When I became a senior pastor, transitioning from an associate role at another church, my life and ministry suddenly became very busy—busier than they had ever been before. I knew, without a doubt, what I was called to do. I knew what I should be doing. Yet week after week, I saw the things I was supposed to be doing getting squeezed out of my schedule because there were urgent demands on my time. Above all else, the one task that seemed to get squeezed out most was prayer.
And I don’t think I’m alone in this. More than any other aspect of a pastor’s calling, prayer is the most difficult to maintain. Prayer requires time. And prayer is usually most fruitful when done in a quiet place, without constant interruption or distraction. Unfortunately, prayer doesn’t demand your attention.
In the midst of people wanting your time and urgent tasks to complete, spending time in prayer is easy to neglect.
A pastor knows that he will be preaching every six days, regardless of how busy he gets. The sermon must get done, and so time is set aside for that. And there are sick people in the hospital, and their suffering sits on your conscience so that even if you are busy you’ll eventually make the time to go. Funerals happen as well and a pastor is at the mercy of the plans of that family and funeral home. Pastors’ and deacons’ meetings get planned in advance, and these become default priorities in a pastor’s schedule. Besides, other people are depending upon him to be there and lead.
But none of this is true with prayer.
Prayer may sit on your conscience, but it isn’t complaining. It remains on the list of tasks for the day, but those who are not prayed for are unaware that they are forgotten. As other demands steal our attention, prayer gets pushed to the background. Many pastors, myself included, will go week after week until eventually that soft but necessary voice calling us to stop and pray just fades out. If enough time passes, the voice of conviction and desire will go away. When that happens, prayer gets squeezed out of our life.
Ironically, a pastor can be so busy caring for his people that he never makes time to stop and pray for them.
Pastors, I know your schedule is busy. I am aware of the great demands on your time that pull on your conscience. But, don’t forget to pray for your people this week. Pray with your people. Set time aside in a quiet place and cry out to God for your people. Make the other pastoral matters wait. It is safe to say they are less important than prayer.
Bob Hostetler is a literary agent, an award-winning writer, editor, pastor, and speaker from southwestern Ohio. His thirty books, which include The Bone Box and American Idols (The Worship of the American Dream), have sold millions of copies. He has co-authored eleven books with Josh McDowell, including the best-selling Right from Wrong (What You Need to Know to Help Youth Make Right Choices), and the award-winning Don't Check Your Brains at the Door. He has won two Gold Medallion Awards, four Ohio Associated Press awards, and an Amy Foundation Award, among others. Bob is a frequent speaker at churches, conferences, and retreats. Bob was ordained to the ministry in 1980 by the Salvation Army and earned degrees in English Bible from Cincinnati Christian University and English Communications from Bloomfield College. In 2000, Bob (with his wife, Robin) helped to co-found Cobblestone Community Church in Oxford, Ohio. They have two children and four grandchildren. He has been a disc jockey, pastor, magazine editor, freelance book editor, and (with Robin) a foster parent to ten boys (though not all at once). They live in Hamilton, Ohio. You can follow Bob at @bobhoss.