Monday, February 15, 2016

Forerunner Christian Fellowship, Kansas City, Missouri (plus bonus church!)

"Pray without ceasing." That's what the Apostle Paul wrote; you can look it up (1 Thessalonians 5:17). But dude, when do you sleep?

I've heard plenty of explanations through the years about how we should live out this verse: "Don't take it literally," "Live in an attitude of prayer," "Don't sleep anymore," etc.

Valentines day at FCF
But I've been thinking about this idea in a different way this week. Paul wrote his letter to the whole church in Thessalonica, not to an individual. Can a church pray without ceasing? In Kansas City, MO (where everything is up to date), they've found a way. In September of 1999, the International House of Prayer was founded with a 24 hour prayer room. Whether you arrive at 4:00 pm or 4:00 am, you'll find a worship band (or at least a worship leader playing a keyboard) leading a song and people will be on their knees.

24/7 prayer room
Mindy and I took several opportunities to visit the prayer room. One morning the focus of prayer was the persecuted church around the world. Various people came forward and read Scripture (such Matthew 5:11 & 12), then offered prayer for oppressed believers in Iraq or Iran or for Syrian refugees. Words from the Scripture and the prayer were offered up as a song by the worship team (usually several vocalists, a keyboard player, a couple of guitars, and a drummer). They refer to this style of worship as "Harp and Bowl" (a name drawn from Revelation 5:8, where heavenly creatures worship musically with harps and bowls of incense, which symbolize the prayers of the saints).

prayer in Mandarin
There are other specialized prayer rooms that don't run 24 hours a day. There is a youth room (primarily with high school aged students) that gathers several times a week. There is also an All Nations Prayer Room, where worship in different languages is scheduled at different hours during the week. We attended a time of worship in Chinese (Mandarin, I believe, but I really wouldn't know). Though I didn't understand the lyrics, there was a beauty to the songs that we found conducive to worship and prayer. It was a nice foretaste of Revelation 7:9 when people of every nation and language worship the Lord.

While in Kansas City, we stayed with Kathi, a seminary friend who works at IHOPKC*. Her son plays a variety of instruments and works the soundboard for several different language sessions in the All Nations Prayer Room. As Kathi said, "Musicians have their own language."

The House of Prayer came first, but soon other organizations were formed. International House of Prayer University is a non-accredited college that provides training in ministry, missions, media, and music. I was interested to learn that training in keyboard is a requirement in music school, as a fundamental goal is the training of worship leaders.

Another organization that was formed after the beginnings of IHOPKC was a church. Forerunner Christian Fellowship (FCF) was formed to support the ministry of the Prayer Rooms and the University. Initially, students of the University and interns and staff for the Prayer Rooms were expected to attend other local churches, but were not doing so, so the church was established to provide for the pastoral needs of staff and students. IHOPKC does not require attendance of FHC, so a number of IHOPKC staff and students do attend other churches, and a number of people not on staff with IHOPKC attend FCF.

worship team
When we attended Sunday morning worship at FCF, we were not surprised to see a number of faces we recognized from the prayer room. Walking around before the service, I visited a book store which also had some snacks for sale. I also noticed the sign-in station for children brought in by their parents.

There was a sign for Friendship Groups. Larry was one of three manning the station. (Well, the other two "manning" the station were women, but...) I asked Larry how long the Friendship Group ministry had been a part of the ministry and he told me "two or three years." (Subsequent research indicated that the groups have been around for at least five years, but about three years ago, IHOPKC worked hard to get everybody involved in a group.) He said that with such a large congregation, there was a real need for small groups to meet individual needs. He said that for most groups the focus was on fellowship and outreach, since worship and teaching needs were met in other ways and places.

The service began, and after a time of singing and praise, Mike Bickle came up to teach. Bickle is the founder of IHOPKC and the teaching pastor of FCF. Since it was Valentine's Day, the focus of the message was on relationships. I greatly appreciated that Bickle made it clear at the beginning that the principles he was discussing were not just for marriage or romantic relationships but applied also to family relationships and friendships. Too often sermons about "love" exclude everyone but husbands and wives.

countdown clock
I also appreciated the way he dealt with another delicate issue. He quoted Proverbs 21:19, "Better to dwell in the wilderness than with a contentious and angry woman." There are a number of verses from Proverbs that speak about women in a similar fashion, and on the surface there seems to be a sexism that rankles the modern ear. But Bickle pointed out that there are also a number of Proverbs that chide men for immorality. He noted that there are plenty of men who are naggers and women who are immoral, but we have to understand that the Proverbs were written by Solomon who had hundreds of wives and concubines. His personal experience seems to shade the passage.

For the final part of the message, Bickle was joined by his wife, Diane. They spoke together about their struggles to maintain a good relationship through their 38 years of marriage. (I was impressed by his commitment to spend three hours a day, three days a week, with his sons during a twelve year period; certainly a case of action speaking louder than words.)

welcome center
We enjoyed our time at FCF. And we appreciate knowing that the worship in the Prayer Room abides, 24/7.

Service Length: 1 hour 54 minutes
Sermon Length: 50 minutes
Visitor Treatment: The welcome center was visible as soon as we walked into the worship space at FCF, and material about the church and IHOPKC was available at the entrance to the prayer room as well (there are different campuses for IHOPU, the 24/7 prayer room, and FCF). During the brief greeting time, the couple sitting next to us introduced themselves. It was a little more challenging than usual for us to get a visitor's card to fill out (we were on the bleachers at the back of the room, in a section with several families who seemed to be regular attenders). Once the service was over, as instructed, we turned the card in at the welcome center and received the "out-of-town visitor" packet, which included information about IHOPKC and a worship CD.
Followup by Tuesday Morning: none
Our Rough Count: 1,800
Probable Ushers' Count: 1,800
Musicians: keyboard (male), bass (male), acoustic guitar (male), drums (male), vocal (male), vocal (two female)
Songs: "Great are You, Lord"
"Breathing the breath"
"Did you feel the mountains tremble"
"You shine"
"Almighty God"
several other songs after the sermon
Miles to church: 6 miles
Miles from start: 5,868
Total 2016 Miles: 5,823

Church website:

all nations prayer room sign
*Like many large organizations, IHOPKC has encountered its share of controversy, so I'll address two such issues here. You might have noted that the acronym for the International House of Prayer works out the same as a certain pancake chain. There was a lawsuit threatened, and so in official materials the International House of Prayer adds the initials of Kansas City - IHOPKC rather than IHOP.

More recently in the news, the Ted Cruz Presidential campaign touted Mike Bickle's endorsement of his candidacy. Bickle had expressed support for Cruz, but not in his capacity as a pastor of FCF or leader of IHOPKC. As a result, a cable news network used statements of Bickle's taken out of context to make him sound anti-Semitic. But even in our short time here, we observed Bickle's love and concern for Israel and the Jewish people.

Over the last year we have observed pastors make remarks in support of both Republican and Democrat politicians and policies. It's something I try to avoid for myself, but on the other hand the Old Testament prophets didn't shy away from talking about Kings and Nations. I'm just glad God is the one in charge and not me.

redeemer at night
Bonus Church!
Redeemer Fellowship, Kansas City, Missouri

When we were at the Tank Room on Thursday night, we were invited to visit Redeemer Fellowship in Kansas City. We went to the 7:00 pm service on Sunday night, and we were glad we did. Thanks Matt, Erin, Kiki, Kyle, Calvin, Colby, and Scott!

Service Length: 1 hour 29 minutes
Sermon Length: 44 minutes
Visitor Treatment: We were greeted numerous times as we entered. A member of the team from the information area came to chat with Dean, and Mindy went to the information area, where Kiki was very helpful and gave us a visitors' card and a packet of information about the church. We filled out the card and dropped it into the offering plate as instructed. 
Followup by Tuesday Morning: none
Our Rough Count: 190
Probable Ushers' Count: 215
Snacks: coffee, hot water for tea, ice water
Musicians: acoustic guitar (male), electric guitar (male), drums (male), vocal (female), bass (male)
Songs: "The Lord is king"
"By Thy mercy"
"I am one of those"
"God alone"
"As a beggar, I come to Thee"
"Let Your kingdom come"
Miles to church: 16
Miles from start: 5,884
Total 2016 Miles:5,839

feeling welcomed at Redeemer