Pastors and the Struggle of Prayer
- 2006 23 Oct
Editor's Note: Recently, Phil Miglioratti of PrayingPastor.com interviewed Pastor Ray Pritchard, president of Keep Believing Ministries and author of And When You Pray, about the importance - and sometimes neglected duty - of prayer for church leaders.
Praying Pastor: Ray, you are a pastor-teacher who recognizes the role of prayer in the life of both the believer and the corporate body. What factors led to this awareness?
Dr. Ray Pritchard: After serving as a pastor for 26 years in three churches in widely differing circumstances, I can look back over some wonderful high points and some very difficult low moments. I have known the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Often they came in the same day.
When I look back to those early days of my ministry, I smile because like a lot of young people, I came out of seminary with no shortage of self-confidence. That in itself is a good thing and even a gift from God because the young often approach life with a kind of fearless courage that enables them to do things the rest of us think can't be done. Time has a way of refining our self-confidence and ideally replacing it with a new kind of God-confidence.
In my early in Oak Park we came to a crisis in the church that plunged us into controversy. It was a combination of worship issues, theological issues, and the whole question of what sort of church we would become. At one point a man came to me and told me that not only should I leave the church, but that I should never be a pastor again, and he would work to see that happen. In God's providence at that very moment I spent a few days teaching at a mission station in Belize. There in the jungle, far removed from all the controversy, I had a powerful experience of the Holy Spirit. I pictured the church with a large black cloud hanging over it. It seemed that the Lord was saying to me, "You have seen what you can do, but you have no answers for this problem." I came to a deep conviction that the cloud would not lift by preaching or programs but only by prayer. When I shared that with the congregation upon my return, the people were deeply moved. Out of that came the prayer movement at Calvary, and l look back on that as the turning point of my entire ministry in Oak Park.
What led you to write And When You Pray and how did it help you in your pastoral role?
Pritchard: In the early 1990s I happened to read a book that mentioned the importance of the Ten Commandments, the Lord's Prayer and the Apostles' Creed to the early Christians. The Ten Commandments tells us how to have a right relationship with God, the Lord's Prayer shows us how to maintain that relationship, and the Apostles' Creed lays out the broad outlines of the Christian faith from the very beginning. I decided to preach through all those documents as a means of equipping my own congregation. It happens that I did the Ten Commandments in 1991 and the Lord's Prayer in 1992. It took me twelve more years, but I finally got to the Apostles' Creed in 2004. By the way, I should say that I recommend this sort of preaching to pastors everywhere because it provides a unified approach to the spiritual life and it connects the congregation to the larger stream of Christian history across the generation.
As I preached through the Lord's Prayer, I found it a profoundly enriching experience because those few simple sentences start in heaven, sweep down to the earth, and then take up back to heaven again. Because I was not raised in a church that said the Lord's Prayer very often, I had never studied it in depth. The book simply came forth from the sermons and from my own reflections on the words of Jesus.
I still remember meeting a Christian leader who told me that there was a part of the prayer that everyone should pray every day. He said he learned it himself as a young man when he asked a wise older leader to help him as he was just starting out. So from the older leader to my friend to me, here is the one part of the Lord's Prayer we should pray every day: "Yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever, Amen." We ought to pray that way to remind ourselves it's not our kingdom we're building, it's God's. It's not our power that matters, it's God's. It's not our glory we seek, it's God's. Many days those simple words have refocused my soul.
The praying pastor is strategic to the corporate prayer life of the congregation. What struggles did you encounter? How did you compensate/overcome them?
Pritchard: Years ago I read a book by Peter Wagner where he talked about the importance of pastors having a "prayer shield" to cover them. As a result I recruited 15-20 men and asked them to become my prayer partners. As I recall, the men were not only ready, they were eager to pray for me. I wrote them with updates, met with them occasionally, and updated them on my particular needs. Later we opened that ministry to women and called it the Prayer Warriors movement, which eventually grew to over 200 people. That led to building a prayer room under the sanctuary where people would come to pray during all the worship services.
Looking back, I can see that there was a correlation between the evident blessing of God on my ministry and the strength of those who were praying for me. It is not a matter of numbers but of fervent believers who lifted up their pastor in prayer. The first man I ever recruited as a prayer partner eventually moved to a distant city. Every time I see him (once every couple of years), he tells me that he still prays for me every morning at 6:30.
Knowing that so many people were praying for me gave me purpose and endurance in my own walk with God. I once had a friend tell me he was praying for my prayer life. That took me aback for a moment, but I think that was a wonderful gift. I have no doubt that my prayers had more depth and power because others were praying for my prayers.
In your observation, what is the biggest misconception pastors have regarding prayer?
Pritchard: I suppose most pastors instinctively feel that prayer comes to the very core of what we ought to be doing, yet in our culture we often are not rewarded for time spent in prayer. We live in a performance-based world where pastors are asked to produce tangible results quickly. While it has never been easy to be a pastor, I think that expectations are higher than ever and patience is lower than ever. The honeymoon for most new pastors doesn't last very long. As a result it's easy for a pastor to fall into the trap of thinking that he's got to get busy and make things happen now, today, this very moment. Slowly we can slip into the fallacy of believing that our "production" in the ministry depends on us. To the extent we begin to think that way, prayer will not seem very important to us. But once we fall into that trap, we enter a game we cannot win and that will only wear us down and eventually burn us out. No pastor can satisfy the competing demands of all the people in his church. Unless we build a strong inner core where our souls find rest in God, we will probably not last very long in the ministry or we will be swept away by one fad or another or we will be held captive by interest groups in the church, and we will probably become angry, frustrated and disillusioned. At that point prayer becomes a burden, not a blessing.
All of us as pastors struggle with prayer. And that struggle itself is not sinful. It is a reminder that we are made of flesh and that something in us will fight against prayer because prayer is an admission that apart from God, we are a bunch of pathetic losers. The flesh fights against that judgment but it is true nonetheless. When we pray, we launch a revolution against self-sufficiency and plant the flag of God's sovereignty in our heart.
Ray, write a prayer for your colleagues who lead ministries and congregations...
Pritchard: Father in heaven, I thank you for the godly men and women you have called to lead your church. I ask your special help for those who are discouraged and feeling overwhelmed. Grant them a fresh vision of your love. Help them to see that you love them beyond all human reason. Your cross has proved forever that you love the unlovely because while we, the leaders of your church, were yet sinners, Christ died for us. May we never forget that truth. Save us from the folly of preaching to others what we fail to believe ourselves. Show us again that apart from you, we are nothing but pathetic losers.
Thank you for calling us out of the marketplace of life and giving us a job to do in your vineyard. When we are tempted to compare or to complain, open the eyes of our heart to see the glory of what shall one day be revealed to us.
Grant courage to the faint of heart.
Grant wisdom to the confused.
Grant strength to those who being tempted.
Grant overflowing love to those whose love is running on empty.
Let Jesus be seen in us so that those who follow us might truly be following him. Amen.
Rev. Phil Miglioratti is a longtime Southern Baptist pastor, and currently the director of the National Pastors Prayer Network and the facilitator of networks for the CPLN. Phil also serves as the managing editor of The Praying Pastor. Visit PrayingPastor.com and the Praying Pastor blogspot.
To learn more about the National Pastor's Prayer Network, click here.
You can access Ray Pritchard's Crosswalk blog here.