Recently I watched a video at the Gospel Coalition from Tullian Tchividjian, Russ Moore, and Voddie Baucham. entitled “The Biggest Mistakes that Young Preachers Make.” They discussed the tendency that young preachers have to preach to impress people or to live up to the expectations of their seminary professors. Russ Moore pointed out that they don’t need to be overly sensitive to criticism and to take the “long view” in ministry There is much wisdom in their words and any young pastor will benefit from them greatly..
This subject connects well with young pastors because they know instinctively that they need to work hard on their preaching. Yet there are other areas of pastoral ministry that young preachers fail to think about deeply. There is one area in particular that is easily neglected.
When the apostles designated seven men to carry out the ministry of feeding widows, they did so that they might give themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word. Most young pastors get the ministry of the word right as they spend hours locked up in the study getting ready to preach. They want to preach well, and rightfully so, so they take this part of the ministry seriously. They often neglect the other side of the apostolic example and fail to pray for their people. This usually happens because it does not feel as urgent as getting ready to preach. No one really knows whether or not a pastor is praying, but they will definitely know if he is not prepared to preach.
Pastors must prioritize the ministry of prayer and give themselves to it in the same way that they give themselves to the ministry of the word. Our people need our prayers, and we need what happens to us when we pray for them. Praying for people softens our heart towards them and helps us to rely on God’s Spirit to work in their lives through our preaching and ministry.
Practically, I would recommend that pastors pray for 5-7 families every weekday. This keeps you praying for people regularly without it feeling like an impossible task. For the families that you know what is going on in their lives, you can pray specifically for their needs and areas where you hope to see God at work in their lives. For the families that you don’t know what to pray for, ask them the next time that you see them or call them and ask. The conversation goes like this, “I pray for you and every family in our church regularly and I wanted to know if there was anything that you would like for me to specifically pray about.” Write it down, pray for it, and ask them about it after a period of time.
This will change the way that you pastor, but it will change the way that you preach as well. Knowing where the people in your church are struggling or facing difficulties helps you as you apply God’s word to their lives each week. It also helps as you are planning future series. If there is an issue that you see across the whole spectrum of the church, choose a book of the Bible or plan a short series that will address it.
We know that we cannot neglect the ministry of the word, but let us not neglect the ministry of prayer either.