Why do some people have a passion to see prayer flourish in their lives and churches while others seem complacent? Why do some pastors give a real priority to prayer while many seem satisfied with lip service? What factors shape a life of influence in prayer?
In recent days, I have enjoyed coaching some groups of pastors about their role in shaping a culture of prayer in their churches. One foundational agreement relates to the key stages that shape a praying leader. If you are a pastor, I hope you will give serious consideration to these important factors. If you are not a pastor, consider the potential of your influence on others—and, of course, pray for your pastor and his onward journey in prayer.
God allows crisis in our lives to bring us to a point of desperation. Desperation is always a catalyst to a praying life. Whether the crisis is a new and unfolding awareness of one’s need for God or a situation that brings brokenness and a disdain for self-sufficiency, God uses it to bring us to a new recognition of the imperative of prayer.
When properly and sincerely embraced, crisis leads to a new conviction about prayer. This is not to be confused with a “concern” about prayer. Many leaders have a concern that might prompt a sermon series on prayer, increased reading about prayer and even new prayer programs in the church. Conviction is marked by the one essential ingredient: The leader prays…extraordinarily. Real conviction always results in sustained, uncompromising action.
One of the pastors in a coaching group wrote it this way: “True conviction produces passion. Also, if something is a true conviction you do it—you always have time for what you really want to do.”
This conviction leads to clear, uncompromising commitment. Personally, a leader will commit to consistently seek the Lord in his private life. Corporately, every leader with real conviction leads his staff and his church in regular and reliable experiences of life-giving prayer. He cannot do otherwise. He recognizes it as essential to his calling and will not relent in his pledge to lead his church to become a house of prayer by the example of his life.
My friend and colleague in ministry, Jim Cymbala, exemplifies this as well as anyone I know. Springing from an early ministry crisis, Cymbala embraced a strong conviction about prayer that led to clear commitment. This led him to set aside EVERY Tuesday night to lead his people in a focused, extended prayer gathering. Almost 40 years later, thousands gather every Tuesday night to seek the Lord because of Cymbala’s sustained, consistent commitment to PRAY.
But, it doesn’t stop there. Every Tuesday morning Jim leads his staff in a chapel gathering, typically marked by extraordinary prayer. Very often, Jim leads special weekend or even week-long prayer emphases, with strong attendance by the congregation. In recent months, he has opened the church auditorium for an hour of waiting on the Lord, again on Tuesdays, from noon to 1 p.m. During a recent visit, I observed Pastor Cymbala during this hour, simply sitting on the front steps of the church, silently in prayer, weeping before the Lord and giving his soul to the Lord in sweet surrender. I don’t simply admire Jim’s example and real commitment of time to prayer. I admire the fact that his commitment continues to grow, as an example to his people and an expression of his love and need for the Lord.
In a recent leadership event where Jim and I were speaking to pastors, he said it so clearly and convincingly: “Our people will pay good money to go hear some Christian musician but they won’t come to meet with Jesus for free. I take that personally. What am I preaching? Am I leading people to a personality, a church, an event, a denomination? Or am I leading them to Jesus?”
Most pastors receive no training on how to lead biblical, life-giving prayer experiences. Many of us, including this writer, struggle in our early years to facilitate the kind of prayer experiences people actually want to attend. Very few pastors received any substantive training for this in seminary. Yet, as we come to understand the power of the pattern Jesus commanded His followers to embrace, breakthrough occurs.
Soon, leaders learn the dynamics and impact of Scripture-fed, Spirit-led, worship-based prayer. They develop an increased confidence in the sufficiency of the word of God, the Spirit of God and the people of God to inspire transforming prayer experiences.
Building a prayer culture takes time. I often say that it is much more a Crock-Pot than a microwave. Admittedly, there is a laboring in prayer that requires perseverance and discipline. But, in time, the Holy Spirit arrests the hearts of a growing number of believers and a movement emerges.
There is no greater joy than seeing a congregation ignited to seek the Lord in Scripture-fed, Spirit-led, worship-based prayer. This contagion spreads to the community as believers become passionate about the person and message of Christ. They cannot help but speak of “what they have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). Mission accomplished. This is church as it ought to be, exhibiting a prayer-birthed, Spirit-empowered, Christ-honoring lifestyle of infectious Gospel witness.
It Can Happen
This can happen in the life of every leader and in the culture of every church. It is the Lord’s blueprint and desire. But the question remains: Is it our conviction and commitment? If so, it will lead to competence and eventually contagion for His glory. Now, maybe all we need is a really good crisis to shake us up and start us afresh on the road to lasting renewal.