Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Inner~Views: Serving Your Pastor


Mike, how long have you focused your ministry on pastors and what compelled you to pursue this course?

I have had an intern by my side for much of my ministry, but the last 14 years I have really focused on pastors and helping them to succeed. One day, while ministering to a pastor, he looked me in the eye and said, "I believe God wants you to work with pastors full time. Will you pray about it?" Throughout the next three weeks as I prayed, I had at least six different pastors ask me if I had thought about working with pastors full time. I shared what I was sensing from the Lord with my church leadership and they affirmed that they saw the call on my life. So in January of 2005, I started Pastors Heart 2 Heart to spend all my time mentoring and coaching pastors. I love helping pastors thrive and not just survive.

There is a need to help pastors succeed. Three out of five pastors are fired or quit the ministry within the first five years after seminary. They need help during those first years. If I can help them get started correctly, maybe we can keep more in the ministry. It is imperative that we do so. In the Southern Baptist Convention in the next nine years, 85 percent of the pastors will be retirement age. If we do not keep more young pastors in ministry, we could be looking at a pastoral leadership crisis in the coming years.

You have facilitated many pastors' prayer retreats. What is the most significant surprise you’ve had while listening to pastors pray?

A majority of them have no idea how to pray for their church, and they do not know how to lead their church to become a praying church. I have surveyed hundreds of pastors asking them what they pray for during Wednesday prayer meetings. About 90 percent of the churches only pray for the sick during this time. A few pray for the lost, the government, the soldiers, and revival. But these are a tiny minority. They are not using the primary night that was set up for prayer to pray for the kingdom or to confess the sins of the church and ask God to make them the church He called them to be. Is it any wonder the churches are not seeing advances in the kingdom? They are not even asking God to do His work so the church can be effective.

What is it that every prayer leader needs to know about their pastor and the pressures they face?

The pastor is the biggest target in the church for Satan and disgruntled church members. Even though he is not perfect, he is still on the front line and needs your support. He gets probably 10 to 20 criticisms for every compliment. The compliments tend to be very general, such as “good sermon today” or “You're doing a good job.” So when he walks away he is wondering what about the sermon or job was good. So the compliment does not really encourage. On the other hand, the criticisms are very specific, “I didn’t like your comment about women today” or “That interpretation of verse 11 is wrong.” Pastors need people to pray for them. Pray that your pastor will keep his eyes on God and not all the distractions and discouragement sent his way.

The relationship pressures on a pastor are unimaginable. Look at it this way. Imagine working with 100 people and each one of them wants your time, for you to serve him and meet all of his needs. Each one of them has his agenda for your life and each one will tell you what they want and when you let him down. Also recognize that if seven of those people do not like you for some reason, they can make your life so miserable that you will want to quit. And if you do not quit, they can get you fired. This is the reality of many small church pastors. Is it any wonder they become people pleasers instead of God pleasers? The other alternative is to give up and quit. Only about seven percent hang in there and try to please God instead of man. Why do I say seven percent? Because according to George Barna (a nationally known pollster), only seven percent of pastors make it to 30 years in ministry.

How do prayer leaders inadvertently add to the pressure?

The pastor may know he needs to pray and wants to pray but everything will work against his praying. He may have people asking him for his prayer requests and he wants to give them to them but the one thing he will forget week after week is to give them the prayer requests. As associate pastor in one of my churches, I started the prayer ministry. But I never could remember to turn in my prayer requests to my prayer team. I could remember everything else! I would put it on my calendar. I would have reminders, but it was as though I could not see them. Is there a battle going on or what? Do not be critical of him and judge him. Come alongside and encourage him. Then drag those requests out of him and pray for him no matter what. He needs those prayers to succeed.

Prayer leaders also add pressure by expecting the pastor to meet their agenda for prayer. The pastor may be praying, but they want him at their prayer meeting on their time schedule. He may be 100 percent behind their prayer meeting, but that is not where the Lord wants him to be physically at that time. I established the prayer ministry and prayer rooms at Providence Baptist Church when I was associate pastor there and faithfully prayed in it. When I started Pastors Heart 2 Heart and came back to the Providence as a member, I joined the prayer room and was faithful for the first year. But the second year, God had me praying with pastors all over the state at my hour and I missed more than half my scheduled hours. When I saw how much I was going to miss, God released me to give up my time in the prayer room so someone else could have that hour. God was still calling me to pray, but not in that location at that time. If the prayer room people had not understood, they could have made me feel incredibly guilty. I am blessed with mature believers who understand and support me in this new assignment. They also understand that although I am not in the prayer room, it does not lessen my commitment to prayer.

Share several practical action steps a congregational prayer leader can take to personally encourage the pastor.

Set up regular appointments where you go in and pray for your pastor. Make them as short or as long as he wants them to be. For example, when you go in, you could ask, “Pastor do you have any specific requests for me?” If not, then you should have already asked God to reveal how you are to pray for him right then. Pray for God’s blessings, for discernment, for the fruit of the spirit, encouragement, spiritual maturity and wisdom to make Godly decisions. Pray he would have God’s vision for the church and for the leaders to support him. Pray for those things that will advance God’s kingdom in his life, his family, and the church.

Ask the pastor to choose some people he would like to come to a prayer time just for the pastor two to four times a year. This is an opportunity for a group to spend as much time as the pastor wants praying for him and his God-given vision for the church. It could last anywhere from an hour to all day. I always left those prayer times strengthened and encouraged as I poured out my heart for myself, my family and the church, and they would cover those issues in prayer. It has to be a group he chooses: people that he is comfortable sharing with and can trust that it will not leave that room. This group also can begin to pray for him daily from the requests the leader gets from the pastor each week.

The most powerful preaching I have done is when I have a group of people in another room or in the worship center who are praying for me as I preach. They can pray weekly or once a month depending on the number of people and the calling on their lives. I know at my home church when the college kids pray, God does extraordinary things in the service. They have people who pray regularly, but they also ask the Sunday school classes to rotate through and pray.

How can we go about establishing more prayer in the church?

Start by looking at the prayer times you already have and see how to strengthen them. If there are Sunday morning prayers, consider the following: Are they kingdom prayers or do they just a rehash of the same thing week in and week out? How do these prayers advance God’s kingdom? How do they bring God glory? What is the focus: our wants or God and His glory? Who is praying those prayers? Are they people filled with the spirit or people of position only? If the wrong kind of prayers are being prayed, the pastor or key lay people need to start modeling the right kind of prayers. This is important because prayer is more “caught” than taught.

One of the most inefficient prayer techniques is a common one. It is a waste of good prayer time when a group goes around a circle and talks about prayer requests with someone taking notes. Then, one person prays at the end. You spend 20 minutes talking about prayer and 2 minutes praying. Teach your people to write out their requests ahead of time and hand them in before you start the meeting. It makes them be specific and concise in their request. Then pass them out to people willing to pray out loud for them. It is difficult to get them to do this, but they can be taught, and the results are worth it. You can spend 20 minutes praying instead of two.

Another approach is to teach your people to pray their requests one at a time in short prayers. They pray the request and then others join them in short prayers praying for that request before another request is brought up. When there is a long enough pause to know all have prayed through that request then someone new introduces their request in prayer. This way you get directly to what is to be prayed for without all the discussion that goes with most prayer requests.

Have a yearly prayer emphasis. Churches that understand the importance of prayer to the success of their church will spend two to four weeks a year in a concerted and organized prayer emphasis through all their organizations such as Sunday preaching, Sunday School, small groups, conferences and guest speakers.

Take your pastor and leadership to churches that really have prayer as a foundation of their church such as Providence Baptist in Raleigh, NC; Biltmore Baptist in Asheville, NC; Bethany Christian Center in Baker, LA; and Champion Forest Baptist in Houston, TX are a few of these.

If your church has Wednesday evening prayer, make sure it becomes a real prayer time and not just another teaching time when you pray for the sick.

The most important thing for you to do as the prayer leader is to pray and ask God to reveal His desire for your church and your situation. This means seeking God in prayer and fasting about the condition of your church and what He wants to do through you to correct it.

Every prayer leader needs to develop the skill of facilitating corporate prayer. What have you learned about this difficult but essential skill?

Ninety percent or more of the pastors I have worked with need help with congregational prayer. If pastors are struggling in this area, you can imagine that most congregations are clueless. Therefore, without strong leading by the facilitator, the corporate prayer times will be self-centered times of seeking the hand of God instead of seeking the face of God. People naturally focus on themselves: their hurts and needs. The leader has to purposely lead them to focus on Christ and His kingdom.

Here is my suggestion. Use worship times to point people to Christ. Too many times in our worship we talk about Christ but never to Him. Use the example in Psalms 100:4 Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name (NASU) to guide you in this. Sing about something we can be thankful for, His soul cleansing blood. Pause and let the people thank God one at a time out loud for His blessings. Sing a song of adoration such as Praise, to the Lord the Almighty. There are many great choruses and scripture songs available for adoration. Next, have the people praise God one at a time for his attributes: His love, mercy, grace, knowledge, wisdom, being all knowing, etc. Afterwards, sing another song about loving Jesus and have the people tell God why they love him. For example, “Jesus I love you because…” and fill in the blank. This helps them focus on God . It also prepares them to hear from God and what is on His mind. Then, spend some time in silence with an open Bible asking God to speak to them. For example, “Lord what’s on your heart?” After giving them time to respond one at a time or silently to what God has been saying to them from the Bible or in their spirit. I would encourage you to pray out loud as much as possible. Those prayers we voice out loud are the most heartfelt and accurate. Don’t be surprised as the congregation matures to begin to hear a lot of confession during this time. If the congregation is not on praying ground, ask them to ask God to search their hearts and see if there are any sins that need to be confessed. Give them time to confess to God.

After a time of worship, it is so important for the leader to guide them into kingdom praying. Begin to give them areas to pray for that God has revealed to you. You have spent time with God asking Him to reveal the sins of the church to you. These are sins that are keeping it from being the New Testament church it is supposed to be. Ask Him to show you what the church should reflect instead of that sin. For instance:

Sin to confess What the church should reflect

Unforgiveness Forgiveness
Robbing God Tithers/generosity
Critical Spirit Wholesome speech/ building up
Gossip Those who speak the truth in love
Complacency full of passion, zeal for God
Lack of knowledge full of the knowledge of God

The list could go on. You can find what to pray for in scriptures such as Col. 1:9-12, 2 Thess. 1:11, John 17, and Eph. 3:14-17. Nehemiah 1 also shows us an example of this kind of praying. Nehemiah identified with the sins of the people and his own sins (v. 6). These sins needed to be confessed, and he prayed toward the solution of the problems those sins had caused (v. 11) so that the people could reflect a godly assembly.

Also, notice Nehemiah’s attitude as he prayed. Nehemiah 1:4 says, “When I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” If you want to see God work and change your church, you must have the attitude expressed by Nehemiah: weeping, mourning, praying and fasting until he heard from God. Why would he do that? Because he saw the condition of the people as they really were and it broke his heart to the point he was determined to do something even though he had a good life as the cup bearer to the king. When we see the condition of the church as it really is, how can we not weep, mourn, pray and fast?

When you do weep, mourn, and fast in prayer God will begin to reveal some things:

    He will show you what you need to be and what you need to do.

    He will show you what the people need to be and what they need to do.

    He will show you what only God can do and what you need to leave in his hands.

(Daniel 9 is another model of this kind of praying.)

So as you lead the church in prayer, you would ask them to see if that sin is a problem in their life. If so, confess it for yourself and the church. Then begin to ask God to replace it with the character trait God wants the church to have.

For example, confess unforgiveness, and then choose to start forgiving everyone that you need to forgive and ask God to do it through you and the church. If you and your church really begin to pray these kinds of prayers, there will be a new freedom and the lifting of the weight of sin. As you are praying like this, if there is a sense of condemnation or guilt then you are missing the point. If there is not joy and freedom, then you have not prayed correctly yet. When you and the church begin to pray this way, the church will start acting like the New Testament church.

Mike, please write a prayer on behalf of congregational prayer leaders and their pastors.

Lord, slow us down long enough to talk to you. Remind us that apart from you we can do nothing of eternal value. Call us to such an intimate relationship with you that prayer is as natural as breathing. Lord, may we do more listening to you so we will know what your agenda is. Forgive us for coming up with our own agenda and asking you to bless it.

O Lord, break my heart for the condition of the church. Forgive me for just accepting the failures and sins of the church as though things will never change. Lord, you are the God that is bigger than all our sins. The church is your bride and your desire is even more than my desire is to see the bride of Christ, holy and pure before her Lord. Lord begin to show me the sinful condition of my church that we may confess our sins and begin to pray that the church will reflect the glory of Christ. Lord, show me my sin that I might confess it and return to you.

Oh Lord, give us a church that is (Col. 1:9-11)

    Filled with the knowledge of God (v. 9)

    Walking in a way worthy of God, pleasing him, fruitful in good works, increasing in knowledge of God. (v. 10)

    Strengthened with all power, attaining steadfastness and patience with joyfulness. (v.11)

A church that is (2 Thess. 1:11)

    Worthy of her calling

    Fulfilling every desire for goodness.

    Fulfilling the work of faith in our life.

    Working in power in our life.

A church that is (John 17)

    Kept in God’s name and is one (v. 11)

    Has God’s joy made full (v. 13)

    Kept from the evil one (v. 15)

    Set apart by your word (v. 17)

    One as Father and Son are in each other, may the church be one in them (v.21)

    Has Jesus’ glory on them (v. 22)

    Filled with the fullness of God (v. 24)

A church that is (Eph. 3:14-19)

    Strengthened in the inner man (v.16)

    Christ dwells in their hearts through faith (v.17)

    Knows the love of Christ (v. 18-19)

    Filled to all the fullness of God (v. 18-19)

O Lord, I thank you that you hear this prayer because I know it is your will that your church be this way. Make it so Lord for your glory. In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior we pray. AMEN.

Mike Sparks
Pastors Heart 2 Heart
5205 Tomahawk Tr., Raleigh
NC 27610
919-773-9656 Work / 919-631-1641 Cell
www.pastorsheart2heart.org


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