Feature

The Real Deal

A church is transformed through the power of prayer

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What is it about this place? What is happening to me?” Amanda* wondered aloud.

“Well,” a friend responded, “I believe that God is drawing you to Himself. Just pay attention to what God is saying.”

“But I don’t even believe!” Amanda replied.

“That’s alright,” her friend assured her. “God believes in you.”

Close Encounter

Standing in the sanctuary in a crowd of other lingering worshipers, tears running down her cheeks, Amanda was encountering the powerful presence of the God who made her, loved her and died to own her, and she wasn’t certain how (or whether) to respond.

My cell group had prayed for Amanda for three years before she finally asked me—as I was sitting in her hairstylist’s chair—where I went to church. Only recently aware that I also pastored the congregation, she indicated that even though she “didn’t do church,” it might be cool to check it out.

Amanda came to a celebration service with her daughters and was surprised by the effect it had on her. She quickly invited her husband and mother-in-law to come with her. She bought a Bible and continued attending Sunday celebration with wide-eyed wonder and tears. She began to devour the Word. “I can’t stop reading this thing, and I’m having the best week of my life!” Amanda exclaimed. “What in the world is happening to me?”

A couple of weeks later, Amanda participated in worship with a combination of hunger, curiosity and anticipation. The Word to the Body that morning issued the challenge of Elijah, “If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him” (1 Kings 18:21). The speaker added, “Some of you here this morning do not yet believe God. You have a couple of decisions to make: Who is God and which god will you serve?”

Amanda explained later that as the speaker continued, she heard a voice whisper, That’s you, Amanda. You don’t believe in Me. Amanda turned to see who was talking and began to feel “a finger pushing down on [her] head” as if to cause her to bow. Suddenly the plastic headband she was wearing cracked and broke. Stunned, Amanda approached her friend after the service and said, “I have two questions: How can I learn more about this book [the Bible]? And how can I get baptized and join this church?”

Her friend answered, “Let’s meet at Starbucks and talk about it.” Needless to say, Amanda eagerly came to faith in a humble and tearful prayer of glad surrender to Jesus.

A Church in Trouble

Had Amanda visited our church a few years earlier, she would have found a different spiritual environment. It took ten years of painful cycles of revelation and prayerful repentance for God to transform York Alliance Church into the faith community that Amanda joined.

In the previous decade, Christians at the church had commonality in their core beliefs and backgrounds but did not have community. Worship services were high on participation but low on real adoration of the Lord. Although the music was great, praise was hesitant.

Servants did many works in Jesus’ Name but had little awe of Him. Likewise, church activities elicited crowds but didn’t edify disciples. The laypeople were drawn to attractive events but not to the beauty of the Creator.

Transfer growth was strong, and attendance grew. But con-versions were slowing and commitment of new Christians waned. Convert-making was valued by the gifted, but disciple-making not so much. The few people who came to Christ were led to faith by the pastoral staff, “gifted people” or scripted out-reach tools.

We had denominational loyalty with little sense of church identity within the community. There was global interest in missions at York Alliance with hardly any sense of local urgency. We held an annual missions emphasis, but little daily radical living resulted. Support for missionaries was promoted with few connections to overseas fields. Mission giving was on the rise; outreach was optional.

The church was nationally applauded but internally dying. A church that looked very alive outwardly was in big trouble inwardly, and God knew it. And He was about to inform any with ears to hear.

Radical Transformation

What brought about the changes that turned us into the com-munity of faith that would draw a nonbeliever like Amanda to Christ? God began to convict church leaders. He told them what He saw.

The leaders’ immediate response was to seek to become the church that Jesus died to birth—to give the church back to Jesus. Personal preference, tradition, even denomination temporarily was set aside. There was a renewed focus on the Word of God and Jesus’ presence among His people through the Holy Spirit. Attendees became true worshipers. Prayer became the breath of the church. The “gift of tears” began to fall on unsuspecting God-seekers.

The first century church became a case study and model. Leaders noted that the first Christians worshiped “in the temple courts and from house to house” (Acts 5:42; also 2:46 and 20:20). They began to conceive of ways to implement that first century Spirit-led paradigm in 21st century terms.

The leaders showed the church members repentance by example. A corporate heart outcry went up in prayer for renewed desperation for God and dependence upon the Spirit of Jesus for day-to-day living. The accoutrements of self-sufficiency, pride, tradition and religiosity that had so long encrusted the hearts of God’s people began to be stripped away, beginning with me—the pastor. I prayed, “O God, forgive me. I was trained to be ‘in charge’ of the church and at the center of everything—to do what works best. I repent of my control of Your church. I confess my self-dependence and valuing the wisdom of men. I acknowledge the lure of fame and notoriety in my heart. But this day, ‘Your name and your renown are the desire of our hearts’ [Isa. 26:8]. I give York Alliance back to you. You gave Your life for the Church so that it would be Yours alone. You are the center. You are in charge. I will learn to seek You in all things. I repent of culture, tradition and denomination as the means of ministry. Teach me to lead Your church Your way.”

And out of the smoking wreckage 12 years later is still emerging a people growing in their commitment to “take hold of the life that is truly life” (1 Tim. 6:19) as evidenced in their weekly vision declaration: York Alliance Church is seeking to be an outreach-based church committed to exalting Christ and loving people by becoming disciples who make disciples. In all of this, prayer is the first work.

True Believers

Now, at York Alliance, worship services are high in participation and eager adoration. Worshipers come to the altar at the beginning of and during the celebration. Children minister in prayer to other children and adults at the altar. In place of interactive games, high school and college students lay hands on each other in dedicated worship times, often laying prostrate before the Father as they cry out for more of Him. The rehearsal of worship teams and choirs is “interrupted” by joyful, spontaneous prayer and tear-filled expressions of praise.

Cell groups are the immediate point of assimilation for new attendees. Members of these lay-led cells weekly ask each other, “What is Jesus doing in your life right now? What contact have you had this week with the pre-Christian friend we’ve been praying for?”

Instead of elective classes on Sunday morning, adults have com-mitted to a “year of equipping” to study or re-engage their faith at the most basic level in order to disciple others. The traditional Wednesday night prayer meeting, called “First Work Night,” is now entirely devoted to prayer—seeking God in desperation. The church’s schedule is shrinking, and every activity is now filtered through the question, “Will this make disciples?” Of the more than 160 converts in the past four years, most are being discipled by those who led them to faith or by other believers in the fellowship.

Mission giving is a corporate commitment. Of every dollar given, 22 percent is budgeted outside the church, 18 percent to the Great Commission Fund. A family and two single women are waiting on God for the next step in overseas service. Last year alone, there were 11 missions projects, only four of which were planned or initiated by church staff.

One new believer commented, “Hey, this book [her Bible] is for real! When I read it, something starts happening inside of me. That never happens when I read Cosmopolitan!” Pre-Christians are being drawn relationally not to a church building or its pro-grams, but to “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

People know a lot more about Jesus than York Alliance Church. Seekers like Amanda are finding Jesus to be “the real deal”—beyond religion, beyond church, beyond denomination.

*Name changed

Past Alliance Life Issues

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