It is easy to forget and neglect the main thing—it happens all the time. Sometimes it results in tragedy.
Drivers should drive and not text. Train engineers should remain awake and not fall asleep. Babysitters should watch children and not TV. And elders should be men of prayer.
Even a casual reading of Scripture clearly demonstrates the place prayer is to play in a leader’s life. Consider:
Samuel the prophet
• He told the Jewish people, “Far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you” (1 Samuel 12:23).
• He began his ministry by praying and fasting for 40 days (Matthew 4).
• His morning routine was to go off by himself to pray, even when people were waiting for him (Mark 1).
• He spent all night in prayer before choosing his 12 disciples (Luke 6).
• He taught the disciples to pray (Matthew 6).
• He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane before his crucifixion (Matthew 26).
Peter and the apostles in Acts
• They held a 10-day prayer meeting before Pentecost (Acts 1).
• They established the pattern that the church is to be “devoted to prayer” (Acts 2).
• They modeled the first prayer meeting (Acts 4).
• They identified prayer as one of their two major focuses . . . even over other good things (Acts 6).
• They led a church that was “earnestly praying” (Acts 12).
• He told churches and individuals that he prayed regularly for them (see Ephesians 1:16 as one example).
• He began nearly every letter as a prayer note, which he then developed into teaching (see Ephesians 1, Philippians 1, and Colossians 1 as examples).
• His first missionary journey was birthed out of a leader’s prayer gathering (Acts 13).
• He asked the congregation to call for elders “to come and pray over you” (James 5:14).
Based on all of this, we do well to conclude that prayer is leadership.
But leading our churches by being men of prayer is not easy. Instead, the expectations of God are easily lost to the expectations of men. The way of the Western church is not normally built around prayer. Oh, we may speak about the importance of prayer, but it seldom becomes our actual practice. In the Western church, prayer is too often symbolic; it is spoken of in sacred terms, maybe even “formally incorporated” into a worship service, but does not become part of our DNA, or the DNA of our elders and ministers.
No, the things that consume the physical and emotional energy of a leader may well be meetings, activities, decisions, budgets, church management, hirings, firings, crisis counseling, and making sure someone turns out the lights at the end of the day. Other things besides prayer—lesser things—clamor for our attention.
Prayer is a quiet, nondemanding thing. Seldom does prayer corner you in the foyer after a service and demand that you “do something about the music or the youth or the preacher or the parking lot or the nursery situation” or [fill in the blank]. Someone or something will keep your life active as an elder, but it may not always be prayer. If we are to be people of prayer, we will need to be the ones who pursue it.
What You Can Do
So what can you do to become better at prayer? There are three simple actions you can take.
1. Set aside a portion of each day to pray for the families in your church. It takes no “act of Congress,” it requires no group permission, it costs no money; it simply requires the courage to start praying.
2. Study the prayers of Scripture. My prayer life changed when I first studied, and then memorized, the prayers Paul recorded in his letters. (Paul begins every letter, except Galatians, with a prayer.) Some of the most complete prayers are found in Ephesians 1 and 3, Philippians 1, Colossians 1, and Philemon. Paul’s prayers helped me better understand what I should be praying for as I prayed for people. Studying prayer changed how I prayed.
3. Copy Paul’s pattern of writing to the people you have prayed for. Paul not only prayed for people, he also wrote notes (we call them New Testament letters or epistles) to some of them telling them he was praying and explaining what he was asking of God. There is a great deal of encouragement in receiving that kind of letter. Picture a humble leader who writes a simple, unpretentious note that begins, “I had a privilege today. I got to spend some time in prayer for you and your family. I didn’t know exactly what to pray for, but I borrowed a little bit from Paul’s prayer to the Colossians (1:9-14) and here are a couple of things I prayed. . . .” It is one of the kindest things a shepherd can do for his people.
Every elder is leaving a spiritual legacy. May your legacy be this: “He was a man of prayer.”
Randy Gariss serves as preaching minister with College Heights Christian Church, Joplin, Missouri.