Transforming Education Through Prayer
And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions. – Acts 2:17
God is raising up a prayer movement in the schools America. In the hour of urgency and national crisis, the Lord historically calls the youth to a culture of prayer. Other studies have shown that of those born after 1984, only 4% have a real form of church engagement. High school and college campuses have become the greatest and most desperate mission field of America. Since all religious activities on a school campus must be strictly student led, students are America’s greatest missionary.
Regardless of your school’s culture, history or affiliation – be it public, private or even faith based – Jesus is worthy of all worship in every generation. Even greater than the crisis facing America in this hour is the great worth of Jesus to be worshiped anyway! We need a generation that is fascinated with the beauty of Jesus and that stands for truth. If for no other reason than to create a context for teenagers to love Jesus in their high school, regardless of their impact, it matters.
Over 50 years ago the Supreme Court ruled to end school-facilitated prayer. This court case, Engel v. Vitale 370 U.S. 421 (1962), was most notable for popularizing the principle of “separation of church and state.” Dozens of other cases soon followed that further removed God from our schools. Consequently, one could trace the destructive trends of today’s youth culture – from teen violence and pregnancy to the drop in national test scores – back to a tipping point in the early 1960’s, which started the secularization of America.
Now it is estimated that over 80% of Christian youth turn away from their faith during college. In 2009, a Barna Research study found that less than one-half of one percent of adults in the Mosaic generation – i.e., after ’84, those aged 18 to 23 – have a biblical worldview, compared to about one out of every nine older adults. Since over 80% of churchgoers become Christian before the age of 18, it is no surprise that the destructive trends in our nation would be targeting youth culture.
RETURNING PRAYER TO SCHOOLS
While school-sanctioned prayer remains under assault, student-led prayer is still very much protected. After many years of observing and studying the rise and fall of different campus ministries, one model in particular has emerged as a sustainable and effective format. Every school is different, but over the years the strongest and most effective campus ministries have looked like this:
Start with one consistent (time and place) prayer meeting every week with music, even if only from a single acoustic guitar.
Add an on-campus Bible study to the weekly schedule. Now you’re meeting twice a week, once for prayer and once for a Bible study, both with worship. These become the anchors of the campus ministry. Every outreach and service project stems from these meetings. Don’t expand further until these two meetings are strong and put most of the group’s energy into strengthening these meetings until they are at least 40-50 minutes long.
Use the Bible study to increase the group’s understanding of prayer and love for Jesus. Study passages like Joel 2, Daniel 9, 10, Luke 18:1-8, 1 Timothy 2:1-4, the Apostolic Prayers and other prayer passages as well as the attributes of God and passages that provoke love for Jesus. Encourage the members of your group with practical ways to apply what you’ve studied to their daily lives.
Add a monthly outreach or service project. While you may have weekly ‘challenges‘ for members to complete personally, start adding a monthly missional or evangelistic outreach for the group to do together. The ideas here are endless, but try to be intentional about impacting your school campus whenever possible. Distribute free hot chocolate at the doors of the school on a cold day in February. Make a warm breakfast for the band members. Send students out one morning on a mission to share their testimony with one other student! Ask your school administration for ways your group can serve the school. This can even better your relationship with the administration. Use the time between each service project to plan and prepare for the next one and get the hype level back up.
Expand morning prayer to every day before school. Keeping your original prayer meeting and Bible study as the main rally points, start meeting on the other 3 days of the week for a shortened, simplified time of prayer. These can be simplified to 15 minute gatherings right before school starts. Of course, you can expand on these days and add worship as your group continues to grow and your leadership team is able.
HOW TO GET STARTED
Don’t wait for all of the stars to align or for everyone at your school to express interest in your group. Many campus ministries are delayed for years because they never hear these two words: “Just start!” Don’t be afraid to start small; most prayer meetings will be small. Here are a few helpful tips:
- Find a location that is available consistently on the school campus to start a prayer meeting. Meeting at the same place consistently makes it easy for students to find and remember. Look for a place that is easily accessible for new students and that won’t be easily interrupted or disturbed. A quiet hallway can work, but hallways are often noisy and distracting and cannot be reserved. Classrooms are quieter, less distracting and available consistently to student groups. You can ask any teachers to use their classroom or reserve another easily identifiable space like the little theater. The key is to meet on campus at a consistent location that works best for your group. Avoid basements and places that are inappropriate for guy/girls.
- Pick a day and time to meet consistently. You want to choose a time that will enable the most students to attend. Mornings before school starts tend to be the best time. Pick a morning when your location is available and when the most students can attend and start at least 30 minutes before school. Starting an hour before school is very common because time flies with worship and prayer. We encourage groups to expand to multiple days to include more students and launch a Bible Study to fuel your prayer meetings as you grow.
- Invite people! Chances are there are several Christians at your school who would love to worship and pray before class but simply don’t know about your campus ministry! One of the most effective ways to invite people is to complete step 4.
- Register your campus ministry (club) with the school administration. Make your group an official “club.” Find the teacher sponsor or take whatever steps your school requires, remembering the value of respecting your administration. Making your group official also opens up many new opportunities such as publicizing your group in the school announcements and posting fliers on bulletin boards. If you school will not recognize your group, then at least you tried.
Sustainability: Incorporating Scripture and a format to your prayer meetings does not put them in a box, it makes them sustainable and inclusive. Actually schedule your prayer meetings. Have a time of worship, lead the group with scriptures and topics to pray from, then go back into worship or break into small group prayer. Experiment with the format until you find something that works well for your group and is sustainable over time and scalable as you grow. Establishing a format creates the context for students who may not be as comfortable praying to learn and participate.
Enjoyability: We pray enjoyable prayers because God is enjoyable. As the leader, it is important to establish that the prayers that are prayed are positive, God-ward and Biblical. Prayer in the primary way we connect to the heart of God. Biblical prayers keep the group founded on truth and create a safe atmosphere for God to speak from his Word.
Music is the primary component of enjoyable prayer. It quickly connects us to the Lord, unites the room in worship and eliminates distractions in a powerful way. Human beings are musical by design, so use this design to your advantage. Don’t just have worship at the beginning, actually have the music continue softly while you pray. This may be awkward at first, but give it a solid try for a few weeks and it will transform your prayer meetings. Suddenly 50 minutes will be over in a flash!
Urgency: Connect student at the prayer meetings to the “big picture” of what God is doing on the earth. We have confidence to pray big prayers when we understand how much our prayers matter to the heart of God.
Helpful Example: Up-Out-In
UP – Start out with a worship song written to God.
OUT – Pray positive, biblical prayers for your school, city, and nation.
IN – Pray for those in the room, not only for personal prayer requests (healing, finances, heavy burdens), but ask God to fill those present with more of the Holy Spirit and love of God.
Founded on Prayer: Prayer is always the starting point. All other activities will grow more effectively with prayer at the center. Prayer aligns our heart with the Lord, strengthens unity in the group, negates spiritual burnout and is our primary participation in the government of God. Prayer changes things.
Fueled by Scripture: Our prayers need to be founded on Biblical truths, and prayer is not easily sustained without Scripture. Every campus ministry needs to take time to go deep in the Word together. This is another key way to keep the group united and to increase the level of understanding as the group prays together.
Filled with Music: Music makes a prayer meeting infinitely more enjoyable. Our spirits are designed by the Lord to respond to music! Worshiping the Lord together during the prayer meeting unites the group at a greater level, eliminates awkwardness and helps focus the group on the worth of Jesus.
Missional In Vision: There is no better evangelism opportunity than a public school where every teen in the city is required to attend – a perfect would-be revival center! From the strong foundation of prayer and worship fueled with Scripture it is easy to put faith into action through organized outreaches or random acts of kindness.
Inclusive By Nature: Be as inclusive as possible. Choose a location that is easily accessible and a day and time that allows the maximum amount of students to attend. Pray prayers and study passages that are easily understandable and not confusing or divisive. Always look for ways to include people and honor other Christian campus ministries at your school while staying true to your vision and values.
Respect School Administration: In everything you do, if possible, do it with the permission of the school administration. Having a good relationship with the administration will get you much farther than sneaking behind their backs. If your administration is unfriendly towards you, do everything you can to honor them. Even if they are legally in the wrong, blowing the whistle on them usually does more harm than good. The best approach is to find a teacher or someone in the administration who will support your group and work with them.
WHY IT MATTERS
Identity in God: Connect students to their primary identity in God as to who they are in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17-21), having understanding that they are participants in God’s plans and purposes of God.
Intimacy with God: Connect students to the God who loves, enjoys, and has deep emotions for them. We realize we have a high place of authority through intercession and we are able to partner with God to bring them others into the full measure of righteousness, peace, and joy through grace and the Holy Spirit. There are truths about God that stir the heart to fascination. The truth about His great and glorious love expressed through the cross gives us confidence in our weakness. The revelation of the beauty realm of God and the attributes of Christ will inspire them to press on and not lose heart. We want to call teenagers who are bored and living in sin to the God of beauty and fascination. We fight to experience the superior pleasure of knowing God so that our desires are changed.
Intercession: Connect students to a lifestyle of prayer and fasting that enables them to partner with the heart of God and His purposes for the earth. God has chosen intercession to be the way that He runs His kingdom now and in the age-to-come. A life of prayer and fasting empowers students to advance the kingdom of God in their own lives and the lives of those around them. A life of intercession positions each student to remain connected to the heart of Jesus and His leadership in a manner that equips them with understanding and wisdom for the days to come. It is a powerful plumb line.
Impact: Connect students to a lifestyle of service that satisfies their longing for relevance. This equips them to know that they are relevant even in the smallest effort, because Jesus values and remembers what they do. He rewards believers in the age-to-come based on faithfulness and seemingly insignificant works of service and love.