Although Wilmington's movie tours, historic landmarks and close proximity to beaches make it a popular vacation destination, it's also home to a population that is about 65 percent unchurched.
"It's a city that needs to be won for Christ," said Dennis Long, Wilmington Baptist Association director of missions, during the annual PrayerLink meeting of state and national prayer leaders with a focus on prayer as a priority in Southern Baptist ministry.
"To reach this city, we must start with prayer," Long said.
During the PrayerLink meeting, Wilmington and nearby Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, Southport and Oak Island were visited and prayed for. With thousands of tourists flocking each year to North Carolina's coast, these communities are strategic ministry areas.
"The spiritual darkness can be overwhelming, and ministry difficult, in resort areas," said Chris Schofield, director of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina's office of prayer for evangelization and spiritual awakening. "There is a great need for ministry efforts to be encouraged and enhanced, and Kingdom prayer is the key," Schofield said.
The Oct. 11-13 PrayerLink gathering allowed prayer leaders to network, share resources and spend significant time in prayer. Throughout the conference one theme surfaced again and again: the desperate need for spiritual awakening.
Claude King, co-author of "Experiencing God" and discipleship specialist for LifeWay Christian Resources, lamented that more and more Christians have fallen in love with temporal, worldly pleasures and are not in love with Jesus Christ.
"We are distracted from our first love. When we get distracted, our obedience is lacking and the sense of God's power and presence is lacking," King said. "That affects our evangelistic outreach and our influence in the world."
This year's PrayerLink meeting proved strategic, as prayer leaders focused on how to help elevate the importance of prayer for spiritual awakening in local churches and among SBC entities, adopting the following three statements:
-- "Seek God: Recognizing that our only hope is a God-given spiritual awakening, we acknowledge God is calling His people to seek Him through wholehearted love, righteous living and fervent, united prayer.
-- "Elevate prayer: Furthermore, recognizing that prayer is essential for personal, corporate, community, national, and global spiritual transformation, we recommend to the SBC Executive Committee that prayer, as a prioritized focus, be elevated as an SBC entity ministry statement.
-- "Pledge cooperation: PrayerLink leaders pledge themselves to be available as co-laborers to assist churches, associations, state conventions, and the SBC in mobilizing Kingdom prayer in cooperation with the assigned entity and other Great Commission partners."
Rick Shepherd, prayer/spiritual awakening team strategist for the Florida Baptist Convention, said the statements help summarize what PrayerLink leaders regard as priority, with the first statement representing how they already see God at work. "This is the activity of God that is bubbling up," Shepherd said.
PrayerLink leaders believe that with an SBC entity providing leadership, prayer for spiritual awakening could be elevated to a convention-wide emphasis, with King noting that the three statements would help "build momentum for the focus on the importance of prayer."
PrayerLink leaders' sense of urgency to help bring people back to prayer is not unlike a national prayer core team that was established in the late 1980s.
"They believed God had given them an assignment to call the convention to prayer," King said.
That prayer core team, guided by leaders such as T.W. Hunt, Henry Blackaby and Avery Willis, helped add a prayer emphasis to the Bold Mission Thrust global evangelization initiative at the time and began providing training for state convention prayer leaders, while continuing to lead conferences and provide resources for praying toward spiritual awakening.
When Bold Mission Thrust ended in 2000, state and entity leaders continued meeting each year for equipping and resourcing under the banner PrayerLink. An annual PrayerLink meeting has been held each year since, with state conventions and SBC entities taking turns hosting the gathering. This year's sessions were held at the North Carolina Baptist Assembly at Fort Caswell on Oak Island.
Over the years, PrayerLink leaders also have assisted with the prayer room during the SBC annual meeting, hosted special prayer events and called Southern Baptists to prayer through special prayer emphases.
"I make PrayerLink a priority," said Mike Jackson, director of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions' office of leadership and church health. "I am renewed spiritually and I come away ready to take on the tasks before me."
During PrayerLink, Jackson shared that Alabama Baptists are preparing for a 60-day prayer emphasis that will include prayer at each of the state's 67 county courthouses.
Similar prayer emphases are being coordinated in other state conventions. In the Dakota Baptist Convention, evangelism strategist Fred MacDonald is assisting with "Praying across the Dakotas." Churches are encouraged to adopt their county and at least one other county in prayer.
North Carolina Baptists are engaging in a 30-day prayer emphasis in October as they prepare for the state convention's annual meeting in November with the theme of spiritual awakening.
"We want to join God in the eternal work He is doing to redeem a lost humanity," Schofield said. "Our Lord is saying to us that we must wake up. God's time is at hand."
The next PrayerLink will be held Oct. 10-12, 2013, at LifeWay's headquarters in Nashville.
Melissa Lilley is research/communications coordinator for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.
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