By David Roadcup
An elder’s job description includes numerous responsibilities. Teaching, managing, leading a small group, attending meetings, listening, and making decisions fill an elder’s time. Two of the most important responsibilities an elder can fulfill are in modeling a life of prayer and leading his church in a powerful, impacting, and continuing prayer experience.
Prayer is the greatest untapped source of power in the life of the church today. God calls his leaders to prayer. It is important that the church leadership team—paid staff and elders—be in constant contact with our Father.
In warfare, every military battlefield commander knows the importance of communicating with his leaders in the field. No marriage can be successful without quality communication. It is the life’s blood of a strong relationship. When it comes to elders and our heavenly Father, God expects his leadership team to communicate with him constantly. Too much is at stake for it to be otherwise: the salvation of lost souls, and the nurture and maturation of those who are part of our eternal family.
God desperately needs church leaders who understand this. They must be men of the Spirit, men of humility and supplication, leaders who are willing to grow in and through prayer so the church can be empowered by the Holy Spirit to fulfill its mission.
E.M. Bound made this point in his book Power Through Prayer:
What the church needs today is not more machinery or better, not new organizations or more and novel methods, but men whom the Holy Spirit can use—men of prayer, men mighty in prayer. The Holy Spirit does not flow through methods, but through men. He does not come on machinery, but on men. He does not anoint plans, but men—men of prayer. . . . The church is looking for better methods; God is looking for better men.
Here is the request: Will you, as a team, lead your church to new levels of impact through leading your church in a major, continuous prayer effort?
If the staff and elders do not lead this effort, it probably will never happen.
This must be done through two elements: (1) your personal prayer discipline and (2) finding ways to mobilize your church in prayer.
Develop the Discipline of Personal Prayer
An effective elder or paid staff member must first work to develop the prayer discipline in his own spiritual walk. Leadership requires prioritizing, personal discipline, scheduling, and focus. We all have multiple duties and important responsibilities. We must ask ourselves: Of all the important things I must accomplish today, which are the most important? We must find time for prayer in our daily schedules. It is absolutely critical! It could be early in the morning, before our family awakes, or maybe later in the day. Deciding on a time is key! If we do not plan on a time for meeting with our heavenly Father, it’s unlikely to occur.
I met with a church leader friend who was struggling with finding time to pray. He had started a new business. He had four very active small children who awoke at 6 a.m. each day. He usually did not get home from work until 6 or 7 p.m. He asked, “With this type of daily schedule, when do I meet with the Lord?”
I suggested he set his automatic coffeemaker for 4:45 a.m. and his alarm clock for 5 a.m. Upon waking, I suggested he immediately pour himself a strong cup of coffee (which can be a key ingredient to early morning prayer!) and take his Bible to his family room to meet with the Lord. He followed my advice. After just a week, he told me he was amazed at how his relationship with the Lord had been strengthened and changed.
Brothers, as primary leaders of the church, we must be men of prayer.
Mobilize the Church to Pray
Elders, together with paid staff, should lead their churches in prayer.
How can a church attain new levels of prayer? Here are some suggestions:
Elder meetings: Seek the Lord in prayer during the first 30 to 45 minutes of each scheduled meeting. I have often heard the chairman of the elders start a meeting by saying, “Let’s begin with a quick word of prayer and get to the business of the meeting.” We understand his concern to get the work done, but we need to recognize that prayer—deep, passionate, intense, effectual, fervent, heartfelt prayer—is the work of the elders.
In his excellent book Extreme Prayer, Greg Pruett points out that when we believe that God can move in our congregations in a truly amazing way, we understand that prayer is the work of leadership. Through prayer, we change our church and we touch the world! Pruett writes, “I began to learn not to pray about my strategies but to make prayer the strategy.”
I know of a church elder team that meets twice a month. The first gathering is a business meeting. The second is wholly spent in Bible study and prayer together. At that second meeting, they seek the Lord for their flock and the lost, the nurture of the saints, and other critical needs in the community and the mission field.
Prayer was a key part of leadership in the early church. The book of Acts contains many examples (see Acts 1:24; 2:42; 3:1; 4:24-31; 6:4; 6:6; and 8:15, among many others). Is there a lesson here that we sometimes miss?
Elder retreats: When elders plan an annual or biannual retreat, one of the main items on the docket should be several sessions of prayer. There are many meaningful, creative ways to spend time in prayer as a leadership team.
Morning worship: Our corporate worship times should include praise, the Lord’s Supper, and the Word of God. Prayer should also be a key part of our worship. The average hour-plus worship service devotes less than three minutes to prayer. We should rearrange the order of worship or lengthen the service to make sure that creative, powerful prayer has a prominent role.
Encouraging the church to pray: Encouraging prayer at all church gatherings is important. Our small groups, Bible classes, men’s and women’s ministry meetings, youth meetings, ministry team meetings . . . all church gatherings should include times of serious prayer. Asking the church to gather for special prayer times will also fortify our congregational life and ministry.
The largest American jet engine is the General Electric GE90 series found on the Boeing 777-300 aircraft. At 115,000 pounds of thrust and with a fan diameter of almost 11 feet, these giants power large aircraft to fulfill their mission. Prayer is like that when it comes to the church. There is a source of power available to the body of Christ. Elders will lead well when they lead their churches to impacting prayer.
David Roadcup is cofounder and outreach director for e2. He also serves as professor of discipleship and global outreach representative with TCM International Institute. He is also on the board of directors of Christian Arabic Services.