Prayerless Pastors: Part One

At the heart of Christian ministry is the proclamation of the Word to the glory of the Triune God. This might take place in many forms and on many fronts. However, there is a danger lurking in the recesses of many Word-driven ministries. It appears that prayer has been relegated to a lesser role if any at all. Is it possible that there are many well-meaning churches who might offer polished expository sermons, tight musical productions, meaningful programs and yet have no place in their corporate worship whereby people are exhorted to and/or led in prayer? Such churches are often led by prayerless pastors.

It’s not enough to have good preaching. Biblical preaching must be married to biblical prayer. Likewise, biblical counseling must walk hand-in-hand with fervent God-soaked prayer. I affirm and cherish the urgent calls to biblically reform our concepts of preaching, counseling, worship, marriage, and family in our day. However, it will all prove vain if we seek to bring about change without calling upon the name of the Lord or if we treat prayer as some illegitimate time-filler. Whatever our ministries are known for, if prayer is absent, so is God.

I am assuming a couple of things in writing this: 1) we all wished we truly prayed without ceasing and 2) we all wished we were more focused in our understanding and practice of prayer. It is impossible for us to pray too much. In fact, I have never known anyone who struggled with praying too much or too often. I am also assuming that we can agree on a very basic definition of prayer as exemplified by Scripture. Prayer is our presenting to God our praise, adoration, confession of sin, thankfulness, petitions, and supplication. It might include other ingredients but it is at the very least characterized by these attributes. How should we then go about reforming prayer in ministry? I want to suggest three areas, where we can all make strides to reform the nature and nurture of prayer in the ministries that God has given to each of us. This post is not the last word but just a gentle nudge to get us thinking about prayer as it relates to Christian ministry and to reform its practice.

#1 It is rooted in the study

There is nothing about ministerial study that comes natural. It is time-consuming, exhausting, and intense labor. If it were natural we would not have to pray for it (Ps. 119:18, 34) or labor long with it (2 Tim. 2:15). The fact is the sovereign God of creation gives us spiritual sight that allows us to behold the excellencies of His Word through Divine enablement and fervent study. If God didn’t grant us understanding we would never comprehend anything about His creation, His plan of redemption or ourselves (cf. 1 Cor. 2:14). When we are alone before the pages of God-breathed Scripture, we should constantly be crying out for God to give us understanding. The study of the Word is to be a marriage partnership between exegesis and faithful prayer.

Many ministers get side-tracked with the mundane when prayer and study is needed most. It is easy for us to get bogged down in seemingly good ministerial endeavors, all to the neglect of prayer and consistent study. I know this is true because my phone rings often (at home and office) and there is always something that seems like it needs my attention “right now.” There are always letters to write and emails to answer but nothing deserves my attention more than the Triune God. There is an enormous temptation in ministry to become enraptured with the mundane. However, everything we have to give in ministry must spring from the well of God’s Word. Ministers of the Word must heed the axiom that we cannot meet with others unless we meet with God first. We must first pay attention to our own souls before we give care to the souls of others. Therefore we must pay close attention to the work of the Word and private study. Reforming prayer in ministry begins by sharpening our communion with God and this does not exist apart from the ardent study of scriptural labor.

However a warning is necessary, this should not be read as an excuse to hide out in our church study away from God’s people. I know some ministers that never make it out of the cave of exegesis to see real people in their own congregations. Some ministers of the Word become detached preaching units, separated from the rest of church life. For those who stand faithfully behind a pulpit each Sunday, it is a needed reminder that God has not only called you to be a preacher/teacher but a pastor (cf. Eph.4:11; 1 Pet. 1:1-3). I believe that the preaching of the Word is the backbone of a sound church. Those entrusted with such responsibility should labor hard and beat upon the text until the nourishment of the Word flows out and into the congregation. But, to shepherd the flock of God means much more than delivering one or two sermons a week, it is an imparting of your life to theirs.

Reforming prayer in ministry begins in the most intimate circle of life: our relationship with God. One may be highly skilled in expository preaching or nouthetic counseling but without prayer both are man-centered efforts. A reformed prayer life begins with an ever increasing hunger for and study of the Word. As the study of Scripture takes hold of our life, the Spirit of God convicts, refines, and reshapes our understanding of the ways of God. This in turn should change the way we pray. Our study should yield an understanding of the Creator that drives us to see everything as dependent on Him. Therefore we respond to this truth by constantly making known our praises, dependence, needs, and petitions so that everything we set-out to do in ministry becomes touched by prayer. Our study is not only a seat before His book it is also a seat before His throne where we constantly cry out, “Open our eyes so that we may behold wonderful things from Thy law.”

To be continued. . .

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Paul thanks for the encouragement. It was very convicting. I spent the morning in prayer b/c of your encouragement.

  2. Posted by Kevin McAteer on November 7, 2006 at 5:48 pm

    So true, Paul. I might add that not only is it more praying, but more Biblical praying, that is needed. I am leading a study through selected prayers of the NT and it is amazing to see the emphasis on spiritual, eternal, fruit-bearing issues. What a contrast to praying exclusively for physical issues that normally dominates the “prayer” time of a church group. Oh that we would pray Biblically!

  3. […] This is a short series on the need to reform prayer in ministry. Part One can be found here. In the final post we will examine some of the more practical features of ministerial prayer life. This is not meant to be a scholarly treatment of the subject but a few scattered thoughts I have been sitting on for a long time.  […]

  4. Thanks for the encouragement Paul.

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