Early in my vocational ministry, our team was launching a new program that needed many volunteer leaders. We tried various recruiting techniques, begged and pleaded, and did everything we could to get people on board. When our efforts did not yield quick results, I was stressed over what to do next and afraid of failing. Then during a time of prayer, God brought Matthew 9:36-38 to mind. This was exactly the type of situation Jesus was talking to his disciples about. When the need is great and resources are limited, Jesus instructs us to ask the “Lord of the harvest” to provide.
In this “aha” moment, God reminded me that this was His church, His people, His mission, and ultimately, God would provide according to His plan. Moreover, the Holy Spirit eased my fear by reassuring me of my identity as a child of God, and my calling as a ministry leader. Whew! I felt such relief and a sense of peace. It was not up to me to persuade people into serving or growing, or even wanting to grow that was up to God. My part was to pray and obey; doing my best to carry out whatever next step God has called me to do. Seems so simple and yet, this is a lesson I have had to relearn over and over again.
It is indisputable that prayer is essential to life as a follower of Jesus Christ. This is even more critical when we are entrusted to lead others. As leaders, it is our role to take people from where they are, to a better place, where they have not yet been and are not even sure they want to go. Without God's constant guidance in our lives, how can we be confident of what we are teaching, how we are ministering, or why we are even leading? It does not matter how smart, well-intentioned or competent we are because our knowledge, skills, and talents are simply not enough for the task of leading others spiritually. That role is just too big for us to handle without continual prayer.
For decades, I mistakenly limited prayer to a grocery list of requests during a confined space of “quiet times.” Yet, when I stepped into leadership roles, I found my prayer life took on a deeper dimension, probably out of sheer necessity. In the uncharted waters of leadership, I found myself more in need of God’s input, wisdom, and power. Here are some things that being in the presence of God empowers me as a leader to do:
- Only Jesus can help me love difficult people in our congregation
- Only Jesus can empower me with His vision and the wisdom to execute it
- Only Jesus can give me the confidence to step up when I feel inadequate
- Only Jesus can comfort me when unfair criticisms come my way
- Only Jesus can lift me up when I fail and give me the courage to try again
- Only Jesus can control my tongue so I will not hurt others with my words
- Only Jesus can bring forgiveness and peace in conflicted relationships
- Only Jesus can change my self-centered heart toward Kingdom priorities
- Only Jesus can redeem my mistakes for His glory
- Only Jesus can equip me with all I need to lead His people
This list is probably true for us as individuals, but as a leader, our prayer life has a ripple effect in the life of the people we serve and others affected by them. We cannot bear the weight of leadership for long without recharging our souls through communion with God.
We see Jesus praying often in the midst of many different types of circumstances. For example, He prays while making decisions, confronting difficult situations, doing miracles, suffering emotional distress, and interceding for his disciples. Jesus is in constant communion with God as He ministers to others. In contrast, often I gather facts, make plans, cast vision, discern strategies, do tasks, and somewhere along the way, I ask God to bless it all. In God’s loving grace, He still works through my limited efforts. Yet, the times where I choose to continually focus on His face, His Kingdom, and His direction, the weight of leadership falls off my shoulders and onto His.
A mentor once told me, "The most valuable thing we bring into our ministry is a healthy soul." We minister best out of the overflow of what God is doing in us. A healthy soul develops only as we consistently abide in Christ as depicted in John 15. God is constantly initiating and inviting us to stay connected and abiding in Him. When we hang out with God throughout the day, in awareness of His constant presence, allowing Him to fill our souls with His love and grace, we will bear fruit. That is God’s promise. When we do the abiding, God does the “fruiting.” We need to cultivate deeper dependence on God, a humble spirit of obedience, and a greater awareness of His presence, especially as we lead. Then, we will be well equipped to partner with the Holy Spirit in ministering faithfully and joyfully to others.