I was sitting in my office going over attendance numbers and student survey data for the youth ministry. Summer had been long and busy, and now the school year loomed ahead of me. I was trying to finalize schedules and figure out if last year and this summer were a success or not. Was there anything here worth repeating? Should we just do it all again? I was feeling overwhelmed and stressed, so I stopped to seek comfort where I knew I could find it: a milk shake. Things were not well. Two months or so later I was looking for a new job.
There were a lot of factors that caused stress while I held that ministry position, and an anemic prayer life was one of them. If you read Monday’s post, you know that stats show most ministry leaders struggle with prayer. If I were to guess, many of them probably share one of the contributing factors as to why my prayer life hadn’t developed. Lacking a practical framework for how my prayer life should be structured, inconsistent routines full of trite, repetitious prayers were my norm. Compared to commonly shared pictures like the 4:00 AM prayer warrior, my prayers felt almost foolish, which only contributed to the downward spiral over the years.
How-To: Ministry Without Prayer
How is it possible to do ministry without the discipline of prayer? Simple: Exercise and eat to deal with stress, work as many hours as possible, and try to be the most charismatic and engaging version of yourself as you can be. Believe that you can succeed by force of will. If you need additional items to prop up your effort, purchase devotional books for your bookshelves and write lessons on the practice of spiritual disciplines. Those added actions should give you the feeling of spiritual depth you need to help mask the fact that you’re doing it all alone.
“Under certain circumstances, urgent circumstances, desperate circumstances, profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer.” – Mark Twain, a Biography
You’ll notice we have a pastoral bent this week with all of these posts on prayer. When I tell people about Productive Ministry, I always make a point to talk about how our focus is different from most sites writing for ministry leaders. Instead of a specifically pastoral focus, we’re trying to fill a void regarding practical and productivity related topics that often are left for ministry leaders to figure out or muddle through on their own. However, there are many places where the spiritual and the practical cross over. Spiritual disciplines like prayer are such a vital part of the productivity of your ministry that it needs to be written about even on a site that usually, intentionally doesn’t write about pastoral topics.
One of the great uses of Twitter and Facebook will be to prove at the Last Day that prayerlessness was not from lack of time.
— John Piper (@JohnPiper) October 20, 2009
The Function of Prayer
Productivity is the exercise of the right discipline at the right time. The Two Minute Rule is the discipline that helps you quickly remove the small yet cumulative weight of quick-yet-undone tasks from your to-do list, scheduling in your most complicated activities into your calendar. Scheduling your week is the discipline of ensuring important tasks have guarded time to be completed. Prayer is the discipline of reminding yourself that you are the agent of a higher being who is bringing a grand narrative to an eventual conclusion.
“The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.” – Søren Kierkegaard
Prayer grounds us when we start to think we will accomplish everything by force of will. Prayer inserts us back into the mindset of agent to the God above. Prayer turns our focus from inward to outward, whether that be up toward God or out toward others. This knowledge is incredibly important for your mental game in ministry. This is why fixing your prayer life is so important. This is why having a partner for prayer is so vital. Without a strong discipline of prayer, you are withering on the vine. So, let us pray.
“Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, …” – Matthew 6:9-13 (NRSV)