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Preaching to the Back Row

Preaching to the Back Row

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When he stands in a pulpit on a Sunday morning to kick off a prayer seminar at a church where he’s been invited, Assemblies of God ordained evangelist Kevin Senapatiratne sometimes wears a "superhero" T-shirt under his sports coat, displaying the logo to the congregation.

“Prayer is not just for ‘Super Christians,’ ” says Senapatiratne, who runs a ministry called Christ Connection. “It’s for those in the back row who think prayer is not for them.”

Whether it's inertia, fear, or some other factor, it’s not unusual for as many as 90 percent of a given congregation to be uninvolved in corporate prayer. Most pastors need, and want, prayer support, but sometimes the band of prayer warriors upholding a leader in prayer is small.

Changing those numbers is one reason why Senapatiratne, based in Blaine, Minnesota, 18 miles north of Minneapolis, starts his "Enjoying Prayer" workshops on Sunday mornings. That’s when the greatest number of people is at church. He also uses social media, particularly Twitter, to share encouragement about praying with over 100,000 followers in 140 countries.

“Those who think prayer is intimidating aren’t going to show up on a Saturday,” he says.

Senapatiratne's motivation to involve more people in prayer stems from his own experience serving as a pastor of an AG church plant in 2005.

“Sometimes people think prayer is kind of overwhelming to them, and so we try and engage them so they can discover prayer is something they get to do, rather than something they have to do,” Senapatiratne says.

It's not a matter of addressing God in letter-perfect King James English, he says.

“People think prayer is overwhelming because maybe they’ve gone to a prayer service and they’ve heard someone pray an eloquent prayer,” Senapatiratne says. “They think, I can't pray like that, so then why even bother, rather than viewing it as a conversation with a Father who loves them.”

AG Minnesota District Superintendent Clarence St. John says a spiritual awakening is happening across the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

“I’m really thankful for every church and every person that highlights prayer,” St. John says. “Kevin has raised the level of prayer and expectancy just by the work he's done.”

St. John, who also is on the Christ Connection advisory council, says he has noticed an impact in the areas Senapatiratne has visited.

“He's not self-serving at all, and he gets a great response,” St. John says. He notes that Senapatiratne often receives commitments from 20 to 30 percent of local congregants to pray for their pastor.

“Any time you get that percentage of your church praying, you're going to have a spiritual awakening happen,” St. John says.

Senapatiratne believes when the percentage of congregants praying for their pastor exceeds 10 percent, a church begins to see God move. He maintains that conveying prayer as an enjoyable experience can flip a switch for many members.

While hoping to expand his speaking and seminar ministry beyond the Midwest, Senapatiratne is already achieving global reach for the Christ Connection ministry via Twitter.

“We try to do daily stuff with social media,” he says. “Multiple times a week we'll do either a video training or a written training of some fashion or form, and monthly, there's some type of email-type training we send out to people who are signed up for that.”

He says 250 pastors around the world have signed up for email training focused on their needs.

“It’s amazing to see someone in some closed country reply and say, ‘thank you for your tweets, your encouragement,’ ” Senapatiratne says. “We’ll post a Scripture verse or a classic quote on prayer, and see a pastor in a remote village who doesn’t have a lot of resources give that kind of response.”

Photo credit: Maija Photography

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