Leading on Your Knees

Leading on Your Knees

How many hours in the past year did you spend in prayer for your husband, your congregation, your ministry area, the people under your leadership?

Shelly Esser has been an associate pastor's wife, Currently, she and her husband John, are in ministry transition. In addition to coordinating women's ministries for ten years, she is a writer, speaker and co-editor of Just Between Us. She and her husband reside in Germantown, Wisconsin, with their two young daughters.

This article appeared in Just Between Us, Fail 1994

How many hours in the past year did you spend in prayer for your husband, your congregation, your ministry area, the people under your leadership? When was the last time you were on your knees for the leadership in your church and the many concerns that face the ministry? Perhaps the greatest weakness of the church today is the lack of intercession by the leaders for their people.

So what should be the role of prayer in your life as a leader or co­partner in ministry? It should be the same as the Apostles gave in Acts 6:4, " ... And (we'll) give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word." Prayer was the Apostles' first priority; it took up the largest amount of their time. And as was so evident in their ministries, they could only lead as they prayed and the same is true for us.

Since my husband's resignation as associate pastor a little over a year ago, I've had a lot of time to reflect on the ministry we had—what was good, what was bad and what things I'd do differently if given the opportunity. At the top of my list of things I'd change, is my own prayer­lessness in regard to our ministry. In fact, I have been deeply grieved by my omission in this area.

We had always heard coming into ministry, that relationships are often the first place the enemy will strike to dismantle a work. I believed it, I had even witnessed it before, but I thought it would never happen to us, especially coming into a church on the tails of a church split where relationships had already been fragmented and attacked. "Surely it won't happen again," I reasoned.

As a result, I didn't bother to pray for protection or for the relation­ships among the staff—in fact, I didn't pray much at all, at least not about the important things. I became overly confident, neglecting the place and power of prayer in our ministry lives.

A soldier would never think of stepping into the front lines of battle unequipped or unprepared; you can bet he would have all of the necessary weaponry needed to wage the battle he was engaging in. Yet, as leaders in the church, stepping daily onto the enemy's battlefield, we naively think we can do it alone, or do it without the weapon of prayer and so we mistakenly let our guards down. Scripture tells us over and over again, the battle we are engaged in is not a battle with human flesh but against the darkness and principalities of this world. Yet we aren't watchful and prayerful as we're so adamantly instructed to be.

One of our greatest offensive weapons in battle is prayer; but unfortunately, all too often, we use it as a last resort or not at all. Unfortunately, many churches are full of the casualties of war and destructive forces operating beneath the surface because of our neglect.

I don't know if the outcome of our situation might have changed as a result of intercession, but I do believe that many things in the church could have.been different and that God's power could have been unleashed in many ways if we, as leaders, would have regularly come together in prayer for each other and the flock. I am convinced that there would be less complaining, disunity, bitter roots, criticism, fleshly behavior and the quenching and grieving of the Holy Spirit in a praying church. 1 Thessalonians 5:19 tells us,"Do not put out the Spirit's fire." A sure way to quench that fire in a church is prayerlessness and self-reliance.

A Christian writer once proposed this question: "What if there are some things God will not do until people pray?"A very challenging and sobering question. That question has haunted me many times as I have looked back and reflected on my own prayerlessness. God has made us active participants in the fulfillment of his kingdom and will through prayer, yet how often we fail to respond in this privileged way.

E. M. Bounds said, "Each leader must be preeminently a man of prayer. His heart must graduate in the school of prayer. No earnestness, no diligence, no study, no gifts will supply its lack. Talking to men for God is a great thing, but talking to God for men is greater still. He will never talk well and with real success to men for God who has not learned well how to talk to God for men." One of the reasons so many Christian workers today have such little influence is the prayerlessness of their service. To effectively learn how to pray and be empowered by the Holy Spirit and guided through prayer is the most important task of our preparation as leaders.

Think about your individual ministry or church for a minute. What do you spend most of your time on as a leader? Planning? Publicity? Refreshments? Delegating? Organization? Prayer is often tagged on as an afterthought, isn't it? Prayer must be the foundation of all we do or we're building our ministries and churches on sand. All success apart from the spiritual empowerment and touch of the Holy Spirit, is a house or ministry or church built on sand—and when the winds come it will fall; it won't last. I wonder how many church splits and discords have been birthed in prayerlessness?

Wesley Duewel said, "You will never be a greater leader than your prayers. Effectiveness in leadership is dependent on our spiritual life, on our prayer life. Our very usefulness is dependent on prayer. It is prayer that prepares us for every aspect of the work because spiritual ministry demands spiritual power not ministry done in the flesh. One danger of operating ministry life devoid of prayer is that we become too dependent on the flesh and the methods of the flesh."

The Holy Spirit does not flow through methods, but men and women. He does not anoint plans and programs, but men and women. It's very easy, especially over the years, to become too reliant on our own plans and methods. Especially here, we need to be careful that everything we do is God-made and not man-made—that we keep totally dependent on God for the work of the ministry though prayer and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. As leaders, we need to remain close to God's heart on a daily basis so we're ready and knowledgeable for his marching orders and desires for the ministry he has entrusted to us.

God has given us a great responsibility to intercede for our people. We must pray for our ministry, the services in the church, the out­reach, the families, the individuals and the church at large. 1 Samuel 12:23 very soberly reminds us, ".. . far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you." Too often we neglect praying for our people and ministry. Personal prayer is to be our daily ministry and work, especially as a Christian leader.

There is no better example in Scripture—besides the Lord Jesus himself—than the Apostle Paul, when it comes to displaying a model leader's prayer life. Paul was a man who was committed to praying for his people, his co-workers, his brothers and sisters in Christ and the lost. At least 41 verses in his writings refer to his prayer and subjects for prayer. His ministry grew out of his unceasing prayer life. It was the very foundation of his ministry and effectiveness as a leader. And as a by-product of his life, he developed a praying people. When we as leaders model prayer in our churchesilid corners of ministry, it will become contagious.

We are currently attending a church where the pastor has wisely made prayer a central focus of the church. Opportunities for prayer abound everywhere and the amazing thing is people are responding and catching the vision for the need for prayer in their personal lives and the life of the church. Men are coming together regularly to pray for the pastor, the church leadership and the Spirit's anointing. Exciting things are beginning to happen as a result. People are coming to Christ, and God's people are learning to pray, many for the first time. There is such a spirit of unity, love, warmth, and the Holy Spirit's presence is so evidently resident in the church-the fruit of a praying church.

What did Paul pray? First, Paul prayed in thanksgiving to God and for the believers he was writing to. What did he pray for these people? He prayed that they would be encouraged. Throughout his letters he continually tells his readers, "I have not stopped praying for you," "I kneel before the Father continually, day and night wrestling in prayer for you." Could it be said of you that you are always wrestling in prayer for your people, for your teammates, for your husband?

Additionally, Paul prayed for the perseverance in the faith and ministry, for their empowerment, that they would be active in sharing their faith and for their spiritual growth and witness. The bulk of Paul's prayer life was praying faithfully for others. In Ephesians 1:15-20, he tells the believers this, "For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe." Wow! I'd love for someone to be praying that kind of prayer on my behalf.

Paul also encouraged the believers to pray for one another. He spoke of this in eight of his letters. As leaders we need each other's intercession, don't we? Again, this is an area I would do over again. I deeply regret not having initiated prayer with our church's other ministry wife. We needed it, our husbands needed it, our children needed it and the church desperately needed it. We need a ministry prayer partner. If not in your own church, perhaps another ministry wife in a neighboring church would be delighted to have a prayer partner. There is no greater and more comforting way to bear one another's burdens than through prayer. When two or three gather in his name there is power, the Bible tells us in Matthew 18:19 and 20.

Finally, Paul requested prayer for himself. Very few of Paul's prayers were for himself, but he knew that he was dependent on the prayers of his people. How often have we failed to pray for our leaders because we thought either they didn't need it or surely many others were committed to praying for them. 1 Timothy 2:1­4 clearly instructs us to pray for all of our leaders. Leaders, especially, need our continual prayers. In Ephesians 6:19 and 20, Paul says, "Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should."

May the Lord help us to become women of prayer, women who will turn our churches upside down because we have learned to commune regularly with the Master.

Here are some practical suggestions for becoming a praying leader:

* Evaluate your current prayer life, gauge where changes need to be made and make a new commitment to the Lord today to either begin anew, or improve and extend what you have already been doing.

* Plan your prayer time for your husband, church and leaders. Reserve a special daily or weekly time for praying very specifically for these needs. As a leader, your people should constantly be on your heart—like Paul's were.

* Have a place where you can pray for them. You need a prayer closet (room, chair, car, shower, someplace where you can regularly pray for their needs). Use a prayer list. God greatly blesses the use of prayer lists. There is great evidence that Paul used them. If your church has a pictorial or non-pictorial church directory, this is an excellent way to pray by name, for your people.

* Plan how you will cover the needs of your church and people. Plan ways to pray regularly for all those people, especially for whom you are spiritually responsible and accountable to God. Try to keep this list updated. Remember you can bear burdens for one another through prayer. Other things to cover in your prayer time would include: unity, integrity, godly living, a praying people (which by the way, is modeled by the leadership of the church), a witnessing people, revival, a growing, healthy church, to name a few.

* If you have a difficult time verbalizing exactly what to pray for your leaders, use some of Paul's prayers found in his letters. Make them your own, praying his request for your own leaders. Praying Scripture into people's lives, is a great basis for prayer. (Start with 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3, Philemon 1:4-6, Ephesians 1:15-20.)

* Find a prayer partner, either in your own church or a ministry wife in another church.       

The Bible verses in this article are from the Holy Bible, New International Version, copyright (c) 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.

Shelly Esser has been an associate pastor's wife, Currently, she and her husband John, are in ministry transition. In addition to coordinating women's ministries for ten years, she is a writer, speaker and co-editor of Just Between Us. She and her husband reside in Germantown, Wisconsin, with their two young daughters.

This article appeared in Just Between Us, Fail 1994