As a pastor and church growth consultant, the first words I hear out of people's mouths when I come to a church are "what can we do to grow?" or How do I solve this particular problem or conflict?" I always reply, "Pray more!" Then, I almost always see a disappointed look, as if they were looking for something more propound and meaningful to come from me. But, there is nothing more profound or meaningful than prayer (outside our salvation in Christ of course)! There is nothing more significant or momentous a pastor or church can do on their part than to be more centered on Christ. And, we do this best when we are in communication with Him, so we can be healthy and growing. Prayer is the ultimate change agent God uses to impact us with His Spirit and Truth! Then, we can be impacting upon others with synergy.
I was praying with another pastor over my meal in a restaurant a few years ago when another fellow pastor come up to us and said he felt it was out of place for us to do that. I felt puzzled and asked him what he meant; "he could not have meant prayer," I thought. Then he went on to say how he felt insecure to pray for his meal in restaurants or any public place, so he does not, even with church members. He went on to say that he feels prayer is a private matter and should never be forced or exhibited. I asked him (as my fettuccini started to get cold) what he meant by "forced." He replied, "By our example." "You mean by saying grace?" I asked. I then rewarded his retort, saying, you are telling me as a pastor we should not ever pray in public? He said, "Yes!" "Wow," I said. "I feel for you!" After a few moments of awkward silence I asked, "How is your church doing?" "Not so well." he said. "Why?" I asked. "I can't get people to serve on committees or give financially, and the attendance has been dropping." He went on to say, "there are few people to draw from and most do not feel it is their role to participate in leadership of volunteering." I then asked him how he models prayer to his congregation. He replied, "I feel, as I have said, that prayer is a private matter. Again, we have prayers in the service and a part of our liturgy, but that is all that is needed or done." I looked at my cold fettuccini and asked him if he felt there was a correlation between his personal and his church's prayer life and the spiritual activity in his church." He said he was not sure and did not think this could be so. A few years later he was retired, and that church was closed. I will never forget my cold fettuccini-I mean the apathy of that pastor thinking prayer was inappropriate or not needed!
That conversation started my venture into researching prayer trends for a former seminary professor of mine as well as my research for Into Thy Word and the Fuller Institute, then the Schaeffer Institute and my personal practice of prayer. I was seeking how prayer can impact churches. This then launched several books on that subject that I did the principle research for. After nearly 20 years since that first research was performed, I now realize even more that prayer in churches is one of the most crucial avenues for a healthy church to grow and be happy, productive, and give glory to Christ. As prayer, hospitality, and solid Bible teaching are the three legs that hold up the church and give it the strong starting point and room for the Spirit to work and the Word to be proclaimed. This enables real effectual church growth; the people will feel at home and then be fed and then the community will be reached! Christ's call for His Church!
But, even with all the books, research, and movements on prayer-especially here in Pasadena, California, the hub of it all-I am amazed how little prayer is a part of American churches today. This saddens me greatly! This has even been a problem in my church. After prayer had been a very vital factor at the church in which I serve, it seemed to take a break or a backseat for a few years, only to resurface after several crises in the last two years. Now that prayer is back in vogue and in reality, I have seen significant health return to a church that was headed for failure. Prayer and its practice turned my church around. But, the sad fact is we should have never have let prayer become a second thought. It should always been first, front and centered, so we would be centered on Christ as LORD!
Prayer is the big aspect that is missing from the pastor's arsenal. Prayer is lacking in a big way from the hearts, minds, and studies of our nation's pastors! Many think prayer is neither important nor a part of their job description. Many churches may want a praying pastor, but they add so much onto his plate, there is no room for it. Thus, we must realize and put into practice that prayer is the first line of defense and first responsibility of the pastor! Too many pastors feel they will lose their intellectual respect in the eyes of their peers and community if they are known as men of prayer! So what! We should not give attention to what others who are not spiritually mature think as long as our integrity and devotions and love for them are intact! Our peers and community are not the ones we are to worship, honor, or serve, and they certainly are not the ones who will judge us or hold us accountable! Remember Augustine's call of "self watch." This is being aware of what distracts and motivates us that do not come from God as well as what is best for us. Knowing our weaknesses will help us be on guard and then convey to people we trust to keep us accountable. This is essential. This will keep us from making mistakes and will keep the focus on the right track--God's track.
Our effectiveness as a pastor and the foundation that holds us up is prayer. The ministry starts and rests on the spiritual condition of the leaders, their devotion to Christ, and what flows from that devotion. For ministry to be blessed and effective, we must be in healthy relationships with our Lord and with one another in communication and accountability. We must not be independent to ourselves, but dependent on our Lord Jesus Christ and to one another. Christianity is not a solo sport or a spectator sport; it is a team, a community party where we are together as one body and one force for one Kingdom!
If our schedule is too busy for prayer, how can we-especially pastors-be effective for His service? Remember, we cannot do the work of our Lord unless we are the people of our Lord. Our focus and concern must start with our spiritual condition-with our relationship with Christ. Before we can effectively minister to others, we must be growing. To begin to grow, we must fall on our knees. If this is not true of you and you are a pastor, quit and find yourself another job! Get right with God and then come back if called to do so.
The pastor cannot have an effective ministry unless prayer is the focal point! We cannot meet the approval of God without prayer! How can we receive His blessings when we leave God out of the loop? If we never bother with God ourselves, then how can we serve Him and lead others in His direction?
How we relate with others is a reflection of our relationship with God, regardless of if we are a leader, a new Christian, or a pew sitter. So, if we have a poor relationship with God, then our human, interpersonal relations will be diminished as well as shallow. When our relationship with our Lord is growing and built on prayer, then our relationships with one another will flourish too. This is a must for the Christian, essential for the leader, and extremely imperative for the pastor. Without this view of prayer, the Christian will be ineffective in his walk and castrated from being effectively used to further the Kingdom because God is out of the picture. Yes, He is sovereign, but throughout history God uses all kinds of people from all walks of life. To be our best, which we are called to do, and be of best use, which is imperative to the leader, we must be in prayer! Sovereignty is never an excuse to sit and do nothing, thinking God is in charge, and if He wills, it will be done. This is the ultimate slap in the face of our Lord, and is, in fact, denying His sovereignty, because we are denying our part in His call and plan!
The Pastor's Prayer Approach
Here is a plan for prayer for a pastor. When I have made this a priority my ministry has flourished; when I forget or place it on the back burner, I am stressed and inefficient and ineffective! We must see prayer as the real, hard work of our ministry that unleashes the power of God in us and through us unto others. We must take a "three-prong" attack position to guard and activate the pastor.
·Prayer Attack 1: The pastor's daily prayer and devotional life must be rich and growing. We must make prayer a priority. Rearrange schedules, make the time, have others you trust keep you accountable, do what it takes to be in prayer and do so with joy, gratitude, and sincerity. Embrace and apply the other disciplines of the Christian faith and life such as fasting and mediation. Yes, there are dry spells, but the effort must be there as well as the passion. Our communication with our Lord Jesus Christ is based on the giving of everything and ourselves, because we see that he has first done so to us. We serve Him. He is our Lord, and we need to live, work, and respond accordingly. So, if the pastor is writing a sermon, he or she must pray before doing the research and writing, during the writing, and even while giving it. And this template applies to all we say and do.
·Prayer Attack 2: Establish lay prayer teams. Their primary task is to keep the pastor in prayer on a continual daily basis and meet at least once a week as a team. Again, not popcorn prayers but surrendered, deep pursuits before our holy God.
·Attack 3: Have teams pray for specific ministries in which the pastor is involved, as we already discussed. I encourage you to have different prayer teams so not just the same people are doing it and perhaps becoming burned out.
We are facing a war, all out attacks, conflicts, and the spread of malicious diseases coming to outflank us, many from our own church. We will lose because we are too busy fighting the good fight. Do not allow the church to put so many demands on you that you can not do what is important. Sit down with your elders and key people and explain to them what is most important in a powerful ministry and that you need their help to do it. Teach them that prayer is the highest call and duty and you need their prayers and partnership to make this work. If we are too busy or feel it is not important or are embarrassed, then Satan and manipulative people with skewed agendas will run you over and out. We must have the upper hand and the higher ground for a strong defense and offense. And, that means to be in His Word, be guided by the Holy Spirit, and be in effectual and continual prayer. We need to have vitality in our ministry and not aridness. What we need is Christ; what Christ wants is us.
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. Colossians 2:6-7
Prayer is something you do not take breaks from, as you do not take breaks from oxygen, food, and water. Prayer is our lifeline and nutrient center in which we can grow and flourish. If we become thoughtless and careless with our prayer life, we will be careless and thoughtless to those around us. Our spiritual priorities are our life priorities. Do not neglect your prayer just as our Lord does not neglect us. And, make sure your communication with Him is two-way; be a listener too. Let us go before His presence, with the aspects we talked about, with confidence and the authority He gives us. Then, we can be the people of His work and will, and with gratitude and praise.
Never leave your house to be in God's house without feeding your soul!
Remember: Amen is not the end or the close of a prayer; it rather means "so be it," that we apply it to our life and not just say it. Amen is not an end to what we do and say, but our beginning to apply God's truth to our lives with vigilance.
"Real ministry is made in the closet of prayer." E. M. Bounds
© 1987, 1998, 2007, Richard J. Krejcir, Ph.D. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership, www.churchleadership.org