STORY BY JEFF FINLEY
PHOTOS BY NICOLE RODRIGUEZ
The National Prayer Summit 2016 gathered hundreds of Free Methodists from across the United States to the Greenville (Illinois) Free Methodist Church for prayer and reflection on John 8:36: “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
The National Prayer Ministry Leadership Team designed the Oct. 6-8 summit “to prepare the way through prayer for our whole denomination, as well as our local churches, to rediscover and re-ignite our original calling to be a people who will bring the emancipating presence of God into our world.” With “Free, Indeed” as their theme, participants gathered with the stated goal of creating “an effective prayer-base for spiritual freedom and the release of God’s Spirit across the national church.”
The summit’s other purposes included fostering the development of freedom teams and ministries in congregations, growing the nationwide prayer movement for the Free Methodist Church – USA, and promoting and resourcing local and regional prayer ministries.
“One of the reasons that we’re even here at this time in the history of our church is that we have leaders who are giving freedom under the Holy Spirit to launch out as a church in creative, fresh, Holy-Spirit guided ways,” National Prayer Ministry Co-Coordinator and Greenville FMC Senior Pastor Doug Newton said as the summit began.
Fasting and Freedom
Ted Haggard — the senior pastor of St. James Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and the former president of the National Association of Evangelicals — served as the main speaker for the summit’s opening session. Haggard became a Free Methodist elder in 2015.
“I love the Free Methodist Church, and here’s why,” Haggard said. “People aren’t just elected to serve in different roles. It’s because they’re anointed to serve in different roles.
In a message titled “Imagining Freedom,” Haggard shared about the freedom that can be found through prayer and fasting.
“When we pray, we change the spiritual atmosphere in a community,” he said. “I don’t pray and fast because I’m noble. … I pray and fast because I’m needy, and I pray and fast because I’m worldly. I need the Spirit of God.”
He shared how he and his wife, Gayle, launched New Life Church — one of the nation’s largest congregations — out of a prayer meeting in their basement. At the close of his message, he discussed his 2006 exit from New Life and the new ministry that followed.
“Ten years ago, I had a scandal and lost all that because of my own foolishness,” he said. “The Holy Spirit did a wonderful work in us, and we’re pastoring a delightful church now, and it was the Free Methodists who came to us and said, ‘Come and be part of us.’”
Identifying the Chains
Gayle Haggard spoke the next morning about “Identifying Chains That Bind.”
“Jesus didn’t come for those who think they’re righteous. He came for those who know they’re sinners,” she said. “The whole point of the gospel is us finding that we are not enough.”
She detailed how her husband’s scandal led to her sharing her faith during media interviews with Oprah Winfrey and Rosie O’Donnell.
“There’s nothing like a scandal to free you up from fear of what people are thinking about you,” said Gayle Haggard, who added that the scandal brought her and Ted a new perspective about mercy and compassion. “When you’re tested, that’s when you show what you really believe.”
She shared how multiple denominations pursued the Haggards in recent years, but the River Conference Superintendent Dennis Jeffery helped them connect with Free Methodism. They attended General Conference 2015 and also met with Bishop Matthew and Marlene Thomas.
“All of a sudden, it dawned on Ted and me that we were amongst believers who really believed the gospel, and for the first time in a long time, we felt safe,” she said. “I just want to say to the Free Methodist Church: Do you know what you have?”
Breaking the Chains
“If we’re not seeing deliverance, victory and triumph at significant levels in people’s lives, then what is the benefit of being a Christian?” he asked. “If we’re not seeing God at work, it’s pretty hard to serve.”
Thomas said many people are praying for things that are not in God’s will. He pointed to Romans 8:26: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.”
Thomas said he is “tired of so many people knowing what to pray for. … Don’t come to God with so many requests that aren’t His.”
Our request, approach, belief and commitment matter for our prayers to be effective.
“In our culture, we give up way to soon,” he said. “We pray for somebody, and then we’re done after three or four weeks if it’s not done.”
Free in the Spirit
Set Free Movement Director Kevin Austin gave the evening message, “The Holy Spirit and Freedom,” on the summit’s second day. The abolitionist acknowledged he might have seemed likely an unlikely choice to speak.
“Who would have thought of inviting an activist to speak at a prayer conference?” said Austin, who added that Christians are too quick to compartmentalize. “I’m also an activist that prays, and I also study and read my Scripture.”
Austin shared about the Set Free Movement’s work to try to end slavery in the United States and around the world while also helping people understand they are created in God’s image.
“Not only did He come to save us from our sins, He came to heal us from our shame, and the work of God is forgiveness and healing,” Austin said. “God wants to set us free.”
The Set Free Movement distributed prayer booklets asking summit participants to pray for the movement “as we seek holistic freedom to end modern slavery and create new futures in partnership with others through community-based action.”
“We have high hopes that a people called Free Methodist will be on the front edge of multiplied blessing in coming years. We believe that’s where God is calling us to be, but none of it will work unless somehow there can be a renewal, a fresh inbreathing of the Spirit of God,” Kendall said. “I just don’t have words to say how significant and strategic this gathering is to that renewal.”
In a message titled “Discernment and Courage,” Kendall said problems can become opportunities for freedom to be discerned and embraced courageously.
“Discernment is a gifting of the Holy Spirit to a people who have been set free by that Spirit so that they might know their freedom and embrace their freedom and work it out individually, corporately, even nationally,” he said. “All the freedom we need is already here. … There’s enough freedom already available to break every chain.”
The summit also included four 55-minute prayer stations, three of which included speakers and one of which was self-guided. The latter, the Prayer Imaginarium, offered a video and kiosk-based prayer guide to help people engage in an intercessory prayer experience.
Sue Groves of the Greenville FMC shared the importance of freedom ministries and how her own life has been changed through discovering freedom in Christ.
“Our testimony is allowing people to see our brokenness and see how God is transforming us,” Groves said. “Freedom needs to begin with us, and then we have really good news to share with the world around us.”
Lead Pastor Brett Heintzman of First FMC in Jamestown, New York, shared about the trap of shame and the power of deliverance. He offered a new perspective on the phrase hurt people hurt people.
“It’s not just that hurt people hurt people, but I’ve now come to learn that free people free people,” said Heintzman, who revealed God’s work in his life. “While I was expecting raining-down sulfur, He was pouring down grace like rain.”
At the station about spiritual warfare, Doug Newton said, “In almost every problem we deal with, there’s going to be some aspect of demonic involvement in it.”
The summit included time for prayer, Communion and sharing. Participants shared prayer requests and powerful testimonies of freedom. One summit attendee revealed that she had been addicted to drugs and shot her husband; she is now working to help women recovering from addiction and adjusting to life after prison.
Participants also shared what God revealed to them during the summit.
Monroe (Michigan) FMC Associate Pastor Melanie Eccles said, “I felt that the Lord wanted me to share with someone out here that you are a son worth having. You are a daughter worth having.” Another participant later shared that she sensed God was speaking to her when Eccles spoke.
Assistant Pastor Dodi McIntyre of Creekside Chapel in Allegany, New York, said that she sensed God wants to do “something gloriously radical in our churches and He wants us to embrace our Free Methodist history and our Free Methodist beliefs and doctrine and theology.”
As the summit closed, Co-Coordinator and Greenville FMC Prayer and Counseling Pastor Margie Newton prayed, “May we go from this place in that confidence of the freedom that has been declared and proclaimed as we’ve met together, as your Spirit has witnessed in our spirits, Lord, of who we are as your children empowered by your presence. Lord, may we not shrink away, but may we continue to lean into You, into Your Word, the truths of Your Word.”