9-Reasons-Why-Church-Leaders-Struggle-with-Prayer

By Chuck Lawless

John, a leader in a church I assisted as a consultant, admitted to me what I’d heard before from seminary students and church leaders alike: “Dr. Lawless, I don’t always pray like I should. I know better, but prayer isn’t easy.” I’ve heard something similar so many times that I’ve begun asking for more details. These findings are anecdotal, but here are my general conclusions about why church leaders struggle with prayer.

  1. Leaders are “fixers” by nature. Most leaders don’t readily admit a need for help. Instead, we are problem solvers who seek solutions, attempt answers, and try again if the first answer doesn’t work. Indeed, our followers expect leaders to come up with solutions. Our persistence and tenacity to do so – both good traits in themselves – sometimes push prayer to a last resort option.
  2. We never learned how to pray.  Churches make this mistake with most spiritual disciplines: we tell believers what to do, but don’t teach them how to do it. “Pray. Pray. You must pray,” we proclaim. When we tell but don’t teach, though, we set believers up for discouragement and failure. If leaders are honest, we’ll admit that we, too, have much to learn about how to pray.
  3. Prayer has become more about ritual than about relationship. This reason relates directly to the previous one. We know we should pray, even if we don’t know how, so we go through the motions of prayer. It is not a relationship with a living Lord that calls us to prayer; it is instead only religious ritual. Ritual seldom leads to a consistent, vibrant prayer life.
  4. Prayerlessness can be hidden.  No one in our church needs to know about this struggle. We can talk about prayer, teach about prayer, write about prayer, and even lead corporately in prayer – all without anyone knowing that personal prayer is sporadic at best. This kind of hiddenness is an enemy of heartfelt prayer.
  5. We don’t really believe prayer works. Sure, we teach otherwise about prayer. No church leader I know would teach that prayer is ineffective. Nevertheless, our prayer life often suggests otherwise. Sometimes we don’t pray at all. When we do pray, we’re too often surprised when God does respond. Surprise is one indicator we’re not convinced about the power of prayer.
  6. We have never been broken under God’s hand. The apostle Paul, who was a leader extraordinaire, learned the power of strength in weakness (2 Cor. 12:7-10). Faced with a thorn in the flesh, he pleaded with God to remove it. God instead sovereignly used the thorn to weaken the apostle, who experienced God’s strength at his weakest moments. It is in our weakness that we learn how to pray, but leaders naturally fight against weakness.
  7. Leaders read the Word in a one-sided way. Leaders are often teachers who read the Word for information transmission more than life transformation. When we approach the Word that way, we miss the opportunity to be in dialogue with God. Our Bible reading – even when preparing for teaching or preaching – should bring us to praise, confession, and obedience. It should lead us into prayerful conversation with God.
  8. Some leaders have simply lost hope. It happens. Church leaders who prayed more consistently in the past sometimes lose hope under the weight of church conflict, family struggles, or health concerns. Unanswered prayer leads to faithlessness, which leads to prayerlessness.
  9. We miss the gospel focus on the prayer life of Jesus. I love the four Gospels, but I admit to reading them for many years without meditating on Jesus’ prayer life. A seminary professor challenged me to read the Gospel of Luke with this focus in mind, and my prayer life has never been the same.

In fact, church leader, I give you that same challenge. In your quiet time this week, read these texts. Note how Jesus prayed. Listen to His teachings. Think deeply about the Word. Then, respond to Him in prayer. Take the first step toward being a praying church leader.

Luke 3:21-22; 4:42 (cf. Mark 1:35); 5:15-16; 6:12-13; 6:27-28; 9:16, 18, 28-29; 10:1-2, 21; 11:1-13; 18:1-8, 9-14; 19:45-46; 20:45-47; 21:36; 22:17-19, 31-32, 39-46; 23:33-34, 46; 24:30, 50-51.


Lifeway_Blog_Ad[1]Chuck Lawless currently serves as Professor of Evangelism and Missions and Dean of Graduate Studies at Southeastern Seminary.

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Comments

  1. says

    Wow. Incredibly insightful piece by Dr. Lawless. I think he’s spot on, and as a church leader I’ve probably cycled through all of those reasons in my own seasons of prayerlessness. Thank you for sharing this today. Convicting and challenging!

  2. says

    All nine reasons can be summed up in one. They function as orphans seeking to serve God in a system rather than as sons in the Kingdom sent to represent Father. Peace!

  3. says

    Very helpful! Thanks! Unanswered prayer is the crucible of the Christian life and testimony. Testimonies of prayers answered (both soon and later) are one of the most encouraging experiences in ministry. I have come to two basic principles in my prayer life: (1) Obey God’s commands to pray; and, (2) trust the sovereign wisdom and power of God. Blessings!

  4. says

    great post…as I get older, i’m finally seeing what others write about…prayer for the pastor is the foundation. It’s not a separate compartment, but the air we breathe. I’ve been intrigued the last 3 years with discovering how to “pray without ceasing.” And I’m learning that to do so is to walk in the Spirit all day long…which is the key to everything I should be and do as a pastor.

    The person who prays is the most powerful person in the room.

  5. says

    Chuck, I agree with the problem of ritual – but in my own life I think the word would be “rote.” My experience is that I sometimes struggle with finding freshness in my prayer habits, which over time forces me to try new things. This can be beneficial, but it keeps me on the run, trying to stay ahead of rote-ness. Thanks for the post!

    • Chuck Lawless says

      Agreed, Tom. Sometimes our praying becomes stale because we’ve stopped varying the ways/times, etc., we communicate with God.

      • says

        Great stuff, as usual, Dr. Lawless.

        It is easy to “fall” into a pattern with our prayer habits. I know I am guilty of following the ACTS structure of adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication. I tend to forget that I am not only communicating with the Creator of the Universe but also my best friend.

        • Chuck Lawless says

          I agree, Todd. The ACTS paradigm is a good tool, but it’s easy to let it become a habit that loses the personal touch of prayer.

  6. Dan says

    Powerful! Anytime I look at the prayer life of Jesus it sends me to the prayer closet to draw near once again. Much needed. Thank you for this post!

  7. says

    I just finished composing a series of prayer devotionals for a women’s magazine. In one, I mentioned Jesus’ prayer time as recorded in Mark 1:35-38. Some time after the Lord woke before dawn and went out to pray, his disciples found Him and exclaimed, “Everyone is looking for you!” But because the Lord had taken the necessary time with his Father, the clamor of the crowd didn’t hold sway. He was able to turn from that and “go somewhere else – to the nearby villages – so [he] can preach there also (vs. 38).”

    The disciples probably had the best of intentions, but they were misled. When we don’t take time to hear the voice of God, it’s hard to know which voices (that vie for our attention) to heed and follow.

    • Chuck Lawless says

      Truth indeed, Ann. Jesus’ example shows us it’s okay–imperative, actually–to push away from the crowds to be with the Father.

  8. Patti says

    What a timely article as I am struggling in this area. Ritually, I pray in morning and evening but I am missing the freshness as one comment stated. There is such a pull in my spirit to pray but I have allowed the busyness of the day keep me from it. I am excited about reading the scriptures in Lyke. My pastor has just started a series of teaching using Luke. Please pray for me as I go on this journey to developing real, relevant, and realtional communication with God. Thanks for the article and allowing God to use you in this manner. Be blessed!

  9. Todd Probus says

    Needed this today, Dr. Lawless….more than you realize. Pastoring a small church plant. We’re actually preaching through Luke at our church. Thought it would take maybe a year to get through it all. Here we are 20 months later, and we’re only in Chapter 9. OOPS! Thanks again…TP

  10. Tom says

    I came here by Christianheadlines.com is reason my comment is delayed. Which is that I see in the 9 the implication of a 10th reason of, no one wants to say the king has no clothes because they don’t have clothes on either.

  11. rachel says

    although i do not go to church or mix with any body as such the most important thing in mylife is to pray i have done since i was a child i have never been brought up this way but my only best friend and true friend is Jesus Christ and God.
    i believe that church leaders ect give up praying themselfs is because true prayer is so deep and you hacve to face all your bad points before you get the good yes it deeply tears you apart inside but once you have completly critisied yourself then you truley understand god but the leaders dont truly learn how to meditate and listen and that is why they dont pray like they should and when you learn the bible this is what Jesus is saying about the hypocrites the head of all churches who teach pepole to pray and tell them how to act then do completly the opposite and its a real shame they have become that way and give up their prayers

Trackbacks

  1. [...] 9 Reasons Why Church Leaders Struggle with Prayer: John, a leader in a church I assisted as a consultant, admitted to me what I’d heard before from seminary students and church leaders alike: “Dr. Lawless, I don’t always pray like I should. I know better, but prayer isn’t easy.” I’ve heard something similar so many times that I’ve begun asking for more details. [...]

  2. [...] 9 Reasons Why Church Leaders Struggle with Prayer: “Prayer has become more about ritual than about relationship. This reason relates directly to the previous one. We know we should pray, even if we don’t know how, so we go through the motions of prayer. It is not a relationship with a living Lord that calls us to prayer; it is instead only religious ritual. Ritual seldom leads to a consistent, vibrant prayer life.” [...]

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