No matter how busy we are, there should always be time to pray. How do you make sure you’re intentional in your prayer life as you lead a church?
Any leader has a lot on the “to do list”. Too Busy Not to Pray is the title of a book that highlights a real leadership challenge.1 Are we too busy to really pray? I know this experience, so do you. We need constant encouragement to make sure we build in time to pray.
So how can we ensure that busyness isn’t prioritised over prayer in a leader’s and leadership team’s life?
Schedule time and block out everything else. Plan for personal ‘alone with God’ time.
‘But when you pray go to your room, close the door, and pray to your Father who is unseen.’ (Matt 6:6) They were the Master’s words. You have to make a deliberate choice to do that and not to do something else instead.
It doesn't come easily. There are so many distractions or legitimate responsibilities to be carried out. It will need to be fought for. Ephesians 6:10-20 shows us prayer in the centre of a military metaphor.
My wife and I also help each other here; we ‘spur one another to love and good deeds’ (Heb 10:24) by encouraging ourselves to spend time with the Lord together. We grasp opportunities that left on our own we might not seize. So we usually use New Year’s Eve as one of our set times for this – we have reached that age where we’re happy not to be partying late! And she helps me not make Saturday night all about Match Of The Day.
At a deeper level, it seems to me, we need our hearts touched more often. We need to ‘see’ as Jesus did (Matt 10:36, 37) and ‘feel’ as he did (Luke 13:34).
I was challenged recently as I read Romans 8 and kept reading into chapter 9. I know it sounds crazy but my Bible reading scheme finished at 8:39 with that wonderful crescendo. The next day I began at 9:1 and I had forgotten the continuity of thought and especially of feeling. How could I not be deeply moved to worship by God's eternally secure love for me - and then not be broken in heart by the desperate need of those who do not yet know that (9:1-3)?
But I had artificially separated the feelings and the subsequent action (10:1). Consequently my prayer was less earnest than it could have been.
Leadership teams need to learn how to stir themselves to prayer (Matt 26:36-40). Sometimes a senior leader has to show the way. See Paul's actions in Acts 20:36. This is a remarkable passage all round for it gives us the apostle’s leadership priorities. He underscores what a sacred privilege and serious responsibility it is to be involved in gospel ministry. It also involves very strong warnings and a humble example. But it concludes with a deliberate act of committing all to God in prayer. And deep emotional bonding was felt and seen.
I was at a conference recently when this happened. The preaching had been from Colossians 4:2-6, ‘Speak to God for people, and speak to people for God’. The chairman took up the phrase ‘Devote yourself to prayer’ and gently but clearly said we must take the opportunity to do this now. He suggested we knelt to pray. It was a not-to-be-forgotten moment as about 100 Irish brothers in Christ humbly bowed and poured out their hearts to God for the salvation of lost people, and for the success of the gospel to his glory. It was a privilege to be there.
When we go away as leaders we make sure we schedule significant time ‘just to pray’. Don't slip into the habit of sharing too much before you pray and then counting that as part of the prayer time.
Praying may not seem to get the agenda done but that would be a false judgment. It is the business! Whatever else the leadership discusses, or decisions they come to, neglect here is to imperil the church. Key things often flow from this – Acts 13:1-3 underscores this very powerfully. And how heartened the church is when we tell them we spent time praying for them all.
So how does this work at Grace Community Church?
Our monthly leadership schedule is ‘One leadership meeting for prayer, one meeting a month for discussion’. In our weekly schedule we have a whole staff prayer meeting. It has proven to be a valuable rhythm and it is held however many staff can or can't make it.
But my confession is a sense of leadership failure over our weekly staff-elders’ meetings. When there was just me and an assistant pastor it was relatively easy to schedule a morning of prayer. We prayed through the whole of our church prayer and address book telling no one else, but just gladly doing it.
Now there is a group of five paid leaders I know I have let them down. We have so much discuss, we have just come from the whole staff prayer meeting and it might feel a bit over the top to spend significant time again to pray. So we haven't and we should have.
I know it needs to change; I need to change – repent – and ensure the servants of the Lord seek him.
Many times I have quoted the leadership priorities of Acts 6:3b, ‘we will give our attention to the ministry of the Word and prayer’. Except it doesn’t say that! It puts prayer first. For all kinds of reasons we must too.
Is this an area you could develop to help your leadership team grow in grace?
1. Bill Hybels, Too Busy Not to Pray (IVP, 1998)