how we interpret this manner of covenant with God in our broad definition of faith, we also attach membership with the local church to baptism and this nature of covenant. This is why we call persons to remember their baptism when they are brought in as members of the church. Beyond the idea of your ability to serve on committees, Church membership recognizes the covenant and vow that you make not only to God but to the local church you are committing to be a part of.
This is a two-way street as well. Not only does someone joining a church covenant with the church to do certain things (we will get to this momentarily), but the local church covenants help that person grow in their faith as well.
As a communal faith, we believe faith is best lived out in a community. Therefore, when you covenant with God as a part of your faith, you also covenant to be a part of a local community. This is why we do not do private baptisms. We baptize/receive members in worship to note the role the whole community plays in this process.
So then the question most people might follow up with: “What is this covenant?”
This is conveyed in one question during the liturgy of baptism and receiving members.
I, as the pastor ask:
“As members of this congregation, will you faithfully participate in its ministries by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service, and your witness?” (The last word added in 2024 and not in your hymnals: https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/new-membership-vows-and-ritual-revised-and-corrected)Baptismal Covenant, United Methodist Hymnal pg. 38.
We are going to work through each of these 5 themes and help ourselves gain a better understanding of OUR role as members of THE LOCAL CHURCH.
As I mentioned before, for some of you this will be new information and we hope to welcome you as members at the conclusion of this series in 6 weeks. For others, this may serve as a refresher for who we are called to be right here in this community as people in God’s Kin-dom.
We begin with the first manner of participation in the local church:
Now since we explored prayer within our last series, The Five Marks of a Methodist, we know the importance of a discipline like prayer in our spiritual lives. I’m not going to go back and rehash that whole sermon, but I will sum it up briefly for those who may have missed out:
“Prayer is the expression of our relationship with God, entailing talking, listening, and acting on who God calls us to be.”
Prayer is the central theme of our faith.
It is something that we should be conscious of doing as we live out our faith, but what is its role within the context of participation in the ministries of our local churches?
That is, how do we “faithfully participate in the church’s ministries through our prayers”
Means of Grace
John Wesley called prayer a “means of grace,”
“ways God works invisibly in disciples, hastening, strengthening; and confirming faith so that God’s grace pervades in and through disciples.”United Methodist Church, https://www.umc.org/en/content/the-wesleyan-means-of-grace
- God works in us through prayer.
- God strengthens us and protects us.
- Prayer is both a means of communication as well as an experience.
We can participate in the ministries of our community through prayer because it not only strengthens our relationship with God but also strengthens the community and our relationship with one another.
We can look at prayers, like the Lord’s Prayer or other prayers in our hymnal and Book of Worship. We can pray from the heart, praying for what is moving us.
Engaging in prayer, even individually encapsulates a sense of communal living, because inherently we should be praying with and for our community.
Learning Communal Prayer from James
To understand prayer from a faith perspective, we often ask, like the disciples, “How do we pray?”
However, as we contemplate what it means to participate in the community, the question should sound more like “What or who should we pray for?”
The writer here in James gives us somewhat of a glance at the answer to this question. Namely, the writer defines how the community comes together and what it means to lift one another up in prayer and praise.
Reflecting on that covenantal question, I find it interesting that the first item in that list is calling us as members of a local church toward prayer. Why? Because often, when we consider the local church we consider all of the actions we may do. Coming to worship, volunteering in missions, and even giving our time or money.
What if I told you though that beginning with prayer, might help to enhance some of the other ways we live into this embodiment of Community?
Look at what we read here at the beginning of this passage;
“Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up, and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven.”James 5:13-15 NRSVue
Just like in our relationship with God, prayer becomes the embodiment of relationship and community. We both live in to and express community by way of prayer. People understand our empathy, care, and compassion through the manner we utilize the spiritual discipline of prayer within and for the community.
Prayer in the Church
We are reminded that all our ministries in the church start with prayer…or at least should start with prayer.
The reason that this is not only one of the vows we make, but the first one in this list, is because of how important it is that prayer is a part of our ministry and the ministry that each and every person offers to their church.
When we pray for people, we pray for everyone.
- We pray for those people we like and even those we dislike.
- We pray for those who are close to us and those whom we have never met before.
- We pray for those who are healthy and hurting.
- We pray that we will have the strength to reach out to each and every one of these people as well.
We pray not only for people but for organizations as well.
- We pray that God will work within our society and over all of creation.
- We pray that God would bring about the Kin-dom in our world today and that God would use us to do it.
- We pray for God to work in the church; to revitalize and renew the church.
- To not only work in this church but to work in the global Church.
Prayer encompasses so many aspects of what we are called to pray for.
When we ask the question who do we pray for; we are praying for everyone, praying for everything, and praying that God would impact everyone and everything. Prayer gives us the opening we look for to do ministry within the church. It is the asking of God for a call and God reciprocates with a call and yearning in each and every one of our hearts.
We see this from James, that we are being called to observe our community and note how and where prayers are offered. We even see the different ways we can pray, and when our prayers are focused around our community the work we can do in building up the community around us.
Prayer should be woven throughout all the ministry we do in the church. It not only is a show of God’s presence within ministry but also a continued call for God’s help and vision. When we make prayer the central theme of our church we center ourselves on listening to God.
Prayer at Beech Grove
When we were discerning God’s vision for this church, many of you will remember that we started the process with prayer. We started by writing and praying a breakthrough prayer. We would pray each and every week, each and every day,
“Lord, break down our walls and reveal your pathways to us. Give us the courage to go down the open road of your future. Amen!”Beech Grove Breakthrough Prayer
This prayer became the centerpiece of our life together. It formed and shaped us, as we discerned who it was God was calling us to be as a community together. That prayer bore the fruits of the vision we have before us today.
God’s vision for this church, is “to be a visible church without walls; strengthening our community, by connecting resources to needs through partnerships.”Beech Grove Vision, beechgroveumc.org
Prayer called us forward as a community.
However, it does not end there. We continue to pray prayers like that breakthrough prayer (or maybe you, like me still pray that breakthrough prayer). We pray with and for the community, because our connection and relationship with God is the foundation of our community together.
To have this relationship, to build this relationship, and to live in this relationship grows the community together. It instills in us a common goal of God’s vision and carries us forward.
We faithfully participate in the ministries of the church through our prayers when we look to prayer as a discipline to grow the community together. Not as a time to air our grievances, to complain about people or the world, and honestly not solely as a time to vent and despair in our suffering. Prayer in the context of community calls us together.
They are prayers to lift up the lowly, to gather the lost, to reach out to the searching, and to discern the community that God calls us to be.
So pray for this church. Pray for its ministries.
Prayer is one way that we all have an opportunity to participate in the life of the church, and honestly, it is a great place to start if you want to dip your toe into the shallow end of the pool of local church ministry.