Many of you know that I spent much of my summer completing 15 different interviews of church leaders all across North America for my dissertation project.
I thought I'd share a snippet or two of one interview I had with an older pastor from a large-church. This pastor shook me to the core in terms of devotion to prayer. And he humbly blessed me at the end.
As the interview progressed it became amply clear that prayer is genuinely THE basis of his ministry. Though we strayed a bit off the topic of my thesis, it was an incredibly enriching moment for me… and a challenging one. I don't believe this portion is going to fit into my dissertation, but it's too good to not be copied down somewhere. I'll just let you jump in somewhere around the 39 minute mark of the interview:
Pastor: "You know, we'll have 200-300 people here for [a church dinner], but get 20-25 for a prayer meeting."
Ken: "Why is that?"
Pastor: "People are afraid, and I think… I think people take very literally… I'd say Jesus said a lot about prayer, but the one passage where Jesus said, 'When you pray, go into your closet, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.' They take that and they become myopic. They don't see how many times in the book of Acts, over and over and over and over again in the book of Acts, that they prayed together. Just constantly. Almost every chapter, they, THEY, plural, prayed together. You know, Peter and John, going into the Temple in Acts 3. Acts 4, they, THEY prayed and the place was shaken where they were assembled. Acts 6, the deacons, they prayed. They said they gave themselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word. You know, Acts 8, the Great Revival in Samaria, Acts 16, the women's prayer meeting beside the river. Acts 12, Peter getting out of prison. THEY prayed. The church gathered for prayer. And the more prayer, the more power… and that's a principle that I really feel our people need to grasp. There's more power. Christ is more revealed…"
Ken: Would you say 'prayer is more important than preaching'?
Pastor: No, but it sure is parallel… THEY gave themselves to the ministry of the Word and to prayer. Acts 6, the Apostles, you know, when they were trying to find the deacons and they said, 'We will give ourselves to the ministry of the Word and to prayer.'" Equally important… You see, people think they can do ministry without the Lord, and then it becomes marketing. It becomes just business. And that's not ministry. We've got to depend on the Lord, or we're going to fail… To me it's exciting to see what God does in prayer. He answers prayer. When he says, 'Call unto me and I will answer you and show you great and mighty things which you know not'– he means it. And he promises to answer. He doesn't tell you exactly when, and he doesn't tell you how. That's where faith comes in. So you hold on and you keep praying… And [so] I pray for the congregation. I take our church directory, and I just take a column, or half of a column, and I go through that directory, and just try to do that consistently. Praying for my people all the time. Praying for their children, praying for the adults. And then, usually about once a year- if not every year, then every year-and-a-half, or whatever, I will send them a note, to all those people that I'm praying for, just basically saying, 'I just wanted to let you know I was praying for you today. Here's what I prayed: that you might know the will of God; that you might delight in doing the will of God; that you might have the strength of God;' Whatever it is. I've done this for years, and I'll tell you, those little things mean more to people than you'll ever imagine.
Ken: And [like you said earlier in the interview], that also becomes, then, an example for people to follow.
Pastor: Yeah, yeah. Just to pray for people. What's the most powerful, the most effective, the most significant thing I can do for these people? It's to pray for them. I can't sit down with all of them, and I'll say that in the note: 'I wish so much that I could sit down with you and talk with you.' That is in my heart, and I would love to do that, but I know that I cannot do that. 'But I am praying for you. And here's what I am praying. If you have any prayer requests, please let me know what they are." And people will email me, or they will call me, or they will send my a note.
Ken: Would you say that you identify with Paul in that way when he is writing his epistles? He starts out so many of them by mentioning that he always has been praying. 'I'm on my knees for you.'
Pastor: Over and over, over and over he mentions that. "In all of my prayers," he says, "I pray for you." Whoa!
Ken: "I pray for all of you!"
Pastor: "I pray for all of you." And how many people did Paul have on his list?… You know, when I'm trying, the emphasis is on me, my ability, my strength, my wisdom, my charisma, my personality, and that's not where it's at. But when I trust [in God], he succeeds. So the best thing to do is to give up. We say, "Lord, I can't do this. I can't accomplish this." Paul said, Galations 2:20: "It is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me." Lord, you live your life through me! You do it. Then he does amazing things. We see what he does and we say, "God, thank you for the privilege of at least being a little part of what you are doing. You get the glory because I didn't do it. You did." And I think that is the real secret to leadership… The best thing a leader can do is to give up, and say, "Lord, I can't do it, but you can, so I'm going to trust you and I want you to do it."… That's it. Give up and let the Lord take over.
Ken: Thank you… So I want to…
Pastor: Good. Can I have a prayer for you?