A friend and I were having a discussion about preachers. We both love our preachers, and years ago, I was her pastor, so we have a mutual understanding about a lot of things.
The conversation went like this.
She: “One of the things I’ve enjoyed in our church lately is an enhanced understanding of every phrase of the Lord’s prayer. So much so that I was offended recently at a funeral when the minister asked us to stand and ‘recite’ the Lord’s Prayer. I don’t think it’s something to be recited; it’s something to be prayed diligently!”
She added: “Now don’t go getting the wrong idea. I think that preacher is a delightful person, and I like him very much.”
I said, “Asking someone to ‘recite’ the Lord’s Prayer reminds me of something similar that drives me up the wall. You’ll be in a moving worship service, and the leader will say, ‘Now, let us have a word of prayer,’ or ‘I’m going to ask Bill to lead us in a word of prayer.’ I don’t know why that bothers me so much. I feel like calling out, ‘Hey friend, pray! Don’t just have a ‘word’ of prayer. Go to the Heavenly Father and pray!’ Somehow, it minimizes the importance of prayer, as though we’re all tipping our hats to the Almighty, then going on with the important stuff.”
We branched out to discussing how we preachers sometimes say foolish things without a clue as to how it’s being received. I told her about a recent internet conversation with a friend in North Carolina.
He had told me a story of some earnest soul who had come to a Catholic nun with a question and ended up being slapped down verbally with her harsh comeback. I said, “You know, over 40 years in the ministry, I’ve said so many truly dumb things like that, that I wonder how many people still hurt from them. I hope they will cut me some slack and have forgiven and forgotten.”
At that point, my long-time friend began to dredge up a couple of those very things, thoughtless remarks I had uttered years ago. Time had minimized their sharpness and given us a healthy perspective on them, and she did it in good humor.
“The small goof of yours I’ve never forgotten,” she said, “is the Christmas Eve service when you said, ‘There are three stages of life: when you believe in Santa Claus, when you don’t believe in Santa Claus, and when you find out you are Santa Claus.’ And this with a chapel full of small children including my 3 year old. Fortunately, she wasn’t listening! If she had been, you would have had to explain that remark, not me!!”
I told her about the time some ten years ago when I was doing a children’s sermon in our church in New Orleans, and with a crowd of children around me, told them that one way you can tell you are growing up is when you can tell the real from what is make-believe. “For instance,” I said, “is Frosty the Snowman real or pretend?” “Pretend!” they cried. “How about Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer?” “Mary and Joseph?” “The Shepherds and the Wise Men?” “Jesus?” They were really with me until I said, “Santa Claus?” I almost had to resign the church over that one, and ended up meeting with several parents the next week to try to work my way out of the box I’d put myself in.
My friend said, “Years ago, when you were our pastor, our relationship changed the day I quit praying about you and started praying for you.”
“It happened one Sunday morning in church. I don’t know why I was upset with you, but I was, and I said, ‘God, when are you going to do something about him?’ I heard the reply as clearly as anything: ‘When are you going to stop praying about him and start praying for him?’ Oops. I have prayed for my pastor ever since.” She paused and added, “Yes, and even Pastor Blank. That one didn’t work, though.” I smiled and let it lay.
There are so many reasons to pray for your pastor.
He stands before crowds large and small who, unlike most three-year-olds, are listening. When he gets the words right, he comforts the hurting and shines a light in darkness and clears a path for the lost. When he gets it right, he shows people Jesus, gives them hope, and helps them stand. But when he gets it wrong, he can hurt people in ways they may never recover from, simply because they trust him in the deepest and most personal matters of life.
Pray for your pastor’s words. Every day, people come to his office seeking advice about personal matters, issues on which he may or may not have a clue. Perhaps he’s in a hurry, on his way to an appointment, swamped by personal matters of his own, or simply tired or ill. In his fatigue or impatience or pain, he utters words that can cut or heal, bless or curse. Pray for him.
Pray for your pastor’s heart. Our former pastor Dr. Tony Merida, said, “One thing I fear is that the things that move me most right now may some day become commonplace to me.” Pray for the pastor.
Pray for your pastor’s purity. His television brings in the same channels as yours. Driving down the street, his eyes take in the same sights as yours. He has the same temptations to impurities in thought we all face. Pray for him.
Pray for your pastor’s choices. Should he answer the phone tonight or let it ring? Respond to a need or stay home with the family? Let someone else do that funeral or rearrange his schedule and handle it himself? Spend his morning in the study or in the community knocking on doors? Confront the trouble-maker in the church or leave him to the Lord? Pray for him.
Pray for your pastor’s attitude. When he’s young and inexperienced, he may find it exhilarating that hundreds of people know his name and look to him as a member of the community’s elite. The moment that begins impressing him, his usefulness in the Kingdom lessens. When he realizes he holds the power of employment over the office staff, custodial staff, and ministerial staff, he stands in danger of misusing his position and hurting the church and a lot of people. Better he always think of himself as the servant of the servants, always giving thanks that the Father chose to put such an unworthy one in such a place of service, and always looking for ways to bless those around him. Pray for him.
Luke 17:10 provides every one of us, particularly us pastors, with the best statement of who we are and what we are about: I am only an unworthy servant; just doing my job.
Years ago, our church had an elderly church leader who loved a particular story in Scripture. He would say, “Over in Exodus 17, we read about the time Moses went to the top of a hill and watched the Israelites in battle against their enemies. He took with him his two closest friends, Aaron and Hur. Now, something strange happened on the hill that day. The Bible says that when Moses held up his arms, Israel prevailed in battle. But when he grew tired and dropped his arms, the enemy prevailed. So, Aaron got on one side and Hur the other, and they lifted his arms. Scripture says, ‘So his hands remained steady until the sun went down, and Israel won a great victory that day.’” Then he would say, “That’s our job–to stand alongside the pastor and lift him up in prayer.”
Pray for your pastor, friend. So much depends on it.