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.