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How Intercessory Prayer Can Revolutionize Your Small Group

by Joel Comiskey

Spring 2004

Mark, a cell member in Melbourne , Australia had a rotten attitude towards John, his cell leader and vocalized his feelings to others in the group. John and his wife, Nicole, in an act of humility, committed themselves to pray daily for Mark, declaring positive words over him and sending cards of appreciation to him and his family.

Week after week the walls slowly crumbled. One day, John called Mark’s office and was told that he was sick and at home. During the lunch break, John visited Mark, praying for him and giving him a big hug before leaving. Mark broke down and confessed his mean spirit and selfishness. He gave John full permission to speak into his life. Today, they are best friends and Mark is now a cell leader under John and doing very well!

Intercession for Group Members

My Ph.D. study of 700 cell leaders in eight countries revealed that one of the chief factors behind fruitful cell groups that multiply was the cell leader’s intercessory prayers for group members. The survey revealed that prayer for group members was the leader’s most important work to unify and strengthen the group in preparation for multiplication. Those small group leaders who prayed daily for group members were twice as likely to multiply their small groups than those who only prayed occasionally.

Praying daily for a cell member transforms the leader’s relationship with him or her. Through prayer, the healing balm of the Holy Spirit breaks the strongholds of bitterness and unforgiveness. A oneness develops through the bonding power that prayer creates. Paul writes: “For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how orderly you are and how firm your faith in Christ is” (Colossians 2:5). This verse indicates that it’s possible to be present “in spirit” with someone through prayer. [1]

I encourage cell leaders to tell cell members, “I’m praying daily for you.” It develops an immediate spiritual relationship with that person. After praying for members in private, I encourage cell leaders to pray aloud for cell members during the meeting. As Marjorie, for example, prays for each member during the meeting, her pastor’s heart is evident. Her prayers are so specific and personal, yet she doesn’t reveal confidential matters. She warmly lifts each person in the meeting before the throne of God. Marjorie knows her flock, and they are willing to follow her. This type of prayer tells members that the leader cares for them and desires to minister to their needs. It’s also an excellent way to model intercessory prayer.

Marjorie’s example encouraged everyone to press on. Because she had paid the price in intercessory prayer, she was able to meet the needs of those around her. She could immediately connect with the group and meet the needs of each member.

Intercession and Spiritual Protection

Christ prayed for the protection of His disciples in John 17: 15: “ My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” The devil wants to destroy the lives of every member in the group. The principal job of the cell leader, therefore, is to provide supernatural protection through intercessory prayer.

As the leader lifts up the members in daily prayer, the members will feel it and receive Christ’s protection. C. Peter Wagner ’s book Prayer Shield, details the necessity of protective prayer for other Christians, teaching not only how to pray for others but also how to recruit it. [2] Every level of leadership needs to develop a prayer shield and also form part of someone else’s prayer shield. To protect cell members in prayer, various steps should be taken:

  1. Properly discern the needs of the person
  2. Enter the prayer battleground on behalf of the person
  3. Pray persistently and fervently for his or her needs.
  4. Rejoice when God answers prayers.

Janet, a member of our home cell group, struggled with emotional and physical abuse in her childhood. We spent hours with her, trying to help unravel the dark web of fear and self-condemnation. One night on the phone, Janet told me she just couldn’t handle it anymore and that she was leaving the church and our small group.

We prayed and prayed, not knowing if we’d ever see her again. But God was faithful to answer our prayers. Eventually Janet resurfaced and continued to walk in holiness. Janet was not only able to overcome her own inadequacy, but she is also helping others overcome their problems through effective cell leadership.

Satan, the prince of this world, refuses to relinquish control without a battle. The Bible reminds us that, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against . . . the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12 ). Intercessory prayer is spiritual warfare and demands battle-like persistence to conquer enemy strongholds.

God is looking for prayer warriors who will stand in the gap on behalf of others. He’s looking for those who will persist until the job gets done—until the fruit of persistence prayer has found its fulfillment.

Intercession for Evangelism

Small group evangelism techniques abound. In previous books I’ve written about small group picnics, barbeques, videos in the cell, praying over an empty chair, and other evangelistic methods. I have a growing conviction, however, that prayer is so much more effective that it makes all the other strategies pale in comparison. Sustained intercessory prayer is the nuclear side of the Christian’s evangelistic armament.

When God’s people pray fervently and wholeheartedly, God Himself releases supernatural power and miracles take place. One cell leader said, “The place I was staying was rife with witchcraft and poverty. I initiated prayer action within my cell which grew to . . . 5 cells. When the powers in the air are broken, the light of God shines magnificently bringing healing and redemption to all the hurting and destitute.” [3]

Effective cells and cell leaders are dedicated to prayer. They recognize the most effective tool to win non-Christians is fervent prayer. They understand that it’s a spiritual battle and that no one will be won to Jesus Christ apart from the supernatural intervention of the Holy Spirit. He is the One that gives victory and heals hearts. Only Jesus can set the captives free and make a person whole.

Recently in my own cell meeting, Shaun shared, “Please pray for my eighteen year old son, Jeremy. He received Jesus as a boy, but now he’s taking drugs, in-and-out of jail, and on the verge of suicide.” We as a cell committed ourselves to pray for Jeremy every day. During the Thursday morning prayer meeting, I sensed a relief in my spirit as I prayed for Jeremy, as if something was going to happen.

The next day Jeremy’s mom, Gina, called saying that Jeremy out of nowhere mentioned his need to get right with God. We invited Jeremy to our church camp the following Saturday night, and he came with his girlfriend. God moved in Jeremy’s life and the following week after camp, Jeremy starting attending a Bible study—the first time in seven years.

Intercession as a Group

The best way to mobilize the entire group to intercede for pre-Christians is by asking each member to write down the names of friends, relatives, or contacts with the purpose of praying for their salvation. It’s a great idea to then write the names of each member on a large poster and ask the entire group to pray in unison for the names on the poster. The Faith Community Baptist Church training manual exhorts potential cell leaders to, “Make mention of your unbeliever friends in the cell meetings. Encourage all the cell members to pray for them daily. God will answer these prayers.” [4]

Intercession for New Leaders

Along with praying for non-Christian friends, pray also for those who will start the new cell group. Avoid prayers of doubt here—“Lord, if it be your will to multiply this cell group …” The faithful cell member prays believing that multiplication is God’s will (2 Peter 3:9-10; 1 Timothy 2:4-5).

Scott Kellar began to lead his cell group in Escondido , CA in the year 2000 and has been leading a cell group ever since. He’s multiplied his cell four times and personally cares for the cell leaders he has developed. Scott believes that the key to his success is praying fervently for each member in the group.

Scott began to pray for Melissa, one of the members of his small group. After praying for her for two months, he approached Melissa about the possibility of one day leading a cell. She flatly refused with the words, “I’m not ready.” Scott continued to pray for her, asking God to open her heart. He waited for six months and then approached her with the same question about cell leadership. “Sure,” she replied. Now Melissa is successfully leading her own cell and Scott continues to coach her and her husband. Scott continually lifts up Melissa in prayer, knowing that the devil would like to attack Melissa’s ministry.

Floyd L. Schwanz addresses “How to Birth New Groups” in his book, Growing Small Groups. He counsels cell leaders to “get their group pregnant.” How? Through prayer. He advises cell leaders to include a prayer in each week’s meeting for those who will help start a new group. He says, “It gives the Holy Spirit an additional opportunity to work with the hearts of potential leaders.” [5]

Intercession for World Missions

The scope of the small group’s intercessory prayer must invade the unreached people of the earth. God is calling His church worldwide to intercede on behalf of the unreached masses of the world, especially those living in the “10/40 Window.” This is the geographical rectangle between 10 degrees and 40 degrees north latitude in which 90 percent of the unreached people groups live.

I visited one key U.S. cell church that asked each of the cell groups to conclude with intercessory prayer for the unreached peoples of the world. To that end, they’ve developed an excellent series of prayer profiles on unreached groups for other churches and cell groups to use.

Intercession and Fasting

Carl Everett , director of BCCN at Bethany World Prayer Center , started out by leading a cell group. His cell multiplied several times, and each daughter cell grew and prospered. Carl boils down the secret to his success into three words: “Prayer, prayer, prayer.”

Cell preparation for Carl and his wife, Gaynel, includes fasting and prayer the day of the cell meeting. Before the meeting, they anoint the food, the sidewalks, the yard, every room in the house, even each seat to be used that night. Carl prays for the members and for God’s anointing on his own life. They wait until after the meeting (during the refreshment time) before eating.

The Everetts ’ example is not unusual at Bethany , where cell leaders are encouraged to fast and pray before the cell meeting. Some fast the whole day, others until 3 p.m. , some may skip one meal. Carl says, “It is important to mobilize as many from the group as possible to fast and pray.”

Fasting and prayer are a dual threat to the enemy. The devil leaves when we pray but flees when we fast and pray. The believer enters a new level of commitment and dedication—a dedication that even involves laying aside personal pleasure and enjoyment.

Omar Cabrero is the founder of the Church of the Future in Buenos Aires , Argentina . His small group based church is one of the largest in Argentina with approximately 150,000 members in 188 churches. [6] Omar discovered that the best way to evangelize people was to rent a hotel room in a city for the purpose of fasting and prayer. For days, he would engage in spiritual warfare for the people of the city until he felt they were released from Satan’s grip. When he sensed that God’s work had already been accomplished, he would then begin an evangelistic campaign, in which thousands upon thousands then received Jesus both as savior and Lord.

When we fast, we enter the presence of the living God in a more in-depth, personal way. Fasting helps us to hear God’s voice because we become more sensitive to Him. It clears up the cobwebs in our brain and helps us see with spiritual eyes. It also provides additional power to intercede for those who need it most.

Creative Intercessory Prayer

Cells quickly slip into “program mode” unless they are spiritually alive through prayer, and thus, effective cell leaders promote prayer within the cell group. “Cells are merely a conduit through which the Holy Spirit flows,” I often tell our cell leaders. Prayer, like every other participatory event in the cell group, brings unity and encouragement to the cell members.

There is not one “right” way to mobilize cell members to pray, and flexibility helps avoid the boredom of a routine. A small group leader can:

Break into groups of two or three. This allows more people to enter into prayer and is less intimidating for quieter members.

Train the group to pray short, conversational prayers that provide greater interaction and agreement. This allows more people to pray and helps prevent one person from dominating.

Ask individual cell members to intercede.

Try using “concert prayer.” C. Peter Wagner describes this as “all those present in the prayer meeting pray out loud at the same time.” [7] Korean Christians have popularized this style of prayer. In Cho’s church, the leader gives the signal to begin, and a roar of prayer floods the church until a bell signals that it’s time to quit.

Divine Desperation

The world’s largest church in the history of Christianity can teach us that intercessory prayer. When I visited the church in April 1997, I estimated that there were 253, 000 people attending the mother church along with 25,000 cell groups. Someone had told me before going to Korea that the Yoido Full Gospel Church was in decline. I thought to myself, If this is decline, what does church growth look like!

It wasn’t until the next morning that I understood the secret of the success of this great church. It was lightly snowing that Monday morning in April. I bundled up and went down to the main sanctuary at 5:30 a.m. in the morning. There I saw 3,000 Korean saints on their knees crying out to God. “Give us Korea for Your Son Jesus, dear Lord.” I realized that the largest church in the history of Christianity was a praying church. This church was willing to pay the price in prayer, and God was mightily blessing them as a result.

That same Monday morning I took a bus to Prayer Mountain , a former cemetery converted into a mountain of prayer. An estimated 10,000 people pass through this prayer mountain every week. The Yoido Full Gospel Church has carved hundreds of caves into the side of this mountain for the purpose of prayer. It was exciting to walk by the prayer caves and hear the cries of God’s people ascending to the throne of God. These Korean believers reminded me of Epaphras, a person who Paul said, “is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured” (Colossians 4:12 ). The verb “wrestle” in this verse literally means to agonize. This is what I need, I said to myself. I lack fervency. I need to wrestle more with God in prayer. Compared to the Korean Christians, my prayer life was halfhearted. I left Korea inspired to bolster the fervency of my prayer life.

Until cell leadership is convinced that only God can convert a non-Christian and raise up new leaders, very little will happen. Trite moments of prayer in a cell group are incapable of breaking the spirit of lethargy in a cell. It’s like praying for food at a restaurant—mindless. Before prayer can make a difference in the cell, the cell leadership must “know that they know” that unless God breathes His life into our methodologies, they are just wood, hay, and stubble. When Jesus saw the pressing needs of the multitude, He didn’t tell the disciples to initiate the latest evangelism-training program. Rather, he commanded them to “Ask the Lord of the harvest ... to send out workers into his harvest field” (Matthew 9:38 ).

Intercessory prayer is hard work. It requires hard work and persistence. Yet the fruit of it is renewed members and salvation. At times you’ll want to give up. Don’t. God is hearing your prayers and is pleased with them. In His time the answer will come—quickly.

Further reading on this topic: Comiskey's bookCell Church Solutions: Transforming the Church in North Americagoes into detail about prayer in the cell church. From Twelve to ThreeandReap The Harvestare also explain how prayer is the first and foremost work to sustain cell ministry. Both books can be purchasedHERE or by calling1-888-344-CELL.

ENDNOTES

  1. Matthew Henry, in Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Bible (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991) on CD-ROM, writes, “We may be present in spirit with those churches and Christians from whom we are absent in body; for the communion of saints is a spiritual thing. Paul had heard concerning the Colossians that they were orderly and regular; and though he had never seen them, nor was present with them, he tells them he could easily think himself among them, and look with pleasure upon their good behavior.”
  2. C. Peter Wagner, Prayer Shield (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1992).
  3. Personal email on 12/11/2002 from Godfrey Kahangi, who went from cell leader to coach to pastor at Kampala Pentecostal Church in Kampala , Uganda . The senior pastor is Gary Skinner.
  4. Cell Leader Intern Training, (Singapore: Touch Ministries International, 1996), Section 5, p. 4.
  5. Floyd L. Schwanz, Growing Small Groups (Kansas City, MI: Beacon Hill Press, 1995), p. 140.
  6. Information obtained from Miguel Robles, a well-respected pastor in Buenos Aires who researched Omar’s church.
  7. C. Peter Wagner, Churches That Pray (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1993), p. 119.