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Lesson 2 - A Model for Prayer Ministry

The first lesson we have to learn about prayer ministry is that it is not about us! It is about God and the person seeking healing. At all times the aim in prayer ministry is to provide an opportunity for the person receiving prayer to be ministered to by the Holy Spirit. The Biblical Basis of Counselling section of the Elijah House Australia Manual of Training for Prayer Ministry includes this statement: "Christian counselling does not perfect us, or make us better people, or improve us. It applies the death we have already died. We do not put new patches on old garments. We are evangelists to the heart. We apply the cross and resurrection life of Jesus to each dimension of the heart as it becomes ripe. The best counsellors are those who can love others to life." Consequently, we do not teach a method of ministry, nor are these notes to be treated as a manual on how to go about a prayer ministry session.

However, all of us who have been involved in prayer ministry for some time had to begin somewhere. I remember the first time I arrived in a training session, ready to observe and learn, only to be told that I was to lead the team that day. In my case I had been thinking that I was ready to do so for about two years, and was a bit surprised that I had not been asked to do so. When the day finally came I soon discovered why the leaders had waited for so long - I still wasn't prepared for the shock of all that learning trickling out of my toes and running away into the ground as I listened to the person share their need and realised that I was completely inadequate to meet it. It was then that I had to resort to John Sandford's holy and righteous prayer: 'Help!'

John and Paul Sandford say, "We do not practice a methodology. Methods tend to violate the uniqueness of the individual. Ingredients of Christian counselling consist of all things needful to the process - but they are used only under the order and direction of the Holy Spirit." All that we learn are but tools for healing. This is why the emphasis is on prayer not counselling. Each session begins with prayer, with significant times of prayer throughout to allow the Holy Spirit to bring to mind the particular piece of knowledge or experience needed for an individual situation. At the end of each ministry we offer that experience back to God, lest we begin to work by a method rather than by the Spirit.

During this course, while the ministry you carry out will be very real, we realise that initially some guidance is necessary. The Holy Spirit is the one who will lead and do the work, but some structure is needed so that the participants will behave towards each in safe ways. Not everyone is at the same place in regard to being able to follow the Spirit, and as this is a training situation, ideas are provided about how to commence, develop and conclude the ministry session, all the time expecting that you will observe what the Holy Spirit is doing and be as sensitive as possible to that. Everyone has thoughts on what should happen, and how to achieve certain things - and this is fine. But always be ready to discard those ideas in favour of what God reveals as the ministry progresses.

Some rules and recommendations for ministry

Note: Although it does sound rather clinical, during this lesson we will sometimes refer to the person being ministered to as the 'client', simply because it is too unwieldy to keep saying 'the person being ministered to'. We are not counsellors, so 'counsellee' is not appropriate.

  • Minister in a team with at least one other person. Remember, you are by definition usually dealing with troubled people. Safety for yourself and the client may lie in having others present. This helps to minimise the problems of transference or dependence, which we will look at later, and reduces the likelihood of accusations of molestation or abuse. This is particularly important if a woman is ministering to a man or vice-versa. When carrying out deliverance ministry team support is essential. It is also less tiring to minister with another.

  • One person will be the ministry leader. The leader is responsible for the conduct of the session. The other partner(s) should allow the leader to lead, and should flow with the ministry with as little interruption as possible. The others are there to pray and support as directed. The leader may assign different areas of ministry to the supporting partner(s) as seems appropriate.

  • The Holy Spirit is the counsellor, not you. Rely at all times on his guidance, and don't interrupt the Holy Spirit when he is clearly doing something with the client. Patiently wait until it is finished, then ask what happened.

  • Pray with your eyes open. Watching what happens to the person as the Holy Spirit works is an important component of the gift of discernment. Also, your partner can communicate with you silently and unobtrusively to give confirmation or suggestions without the client being aware of it.

  • Never violate the client. Do not override their free will, or insist on anything they are not ready to go along with. Don't touch without obtaining permission, and if you wish to pray aloud in tongues, ask whether they mind this. Often you will hear people say that 'the Holy Spirit is a gentleman', and never forces an issue. This is not true and it is not biblical. The Holy Spirit is usually gentle, but he is also often strong and even forceful. However, this is the Spirit's prerogative. You should endeavour to always be gentle yourself.

  • Don't try to do everything in one session. People need to walk in what the Lord is doing, as things change in them and their circumstances, and as they learn to break long standing habits and ways of coping with the distresses of life. The Lord will give a sense of closure at the right time during the ministry. Leave the door open for further appointments if they need more ministry.

  • Don't carry the client's problems away with you. You are not to carry another person's burden, although you may help them to carry it. Jesus is the burden bearer, and all loads should be given over to him. If you come away from ministry carrying something, then you will damage yourself, and you will be ineffective in ministering to others. We will speak more about burden bearing later.

  • Absolute confidentiality is essential. Anyone who discusses the matters shared in a ministry session without the permission of the person ministered to and the ministry leader will probably not attend another ministry session. Anything you hear must be put out of mind at the end of the session. We specifically ask the Lord to give us this gift of forgetfulness each time. He can remind us again if it is needed in a further session.

Leading a Typical Ministry Session

  • Put the client at ease. Introduce yourself and the team members, then allow the client to chat for a short time, so you can find out who they are and they can begin to relax. Much can be learned during this time, such as whether they are shy, or a compulsive talker, or even a controlling person.

  • Ask why they came for ministry. This is important before doing anything else, because it is at this time you may discover that they are not there voluntarily, or are under some misapprehension about what prayer ministry is. You may feel led to ask how they came to the Lord, especially if you are not sure whether they are truly Christian. This will affect what you do next, because their first need may be salvation, before anything else is attended to.

  • Commit the ministry session to the Lord. Give thanks for the person and pray first for the peace of the Lord to fill them and that they might be surrounded by His love. Most people coming for prayer are troubled in some way and the peace and love of God help them to relax. Specifically ask the Holy Spirit to be present to the client and the team, as the counsellor, comforter, encourager, healer, revealer of truth, or whatever seems appropriate at the time. We used to teach leaders to seek specific forgiveness for their own sin, and to bind any spirits and distractions which may be operative to disrupt the ministry. In a training session you might do this. However, at a ministry centre this should all be done before the client arrives, as part of the worship and preparation time for the ministry staff. Then the staff offer themselves to the Lord, asking to be filled with his love so that all ministry will be done out of this love. The client would not normally be part of this preparation time - they have their own troubles to cope with without having to be made aware of our worries. For some people, speaking of the demonic is disturbing and overt spiritual warfare is distressing to the inexperienced.

  • Invite the Holy Spirit to come in power upon the client, and wait upon Him to reveal the next step to the leader. This sometimes requires the leader to tactfully fend off the client's desire to go into a long description of their troubles and what they want the Lord to do. It is sometimes helpful to ask them to pray aloud, giving God permission to work in whatever way he desires, laying down their own agenda. Ask them to relax, close their eyes and wait until you are ready to listen to them. For now you are listening to the Lord.

  • Expect the Holy Spirit to give a word of knowledge either to the leader or a team member, and preferably to the client. Often a person will say, "I remember ..., I haven't thought about that for years." which may give direction for where the Lord wants to start ministering. However, many clients will be unable to recognise the Spirit's voice, so don't be dismayed if when you ask them what happened they will say "nothing". If they did hear his voice, when you share what you or the team have heard they will know it is true. Of course, depending on what it is, they might not want to admit it. Don't force the issue. Remember, do not violate the client.

  • Once something has been identified, proceed to minister into this. This may typically take the form of recognition of a problem or sin; confession; repentance; forgiveness; bringing habits to death on the cross; healing; comfort; prayer for a new spirit, heart, mind; deliverance; discipling and encouragement. The knowledge you will receive during the training sessions still to come can be used as a guide for the ministry, but be ready at all times to respond to the Spirit's promptings. Be wary of doing something simply because it has worked before with another client.

  • If nothing surfaces, and you are unsure what to do, ask the Lord for more light or discernment of what might be blocking his revelation and wait for a bit longer. If no area of ministry becomes clear then do nothing. Perhaps the Lord wants you to give the person a blessing, and to pray peace, strength and endurance into their spirit. Remember, just because you or the client don't know what God is doing, doesn't mean he isn't working. Many people don't like to say this to a client because it sounds like a cop out. So be it - if you need to be embarrassed by a ministry session where you didn't seem to know what to do, then accept it. Again I will emphasise that ministry is not about you. Remember, also, that God loves you as much as he loves the client, and it is up to him to vindicate you or not - don't try to make yourself look good.

  • It is important to encourage the client to pray aloud. Words have power and particularly in confession of sin (James 3:16) and declaration of forgiveness, the presence of witnesses to a spoken prayer is important. Pray aloud through all aspects of the ministry as it happens. It reminds the client that God is the source of their help, not people in the ministry team. People are sometimes unsure how to pray and are helped by repeating a prayer aloud after one of the team. Again, be sensitive and gentle.

  • Actively listen to their prayer, allowing the Holy Spirit to prompt your awareness of anything lacking in the prayer. Encourage them to be specific in both repentance and forgiveness. Acknowledging sin, guilt, hurt and pain can bring great freedom and release.

  • Whatever happens in the ministry time, at the end it is good to bless the client. Ask the Holy Spirit for a particular word for that person. The gift of prophecy is useful here. Speak the blessing over the client, with laying on of hands if the client agrees. Always ask for permission before touching a client, and never use inappropriate touch. Be aware that for many seeking ministry touch is often associated with fear. The Holy Spirit is quite able to bless the person without physical contact. The Spirit may lead you to release certain gifts in the person, or give gentle instruction about how to live out what the Lord has done during ministry. Encourage the client to take advantage of the support networks available to them, or to seek such support if they have none available. Many people need basic discipling to teach them to walk in new life.

  • At about this time the sheet from the intercession team should arrive under the door. When you are ready, go through it item by item with the client, looking up the scriptures and explaining the words and pictures in the context of what has been done during the ministry. As the words are read aloud pray that the truths will take root in the spirit and mind of the client. Sometimes things of a prophetic nature will be on the sheet and will not appear to be relevant to the ministry. Encourage the client to seek understanding from the Lord for what has been recorded. The sheet is handed to the client for their continuing edification and encouragement. You might also add specific words that have been given in the ministry time.

  • In closing the ministry time, thank the Lord for what has happened and will happen in the days to come. Be sure to offer all you have learned during this time back to the Lord and ask him to enable you and the team to forget anything you have learned about the client which is not your business to remember. Reassure the client of the confidentiality of what has taken place. In prayer, ask the Lord to cut each member of the team free from the ministry. This is especially important for burden bearers after deep ministry has taken place. Pray for a refreshing from the Lord for each person and offer a prayer of thanks and praise to conclude.

  • If at any time after involvement in a ministry team you feel the need for prayer always seek this before leaving.

  • The leader will go to the intercession team to thank them for their contribution, and encourage them about the accuracy of their listening. However, do not disclose details of the ministry to them. Allow them a time of debriefing where they can share any difficulties they may have experienced. Pray for them to be released from anything they may be carrying as a result of their interceding.

  • Use of a Questionnaire

    In a ministry centre we ask the client to fill out a short questionnaire about obvious sin or trauma areas in their lives and in their family. This is sometimes used to ensure that nothing obviously harmful to the person is overlooked. It also helps the person to begin looking at and facing up to what has happened to them, without the minister having to drag things out of them. It is not used as a substitute for listening to the Holy Spirit.

    Here is a downloadable Word Doc file of the questionnaire currently used at Beth Tephillah and Roaring Mouse Conselling. We ask each prayer counselling trainee to prayerfully and honestly fill this out and bring it with them when they have their first ministry session. They will not be trusted by the Lord to minister to the vulnerable until they too have become vulnerable before him and others.

    Common Errors in Ministry

    As you progress in ministry you will encounter many errors, and will make some of them yourself. Do not pull back because of this risk - it is often the best way we learn some important lessons. Rely on the truth that the Lord loves both you and the one for whom you are praying, and he is good at damage control. It is easy to act outside of God's will, especially in ministry to the abused. We make mistakes because of ignorance, or by rigidly adhering to technique, from excessive zeal, from a religious spirit, from a need to be needed or to have a 'ministry of our own', and from an inadequate theology. Some 'counsellors' even exploit the weaknesses of their clients for their own satisfaction. All of these may be done unconsciously, or quite willfully.

    Do not underestimate the value of theology. In the West we have tended to exalt the mind, which resulted in a sterile form of Christianity - a 'religion'. Those who come into spiritual experience easily react against this and disparage the place of learning and thinking. Now we can look around us and see the result of both of these. On the one hand people have been brought 'into the faith' by acceptance of an intellectual proposition that Jesus died for their sin, and they tell themselves they are saved because the Bible or someone they trust told them so. On the other hand, they have not grown to be disciples because they have received neither an adequate teaching about who God is, who they are, what salvation really means and what God has done to provide it; nor an introduction to living in the experience of God's presence.

    The role of the prayer minister is to be a channel for the correction of both of these situations - to evangelise the broken heart. This is only possible if the minister is firmly grounded in both knowledge and experience of God.

    An inadequate theology allows us to forget that conversion does not complete the work of transformation - it begins it. Some of the things that hurting people are told by well-meaning counsellors are: "It's all covered by the blood (or taken to the cross), so now shape up and live it"; or "Don't dredge up the past, it's dealt with". My favourite answer to these is to ask if they also always expect a broken leg to be healed instantly upon conversion!

    Inadequate understanding of God and his word result in some people using ungodly means to attempt healing. This might include hypnotism or other occult and psychic means of 'seeing'; visualisation and the power of imagination to change reality and history; insisting on the reliving of traumatic experiences; providing comfort without effective healing; using perversion; forcing repentance or forgiveness upon someone who is not yet ready; trying to heal the fruit without dealing with the root.

    Overzealous practices include: identifying all problems as demons; denying the possibility of demonic influence; putting your own experiences upon the client's experiences; blaming the victim for the abuse; becoming emotionally involved with the client; neglecting the client after they have been given an expectation that you will support them. We can easily become problem-centred rather than cross-and-sanctification-centred.

    If all of this sounds depressing, remember that these are sinful practices, and as sin there is forgiveness available to the prayer minister too. While you experience the failings of the minister and the need to repent, God is perfecting you too to be a safer servant. Instead of one of those about whom Jeremiah lamented: "They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. 'Peace, peace,' they say, when there is no peace" (Jeremiah 8:11), you will become a good shepherd, who cares for the sheep.

    Discipline for Team Members

    There can be only one leader, who has responsibility under God. They may invite participation at different times, or they may not. They might even delegate. The team member's role is always to support in prayer and offer insights only when requested. Write down thoughts you have on a piece of paper and pass to the leader. You may well be accurate with what you have but the timing is important and if you voice something at the wrong time this is confusing. You may not be aware of what the leader has discerned and how they sense the ministry will develop. If you do not agree with what is happening never question this during the ministry unless the client is at risk. Approach the leader after the session to discuss your concerns. Leaders aren't perfect but do have authority in the session. Check whether your reaction is coming from the Lord or is motivated by how you would feel in the circumstances.

    A word of advice: During the training sessions, those of you who feel you know about ministry would be wise to hold back a bit until you see what the leader is doing. Conversely, those who feel less knowledgeable are encouraged to take a risk with what they think they might have discerned and offer it to the leader.

    Bibliography and Suggested Reading

    • Elijah House Australia, Manual of Training for Prayer Ministry, Section 1 revised edition. Flaxton, Qld: Elijah House Australia, 1995.
    • Horrobin, Peter J., Healing through deliverance: vol 2 - the practical ministry, Chichester: Sovereign World, 1995./li>
    • Huggett, Joyce, Listening to others, Lond: Hodder & Stoughton, 1988.
    • Pytches, David, Come Holy Spirit: learning how to minister in power, 2nd ed. Lond: Hodder & Stoughton, 1995.
    • Sandford, John and Paula, The transformation of the inner man, Tulsa, OK: Victory House Inc, 1982.
    • Sandford, John and Paula, Healing the wounded spirit, Tulsa, OK: Victory House Inc, 1985.
    • Urquhart, Colin, Receive your healing, Lond: Hodder & Stoughton, 1986.