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.
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.