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Don’t Pray Like That!


I sat at my desk. It was covered with piles of receipts not so neatly organized by typical missions categories — you know; food, transportation, medical, construction….. I was in the process of wrapping up my least favorite job as team leader -- finances. Our annual family missions trip was complete and, as you can imagine, I was bit delirious when my phone rang. On the other end of the line was a concerned mom whose teenage daughter had just arrived home from her first mission trip to the border. Her voice shook as she shared that her daughter felt traumatized by some of the trip experiences. My mind reeled as I reflected on the week. Her daughter was a sweet, thoughtful member of our 120 person team serving on the Mexican border and I had no memory of hearing she experienced any difficulties. I just had pictures of her playing with kids, working at the food pantry and laughing with friends…


So, I swallowed and asked…. “What happened?”


She began to explain that during the trip her daughter had a sore throat and one of the adult team leaders asked if she could pray for her and apply essential oils to help alleviate the discomfort. She went on to tell me that the woman prayed loudly and spoke in tongues, which made her daughter fearful and uncomfortable. As a result, she continued, her daughter no longer wanted to participate in missions.


I get it! I am a quiet, introvert and my prayer life reflects that. I, too, get overwhelmed when prayer, well really anything, gets too loud or wild - haha. BUT……. Just because something makes us uncomfortable or feel awkward doesn’t mean it’s wrong or evil. I’m pretty sure that would not have been a helpful response… So I simply listened and took the matter to our missions leadership for discussion.


These types of dilemmas are not uncommon in missions. Team leaders often feel the strain when some leaders feel boxed in or stifled when unable to pray openly in tongues, while others express frustration that they are unable to connect with God in a “wild” worship environment. So how do we, as missions leaders, help our team members understand that prayer is central to mission and can and should be expressed in different ways? How do we avoid the divisiveness of statements like…


“You seem dead when you pray.”


“Why aren’t you praying like you believe?”


“You can’t pray like that here.”


“You need to tone it down a bit.”


“You just need to relax and allow the spirit to move you.”


“You just aren’t there yet.”


“You are just too emotional.”


Recently, I was taking a class taught by a woman who has a passion for understanding church history and disciplines of the faith.  She introduced us to the idea that there are 4 different ways we connect with God. My mind was blown!


Finally what I had always known to be true had words (and a chart) for me to grab onto. Let me give you a brief rundown… For more information check out this blog/podcast and/or this website


  • Kataphatic - This is a Greek word meaning ‘with form or images’ (art) and it emphasizes the communication and relationship they can have with God through creation – something you can grab ahold of or grasp.

  • Apophatic - This comes from the Greek word meaning “to say no to” or  ‘without form, images, material things’, and focuses on the fact that God is both separate and different to his creation. It is also known as the ‘prayer of the heart’. It is a prayer of love in which no words are necessary. It would be similar to a parent lovingly watching their child play, or two lovers gazing in silence at each other.

  • Speculative -  Relate to God through the mind. They feed on ideas and like to make charts to explain these ideas. They find great joy in understanding how things work.

  • Affective - Moved by the heart or emotion (music). They have a need to experience God



Most of us are a combination of an approach (Kataphatic or Apophatic) and a focus (Speculative or Affective). Scholars call this combination an Attrait. An Attrait is like a spiritual personality type or approach to God.  


Kataphatic - Affectives (K - A)

Just as some people need faith to make intellectual sense, so others need to feel it – to have the emotional experience of God’s presence, to know in the manner of the heart and not the head. The K-A will frequently self-identify as a charismatic. They simply have a heart of abandoned worship like we see in King David when he brings the Ark of the Covenant home. They tend to oscillate emotionally with high highs and low lows. They prefer to give a physical expression of what God is doing internally (typically artistic expression). They are passionate and need a spiritual director or mentor as an anchor (make sure the passion is for the Lord and not just excitement or going with the mood of the room).


Apophatic Affectives (A - A)

This is a mystical spirituality (quiet and experiential) that emphasizes the mystery of faith and the ultimate un-knowability of God.  Emphasizes that our thoughts about God are always pale and imperfect reflections of his being as he is “wholly other”, unnameable, beyond our comprehension and containment.  Emphasizes hearing from God over speaking to him. Goal of spirituality is understood as union with God. A good example of an A - A is Saint Teresa of Avila or Thomas Merton who both spent their lives in contemplative prayer and writing books and talking with others about such life of prayer as mystical union with God.


Apophatic - Speculative (A - S)

Mystical experience coupled with an intellectual mode of gathering data. This type enjoys Benedictine practices such as a silent retreat with a good book. They are typically an active visionary and are single-minded with a deeply focused, almost crusading, type of spirituality. They can often minimize importance (or value) of denominational affiliation (or even affiliation with organized religion).  Goal is simply to obey God and in so doing, transform society by contributing to the establishment of God’s Kingdom. These people equate prayer and theology with action. The A - S has a strong vision and ideals, but are not content to live with ideas – ideas always translate into action. They can be seen as stoic and overly structured and are typically monk or academic types.



Kataphatic - Speculative (K - S)

This is an intellectual “thinking” spirituality that believes strongly in the knowability of God. They favor the concrete (what it can see, touch and imagine) and mistrust mystery and minimize emotions.  This style produces theological reflection and precision in thinking and communication. People attracted to this form of spirituality tend to be rational and logical, valuing precision in their thinking and speech.

A good example of a K - S is the Apostle Paul or John Calvin. This individual will enjoy prayer in a cafe or place of refuge where they meditate/focus on an aspect of God or a thing. They are deeply moved by a “revealed truth” that can be comprehended.


Ok, so does your head hurt now? That is a lot of Greek and definitions. Have you decided who you and everyone in your family are? I’m thinking that I am an Apophatic - Speculative, which means I struggle with my opposite, the Kataphatic - Affectives or the charismatic. For those who know me well there is no revelation in these findings. Haha …


Understanding the different types is not intended to lock any of us into a box, but to better understand how people connect with God differently. It is my hope that as a team is on the mission field they can lay down spiritual word swords like “you just aren’t there yet” and give others room to seek God in a way that is meaningful for them.


Back to my original story…  How did our missions core leadership address this mother’s concerns?


  1. We designated essential oils as medication.  Which, for our church, means a minor’s parent must give permission before applying the oil just like Tylenol.

  2. We instituted missions prayer guidelines that were created by our church prayer team and agreed upon by all of the church leadership (from the charismatic to the crusader and from the mystic to the theologian). These prayer guidelines allowed freedom with boundaries for all our teams. Here is a sample of these guidelines.


…..And now that I have this tool, it is my hope that we can educate our teams on the Attriat and give space and grace to worship without judgement. Or maybe, even better, we can learn that we need each other’s giftedness to create the united Bride of Christ.






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