I first started sending an email round to friends with a bit of news and some prayer points when I did six months of my gap year in South Africa with SU. A lot of the people recieving it were families who’d hired me to cook dinner parties for them, allowing me to raise a bit of cash to fund my trip. Once I hit Durham I’d send an email once a term or so, with a bit of info about what I was upto, some encouragements from CU and church, and prayer points, both general and specific, for the term ahead. A remotely funny anecdote never went down badly either.
Now that I’ve passed from student to that well-worn category of ‘full-time paid [but yet not actually paid] Christian ministry’, I’m reliant on a base of supporters to fund my living costs. Obviously it makes sense and follows biblical principle that those supporters don’t just write me a cheque now and again, but are actually involved in what I’m doing. One of the best and most precious ways of that partnership being fleshed out is in much needed prayer, and so I send out an email every couple of months with detailed stuff to give thanks for, and points for prayer. This also goes to a group of mates who offered to pray for me this year. All well and good so far.
However, nearly a year after graudating, out of all the friends who send me prayer letters/updates all but one are involved in some sort of Christian training scheme/church position. Obviously it’s great to be praying for people in those kind of positions, but at the same time it could indicate a potentially unhealthy focus on what ‘Christian ministry’ is. I was chatting with my friend James about this a few weeks back. From nine-to-five he’s dealing with invoices for a rail-delivery company, but he keeps friends far flung updated with a little email now and again containing prayer and praise points.
There’s a number of caveats to bring to the table. Maybe it’s just I’m not that great at keeping in contact with friends. Maybe our culture is such that people are more likely to have one or two pals who they keep in touch with for prayer. I suppose in reality you are going to be praying for those you are close to, so its clearly unrealistic to expect everyone to be exchanging prayer news with everyone. Also those who are still part of the same church should be in a position where they can pray for each other regularly, and I guess there’s a good argument for the local church being the place where people recieve most prayer support. And we wouldn’t ever want to say you can only pray for people whom you are ‘up-to-date-with’.
All that said, this doesn’t remove the fact that it seems prayer letters are the norm for church workers, whilst those involved in full-time Christian ministry at the office, in the classroom, at home, etc, are less likely to send them, or are less likely to be encouraged to send them. I’m pretty sure it’s symptomatic of an unbalanced focus on church positions in some sense – i.e. if you’re going-for-it-keen then you’ll work for a church and therefore are entitled to send out prayer letters. I guess it could also indicate a prayerlessness within Christian friendships? I’ve certainly been convicted, as I’ve been thinking, about how badly I care for friends far flung. We’re all busy people but an unwillingness to keep in touch and to pray in an informed way for each other can’t simply be something that being busy is allowed to create.
So what to do? Encourage a few mates in different walks of life to send round a monthly email updating each other on the ministry they are involved in? I was reading in From Cambridge to the World (incidentally a brilliantly written and non-triumphalist book detailing the work of the Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union) how back in the day graduated CU members would send round an annual letter reporting what they were up to and how they could pray for each other. I have a mate who, in this vein, set-up a password-protected blog for his mates so they could regularly load up their prayer points.