Monday, 11 November 2013

Thoughts on Prayer (2) - Praying for Pastors

Every congregation wants a biblical pastor. There are many ways at which we can look at having one, and one crucial element is the prayers of the congregation for him. Usually a congregation is exhorted to do so at an induction and no doubt most congregations pray earnestly for their own minister(s). Yet they should also pray that other congregations should have such pastors and we are aware of vacant churches in our denomination (indeed it would not take long to pray for every minister in our denomination – we could pray for one presbytery each day, and then we would be praying for all our ministers weekly). And they should continue to pray for their own and other ministers because it is possible that they may become stale in their spirituality and distracted from the main aspects of their calling

An obvious element of praying for pastors is that the petitions should be biblically informed. Paul frequently mentions features of his pastoral work and often requests specific prayer by churches for particular areas of his activities. One passage that highlights several characteristics of his work is Colossians 1:24–2:5. I will draw attention to four in 1:24-29 here and mention next week those in 2:1-5.

The first characteristic that Paul mentions in 1:24-29 is his joyful spirit despite being in difficult circumstances (he was under arrest in Rome when he wrote this letter). There are many matters that can deflate a pastor (as there are with all Christians) and the devil will aim to do so. Yet it is important that pastors work with a sense of spiritual joy, and we should pray that God would give this blessing to them.

The second feature mentioned by Paul is his ongoing awareness of his divine calling. God had set him apart as a steward, with the role of making the word of God fully known. This does not mean that a pastor has to preach about every word in the Bible, but I think it does mean that he has to explain, as much as possible, everything the Bible says about Jesus (Jesus, after all, is the focus of what Paul calls the ‘mystery’ revealed to God’s people). We should pray that pastors would remember their calling to convey the message of who Jesus is and what he has done, is doing and will yet do.

A third detail of pastoral work is proclamation. Sometimes we imagine that proclamation involves loudness, but I suspect a more important element is clarity. There is no point in a loud message that no-one understands. How did Paul ‘proclaim’ Christ? He did so by warning and teaching. In other words, he warned his listeners about error (in belief and practice) and taught them the truth (about belief and practice), and did both by using words and language his audiences could understand. Of course, such messages require wisdom as to when they are declared and concerning the level of content in them. So we should pray for wise pastors who will preach with clarity as they warn about error and teach the truth.

The fourth aspect of pastoral work that Paul refers to is his realisation that such work was hard (he uses the term ‘toil’). Paul, despite all his years of experience, despite his many natural gifts, found pastoral work a struggle even although he had divine help. It is important to note that Christ’s help did not remove the struggles of Paul, instead these struggles were the channels through which Christ’s power worked effectively. If a pastor loses the sense of struggling, there is something wrong with him. We should pray that pastors will struggle along with God’s help and thus see his blessing.

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