Tapping into the real power behind pastoral ministry

Jack Sharp/Unsplash

There are many ways to fail as a pastor. In the last few years alone, we’ve witnessed moral failure, theological error, and cultural accommodation destroy the ministries of men like us. However, one insidious failure that is often overlooked is prayerlessness.

While most pastors are good at remaining vigilant against temptation and guarding their theology, many frequently neglect prayer. A recent Lifeway Research study found that nearly 75% of pastors say they need to invest more time to become consistent in prayer.

The New Testament, however, knows nothing of prayerless spiritual leaders. Consider that Jesus prayed for His disciples and all those who would be joined to Him by faith (John 17:17–21). In the early days of the church, the apostles refused to allow worthwhile ministry needs to shift their focus from “prayer and the ministry of the Word” (Acts 6:4). Paul told the Romans that he “unceasingly” mentioned them in his prayers (Romans 1:9-10), as he did the Ephesians (Ephesians 1:16) and Philippians (Philippians 1:3–4).

Jesus and the apostles consistently express their dependence on the work of God to build the church through prayer. Derek Prime and Alistair Begg argue in their book, On Being a Pastor: Understanding Our Calling and Work, that prayer is the “principal and main work” of pastoral ministry since it is the first way we exercise care for our people and the foundation of an effective teaching ministry.

Brothers, when we can do ministry without prayer, we are in dangerous territory, unanchored to our biblical calling, guilty of prideful self-sufficiency, and on the way toward a fall. But God is gracious in forgiving us of our prayerlessness and gives us a guide for prayer in His Word.

I have found the following prayers from Paul’s letters particularly helpful in cultivating humility and dependence on God for my ministry. Each prayer challenges the belief at the root of prayerlessness—namely, that I can fulfill my calling without God’s help.

We should pray for unity among our people (Romans 15:5-6) 

Because conflict is a normal part of church life, many pastors have grown adept at navigating it with careful and loving leadership. However, the unity that glorifies God is a work of His Spirit (Ephesians 4:3). Therefore, we should pray for God’s blessing of unity and harmony among our people.

We should pray that our people would have insight into spiritual truth (Ephesians 1:15–20) 

While we should never neglect the faithful preaching and teaching of God’s Word to His people, we know their spiritual insight must come from the illuminating work of God’s Spirit. As we prepare our sermons and lessons, we should pray that our people receive spiritual benefit from what they hear and ask God to bless their personal time spent in the Word.

We should pray for the sanctification and perseverance of our people (Colossians 1:9–14)

Though we’d like to think our sermons are weighty enough to equip our people for faithfulness throughout the week and that our advice can give them victory over sin, we are poor replacements for the Holy Spirit, whose work is to sanctify them. We should ask the Spirit to continue the good work He began in them and strengthen them to live godly and fruitful lives.

We should pray that God would glorify Himself through our people (2 Thessalonians 1:11–12)

God has entrusted the people in our churches to us for a season, but we should never forget they belong to Him. Their lives, therefore, are not merely reflections of our ministries but of the God who saved them by His grace. We should pray that God works in them to glorify the name of Jesus.

We should thank God for our people (Philippians 1:2–7; 1 Thessalonians 1:1–3)

Finally, as we lift our people up to the Lord in prayer, we should consistently thank Him for the privilege of shepherding them and for their partnership in the gospel. Our church members are created by God, redeemed by Jesus, and indwelt by the Spirit. Every conversation and interaction we have with them is a gift!

None of us is as consistent in prayer as he would like, but we owe it to ourselves, our people, and to God to persist and grow in this essential task. The fruitfulness of our ministries depends on it. Let us, therefore, recover the biblical and historical commitment to pray for the people we lead, and let’s watch as God hears our prayers and answers them for His glory.

Senior Pastor
Brad Mills
Central Baptist Church, Luling
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