In this series, I’m considering some things that I’ve learned while pastoring over the last 15 years. You can check out the first lesson and a series introduction here:
In this post, we’ll consider Lesson #2: One of the most important things you can do for your congregation is to pray for them regularly and let them know that you’re praying for them.
Prayer and engagement with scripture are the two foundational spiritual disciplines, and they’re the foundation of pastoral ministry as well. In Acts 6, the Twelve responded to a congregational problem by delegating a specific responsibility to seven men chosen by the church, so that they, as the pastoral leaders, could devote adequate time to the word and prayer. One of my favorite verses on this subject is 1 Samuel 12:23 where Samuel tells the people: “Far be it from be that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way” (ESV).
Prayer… it’s that important.
A few years ago I wrote about the method that I have chosen in order to pray for those in my church, and I’ll detail it again in brief here. Not including Sundays, I typically have four days each week with time in the office. In my office prayer journal, I keep a monthly calendar that divides the households of the church into 16 days (4 days times 4 weeks). So, each day in the office, I typically pray by name for 4 to 5 households.
Then, I have my list divided into thirds. Every three months I send a hand-written card to each household letting them know that I prayed for them, encouraging them with a verse from scripture, and providing a prayer request slip they can return to me. Each family/household receives four of these cards during the year.
On the front of my prayer journal is written the line, “Pray specific prayers.” This is where those return slips are important. I already know certain prayer needs from knowing and visiting those involved with the church; but the slips give people opportunity to share specific needs that may not be publicly known. (There’s also an area on each slip that can be checked indicating whether or not the person would like their request to remain private with me, or shared on the church’s prayer list.)
But, we know human nature—not everyone is going to provide specific prayer requests. You can even ask them face-to-face and receive back only general answers. This is why I wrote that line on the front of my journal. Too often I found myself going the lazy route in response to the lack of requests: “Lord, I don’t know what they specifically need prayed for, but you know their hearts.”
That notion was challenged by a Sunday night study we did once by D. A. Carson called Praying with Paul. Carson scours through the congregational prayers in Paul’s letters. These are prayers typically about spiritual growth, knowing God more deeply, fighting for purity, remaining steadfast, having a faith that encourages others, etc.
Now, each month I choose a section of scripture and list three or four items to pray for those involved in the church. This means that even if a person is unwilling to share requests, I still have specific things to regularly pray about their faith and spiritual growth.
Obviously, I don’t have empirical evidence to support this, only what I’ve experienced, but I believe that letting the church know that I pray for them regularly has helped enhance my relationship with the congregation and the unity they experience with each other. Honestly, I still don’t think that I pray as much as I should. I have been trying to devote more time to prayer throughout my week. However, prayer is a powerful part of the life of the church and the spiritual warfare in which we’re involved. I have little doubt that spiritually healthy churches have pastors who make prayer a priority.
Pray for your church regularly, pastors. Pray specific prayers, pray the scriptures, and let your church families know that you are praying for them.