How to Pray for Your Pastor (Series): Why Should You Pray for Your Pastor?

How to Pray for Your Pastor (Series): Your Pastor is a Desperate Man

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In the last post I noted that pastors are in desperate need of prayer. In this post, I want to accomplish two things. First, I want to ask and answer a vital question: Does the Bible teach us to pray for our pastors? It might seem like a good idea to pray for your pastor, but does God really call us to such prayer? Quick preview: Yes, He does, and we should count it a high privilege to intercede on behalf of our shepherds.

Second, I want to help you grasp the tremendous benefits that flow from regularly praying for your pastor. Indeed, praying for your pastor could be one of the most productive things you do during the day, for you will not only be serving your pastor and his family, but you will be serving everyone who sits directly under his ministry and those who enjoy derivative benefit from his ministry (on the radio or through books, etc.).

Does the Bible Call Us To Pray for Our Pastors?
While Scripture calls us repeatedly to devote ourselves to prayer (Phil 4:6; Col. 4:2; 1 Thess 5:17), it is also true that there is no explicit verse in the Bible that tells us to pray for our pastor. Nevertheless, when Scripture is taken as a whole it becomes abundantly clear that the responsibility to pray for one’s pastor does fall upon the members of a local congregation for the following two reasons.

Intercessory Prayer is the Responsibility of All Christians
At basic, Christians are recipients of grace. Through the bloody sacrifice of Christ, all believers have been forgiven of their sin and declared righteous in God’s sight. And, not only this, but—wonder of wonders—our union with the living Christ provides us open access to God’s throne where we can, anytime, find “grace and help in time of need” (Heb 4:16). Our Father, like a loving daddy, welcomes our requests and prayers, and waits eagerly to bless and help His people.

But God has composed a people, not mere individuals, and it is by His design that each of us would serve one another through intercessory prayer, not only approach the throne of grace for ourselves. God delights in our heart-felt requests for our brothers and sisters and for our sincere supplications for those who are currently outside the faith. We are given the model of intercessory prayer par excellence in Jesus Christ who regularly prayed for His people while on earth (Luke 22:32; John 17:1-26) and who intercedes for us at this very moment (Heb 7:25). The Spirit even provides an example of merciful intercessory prayer by praying for us when we don’t know how to pray (Rom 8:26-27).

The apostle Paul also provides a worthy example of intercessory prayer. He often informs the recipients of his letters that he prays regularly for them (see Rom 1:9; 1 Cor 1:14; Eph 1:15-18; 3:14-19; Phil 1:3-4; Col 1:3, 9; 1 Thess 1:2-3; 2 Thess 1:3, 11; Philem 1-6) while also indicating that he prayed fervently for the salvation of his unbelieving kinfolk (Rom 10:1).

Other leaders in the New Testament exemplified a commitment to intercessory prayer. Paul’s companion Epaphras “struggled” in prayer for the sake of the Colossians, so that they might “stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God” (Col 4:12). The apostle John prayed fervently for his readers (3 John 9).

A commitment to prayer, then, won’t consist exclusively of prayers for ourselves; rather, like Christ, the Spirit, and the apostles, we will pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ. We will, as Paul instructs, “mak[e] supplication for all the saints” (Eph 6:19). We will also pray for those in positions of governmental authority, regardless of their Christian profession (1 Tim 2:1-3).

New Testament Leaders Requested Prayer from Their People
Yet, there is another thread of evidence in the New Testament that leads us to conclude that it is good and right to pray for our pastors. While it is the special responsibility for pastors to pray for their people (see Acts 6:4), it is also expected that God’s people would pray for their leaders. Throughout the New Testament writings, we find multiple requests for prayer from the very apostles who exemplified a commitment to praying for others.

Paul, for example, often asked his people to pray for him, specifically with regard to his ministry. To the Corinthian church he pleaded, “You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many” (2 Cor 1:11). After instructing the Ephesian church to pray diligently for all the saints, he asked that they pray for him, “that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak” (Eph 6:19-20). Paul also asked the Colossians to go to their heavenly Father on his account.

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison—that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak (Col 4:2-4).

In the case of Philemon, Paul assumed that his brother in Christ would be praying for the apostle’s safe arrival (Philem 1:22). In his first letter to the saints in Thessolonica, Paul simply says, “Pray for us” (1 Thess 5:25). The author of Hebrews makes a similar request (Hebrews 13:18). In a subsequent epistle to the Thessalonians, Paul asks for blessing upon his ministry of the Word and for protection from gospel opponents: “Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith” (2 Thess 3:1).

Beyond the two reasons discussed above, we can have confidence that Christ desires that we pray for our pastors for the following three reasons.

Praying For Your Pastor Benefits Your Pastor
When God’s people pray for their pastor, they are serving him in one of the most direct and meaningful ways possible. They are going directly to God to ask that He help their pastor fulfill his ministry and faithfully conduct the stewardship Christ has allotted him. As we will see in more detail in the following chapters, you will be praying that God would give your pastor power and wisdom and insight for ministry; that God would enable him to accurately interpret and teach God’s Word; that the Holy Spirit would guard his heart and mind from temptation; and, if he has a wife and children, that he would shepherd them with patience and love. If we care for our pastors, we will pray for them.

Praying for Your Pastor Benefits Your Brothers and Sisters in Christ
If your pastor is enabled and empowered by God to conduct a wise and loving ministry, your brothers and sisters in Christ will reap rich spiritual blessing. By faithfully praying for your pastor, then, you are fulfilling the biblical command to “serve one another” (Gal 5:13), because your prayers will be a means to strengthen your pastor which will in turn bless your fellow church members. Indeed, one of the greatest blessings a church can enjoy are godly leaders.  Jonathan Edwards, a pastor from the mid-18th century, reminds us of the great treasure we have in holy, competent pastors.

Useful men are some of the greatest blessings of a people. To have many such is more for a people’s happiness than almost anything, unless it be God’s own gracious, spiritual presence amongst them; they are precious gifts of heaven.

If what Edwards’ says is true—that useful men are second only to God’s own spiritual presence—then we should pray continually that God would endue those men He has set among us with spiritual vigor, rich biblical insight, and skill to conduct their ministry.  If we love our brothers and sisters in Christ, we will pray for our pastors.

Praying for Your Pastor Benefits You
Sitting under the ministry of a pastor who preaches the whole counsel of God with courage and compassion, who counsels with skill and biblical insight, who leads the church with clarity and vision is perhaps the greatest good you can do for your soul in this life.

Think of it for a moment. Don’t you want to hear rich truth from God’s Word each week? Don’t you want the power of God’s Word and God’s Spirit to deliver you from your many temptations and sins? Don’t you want a pastor who has the courage to tell you what you need to hear rather than what you want to hear (1 Tim. 4:3)?  Don’t you want a leader who will cast a vision for your church that is worthy to follow?  The answer to each of these questions should be a resounding “Yes!”  If you care for your soul, you will pray for your pastor.

So, does the Bible call us to pray for our pastors?  Yes, and as I noted above, we should count it a high privilege to do so. By praying for our pastors, we benefit them, our brothers and sisters in Christ, and ourselves. But how should we pray for our pastors?  Answering this question will be the goal of the next several posts.

How to Pray for your Pastor (Series): Your Pastor is a Desperate Man

Over the next few weeks I will be posting a series on how to pray for your pastor. This post is the first in the series. 

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You may not know it, but your pastor is a desperate man. He has been tasked by God to shepherd Christ’s sheep with wisdom, courage, and tenderness, yet he often feels his own inadequacy, timidity, and tendency toward frustration. He is responsible to care for the souls of his people by way of preaching, teaching, and counseling, a task that often includes correcting and rebuking, so your pastor senses acutely his own need for Christ’s forgiveness and sustaining mercy. His work requires that he exemplify mature Christian living, so he knows deeply his need for personal holiness. The task of rightly understanding and explaining God’s Word demands careful, pain-staking study and prayer, so your pastor feels weekly the burden to labor diligently in the text of Scripture.

He may never tell you so, but your pastor is a desperate man.

And until now, you may not have given much thought to your pastor’s desperation. In my experience I have found that few Christians really know what pastoral ministry entails. For some, the quip, “A pastor only works one day a week” may seem pretty close to the truth. Others view pastoral ministry as a helping profession (akin to professional counseling, but easier) where the pastor’s 35-40 hour workweek consists mainly of coffee-shop chats, a few staff meetings, and a little light reading and Bible study. Good stuff, but none of it too difficult.

Because many people have such a truncated view of the pastoral ministry (a view that is, sadly, perpetuated by some lazy and incompetent pastors), they may find it difficult to pray for their pastor, if they feel compelled to pray for him at all.

But it is also the case that Christians can mistakenly conceive of pastoral ministry in categories that resemble corporate business models rather than biblical mandates for church leaders. That is, some Christians think of their pastors more as CEOs whose main job is to manage and expand the programs and overall influence of the corporation rather than shepherds who have been called to feed and protect sheep. Marketing, management, motivation, and resource acquisition are seen as the pastor’s primary responsibilities rather than preaching, teaching, praying, and training other leaders.

It’s not difficult to see that our view of the pastoral ministry will directly affect how we pray for our pastors. It is clear, then, that the answer is not merely to pray more for our pastor, but to pray for him according to God’s Word. But it is also my belief that if we rightly understand our pastor’s qualifications, his role and responsibilities, and the unique temptations that surround a shepherding ministry, we will not only pray more, we will pray in a way that strengthens, upholds, encourages, and richly blesses your pastor, his family, and his ministry.

Pastoral Longing and the Need for Prayer
As a pastor, I long for more holiness, more spiritual clarity, more biblical insight, more authenticity, more gospel fruit, more changed lives, more humility, and a deeper love for Christ’s sheep. I recognize that these good gifts will come by way of God’s Spirit as He uses the means of personal devotion, prayer, worship, and obedience to cultivate spiritual growth in my life. But Scripture is clear that God has composed His people in such a way that each member of the body is reliant upon every other member (see 1 Cor 12:12-27), and that intercession of one for the other is vital for our spiritual health, both corporately and individually.

In this way my heart resonates with the great reformer Martin Luther who connected his spiritual vitality and well-being to the prayers of other believers. In a letter to Melanchthon in 1527, Luther tells his friend that his spiritual suffering, though significant, had began to subside due to the prayers of others:

For more than a week I have been thrown back and forth in death and hell; my whole body feels beaten, my limbs are still trembling. I almost lost Christ completely, driven about one the ways and storms of despair and blasphemy against God. But because of the intercession of the faithful, God began to take mercy on me and tore my soul from the depths of hell. (John Piper, The Legacy of Sovereign Joy, 105)

In an earlier letter to Melanchthon, Luther, while struggling mightily with temptation and lethargy, wondered if his friend and others had ceased to pray for him. To Luther, the intercession of his people was a life and death issue. I can’t help but agree.

Grounding Our Prayers in God’s Word
As we see in the above quote from Luther, the subject matter of the following blog posts is of vital importance. But it’s not enough to be moved to see the importance of praying for our pastor by a brief example from church history. We need be convinced from God’s Word that it is both right and necessary to take seriously the responsibility to pray for those who exercise spiritual oversight in our local congregations.

In order to help us gain solid biblical footing on this topic, I will begin in the next post by answering the important question of why we should pray for our pastors. In subsequent posts I will recommend that we pray for our pastors in light of their qualifications, their specific roles and responsibilities, and their unique pressures and temptations.

By framing our discussion this way, my aim is that we will ground our prayers predominately in Scripture and thus have the confidence that we are praying for our pastors the way that God requires us to pray for our pastors. Such biblically informed prayer will lead to the fruit of healthy and effective churches. I will conclude this series with a few practical ideas on how to implement what you have learned from God’s Word over the past few chapters.

Some books and articles that encourage us to pray for our pastors are not careful to draw their exhortations from Scripture or from a clear understanding of what pastoral ministry entails. Thus, their challenges qualify as little more than good ideas and do not carry the weight of biblical authority. When we pray for our pastors, we should have the confidence that we are praying according to God’s will as it is revealed in Scripture.

In the following posts, we will find that Scripture not only gives us ample warrant and incentive to pray for our pastors; it also provides clear guidelines around which to frame our prayers. It is my hope this blog series will lead congregations into biblically-informed, Spirit-empowered prayer for their shepherds and that the fruit of such prayer will be holier pastors, healthier churches, happier Christians, and heartier missionaries.

Shepherds, Pastors, Elders, and Overseers
As you make your way through these posts, you will notice that I use the words elder, pastor, shepherd, and overseer interchangeably. This word choice is deliberate. Scripture uses these words interchangeably because they each refer to the same office. That is, an elder is a pastor, an overseer is an elder, and so on (see especially 1 Pet 5:1-4).

What your particular church or denomination chooses to call the men who exercise spiritual leadership in your local congregation, however, will not deter you from profitably using the principles outlined in this series. The qualifications, responsibilities, and particular pressures of pastoral ministry all apply to those who serve Christ’s church in the recognized role of formal leadership.

A Mini-Theology on Pastoral Ministry
It is also my goal that these posts not only serve as a guide to help you pray for your pastor, but as a small introduction to pastoral ministry as well. As I noted briefly already, my experience has brought me to conclude that many Christians are generally unaware of the qualifications for and responsibilities of a competent shepherding ministry. For this reason I have chosen to linger over each pastoral qualification and responsibility rather than merely offer a few pithy suggestions for your prayer journal. Members of local congregations should be well informed about God’s desire and design for pastoral leadership.

But before we delve into our discussion of pastoral qualifications and responsibilities, we must first consider why you should pray for your pastor. This will be the topic of our next post in this series.

Photo Credit: Tobias Nordhausen

The Pastor-Theologian: Valuable and Necessary

While it may be difficult to believe in our current cultural setting, there was a time when the pastor was viewed as a town’s leading intellectual. Pastors of what seems like a long-lost era were doctrinally grounded and biblically saturated, to be sure; but they were also well-read in other important branches of study—literature, economics, politics, philosophy, and science—and were therefore able to apply biblical truth to these areas of inquiry with keen spiritual and intellectual skill, helping their people think theologically about major trends within the church and the greater society. Continue reading “The Pastor-Theologian: Valuable and Necessary”

The Exclusivity of Christ: A Compassionate and Humble Doctrine

As you share the gospel with your friends, family members, classmates, and business colleagues, you may find that they tolerate much of your worldview until you press the point that Jesus is the one true Savior and the only one who can deliver them from eternal judgment and bring them into right relationship with God. In other words, your spiritual conversations may coast rather smoothly until you land on the exclusivity of Christ. Continue reading “The Exclusivity of Christ: A Compassionate and Humble Doctrine”

Christology from Nicea to Chalcedon: A Brief History

Almost immediately following Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension, the church found herself subject to infiltration by heretics and false doctrine. While these heresies did not focus exclusively on the person of Christ, most of them did, and early Christian theologians labored to respond to these challenges in order to articulate a logically coherent, biblically faithful account of Christ’s identity. Continue reading “Christology from Nicea to Chalcedon: A Brief History”

The Humility of Reading (or The Pride of Not Reading)

We’ve all been warned about the connection between pride and reading. Charles Spurgeon warned that “little learning and much pride come with hasty reading.” Bertrand Russell once observed, “There are two motives for reading a book. One, that you enjoy it. The other; that you can boast about it.” Alan Jacobs has similarly commented: “I think most people read quickly because they want not to read but to have read.” Continue reading “The Humility of Reading (or The Pride of Not Reading)”