The overwhelming majority of pastors are in ministry because they want to make a difference. When you talk to them about what constitutes this difference, most will say something along the lines of helping people to know and faithfully follow Jesus. There is little disagreement about what we are doing. The how, is a little different story.
As a pastor my inbox, Twitter feed, and magazines are filled with filled with people’s thoughts on how to have a strategic ministry. Books abound aiming to help us reimagine, reinvent, and rethink the church. Visionaries, catalysts, and other experts weigh in. They want us to implement their strategies. I am certainly not against thinking, evaluating, and attempting to faithfully minister in our ever-changing context. But I do grow weary of the flurry of new ideas. We aren’t the first Christians, nor are we the first to face challenges. Furthermore, we have not been given a different set of Scriptures to guide and govern the church. If we believe in the sufficiency of Scripture then we must maintain that we have been given everything we need to be equipped to faithfully navigate and even thrive in our respective contexts.
In light of this, what do we find the apostles doing when faced with challenges? When they consider what they are after and what they are up against, what do they do? They pray. Read through the epistles to the churches and see what they do (i.e. Eph. 1:15-22, 3:14-21; Phil. 1:9-11; Col. 1:9-13). Why? Because they understood that the nature of the battle was not one of the flesh. It could not be won by the demonstration of wisdom, innovation, personal skill, or otherwise. The nature of the battle was spiritual. The work therefore is spiritual (Eph. 6:10-20). So they prayed. A lot.
My tips for a strategic ministry aren’t really that creative. They certainly aren’t innovative. They are however, old-fashioned, timeless, and proven.
If you want to hit the mark of helping people to know and faithfully follow Jesus then you need to pray. This is the best strategy.
I want to give you three aspects of prayer that I believe are especially strategic for ministry.
As a pastor I am most helping my congregation when I remember the Words of Jesus, “apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5). A key aspect of an abiding ministry is a praying ministry; ministry is more than prayer, of course, but it will never be less than prayer. I am certain that I can do my good for my congregation through prayer than I could ever realize.
This point has come home to me recently in a variety of ways. One day I was praying for a brother in our church that God would lift his chin to see the beauty of the church. A few days later I got a note from this same guy expressing his love for the church. Another couple had been infrequent in Sunday gathering. Along with others I had reached out to them, but nothing changed. In praying for them, I saw them begin coming more frequently and even making a statement that they need to prioritize this more. I could go on and on with people I’ve been praying for growth, personal prayer, evangelism, contentment, and service. God answers prayers. And he often answers the private prayers of the pastor before he blesses the public ministry.
Pastor, your private prayer for your church family is a strategic ministry. Suggestion: Carve out time to work through the membership directory of your church and pray through each name/family.
Prayer by the pastor during the service is particularly strategic. In addition to what I mentioned above in terms of God answering prayer, it also has the effect of discipling the congregation in how to pray. Pastors that set aside time, especially during the time when the church gathers, will serve their congregation well. In this time pastors may model biblical praise, lament, confession, repentance, intercession, and brokenness.
Pastor, your public pastoral prayer for your church family is a strategic ministry. There are appropriate cautions of course (Mt. 6:1; Lk. 20:47). Suggestion: identify areas where you would like to see your church grow and make them matters of pastoral prayer. Identify real life needs in the church and then pray for them. Anchoring our prayers in the Bible and the assembly will help reinforce what we as a church are to be and do. This strategic ministry over time will doubtless yield surprising benefits.
Christians are to be praying people. This is not limited to the pastors but includes all members of the church (Col. 4:2; 1 Thess. 5:17). And this is not limited to just a quiet time in the morning but all the time and especially when the church gathers for prayer. Historically churches had a prayer meeting, a time set aside when the church would pray together. Regrettably, today this is far less common. But it is precisely this time when the church gathers together to pray for the church and her needs that the people are shaped. As men and women pray together for God’s name to be hallowed and his will to be done, the church is recalibrate to God and his Word.
Pastor, your prayer meeting of corporate prayer is a strategic ministry. Suggestion: if you don’t currently have a prayer meeting, consider setting aside some time per month (or week!) to gather together and pray. You will not regret it.
The church has been going for centuries. Generations have come and gone, and so have their challenges. We certainly have challenges that are unique to our current context; however, the means by which we respond to these challenges has not changed.
Prayer is a strategic ministry. Any ministry strategy that does not include or emphasize prayer is a bad strategy.