Summer is nearing its end, which means that the 2016-2017 school year is just around the corner. The beginning of a new school year is an important time in the lives of many families, one which requires a significant amount of planning and preparation. In the midst of buying new clothes, attaining school supplies, and arranging transportation, Christian families are wise to include prayer as a part of their preparation for the new school year. Knowing this, the Bartow Baptist Association recently sent the following announcement to local ministers:
“Please encourage your people to go to the school of their choice this Sunday to prayer walk from 4-5pm. There will be material based on the movie WAR ROOM to prompt people to pray.”
Prayer is certainly important but why are local church members being encouraged to “prayer walk” at local schools? A good number of Christians in Bartow County churches may have never heard of prayer walking. For such people, at least two questions must be asked: “What exactly is ‘prayer walking’?” and “Is participating in it advisable?” The best place to find an answer to any question about a (purportedly) spiritual practice is in God’s word. However, those searching the scriptures for examples of the practice of “prayer walking” or commands to engage in it will not find such. This is because prayer walking is not a biblical practice. Information about it can be found on the internet, however. According to the respected Christian-issues resource GotQuestions.org, “prayer walking” is:
“ the practice of praying on location, a type of intercessory prayer that involves walking to or near a particular place while praying…Prayer Walking is a relatively new phenomenon, the origin of which is not clear. There is no biblical model for prayer walking, although since walking was the major mode of transportation in Bible times, clearly people must have walked and prayed at the same time. However, there is no direct command that prayer walking is something we should be doing. To believe that prayers offered in any setting, or while in any position, are more effective than those offered at another time or in another manner is not scriptural.”
That “prayer walking” is not a scripturally prescribed practice should give those Christians who are considering participating in the school prayer walks organized by the Bartow Baptist Association pause. Certainly there is nothing wrong with praying for local students, teachers, administrators, and schools. In fact, the Bible says to “pray without ceasing”. There is nothing at all unscriptural about praying for local schools and their stakeholders; doing so is a fine pastime. However making a public event out of such prayer is not advisable. The Lord Jesus commanded his followers not to make a spectacle out of their prayer activities, saying:
“When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”
Organizing a county-wide prayer walk is anything but closing doors and praying in secret. The intent of the heart of the prayer is of key concern in the context of this planned prayer walk. Do people want to be seen? Do they want to show up in numbers to let the school board to know that they vote? These are not proper motivations for public prayer. Even those with noble motives would do best to heed the words of the Lord Jesus and go to their “inner rooms” to prayerfully intercede for their community’s schools. If churches wish to pray corporately for the beginning of the school year, church members should gather together in their church buildings or in together in various homes rather than making a spectacle of marching down the street and walking around school campuses.
Another concern that Bartow County Christians should keep in mind while considering the practice of “Prayer Walking” is Christian Dominionism. According to GotQuestions.org, Christian Dominionists believe that “Christians should, and eventually will, take control of the government.” The Pentecostal off-shoot of this unbiblical worldview is known as “Kingdom Now Theology.” Its adherents, according to GotQuestions.org, focus “on taking dominion of the earth by way of spiritual battle.” Often times this spiritual battle is spoken about in terms of “prayer strategy” or the “7 Mountains Mandate”. According to Dominionist thought, “Business, Government, Media, Arts & Entertainment, Education, Family, and Religion” are “7 Cultural Mountains” or change agents over which Christians must take dominion to influence culture. The identification of these mountains is alternatively identified with Francis Schaffer, Bill Bright, and Loren Cunningham, the founder of Youth With a Mission. Cunningham, a notorious Pentecostal, claimed to have received these 7 Mountains in a direct revelation from God while on vacation in Colorado in 1975. These 7 Mountains are on the wall of the Bartow Baptist Association, which has been increasingly participating in mission work with non Southern-Baptist Pentecostals over the last few years. Bartow County Christians should not be under the misguided notion that they can and should somehow “take dominion” over the Bartow County “mountain” of education by “prayer walking” local campuses or other Pentecostal strategies. Bible-believing Christians should seek to disassociate themselves from the 7 Mountains mandates, especially organizations such as the Bartow Baptist Association.
Bartow County’s Christians should further understand that the undertaking to prayer-walk local schools is not truly a local initiative. Baptist Associations across the country will be participating in similar events in the coming days. National Prayer leaders, whomever they may be, are often talked about in Bartow Baptist circles but their influence extends well beyond the borders of Bartow. There is an overarching idea in the national Christian Community that some sort of “prayer strategy” will somehow put the USA back on the right path as secularism seemingly takes the country by storm. Often times, this idea results in an unhealthy ecumenism and even industrial profiteering. It’s apparent that the Bartow County prayer-walking initiative is not purely homegrown, given that materials from the nationally popular movie War Room are to be used “prompt people to pray”. (Local Baptist Associations are essentially used as marketing channels by LifeWay and the larger Christian industrial complex, as I have written about here). Surely local Christians are not so distant from communion with their Heavenly Father that they need copyrighted material from a fictional prayer movie to “prompt” their prayers. Jesus, after all, did teach his followers how to pray in the pages of Scripture. Are War Room materials and scripted marches really necessary to pray for Bartow County Schools? Is there anything in scripture about “targeted prayer strategies”?
Simply put, one does not have to be in a given geographic location to somehow pray more effectively for that place. There is no power in a prayer’s location. Rather, the power of prayer lies with God, who is omnipresent and omnipotent. There is no place that His power and influence do not extend. Before a Christian engages in a “Prayer Walk”, that much should be clear in his mind. That’s not to say that there is no value in walking and praying. By physically exploring a location, such as a school, one can visually identify people or things which may need prayer. It is an absolutely great idea to walk and pray, especially in inconspicuous groups of two or three. “Prayer Walking” in very large groups, on the other hand, is simply wrong-headed. Hopefully, those who choose to engage in the county prayer-walking initiative will think through the matter and realize as much. Bartow County schools absolutely need and deserve prayer, but it should be biblical. If anyone does choose to prayer-walk a local school, hopefully his commitment to the betterment of that place won’t end there. There are multiple opportunities to be salt and light in local schools. God has placed his church on planet Earth to be just that. Outside of single day prayer events, local churches and local schools will hopefully conceive of charitable and evangelistic programs to reach out to the lost at local schools and come alongside Christian teachers providing a Christian witness where it is desperately needed.
*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.