It Seems to Me…Pastors Need to Rediscover Acts 6:4
(Written by Phil Miglioratti)
Not too long ago, a national prayer leader sent out an email asking other prayer leaders for feedback. He was preparing to speak at a church staff retreat, a strategic opportunity to advance the cause of prayer in a congregation already having an impact. When my colleague and I connected by phone, he explained how he saw this as a challenge to cast a vision that went beyond the traditional understanding of prayer and the typical style of praying.
While I enjoy speaking with this friend for any reason, I was especially enthused on this occasion, knowing the leadership team recognized they could incorporate more prayer into the life of the congregation. Certainly, my colleague’s teaching would challenge them to integrate prayer into every ministry and activity. When the pastor and core leaders become champions of prayer, it is not long until the culture of small groups and committee meetings and corporate gatherings is transformed.
As we talked, I remembered a statement I first heard many years ago at a prayer conference in San Antonio. (I remember the event but cannot remember the preacher’s name!) Obviously, the preacher’s message was on prayer but he spoke one line that immediately became etched in my memory: “Every church prays, but not every church is a praying church.”
Now a common statement among prayer leaders, back then the Holy Spirit used it as a paradigm shift that gave me a passion to help leaders understand the difference and to pursue it undeterred.
Throughout our conversation, my prayer leader friend and I discussed several implications and applications that could create a new set of expectations for this pastor and his staff. When the leadership of a congregation or ministry becomes seriously devoted to prayer (Colossians 4:2):
- Staff meetings change…Planning meetings change…Church calendars change because the Holy Spirit has greater access to leading the leaders.
- Prayer permeates Sunday services (not just in the 90-second Pastoral Prayer, if there is one).
- Prayer is integrated into every ministry (not merely the prayer ministry), thereby touching the 80% of members who never set foot in a prayer meeting.
- Sunday school classes refocus to pray for the lost, fellowship groups for members’ spiritual formation, and activity groups for community-impacting ministry.
- Outward-focused prayer gets people out of their seats and into the streets (prayer walking) to pray for, care about, and share Christ with their neighbors.
- Outward-focused prayer begins to follow an Acts 1:8 model: neighbors, community/city, Samaria (unloved people groups), the world.
- Serious prayer develops the character of God in members and the church culture: humility, grace, mercy, passion for the Son of God, burden for the nations of the world.
Unless you are brand new to the ministry of prayer, this is familiar territory. The question we must ask, though, is how to make this familiar territory for pastors…most of whom are already juggling too many priorities (should priority even have a plural form?).
About the same time as that phone conversation, I began working on a new website for pastors, The 6:4 Fellowship, led by Jim Cymbala and Daniel Henderson. It is designed to serve pastors around the world to catch the vision for prayer. Based on Acts 6:4, the objective is to make clear the close relation between preaching and prayer. When the apostles declared to the early Church their need to “continue to devote ourselves steadfastly” to prayer and the ministry of the word, they were also making it clear to future leaders that we too must be equally committed to both. Not one or the other. Is it possible the Spirit placed prayer first because so many of us who teach and preach tend to forget or minimize prayer?
Not every pastor is skilled or comfortable leading corporate prayer. Few seminaries offer a class or training for pastors in this area. While church planters are encouraged to enlist prayer supporters, do they receive instruction in how to build a culture of prayer as they birth a church? With so much emphasis on leadership, how many pastors have a book about prayer high on their reading list?
Where am I going with this?
A simple idea: let’s do all we can to lovingly bring Acts 6:4 to our leaders’ attention…may we pray for them by name, that they will devote themselves steadfastly to both prayer and the ministry of the word, and affirm our leaders whenever they bring prayer into the life of the church. Because, it seems to me, pastors need to rediscover Acts 6:4.
(First published at PrayerLeader.com)
About Phil Miglioratti: After serving as a pastor for over 20 years, Phil now connects people to God through Prayer INC. He also provides leadership to various ministries including the National Pastors’ Prayer Network, Church Prayer Leaders Network, Pray! Network, and The 6:4 Fellowship.