Prepared by Colette Williams
Ministers need prayer. This is a truth that cannot be overstated. Ministers, pastors and Christian leaders all need their people to be praying for them on a regular basis. C. Peter Wagner states that “the most underutilized source of spiritual power in our churches today is intercession for Christian leaders.”
Many people assume that their minister is praying, so there is no need for them to pray. Yet in every one of Paul’s letters to the new churches he requests prayer for himself and his ministry.[i] “Now I beg you brothers, through the Lord Jesus Christ, and through the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in your prayers to God for me.” In Acts we read that Peter, a key leader in the early church, had been targeted for death by Herod. However, he was saved from prison and ultimate death because “constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.”[ii] Paul wrote to his young protégé, Timothy, “I urge then, …that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority…”[iii] (italics added)
A scene in Exodus paints a graphic picture for us of God’s work being conducted by those on the front line of action (Joshua), and importantly, those praying behind the scene (Moses).[iv] The picture of Moses with his hands in the air is symbolic of asking God for His help and protection. Ultimately it was God’s power that won the battle, but that power was released through the prayers of the intercessor, Moses. This is a helpful analogy for ministry today. Very often the people on the front line doing the actual ministry have not had the time to pray for that ministry, so they need others to do it for them.
They’re human too…
Pastors and leaders tend to be activists, driven by a need to get things done, and it would be very easy to fall into the trap of working in their own strength rather than in the Spirit. They work under time pressures, deadlines, phone calls, emergencies, and always the unexpected. They fully understand their need for prayer, but are so often frustrated by their inability to spend the time in prayer that they would like. That is why it is absolutely vital that their ministry is supported faithfully, fervently, and regularly by the prayers of their people.
Ministers suffer from the unrealistic expectations of their congregations and society as a whole. They are human, they have been saved by grace like every other Christian, yet they are put on a spiritual pedestal, even though they protest. They are expected to be better than everyone else, to have it all together spiritually and emotionally, to be available whenever anyone needs them, and to be ‘nice’ at all times, even in the face of unreasonable people. They are always on duty, they are always giving out. Often they feel lonely and isolated, and unsure of where to go for help, lest their congregation should find out they are not coping. All this can lead to compassion fatigue, clinical depression and burnout. This sobering picture is based on studies of Australian clergy by Paul Whetham[v], including a study of 376 Uniting Church ministers who all perceived their role as very stressful. Research done with Anglican clergy revealed that all of the 142 people surveyed felt they were bordering on burnout.
There are other, equally compelling reasons why our leaders need more intercession than other Christians.
Firstly, ministers, teachers and leaders have more responsibility and a greater level of accountability than the rest of us,[vi] because of their position of trust and influence. We all know how the image of the Church is tarnished when a minister or pastor publicly falls from grace.
Secondly, pastors and ministers are more subject to temptation, because of their position of authority and power within the Church. Ministers can be tempted by their human nature, the influence of the world, or by Satan, and in most cases these three are inextricably linked. All Christians face temptation, but there is more collateral damage when a leader falls. It’s tragic if a minister has to resign his/her calling because of burnout, but if it happens as a result of sexual immorality, they take a whole lot of people with them. And we all know the damage caused by accusations of child abuse, whether proven or not.
Ministers and leaders are more targeted by evil spiritual forces, for the same reasons, and it seems that the higher up the ladder of Christian leadership someone is, the higher they are on Satan’s hit list. We know that in some parts of the world at least, witches, satanists, occultists and the like have been praying actively for the downfall of Christian leaders and the break-up of their families. And there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the same thing is happening here. We need not be scared by these stories, because Jesus triumphed over Satan on the cross, and He lives within us. However, we need to recognise the depth of the spiritual battle we are waging.[vii] This conflict permeates the pages of scripture from Genesis to Revelation[viii] and is the reason Jesus had to die – to win us back from Satan’s clutches and offer us to his Father.[ix] If we, as a new congregation, are to continue the works that Jesus did[x], we can expect opposition. So let us be sure that we protect ourselves, and persevere.[xi]
One of the main lines of defence for our Christian leaders, is strong, effective, fervent and regular prayer.[xii] Peter Wagner believes that “intercession can not only be therapeutic for pastors’ spiritual and emotional maladies, but much more importantly, …prayer can be preventative.”[xiii]
Not only that, intercession causes a positive change in ministry. In a study by Nancy Pfaff designed to test this theory, 130 ministers, evangelists and missionaries were assigned intercessors to pray for them for 15 minutes a day over a whole year. 89% reported improved effectiveness in the use of their particular spiritual gifts, a greater response to their ministry, more discernment and wisdom from God, increased wholeness and completeness in Christ, improved attitudes, more evidence of the fruit of the Spirit, better personal prayer lives and heightened leadership skills.[xiv] Daily prayer was more effective than weekly or monthly prayer, and persistent prayer was shown to be important. Where people stopped praying for their assigned leader after a few weeks, there was no discernible change in their lives and ministries. It could be said that we get the leaders we deserve!
The second and equally vital line of defence is our spiritual protection, putting on the whole armour of God each day.[xv] This is a responsibility of every Christian, but especially leaders, because by failing to do this, they make themselves unnecessarily vulnerable to “the flaming arrows of the evil one.”[xvi]
Finally, we must saturate the whole mission of our church in prayer. It’s hard to imagine any single activity in the Church more important than this. Even the preaching of the Word should be supported by prayer. So much energy is expended by people faithfully doing things in the name of Jesus, but if it is not under-girded by prayer, it will be ineffective or less effective than it could be.
[i] Romans 15:30; 1 Thessalonians 5:25; 2 Corinthians 1:11; Philippians 1:19; Philemon 22
[ii] Acts 12:5
[iii] 1 Timothy 2:1,2
[iv] Exodus 17:8-13
[v] ‘Hard to be Holy’ by Paul Whetham
[vi] James 3:1, Titus 1:7-9
[vii] Ephesians 6:12; 1 Peter 5:8; 2 Corinthians 2:11; John 8:44
[viii] Genesis 3:1, Revelation 12:9,10
[ix] 1 John 3:8, Colossians 1:13
[x] John 14:12
[xi] Ephesians 6:13
[xii] James 5:16; Ephesians 6:18; 1 Samuel 12:23; Colossians 4:12
[xiii] ‘Prayer Shield’ by C. Peter Wagner
[xv] Ephesians 6:10-17
[xvi] Ephesians 6:16
The following is a daily schedule of prayer for our ministers & leaders. It is only one of any number of possibilities for such a list, and is not meant to be a formula. Rather it can be a guide to be used with flow of the Holy Spirit.
Put it on your fridge, stick it in your Bible, put it in your computer as a daily reminder, or any method that will work for you.
Sunday: Favour with God (spiritual revelation, empowered preaching and ministry, holiness).
Monday: Favour with others (congregation, ministry staff, the unsaved)
Tuesday: Increased vision (wisdom and enlightenment, guidance, motives, devotional life)
Wednesday: Spirit, Soul, Body (health, attitudes, spiritual and physical wholeness)
Thursday: Protection (temptation, deception, antagonists, the Enemy) – this should be part of every day’s prayer
Friday: Finances (priorities, blessings)
Saturday: Family (general, spouse, children)
When praying for the various ministries of the congregation, it would also be helpful to allocate them to certain days of the week, e.g. mainly music, Alpha, youth and young adults group etc. Pray that God will remove the veil from people’s minds and soften their hearts to receive the gospel. (2 Cor. 4:3,4)
May God bless you and keep you faithful as you participate in the mission of the church in this way.
“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests, … be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” (Ephesians 6:18)