Point, Preach, or Lead the Way?
Even in polarized and politically divided churches, a show of hands by those who believe in prayer would bring a unanimous vote. Virtually every Christian knows prayer is important. Yet, the gap between our intellectual assent in prayer and our actual practice can be as wide as the great Mississippi river.
I am often reminded that prayer is the most often talked about and least often practiced discipline of the Christian faith. This dilemma often starts in the mindset of Christian leaders and translates into our approach from the pulpit. In time, this attitude settles comfortably within the pews.
Pointing the Way
Every thoughtful pastor reminds people of the importance of prayer. Most would like to see more prayer in their congregation. It is easy to talk about the need, passionately remind people of their duty, and even assign someone to head up the prayer effort. Often, it is a small band of retired ladies or a special committee that gets the nod. However, this approach is like a quarterback inspiring his team to score touchdowns and sending them out to run a play while he stands on the sidelines drinking Gatorade and listening to music on his iPod.
Preaching the Way
Other pastors become a bit more serious about the call to pray by teaching extensively from the pulpit. They present the theology, history, examples, and principles of prayer with passion and precision. Yet, this can often be like telling your son about the design of a rod and reel, illustrating the types of bait, and showing pictures of some of the great “catches” in fishing history – but never showing him how to fish – by fishing.
One pastor friend told me of how he preached on prayer every Sunday for one entire year. After 52 messages on prayer he observed that the prayer level in the church did not appear to increase at all. In fact, he was concerned that the approach was counterproductive because it widened the gap between the learning and the doing. Clearly, sound biblical teaching is vital to spiritual health. Yet James 1:22 reminds us, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”
This same pastor later explained that he started calling his people to join him in specific gatherings in which he would show his people how to pray by praying with them. He noted that this approach ignited a fresh passion and increase in the prayer commitment of the congregation.
Leading the Way
It is interesting to note that the disciples’ request of Jesus, “Teach us to pray,” followed an experience where they were with Him as He prayed. Motivated by His example they were eager to learn. His teaching on the pattern of prayer fell on fertile soil, plowed by their observations of Jesus’ practices of prayer (see Luke 11:1-13).
J. Oswald Sanders noted, “We cannot learn to pray except by praying.” [i]While pointing the way and preaching the way might provide temporary inspiration and deeper intellectual understanding, the only way to develop a house of prayer is to lead the way by praying together in a consistent and meaningful fashion.
When we speak of this kind of prayer we are not talking about a grocery-list, request-based approach. We are referring to a Scripture-fed, Spirit-led, worship-based pursuit of the face of God, not just His hand. There is a difference between teaching people how to pray about things and learning to pray to seek the heart, mind, and will of Christ.
Benefits of Leading the Way
I am privileged and encouraged as I have the opportunity to interact with pastors on a regular basis who are teaching their people to pray by praying with them. The model of their passion for Christ and their practical instruction in the living laboratory of prayer is inciting a new reality of prayer among their congregations.
When pastors get serious about leading in prayer, beyond the formal prayers of a Sunday service or mere words of encouragement to the church, practical blessings result.
1. Passion – A passion for Christ and His glory is contagious. When a pastor and the other church leaders model a worship-based approach to seeking God’s face, this spiritual zeal becomes infectious. Prayer is more caught than taught. Once it starts “catching” more blessings follow.
2. Equipping – What people learn to do in community they soon are able to practice individually. The model and experience of prayer they receive from their spiritual leaders empowers more and effective prayer at a personal level.
3. Trust – When people see the hearts and hear the prayers of their spiritual leaders, a vital, spiritually-intimate connection occurs. While leaders and members may not always agree on certain issues in the church, a fundamental trust is nurtured in the presence of God. This procures a healthy environment of relationships that fuels congregational well-being.
4. Unity – Author A.W. Tozer spoke of the challenge of tuning a room of 100 pianos. He noted that you should not seek to tune the pianos to one another. Rather, when each piano is perfectly aligned with a common tuning fork they all play in beautiful union. He concluded that as we all look away to Christ we become one. A pastor who leads his people to pray will eventually experience new levels of spiritual unity in the church.
5. Expectation – Prayer places the focus of the church on Christ, not men, human plans, or ecclesiastical activities. Prayer cultivates positive spiritual expectation and the people of the church are led to come to God, believing that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).
6. Thanksgiving – Paul noted that when the church prays together, they also collectively give thanks to God for the answers that become evident to them all in connection with their prayers (2 Corinthians 1:11). God is glorified for all He is doing. This awareness and ambition is fueled when a pastor does more than point and preach – but rather leads his people in prayer.
For more information on how to lead effective prayer gatherings check out our practical and motivational training featured in Fresh Encounters – Experiencing Transformation Through United Worship-Based Prayer. For the book, go to http://www.strategicrenewal.com/books/fresh-encounters. For audio or video, go to http://www.strategicrenewal.com/cddvd.
[i] J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership, Moody Publishers, Chicago: 2007. P. 86
Copyright © 2012 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.