Paul closes his letter to the Church in Ephesus with some advice regarding spiritual warfare—advice which pertains not to special periods of spiritual attack in the life of a Christian, but to each and every moment of life as a follower of Jesus here on earth. Borrowing, no doubt, from the image of the Roman soldier who is guarding Paul, he offers believers a set of armor of their own—belt, shoes, breastplate, helmet, shield and sword. And then he gives them a command: to pray, always.
But Paul’s closing word to the Ephesians is a prayer request. He says (Ephesians 6:19-20), “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given to me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.”
“Pray also for me.” If we keep Paul’s overarching image of warfare as God’s people, then these prayers are in keeping with this warfare. Think of it this way: in every army there are officers, commanders, and generals, and when Paul asks that we pray for him, he is asking that we pray for those in command above us in the faith.
Paul, of course, is dead, but the principle he taught remains true. And what that means for us, as a lesson for today, is that you must pray for your pastor, that prayer for your pastor is a critical aspect of Spiritual Warfare. And of course, I don’t mean just your pastor alone, but also to pray for every ministry leader above you.
Why do you need to pray for your pastor? Because in spiritual warfare your pastor is the most likely to be attacked, the biggest spiritual target. And the truth of the matter is that when the Pastor falls it hurts everyone in the Church. When you fail, O Ordinary Believer, it may hurt a few people—but consider the tragic ripples when a pastor falls. Remember Ted Haggard. Remember Jim Bakker. Remember the pastor you knew in your hometown who fell, spectacularly, from grace. The pastor is the biggest target because if the devil can get at him he can hurt a host of people. Then, where there was once faith, doubt can grow. Where there was once security, fear can set in. Where there was once comfort, there is now insecurity.
This, I believe, is a reason why James says (James 3:1) that “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” To step into a position of leadership in the church is to invite the attack of the enemy and the scrutiny of the flock. Whether you like it or not, you are now not just a Christian but also a special example; one that will either bless or tarnish God’s reputation in the world.
Therefore, if you are going to be an active participant in the warfare of the Church, if you want your church to survive and thrive against the schemes of her enemy, then you’ve absolutely got to pray for your pastor.
What should you pray for? There are five requests to make on your pastor’s behalf. These are (in no particular order):
1. Pray for purity.
A pastor is just as susceptible to sin as everyone else in the Church, no matter how holy he appears on a Sunday morning. He wrestles with a rebellious thought life, the flesh he inhabits, and pretty much every sin you can imagine (not usually all at once!). Pastors need purity so that they can effectively lead their flocks. Furthermore, don’t wait for your pastor to fall into sin to begin praying for his purity—instead, pray proactively for your pastor’s purity right now.
2. Pray for Encouragement.
The biggest struggle I face as a pastor is discouragement. Everyone else sees one picture of the church—the outside image—but I see the innermost depths of my church. I know everything that we could be, all the ways we fall short, and it is worth mentioning that in general the work to which a pastor is called is itself an overwhelming task. After all, we are charged with saving the world through the preaching of the gospel. And who is sufficient to complete such a task? The very nature of the work makes it so that it is far easier to see failures than successes, and Satan, the accuser, uses this disparity to create discouragement. I’m struck by the fact that when Paul writes his request for prayer he himself was in prison, and I expect that from within his grim prison view he was tempted toward discouragement. It’s a good bet your pastor needs some encouragement, too.
3. Pray for Boldness.
In every age of the Church there is a continual danger that ministers will preach a comfortable gospel rather than a true one. That we will, not heeding the warning of 2 Timothy 4:3, preach what the itching ears of our congregations desire to hear, rather than the words that God Himself would have us preach. And so we need the prayers of our people so that we will, in every circumstance, regardless of opposition or opinion, of popularity or political correctness, of attendance or success, be emboldened to preach boldly, as fools for Christ, what God asks us to preach. To pray for boldness is to pray that your pastor will serve God rather than anyone or anything else.
4. Pray for Wisdom.
Your pastor has a host of difficult decisions to make—about the direction and the future of your church, about the goals of your fellowship, about what to teach and preach, about who to encourage and who to discipline, about how to counsel this person and rebuke that one. And therefore your pastor desperately needs wisdom in matters of judgment, of discipline, of encouragement, and of teaching.
5. Pray for him to be Filled with the Spirit.
It is a simple thing to say, but we often forget it: if I minister by my own power, I will grow weak, but if by God’s power—by the power of the Spirit—then we will be strong (note especially the shift from singular to plural there). Your minister burns out when he ministers by his own power; he is renewed when he ministers by the Spirit’s power. Furthermore, if I am filled with the Spirit, then I will work harder to get you filled and everyone else in the Church as well. Your minister’s filling is an important path toward the filling of your whole church.
If you have never prayed for your pastor, take a moment and pray for him now along these lines. Better yet, take a moment and send him a note to tell him you’ve prayed for him. Write these five requests out and add them to your daily or weekly prayers. I’m certain your pastor needs it. I most certainly do.