Prayer—the Heart of Ministry
It has more benefits than you might think.
While speaking to a group of schoolteachers, Sabbath School teachers, elders, and other key church leaders, I [JK] encouraged the teachers to pray daily for their students and their families. I suggested they arrive early at church or at school and pray for each child at the chair or desk they would occupy. I encouraged the elders to divide up the names of the congregation and visitors of the church and pray for them, and make at least one contact with them. This could be done on the phone, in person, or via e-mail.
I recommended that they look at their leadership roles beyond curriculum and classroom programs, beyond just Sabbath School lessons, to the context of leading children and young people into a deeper walk with Jesus. I reminded the elders that their role is not simply reading Scripture or making decisions at board meetings, but providing spiritual leadership and encouraging meaningful connections with Jesus.
Our greatest danger is not that we stop praying, but that we settle for a mediocre prayer life.
When I returned to that same conference a few years later, some who were in the first seminar shared with me their experiences. Teachers who had prayed for their students and their families soon found that their attitude toward teaching was improved, their level of engagement with parents was increased, and, most dramatic, the experience of the students was greatly enriched because of a renewed commitment to Jesus. These improvements were also the observations shared by several parents, who noticed that their children were more cooperative and better behaved, more open to spiritual things. Sabbath School teachers said their enthusiasm for teaching was at an all-time high. Kids loved coming to church, and more adults and kids started to attend. Elders told me the more they prayed, the more members volunteered, that a spirit of grace and harmony had come to the church.
The Heart of Ministry
This supports the conviction that prayerful intercession is the heart of ministry, leadership, and education in which training, seminars, and curriculum can become even more effective.
This article is primarily focused on the importance of personal spiritualty and devotion to prayer and intercession for those who teach, mentor, and lead others and thus set the spiritual tone in the church. Local church leaders are called by God to be spiritual leaders and prayer warriors for their congregations. Even the effectiveness of the early church was attributed to active prayer life: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42).
Breath of the Soul
Leaders’ prayer lives are the foundation for their walk with the Lord. Regular, earnest prayer is the breath of the soul, but busyness can so easily choke it out. No one was as busy as Jesus, yet we see His unwavering commitment to prayer and quiet time with the Father.
One day Jesus went up on the mountain to pray. But a crowd gathered around Him, and He spent the entire day healing, teaching, and simply being with the people. But we must not miss the personal discipline demonstrated by Jesus by caring for His own soul. As daylight faded, Jesus sent the multitude away, including His disciples, to reclaim the solace of quietness on the mountain and to live in the joyful awareness of His Father’s presence (see Matt. 14:13-23).
As church leaders we often find ourselves in the same predicament. Our greatest danger is not that we stop praying, but that we settle for a mediocre prayer life as the result of our harried, busy life. Jesus’ example encourages us to keep prayer at the top of our to-do list. By doing this, we will comprehend and enjoy God more richly, for we know that in Christ is the life of the soul. Ellen White counseled, “Cultivate the habit of talking with the Savior when you are alone, when you are walking, and when you are busy with your daily work. Let your heart be continually uplifted in silent petition for help, for light, for strength, for knowledge. Let every breath be a prayer.”1
Church leaders are encouraged to spend a thoughtful hour each day in contemplation of God, reflecting on Scripture and lingering at the throne of grace in prayer. God’s first desire is not our service; it is our companionship. “He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach” (Mark 3:14). When Jesus calls us into leadership, He first calls us into intimate relationship with Him. It was only through being with Jesus that the disciples were empowered to do ministry.
Source of Effectiveness
Leaders’ prayer lives are the source of their effectiveness. Oswald Chambers reminds us, “The lasting value of our public service for God is measured by the depth of the intimacy of our private times of fellowship and oneness with Him.”2
I [CC] remember a devoted children’s ministries leader who invested a great deal in updating the Sabbath School rooms and ensuring that effective curriculum was being taught. She rallied volunteers and raised money for new paint, carpet, and updated furniture to create an inviting atmosphere. But she was frustrated to see that about the same number of children attended every Sabbath. This led to a conviction that perhaps she and her team were measuring the results differently from the way God did.
She then gathered a few of her fellow teachers, and they began to pray. What they saw in the coming weeks and months was children becoming more deeply engaged in Sabbath School and asking their parents more questions about spiritual things. Several young people showed an interest in local and overseas mission projects, and five of the children requested Bible studies to prepare for baptism.
In these modern times, where the latest and greatest methods fall short, true effectiveness in ministry comes through reliance on God.
A hundred years ago E. M. Bounds said, “What the church needs today is not more machinery or better, not new organizations or more and novel methods, but [men and women] whom the Holy Ghost can use—[men and women] of prayer, [men and women] mighty in prayer.”3
The story of the children’s ministries’ leader illustrates how strategy and methods often fall short, and how the local church reflects the spiritual experience of its key leaders.
Knitting Hearts Together
Leaders’ prayer lives bind their hearts with others.Interceding for others reminds us that the Lord Jesus intercedes for them, and for us. God calls church leaders to pray boldly and serve diligently.
One of the greatest, most consistent examples of intercessory prayer is found in the ministry of Paul to the churches. He thanked God for them (Phil. 1:3), he cheered them on (Col. 1:13, 14), he prayed for their endurance (Rom. 15:5, 6), for spiritual gifts (Rom. 1:8-12).
The apostle Paul was more traveling evangelist and church planter than resident church pastor. We see him constantly praying for local church leaders (2 Tim. 4:22) and members by name (Philemon 1-4), and for God to work mightily through them (Eph. 6:19, 20). It appears that Paul prayed for the church as much as he preached and planted churches. Amid the busyness of life and ministry today, praying for your church is one of the best uses of a leader’s time. Leaders who pursue an active life of prayer, together with their church, will reap the rewards of a healthy and spiritually vibrant congregation.
What a contagious example we have in the apostle Paul, which inspires us today to pray more earnestly for others (2 Cor. 13:7-9), for their continued spiritual growth (Gal. 6:18; Phil. 4:23; 1 Thess. 5:28), and for God’s kingdom to grow and expand (Col. 4:2-4).
A Church’s Greatest Need
More than anything else, our churches need leaders of high spiritual integrity who pursue intimacy with God. In following the examples of Christ and Paul, we quickly see how the benefits far outweigh the investment of time spent in prayer. Prayer life in individuals is a strong indication of the closeness of their walk with the Lord. Peter urges us to keep prayer a number-one priority: “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers” (1 Peter 4:7, NKJV).4 In these modern times, where the latest and greatest methods fall short, true effectiveness in ministry comes through our reliance on God.
Amid our busy days and crowded calendars, our appeal to all members and church leaders is that whatever we do, we must begin the day with God. We must daily resist the temptation to fill our calendars with events and activities before we fill our hearts with God’s Spirit. The precious morning moments spent in communion with God and study allow for God’s presence to linger with us and serve as a holy influence for the rest of the day. Give God ample time to reveal Himself each day, and through His Spirit comes the power to fulfill His purposes in us, and in the hearts of those we serve.
- Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1905), pp. 510, 511.
- https://boardofwisdom.com/togo/Quotes/ShowQuote?msgid=19722&msgid=19722#.WbGar9VSz4Y, accessed Sept. 7, 2017.
- Edward M. Bounds, Power Through Prayer (Grand Rapids: Martino Fine Books, 1913), pp. 5, 7. Republished Feb. 6, 2014.
- Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Craig Carr is vice president of administration for the Washington Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. S. Joseph Kidder is a professor of Christian ministry and discipleship at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary on the campus of Andrews University.