Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Come of of the Closet!

"Just as you cannot lead the church in the ministry of the word simply from a desk, neither can you lead a church in prayer simply from a closet.
"Pastors Coming Out of the Closet"

Recently I conducted a Renewal Weekend at a large mid-western church. The pastor is an educated, articulate leader known for his preaching acumen. He even writes books to help preachers create effective sermons.

After the final service of the weekend (a Sunday evening worship-based prayer experience) he stood before his church with tears and offered two observations. First, he stated that he had not experienced the presence of God in such a powerful way since his early days in ministry where revival broke out in the church where he served on staff. Indeed, it was a powerful evening of worship and heart-felt prayer.

His second observation was incredibly insightful. He said to his congregation, “Over the years I’ve told you that the corporate prayer level of our church will never rise above our personal prayer lives.” He continued, “Tonight I want to correct that statement. I have concluded that our personal prayer lives will never rise above our corporate prayer experience because this is how we all learn to pray – in community. And I am resolved to lead you in that experience that we might truly become a house of prayer.”

You could conclude that this courageous pastor decided to come out of his prayer closet and start leading his people in the actual experience of prayer. That decision has been a big victory for him, for his congregation, and for Christ-honoring ministry in that community.

Toward a Consistent View of Leadership

Of course, it is an essential and wonderful thing that many pastors prioritize personal time in prayer. However, far too few come to the conviction of this pastor in the firm understanding that they must lead their people in prayer by example while modeling prayer in community experience. In reality, they are adopting a view of leadership that leaves their people far short of Christ’s ideal for the church.

Let me illustrate. Imagine a pastor named Charlie. He claims to have a deep conviction about the importance of the Bible in his life and ministry. He speaks highly of the Scriptures in personal conversations and writes compellingly about it in his philosophy of ministry. He claims to have a strong personal regimen of Bible reading and study.

Yet, the pattern of this leadership demonstrates an actual contradiction. In his public ministry Charlie is apathetic about the existence of Bible studies in his church. He never teaches people how to study the Bible. He seldom leads any Bible studies with others. When he does on those rare occasions, he seems uncomfortable and half-hearted.

In spite of Charlie’s verbal assent about the benefit of the Bible, he makes minimal references to the Scriptures when the church gathers. He rarely invests any substantive amount of time teaching the Bible to his congregation in corporate worship on Sundays. Instead, he tells stories and packs the services with an abundance of music, drama, and interesting anecdotes about current events.

Any church worth their salt would be grieved about the contradiction of Pastor Charlie’s words. They would wonder about his real commitment to the centrality of the Scriptures. While Charlie might talk a good talk, he obviously is failing to lead his church in the love for and understanding of the Bible.

In fact, the real commodity by which we judge any pastor’s commitment to the Scriptures is TIME. This includes time spent personally in the Word but ALSO time given to teaching and experiencing the power of applied truth in the corporate gatherings. If he does not give time to the Bible, we rightfully conclude he does not really value it.

Leading from the Closet Does Not Work

When it comes to prayer, many pastors live in the same contradictory gray twilight as Charlie. Somehow flowery words about prayer and claims of “doing business with God” in “the closet” suffice, while the church starves for leadership, never really learning how to pray. Jesus grieves because His house does not become a house of prayer. The Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 2 indicating that the church should FIRST be a place of prayer are essentially ignored – because no one is leading the church in that direction. The commands to pray, given in the New Testament, are largely ignored in the community experience of the church.

In my travels, I see this so often. Many respected and godly leaders purport to have a strong prayer life – in private. However, they appear to have little conviction about modeling prayer and leading their people into life-changing experiences of prayer (we will talk about the reasons later). Of course, these pastors never lead powerful, praying churches because it is impossible to POINT the way in prayer. One must LEAD the way in prayer.

Just as you cannot lead the church in the ministry of the word simply from a desk, neither can you lead a church in prayer simply from a closet. In Acts 6:4 the early leaders were committed to engaging collectively and leading the church in BOTH prayer and the ministry of the word. Today, like those leaders, pastors must come out of their private closets and provide bold, biblical, and consistent leadership.

Why Church Leaders Hide in their Prayer Closets

Let me say clearly that the value of private prayer is beyond measure. Responsible pastors seek the Lord individually and regularly intercede for others. Yet, too many good pastors seem content with leaving their prayer impact at the closet door. Why is this?

In my book Fresh Encounters, I wrote extensively about this challenge – based on my own struggle in prayer and conversations with many pastoral colleagues. In summary, our reluctance to lead our churches in prayer is rooted in the following factors:
1. Rugged individualism
2. Closet confusion
3. Limited vision
4. Inadequate training
5. Cultural pushback
6. Personal defeat
7. Spiritual distraction
8. Fear of intimacy
In next week’s e-devotion we will elaborate on each of these eight factors and encourage your heart with some truths about the blessings that occur when pastors come out of their prayer closets to lead their people in biblical, balanced prayer.
In the meantime, pray for your pastor today. Pray that the Lord will draw him close to His heart and teach him more about the joys of seeking God’s face. Pray that, in His time, the Lord will help him see the calling to lead the church in regular and life-giving experiences of prayer. In the meantime, keep a loving and supportive attitude and look for opportunities to make a difference on your knees in your own church. The Lord will bless you as you support your leadership and pray for their growth in Christ.
Copyright © 2009 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.
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1 comment:

ed said...

It's wonderful sitting under your teaching again, even if it is via the i-net. I'm almost through reading Fresh Encounters and it will make a lasting change in my private and corporate prayer life. Thanks my brother. I hope I see you throughout the coming year, perhaps in Seattle area again. Blessed be the tie, Ed Cain
P.S. - I'm coming OUT!