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Praying for Church Growth: The Prayers of Donald McGavran

Donald McGavran (1897–1990) was the founding dean of Fuller Seminary’s School of World Mission. He and the church growth movement that he started are sometimes pilloried in reformed circles. Though his teaching and movement had weaknesses, we can learn much from his life and writings (I was delighted to see him quoted positively at Kevin DeYoung’s blog a couple of weeks ago).

The main thing I find helpful about McGavran is his deep passion for Christ and for the spread of the gospel. This passion is most evident in the prayers he prayed at the beginning of each class he taught. The Billy Graham Center Archives at Wheaton College has preserved twenty-five of his prayers from a 1979 course at Fuller. Here are a few:

A prayer of thanks for missionaries:

Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, we give You thanks for the great army of apostles and missionaries and pioneers of the Gospel whom You have thrust out century after century to men and societies who have never heard of Your Son, the savior, the light of the world and the one sufficient sacrifice for sin; for the wisdom and dedication of Your ambassadors; for the new life they have brought to multitudes; for the new civilizations they have established; and for the martyrs and heroes among them; and for the new churches raised up; and the dark pall of ignorance rolled back. For all these good things we thank You and praise You. Grant us, good Lord, wisdom to understand our duty and courage to do it, counting no labor too great. In Christ’s blessed name we ask. Amen. (Collection 178, Tape T39 – January 19, 1979)

A prayer for cities:

Almighty and everlasting God this morning we bow before You in prayer for the great cities of earth – London and Hong Kong and Tokyo and Berlin and Delhi and Rome and Kinshasa and Havana and Moscow and Lima and Sao Paulo and Chicago and Mexico City and hundreds of others. Good Lord, in such great measure, these are dark and evil places where crime and prostitution and injustice flourish, where demonic powers stalk the streets and Your sons and daughters become dehumanized. And yet, Lord, in such great measure these are also good places full of education and invention and manufacture and books and great hospitals and universities and seminaries and churches and tremendous interchange of ideas and inspiration. Empower Your churches, O God, to see the cities as the decisive battlefields of our day and to discern the real enemies and to fight manfully on, heeding neither weariness nor wounds, ’til You have built in these cities the New Jerusalem. And empower us, Your servants, to regard these morning classes not as academic exercises heading toward paper degrees, but as Your assemblies, Your assemblies, good Lord, in which we open ourselves to Your presence and tune our ears to Your commands and identify ourselves with our brothers and sisters perishing in the contemporary famine of Your word. This we ask in Jesus’ blessed name. Amen. (Collection 178, T52 – February 21, 1979)

A prayer for the Church in America:

Our gracious and loving God, of Your great goodness, You have opened a costly and precious way of salvation to us and to all men. And here in America You have called a mighty church into being. In every state and every county, every town, and every city You have gathered together a redeemed people. For this we thank You and praise Your holy name. And yet, our Father, so many of our fellow citizens, our friends and our relatives, are as yet walking in their own strength and are either open unbelievers or, Lord, very nominal and careless Christians. Awaken Your church in North America, good Lord. Arouse her concern for the millions of masterless, saviorless men and women and show her how she can become more effective in her evangelism. Grant her grace that she may find and enfold Your lost sons and daughters, that Your banquet hall may be filled. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen. (Collection 178, Tape T43 – January 29, 1979)

To read or listen to the rest of his prayers, go here.

For a good description of McGavran’s life and ministry, see Robert Schuster, “Among All the Thousands of Pieces of the Human Mosaic: The Last Decade of Donald A. McGavran.”

Mark Rogers is a Ph.D. student in historical theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL. A former college pastor and associate pastor, Mark is the editor of “Glimpses of Christian History” and is writing his dissertation on evangelical missions between 1925 and 1945.

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