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How to Survive and Thrive as a Pastor

Survive and Thrive as a Pastor

The Other 50% of Ministry Competency

Shortly after finishing seminary I was riveted by the model of the earliest church leaders. I discovered that they actually delegated the kind of duties that had become most burdensome to me as a young pastor. When an administrative crisis hit the Jerusalem congregation, through the breakdown of the widow feeding program, the leaders refused to personally solve it. Instead, they led the church to find seven other wise and Sprit-filled men to take on the task. Why? Their priorities were clear, “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” (Acts 6:4)

I have concluded that the devil does not have to destroy church leaders, he simply has to distract them. He is launching “weapons of mass distraction” on every pastor – every week. Without clear, biblical priorities we can dribble our days away trying to accomplish too many tasks and seeking to please too many people. Soon we are exhausted and empty.

The Power of “No”

I’ve learned that “the power of ‘no’ is in a stronger ‘yes’.” The apostle’s resolute “yes” in the best things empowered their “no” in connection with important projects the would have ultimately diluted their spiritual impact. Their example compels us to evaluate our approach to leadership today.

Charles Bridges wrote, “Prayer . . . is one half of our ministry and it gives to the other half all of its power and success.”[i]  Most of us complete our formal training with one-half of our competency fairly honed. We received years of training in homiletics, hermeneutics, hamartiology, soteriology, eschatology, pneumatology and all the other “ologies.” Yet, secretly, we struggle to understand what it means to have a leadership team fully-devoted to the priority of prayer. We feel inept to lead prayer gatherings – at least ones that people actually want to attend. We want our church to be marked by a powerful culture of prayer but usually have no idea how to make it happen. Most us have a sense that we have somehow missed 50% of our core preparation for local church ministry.

Leading (and Praying) with Conviction

At some point in our pastoral journey our mere cooperation with the zealous “prayer warriors” must transition to a real commitment to lead the way from the pastoral office. Our concern for prayer must grow into a conviction that propels us to lead by example, and with enduring competency. When this “Acts 6:4” conviction gripped my heart, everything about my ministry began to change.

In the years to follow, I learned how to pray –- really pray. Prayer actually became a real priority (not just a stated one). It grew to a life-changing delight. Through the school of hard knocks, the Spirit enabled me to learn to lead life-giving prayer experiences. Before long, our staff prayed together several hours each week and our ministry become more fruitful than ever. Eventually, a large percentage of our congregation participated in life-transforming multi-day Prayer Summits. In time, our weekly “scripture-fed, Sprit-led, worship-based” prayer gathering attracted hundreds. Evangelism and missions advanced as the natural overflow of this renewal. An Acts 6:4 conviction led to an Acts 6:7 result where the “word of God spread,” “disciples were multiplying” and many we thought would never get saved were converted.

Conviction Leading to Competency

This profound spiritual advancement was rooted in clear priorities, resolute conviction and a developed competency in leading this kind of prayer-driven renewal.  God knows, we need heavy doses of this if we are going to stem the tide of a secular and hostile culture through a supernatural advancement of the gospel.

A few of the foundational principles that have ignited a culture of prayer in countless churches are:

  1. A Prayer Culture Always Emanates from the Epicenter of Leadership – The single greatest predictor of a praying church is a praying leadership team. When the prayer virus incubates in powerful ways in the leadership core it will spread to every area of the church. We cannot point the way; We must lead the way.
  2. A Prayer Culture Grows through Experience Not Explanation – Teaching on prayer is helpful but does not show people how to pray. While a busy church schedule may not always allow for the addition of multiple prayer meetings we can intentionally “build the sidewalks where the footpaths already exist.” Equipping people at every level to lead life-giving prayer will infuse spiritual passion into multiple areas of church life.
  3. A Prayer Culture is Sustained through the Unshakable Motivation – Prayer efforts prompted by guilt, a need for approval or even a desire for church growth will not last. I have learned that the only enduring motive for prayer is that God is worthy to be sought. This worship-based approach is biblical, eternal and fuels a life-long passion to seek God in prayer.

Embrace the Model, Be the Model

Today, as I coach pastors on the proven principles developing a dynamic prayer culture in the local church a typical question is, “Why didn’t I learn this in seminary?”  While I could propose a handful of reasons, the more important issue is that it is not too late to learn it now. This is an urgent moment for us to think and choose wisely as we sort through the smorgasbord of modern-day pastoral ministry. The Acts 6:4 model is still effective and a focus that God blesses.

In the early days of my journey toward Acts 6:4 priorities, I was deeply challenged by the words of Charles Spurgeon. Known as the “Prince of Preachers” it was said that his preaching was made by the prayers of his people. In his personal life and pastoral leadership, he maintained a conviction about the priority of prayer. He wrote:

The preacher is above all others distinguished as a man of prayer. He prays as an ordinary Christian, else he were a hypocrite. He prays more than the ordinary Christians else he were disqualified for the office which he has under taken… All our libraries and studies are mere emptiness compared with our closets… The minister who does not earnestly pray over his work must surely be a vain and conceited man. He acts as if he thought himself sufficient of himself, and therefore needed not to appeal to God . . . The preacher who neglects to pray much must be very careless about his ministry. He cannot have comprehended his calling. He cannot have computed the value of a soul, or estimated the meaning of eternity. He will surely become a mere superficial talker, best approved where grace is least valued and a vain show most admired. He cannot be one of those who plow deep and reap abundant harvest. He is a mere loiter, not a laborer. As a preacher he has a name to live and is dead. He limps in his life like the lame man in the Proverbs, whose legs were not equal, for his praying is shorter than his preaching.[ii]

Spurgeon reminds us that in our walk of spiritual leadership, equal and functional legs are vital. These legs are clearly described in Acts 6:4.


After decades of ministry as a Senior Pastor, Daniel Henderson now serves as President of Strategic Renewal International (www.strategicrenewal.com) and National Director of The 6:4 Fellowship (www.64fellowship.com). He is the author of 12 books including, Old Paths, New Power: Awakening Your Church through Prayer and the Ministry of the Word (Moody, 2016). In recent years he has personally coached hundreds of pastors on location and through on-line cohorts. For more information go to http://www.strategicrenewal.com/coaching

[i] Charles Bridges, The Christian Ministry (Carlisle: PA: Banner of Truth, 2009) 147

[ii] C.H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1954) 42-48

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As a lead pastor for nearly three decades, Daniel Henderson helped several congregations experience transformation and renewal through an extraordinary commitment to prayer. Daniel now serves as founder and president of Strategic Renewal and is the national director for The 6.4 Fellowship. As a “pastor to pastors,“ he leads renewal experiences in local churches, speaks in a variety of leadership conferences, and coaches pastors across North America and beyond. Daniel is the author of over a dozen books, including, Old Paths, New Power: Awakening Your Church Through Prayer and the Ministry of The Word, Transforming Prayer: How Everything Changes When You Seek God’s Face, Transforming Presence: How The Holy Spirit Changes Everything - From The Inside Out, and Glorious Finish: Keeping Your Eye on the Prize of Eternity in a Time of Pastoral Failings.