Every Sunday morning, I lead the congregation of Third Avenue Baptist Church in what we call a “pastoral prayer.” I pray for many things during that time—congregational events, members who are suffering, evangelistic opportunities, various officials in government, missions opportunities and even events that have been in the nation’s headlines.
The part of that prayer that elicits the most comment, however—both positive and out of sheer confusion—is when I pray for another evangelical church or two that is meeting in the city of Louisville.
Each week, I choose one or two churches and pray for their services that day.
I pray for the church to be attentive to the Word of God. I pray for the pastor to speak boldly and accurately from the Bible. I pray for people to be convicted of their sin, for Christians to be encouraged in the faith, and for non-Christians to be converted. I also thank the Lord that we live in a city where we are not the only church in which the gospel is preached!
Believe it or not, the practice of praying for other churches is so rare in many Christians’ experience that many don’t know exactly how to process it.
More than once during my pastorate, a visitor to Third Avenue has walked up to me with a very concerned look to express surprise that such-and-such church is having troubles. After all, why would the pastor of one church pray for another church if there weren’t serious problems afoot there?!
I think there are many benefits to doing this sort of thing week after week.
For one thing, it helps me in the work of crucifying my own spirit of competition.
It’s so easy for pastors to subtly (if not less than subtly!) begin to think of other churches as “the competition” instead of as fellow proclaimers of the gospel in their city.
I want to go on record, in the most public forum I have, as praying for the success and faithfulness of those churches. We are not in this to make a name for ourselves; we are all in it to make a name for our King.
Not only so, but I think those prayers do the same work of crucifying a spirit of competition in the members of Third Avenue.
Pastors are not alone in struggling with feeling competitive with other churches. Members do too, and it is good for them to see their leaders working publicly to counteract that tendency so that it doesn’t take root in the life of the church.