Seven Reasons Pastors Struggle to Lead Their Church in Prayer

Frequently, as I speak in conferences and seminars, I am approached by an attendee with a pertinent question.  Each inquirer comments up front on their deep appreciation for their pastor.  They typically extol their pastor’s preaching, administrative skills, shepherding focus, and personality.  Then they ask, “Why doesn’t he lead our church in prayer?”

Understanding the Reasons – Praying for New Resolve

In churches across the country today, congregations are eager for a prayer movement.  They look to their pastors for consistent example and passionate leadership.  From my personal struggles as a pastor for almost 30 years and through interactions with many peers, I have discovered seven basic reasons why pastors are reluctant to lead the way to a dynamic prayer ministry in the local church:

1. Many grew up in a prayerless church environment

A Brazilian proverb states, “The heart cannot taste what the eyes have not seen.”  Today’s pastors often lack first-hand experience of what a dynamic prayer-energized church looks like. 

Many pastors recall sparsely-attended prayer meetings they’ve attended in the past.  These prayer meetings involved prolonged grocery-lists of physical needs and personal woes.  A handful of faithful saints attended each week.  However, a church where the majority of the people gather in dynamic, worship-based prayer does not register in the experience of most pastors’ radar screens.

2. Most were trained in a prayerless educational process

I received seven years of formal undergraduate and graduate-level theological education.  While grateful for all the fine classes and grand truths, I never had a professor or pastor personally influence me in the area of prayer.  I heard great sermons on prayer and studied theological truths about prayer, but no one took me aside and taught me to pray by praying with me on a regular basis.  Today, church leaders commonly receive many years of instruction about the ministry of the word while practical mentoring on the prayer ministry in the local church is neglected completely.

3. Some are not sure how to lead effective and life-changing prayer experiences

This lack of experience and training causes pastors to feel unsure and inadequate about the nature of a truly life-giving prayer experience.  Since most were not trained in the dynamics of biblical, balanced prayer times, they struggle to lead prayer gatherings that are transformational and attractive to the congregation.

4. All minister in a prayerless, success-oriented culture

In many churches, “man of prayer” no longer ranks high on the list of desirable leadership traits for the local church.  Instead, churches search for a CEO or manager for the many programs and funding needs of the church.

Recently, I was in Utah teaching at a state-wide church leadership conference.  After my session, a man approached me explaining that he was the chairman of the pastoral search committee for a congregation in that area.  He pulled out a list of over 85 desirable attributes for their next pastor which had been compiled through a survey of the congregation.  Many of the qualities centered on communication skills, management ability, pleasant personality, and strong pastoral care interests.  Nowhere on the list was there any mention of the priority of prayer as an essential for the new pastor.

Our American society tends to value strong, natural leadership, dynamic programming, entertaining services, and impressive technology.  The idea of a pastor locked away in extended prayer does not strike the average churchgoer as a mark of effective leadership.  Some church members think it wastes time if the pastor spends energy attending prayer meetings.  Realizing this, many pastors decide not to go against the grain.

5. Many want to avoid the embarrassment of a prayerless church

Pastors often sense a fresh motivation to call the church to pray collectively in some fashion.  Unfortunately, the participation can be very low.  Concerning prayer meetings, AW Tozer said, “Don’t expect a big crowd when God is the only attraction.”  In a day when most church efforts are evaluated by the numbers, pastors feel embarrassed by the poor turnout and decide to abort the effort rather than face the embarrassment of a sparse crowd.  The hope is that people will just maintain a dynamic and consistent personal prayer life.  Most often, they don’t.

6. Some battle a prayerless personal life

It is hard to take the church farther than you have journeyed in your life.  This sense of failure and guilt immobilizes many pastors in the church prayer ministry.  The “accuser of our brethren” works overtime to condemn and demoralize.  Author and seminary professor, Bruce Demarest, has noted that the average Christian spends barely five minutes a day with God in prayer; the typical pastor, only seven.

7. Every pastor is a special target of the enemy

The enemy does not need to destroy pastors; he simply needs to distract them.  He works overtime to divert, discourage, and derail well-meaning church leaders at every turn.  It has been said that if the devil cannot make us bad, he will just make us busy.  As long as the pastors do not tap into the supernatural work of prayer, the church will be content to engage in a nice, socially-pleasing ministry, but will have little Spirit-empowered impact.

How Should We Respond?

These seven observations are not intended as cause for condemnation but reasons for understanding and support.  Rather than disparage our pastors for their reticence to lead the church in prayer, we should pray for fresh understanding and Holy Spirit-inspired vision for the possibilities of what could happen.  It is hard to be a real intercessor and a critic at the same time. 

In the meantime, each of us should find opportunity to light a candle rather than curse the darkness.  We can all pray more, receive helpful training, and serve as a vital impetus to more meaningful prayer in the church.  A primary component of our mission at Strategic Renewal is to equip and motivate believers to more effective and life-giving prayer.  We would love to serve you in this way as you serve your church and pastor with a goal of greater movements of prayer for Christ’s glory.

Copyright © 2012 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.