History of the Prayer Watch
The Prayer Watch is rooted in Scripture and in church history. One of the best-known historic Prayer Watches occurred in the early 1700s in Saxony when a rich nobleman, Count Zizendorf, began sheltering oppressed Christians. Over time, his estate cloistered a mixed and bickering crowd of nearly 300 Moravian, Lutheran, Separatist, Reformed, and Anabaptist Christians. In an effort to manage and guide this new community, Zizendorf began to visit the believers in their homes. He set down rules and guidelines for the community and he organized the believers into a ministry of prayer.
Inspired by the words of Isaiah, the Count set the people to praying around the clock:
I have posted watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem;
they will never be silent day or night.
You who call on the Lord,
give yourselves no rest,
and give Him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem
and makes her the praise of the earth.
Zizendorf had earlier named the community “Herrnhut,” which means “The Lord’s Watch.” The Herrnhut prayer watch began in 1727, and fostered spiritual renewal that swept the Herrnhut community. Individuals signed up for one hour time slots, and the prayer watch continued unabated for a hundred years! The impact was felt not only in Saxony, but in surrounding nations. Sixty-five years after the Prayer Watch had begun, the small Herrnhut community had sent over 300 missionaries around the world.
Organizing a Prayer Watch
The key to a successful Prayer Watch is organization and unified vision. Some suggestions are:
- Decide the hours and duration of the watch, as well as how long should be the time slots for those who sign up. Fifteen minute slots are quite manageable for most people (those so inclined can commit to multiple slots).
- Encourage couples to pray together and singles to find a prayer partner of the same gender, if possible.
- An in-house prayer letter or bulletin that contains general, on-going prayer requests as well as specific updated prayer needs can keep the participants focused, united, and inspired.
- It is good (but not essential) to have a room (usually in the church) set aside for prayer, with prayer resources to support those who come. But unless your church is a commune as was Herrnhut, it is also important to be flexible and to allow people to pray in their homes or wherever it works best for them during their assigned time slot(s).
- Weekly or monthly corporate prayer gatherings will encourage those who are on the watch. (If these meetings include more than two dozen people, the Concert of Prayer format may be advantageous) As the watch members pray together they will find renewed passion for on-going prayer.
- Remember that the goal of the watch is not simply to keep people praying, but to keep them praying together with a united vision and with godly conviction.
- Ask the pastor to preach a sermon (or sermon series) on prayer.
- Before or during the preaching of the sermon, locate a leadership team to build and guide the prayer watch. A typical team might include:
- The pastor or a person appointed by him to lead the watch,
- A person to organize and update the prayer roster (the list of those on the watch), and
- A person to handle the newsletter, communications and publicity.
- Plan the date to begin publicizing the watch:
- Develop a simple brochure or bulletin insert that outlines the vision, purpose, and procedure for the prayer watch.
- Find a central location for the roster and encourage people to sign up for time slots.
- Launch the watch.