A friend of mine was travelling by plane between two cities and when the meal was served something unusual happened. The person next to him who had spent much time on the plane praying, chose not to accept the meal. My friend turned to him and said, “I notice that you have been praying and have decided not to eat, are you a Christian? Are you fasting and praying?”
The person replied, “I am a Satanist, and I am fasting and praying for the breakup of marriages of particular Christian leaders in our country.”
My friend wrote to me about his experience and said, “Rod, I hope you have people praying for you, for it is more than likely that you have people praying against you.”
Peter Wagner, my Professor of Church Growth at Fuller Seminary in America wrote in what I believe was perhaps his most valuable book, Prayer Shield, “The reason I am writing this book is that I am personally convinced the following statement is true: ‘The most underutilised source of spiritual power in our churches today is intercession for Christian leaders.’”
He goes on to say, “I purposely did not say one of the most underutilised sources of power because I do not think anything else this important is so neglected.”
An underrated theme that consistently appears in the Bible is that of powerful pervading prayer for leaders. Take the story of Joshua’s fight with the Amalekites while Moses, with the help of Aaron and Hur interceded for him. Exodus 17:8-13
“So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning…..So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.”
The apostle Paul understood the need for prayer and often reminded people to pray for him. Even in his darkest hours his hope for deliverance never diminished while he knew people were praying for him. To the Corinthians he wrote, “We were under great pressure far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and He will deliver us. On Him we have set our hope that He will continue to deliver us, AS YOU HELP US BY YOUR PRAYERS! Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favour granted us IN ANSWER TO THE PRAYERS OF MANY.” 2 Corinthians 1:8-11
In more recent times this theme of prayer for leaders has continued to be a powerful contribution to the advancement of the gospel. The late Billy Graham declared, “The three reasons for the success of my ministry were prayer, prayer and prayer.”
The great nineteenth century preacher, Charles Spurgeon, knew that God’s power was manifested in the services in proportion as God’s people truly prayed, and that in such proportion also souls were brought under conviction and drawn to Christ. When someone once asked Spurgeon the secret of his success, he replied, “ ‘My people pray for me.’ He meant not prayer in the usual formal and unexpectant manner, but wrestling with God in living faith that He would answer.” SPURGEON by Arnold Dallimore
WHY LEADERS NEED PRAYER
- LEADERS ARE GREATER TARGETS FOR SATAN TO ATTACK
Jesus knew only too well Satan’s strategy when He told His disciples on the night He was betrayed, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’” Matthew 26:31. At the last supper, Jesus said to Peter, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I HAVE PRAYED FOR YOU, Simon, that your faith may not fail.” Luke 22:31-32
- LEADERS HAVE MORE RESPONSIBILITY AND ACCOUNTABILITY THAN OTHERS
James cautions his readers when he said, “….not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly.” James 3:1
The writer to the Hebrews writes of the relationship between leaders and followers; “Obey your spiritual leaders and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they are ACCOUNTABLE to God.” Hebrews 13:17
- LEADERS ARE IN POSITIONS OF GREATER TEMPTATION AND VULNERABILITY
The consequences of a leader being compromised by any of a number of temptations are significant. And being in largely unsupervised positions, as many leaders often are, makes the temptations that come their way the more difficult to face. It’s amazing how we can be lulled into a false sense of security when we only have an audience of one.
- LEADERS ARE IN POSITIONS OF GREATER INFLUENCE
Leaders by their very lifestyles can serve as permission givers to those that they serve, for good and for bad. Leaders are not free to do as they please. Paul cautions leaders, “We live in such a way that no one will stumble because of us, and no one will find fault with our ministry.” 2 Corinthians 6:3
- LEADERS ARE GREATER OBJECTS OF SCRUTINY
Leaders live with greater expectations, have greater visibility and come under greater scrutiny. There is no greater example than that of Jesus and the way His life was continually under scrutiny by both His friends and His enemies.
“Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, SO THEY WATCHED HIM CLOSELY to see if He would heal him on the Sabbath.” Mark 3:2
- LEADERS ARE MODELS
Paul writing to his mentee Timothy impressed on him the importance of a modelled life that has the potential to inspire others. “Give your complete attention to these matters. Throw yourself into your tasks so that EVERYONE WILL SEE YOUR PROGRESS. Keep a close watch on how you live and on your teaching.” 1 Timothy 4:15-16
On another occasion Paul spoke of his own importance to model a life worthy of his calling as a leader when he wrote, “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 11:1
On at least seven occasions the apostle Paul in his letters requested people to pray for him. (Rom 15:30-32, 2 Cor 1:10-11, Eph 6:18-20, Phil 1:19, Col 4:2-4, 1 Thes 5:25, 2 Thes 3:1-2. )
It would seem that his very life and ministry depended on people praying for him. “….we ask you to pray for us….that the Lord’s message will spread rapidly and be honoured wherever it goes……Pray too, that we will be rescued from wicked and evil people……” 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2
If prayer support was such a high priority for Paul, then surely the same need for prayer for our spiritual leaders exists today.
DEVELOPING A PRAYER STRATEGY
The apostle Paul not only understood the priority of prayer for spiritual leaders, but he was motivated to mobilise his own prayer supporters along the way.
My own initiative to raise up a prayer support team was motivated by Peter Wagner in his book, Prayer Shield and John Maxwell in a video called The Pastor’s Prayer Partners where he explains how he recruited 100 highly committed men to pray for him.
In 1993 I began a ministry as Senior Pastor of Clovercrest Baptist Church in Adelaide Australia and one of my first goals was to establish a personal prayer team. The model that I established was a three level model of prayer partners that I learned from Peter Wagner’s book.
Level 1 : Close Prayer Partner
This was my right hand man who would be available 24/7 to pray for me and meet with me. It was only a few days after my arrival at my new church that an elderly man of German origin came to meet with me at my office and tell me that God told him that he was to be a prayer partner for me. It didn’t take long to realise that he was most suited for the role. He was disciplined (he had served as a soldier in the German army in World War 2), available 24/7, trustworthy and prayerful. There were rare occasions that I would call him late into the night for an emergency that I was facing and he would go to his prayer room to pray until I called him again.
Level 2 : Connected Prayer Partners
This level consisted of eight men (including my close prayer partner) who were members of my church and who made it a priority to stay connected with me on a regular basis. They would meet me in my church office every Sunday morning to pray for me in preparation for the day ahead, they would be in prayer as they sat through a worship service, they would meet with me once a month at my home for a shared meal, teaching on intercession and a time of prayer and they would form links in my 24 hour personal prayer chain.
Level 3 : Casual Prayer Partners
This group of around 80 prayer partners were spread around the world who were committed to praying for me, my family and my ministry on a regular basis and who would receive from me a regular monthly prayer letter.
QUALITIES OF PRAYER PARTNERS
The raising up of prayer partners not only served as a wonderful support for me but also proved to be an excellent equipping experience for existing and emerging leaders in the life of the church. When my ministry required me to travel within Australia or overseas, where possible, I would often arrange to have a prayer partner accompany me.
Important qualities that I sought to identify and develop in prayer partners were:
- a heart for prayer
- content to remain unrecognised
- good team person
- a servant heart
- keeps confidences
- available and faithful
- desire to learn and grow
- a heart for the leader
- a strong faith in God (God answers prayer)
- hears from God
QUALITIES OF A SPIRITUAL LEADER (2 Corinthians 1:8-11)
“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. (GOOD COMMUNICATION)
We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed we felt that we had received the sentence of death itself. (OPENNESS AND HUMILITY)
But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and He will deliver us again. On Him we have set our hope that He will continue to deliver us…….(TRUST IN A PRAYER ANSWERING GOD)
as you help us by your prayers. (PURPOSEFUL MOBILISATION OF PRAYING PEOPLE)
Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favour granted us in answer to the prayers of many.” (THANKFULNESS AND RECOGNITION)
“The most underutilised source of spiritual power in our churches today is intercession for Christian leaders”
May it be that leaders who read this paper might humble themselves and seek to enlist a few people who will take up the calling of being faithful prayer partners. I have reflected on my own journey and expect to learn in heaven of the impact that faithful prayer partners will have had on my life and ministry and my family. I am deeply thankful for each one of them and dedicate this article to them.