Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Prayer Letters - Why Bother?

In an age of so much information at very fast speeds, it may appear as if writing prayer letters is a ritual or a motion one has to go through while in ministry. Self description is not the most natural thing for us to do, not least to the detail that a prayer letter deserves. The fear that nobody really cares or bothers to read our letters can also make us hesitant to write them and this can be evidenced by the far too few responses that we get. Multiplicity of communication tools, especially social media can also cast doubt on the relevance of prayer letters. The truth however is that prayer letters are of great benefit both to the sender and the receiver. I will try and give you 3 solid reasons to keep up this discipline.

1. Purpose. The main reason for your prayer letters is in the name – prayer letter. We to tell the story of your ministry, share our vision and connect your partners to that vision so that they can pray from an informed position. We write prayer letters in order to get buy-in for your desire and decision to serve in ministry. The only way others can come behind you in prayer, gifts and encouragement is if they know what you are doing. People are more driven by vision not needs, passion not person. How clearly you are able to communicate that vision determines how successful you will be in winning their support. A simple, clear and focused prayer letter is a great aid to that end. Whereas it is true that some people will support your work simply because of who you are and how they know you, sustained ministry support over the years will call for more than just familial relationships – A vision for the gospel transcends social ties and is much more sustainable. Your partners need clarity of vision and encouragement that your ministry is worth investing in. Learning to tell the story of what God is doing in your ministry will make them look forward to your letters and effectively participate in what God is doing in and through you.

Learning Point – Focus more on ‘ministry’ rather than ‘personal’ news. It is great to share some personal quips but that is not the main purpose of the prayer letter. Too much emphasis on personal news will elicit wrong feelings. People are supporting you to do the work of ministry not to merely live. Remember they have their lives too. However since ministry is a real life experience, do share personal news – but the weight/emphasis should clearly be on the ministry side of things.

2. Accountability: It is true that when we ‘go’ we don’t do it alone. There are others obeying the great commission as much as we do in different ways – Giving, Praying or supporting in other practical ways. We need to be accountable to them – are we using the resources given for the gospel for that very purpose. They deserve to know how we are doing, the challenges we are facing, the victories we are experiencing and what we might be looking forward to in the near future. The good thing about this is that it keeps you humble – aware of the need for others and your own need to report. Accountability keeps us from a worldly sense of independence [ I am self contained, I work with my own hands, I don’t need anybody] kind of thinking to a gospel-minded sense of inter-dependence [I can’t do it on my strength alone, I need others beside me, this is God’s work that he has called us to do as a community of believers] and it has massive character benefits. For this reason alone, even if nobody reads or replies to your prayer letters, keep writing them. Accountability is a discipline that won’t come naturally to all of us – it is learnt, it is cultivated and nurtured. Hence, the office might insist on so many prayer letters. But like all things discipline – it is not sweet at initial stages but when fully learnt, it has great benefits for the recipient.

Learning Point: Writing Prayer Letters is an important ministry discipline. Schedule a regular pattern of when to do them and even when you don’t feel like doing it – do it anyway. It is very humbling to look back prayer letters from years back and to see the Lord’s faithfulness over the years. Writing things down clarifies our thoughts and focuses our minds way better than a social media post.

Practical Partnership in Action. The last argument I will put in for prayer letters is that it is a practical necessity. This is by no means no less important than the other two but actually shows real value in doing regular prayer letters. Here I gather several reasons;
1)      My partners are encouraged to give – they may drop my support if I don’t send letters.
2)      My organisation requires me to do them. I am in trouble if I don’t.
3)      They help my readers to pray for my ministry, personal or family needs.
4)      They keep communication open as partners write back with encouragements.
5)      They offer a chance for my partners to give practical or technical advice on an issue.
6)      Other Christian workers may offer ministry advice when they read my letters.
7)      My letters could inspire others to join ministry or evangelize where they live.
8)      Regular writing lets me look back on events with new perspective.
9)      Writing openly and honestly keeps me accountable.
10)   Writing regularly causes me to evaluate my own spiritual progress.
11)   Prayer letters can inspire partners with interesting or humorous stories.
12)   They demonstrate God’s goodness, faithfulness and power.

Learning Point: Go ahead and do your prayer letters.