It’s 5:30 a.m., and the alarm begins its shrill alert. Though he’s already been awake for a bit, the day’s tasks begin to loom heavy on the mind of the pastor. The dog needs to be let out, then there are emails to answer and sermon notes to condense. But first, he shuffles to the kitchen for the caffeinated elixir that’ll get his brain firing this early. On the way, he stops to click the remote off, since someone in the house has left the TV on all night, yet again.
“Best Dad Ever” mug in hand, dog and TV taken care of, he settles into his study for time with his Father. It’s another hour before the rest of the house starts stirring — the perfect time to get alone in the Word and prepare for a full day ahead.
He bows his head to commune with God, praying for his church: that widow in desperate need of a working vehicle, that family in crisis he hasn’t seen walk through the church doors in a while, the senior saint on his third round of chemo in the week ahead, that couple praying over their prodigal, the addict who sleeps on a bench in the church parking lot from time to time, and the list goes on.
Then there are his own family’s needs. “Oh, there’s so much to be thankful for. But, Lord, we need rest,” is the cry of his heart.
A stunning trend
In a 2022 Barna report, the number of pastors considering leaving full-time ministry has sharply risen to the tune of two in five. Pastoral burnout is real and is on the rise. Spiritual discouragement can easily creep in. Loneliness, lack of support, frustration, mistrust, and mental exhaustion are not in short supply among pastors these days.
But how can the Church help?
There are a number of things Christians can do to help the pastors in their lives, from a thriving deacon ministry to regular church volunteer days to flat out meeting the physical needs of pastors and their families. Yet perhaps the most important thing we ought to commit to on a regular basis is praying for our pastors.
If you have not previously committed to praying for your pastor(s), you may not know how or even where to start. There are a number of clues in scripture to help us in this area, but for now, let’s focus on Paul’s second letter to Timothy, as he’s preparing him for the passing of the torch in furthering his ministry. The first eight verses of chapter four are rich with application, with verse five being our focus for prayer:
“But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” 2 Timothy 4:5
In this passage, Paul is exhorting his son in the faith, Timothy, a young pastor himself. Paul knows his time on earth is coming to a swift end, and he has some parting words of wisdom for his protégé and, in turn, pastors for centuries to come.
Based on this text, here are four ways you can specifically pray for your pastors:
- Pray they would be watchful, or “keep their heads”.
The first part of Paul’s charge to Timothy can be described as:
KJV – “Watch thou in all things”
NIV – “Keep your head in all situations”
ESV – “Be sober in all things”
NASB – “Use self-restraint in all things”
Staying centered on the Word of God is essential for pastors to remain level-headed in all things. Pray that your pastor’s doctrine would not sway to the whims of the world. If your pastor does not have a vibrant, intimate relationship with God — one in which they are regularly praying and digging into scripture for their own personal study, not just for sermon prep — it will show in the message each and every week.
Another way to be watchful and stay level-headed is to pray for your pastors to have a close group of elders and/or other pastors to turn to for accountability and personal encouragement. Having helpful mentors to lean on when the proverbial well runs dry is essential in ministry.
- Pray they endure hardship.
The life of a pastor is a high calling, to be sure, and as such, the enemy seems to target pastors with every kind of hardship at some point or along several points of their ministry. In short, ministry is hard (in case you weren’t aware), and there’s no such thing as a faithful ministry that isn’t costly. In fact, the Word tells us that hardship is to be expected and endured joyfully. James warns:
“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” James 1:2-4
Even the English dictionary defines endure as “suffer (something painful or difficult) patiently.” And patiently is defined as “in a way that shows tolerance of delays, problems, or suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious.” Therefore, we can and should actively pray for our pastors to endure difficulties in their ministry patiently and expectantly, that they “may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”
- Pray they do the work of an evangelist.
We ought to pray that those in pastoral roles would have the heart of Paul, who was seeking to win as many people as possible to Christ during his ministry. The gospel, if central to your pastor’s theology (and if it isn’t — run!), should be present in all things. Pray that every aspect of your church’s ministry offers a clear gospel presentation — in the sermons, in Bible studies or small groups, in the children’s and youth activities, and in ministry events. Paul himself declares:
“Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” 1 Corinthians 9:16b
Let’s pray that our pastors would keep the main thing the main thing, and make sharing the gospel their life’s work. It is, after all, the most important work of all!
- Pray they would fulfill their ministry.
That last phrase in our key verse speaks to a pastor’s completion of duties, or as the King James puts it, that they would “make full proof of thy ministry.” In today’s English, we might translate that as: “Don’t quit! Don’t shirk your responsibility! See things through to the end, leave nothing on the table, give it everything you’ve got, hold nothing back, stay at it. Don’t quit!”
What an important thing to add to our prayer for pastors! Specifically, we can pray God would order their time as it relates to their many duties. How pastors divide and devote their time can be daunting. In preparing for sermons, for instance, they may put in 15, 25, even 40 hours of prep work, including prayer, study, writing, and “whittling down” (because they can’t possibly communicate it all to their congregants in one 40-minute message!).
Putting it into practice
To sum all of these points up, here is a daily breakdown to guide how you can pray for your pastors throughout the week:
Monday – Pray for your pastor’s preaching, that it would be presented without compromise and that God’s Word would not return void.
Tuesday – Pray for their counseling and that they would seek counsel — that they may not only provide wise guidance, but that they would also receive counsel well from others.
Wednesday – Pray for their protection. Pastors walk with a clear target on their backs, and Satan consistently attempts to pull them down in the eyes of others, diminishing their ministry.
Thursday – Pray for their relationships — that God would give them grace to strengthen their marriages, give them wisdom in raising and biblically disciplining their children (if they have any), and give them ability to nurture godly relationships both inside and outside their congregations.
Friday – Pray for their personal spiritual walk. This is the number one thing that directly affects their ministry.
Saturday – Pray for any of their personal prayer requests, including intentional times of restorative rest.
Sunday – Come together as a church to pray corporately for your pastors and each other.
What does your pastor want you to know?
Though our pastors may not ask for it openly, they desperately need our prayers. Even Paul urged those he loved to lift him and his fellow workers in ministry up to God in prayer:
“Now I beg you, brethren, through the Lord Jesus Christ, and through the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in prayers to God for me.” Romans 15:30
“Brethren, pray for us.” 1 Thessalonians 5:25
To all of the pastors in our lives — those who are called by God to proclaim Jesus Christ to the world, who labor tirelessly and many times unrecognized — thank you! You deserve much more than one month of appreciation.
Excerpts used with permission from a sermon by:
Phelps, C. (2023, March 26). The Church Needs to Pray for its Pastor [Sermon audio recording] Palm Bay, FL, USA.
This article can also be seen on the Christian Post.