If union with Christ is the core reality of Christian leadership, then time with Christ in prayer must be one of its core activities.
Here is a marvelous passage on prayer and the Christian leader from one of E. M. Bounds’ works (with some light editing):
There are two extreme tendencies in the ministry. The one is to shut oneself out from engagement with the people. The monk and the hermit were illustrations of this; they shut themselves out from men to be more with God. They failed, of course. Our being with God is of use only as we give its priceless benefits to men. Not many in our time – neither leader nor people – are very serious with God. Our passion is not toward Him. We shut ourselves to our study. We become students, bookworms, Bible worms, sermon makers, noted for literature, thought, and sermons; but the people and God, where are they? Out of heart, out of mind. Christian leaders who are great thinkers and great students must be the greatest of prayers, or else they will be the greatest of backsliders, heartless professionals, less than the least of men in God’s estimate.
The other tendency is to thoroughly popularize the ministry. Such a leader is no longer God’s man, but a man of activity, a man of the people. He does not pray much, because his mission is to the people. If he can move the people and create an interest, an excitement in favor of Christianity, an interest in church work – he is satisfied. His personal relationship with God is no great factor in his work. Prayer has little or no place in his plans. The disaster and ruin of such a ministry cannot be computed by earthly arithmetic. What the Christian leader is in prayer to God – for himself and for his people – so is his power for real good to men, so is his true fruitfulness and his true faithfulness to God and to man, for time and for eternity.
It is impossible for the Christian leader to keep his spirit in harmony with the divine nature of his high calling without much prayer. The idea that the leader merely by power of duty and laborious faithfulness to the work and routine of the ministry can keep himself in spiritual fitness is a serious mistake. Even sermon-making, incessant and taxing as an art, as a duty, or as a pleasure, will estrange the heart, by neglect of prayer, from God. The scientist loses God in nature. The preacher may lose God in his sermon.
Prayer freshens the heart of the leader, keeps it in tune with God and in sympathy with the people, lifts his ministry out of the chilly air of a profession, makes the routine productive and moves every wheel with the effortlessness and power of a divine anointing.
Mr. Spurgeon says: “Of course the preacher is above all others distinguished as a man of prayer. He prays as an ordinary Christian, else he were a hypocrite. He prays more than ordinary Christians, else he were disqualified for the office he has undertaken. If you as ministers are not very prayerful, you are to be pitied. If you become lax in sacred devotion, not only will you need to be pitied but your people also, and the day cometh in which you shall be ashamed and confounded. All our libraries and studies are mere emptiness compared with our prayer closets.”
The praying which makes a prayerful ministry is not a little praying put in as we use spice to give food an extra flavor, but the praying must be in the body, and from the blood and bones. Prayer is no petty duty, put into a corner; no piecemeal performance made out of the fragments of time which have been snatched from business and other engagements of life; but it means that the best of our time, the heart of our time and strength must be given. True prayer does not mean the prayer closet is allowed to be absorbed in the study or swallowed up in the activities of ministerial duties; but it means the prayer closet first, the study and activities second, both study and activities freshened and made effective by the prayer closet. Prayer that affects one’s ministry will create the tenor of one’s life. The praying which gives color and direction to one’s character is no pleasant, hurried pastime. It must enter as strongly into the heart and life as Christ’s “strong crying and tears” did; it must draw out the soul into an agony of desire as Paul’s did; it must be an inwrought fire and force like the “effectual, fervent prayer” of James; it must be of that quality which, when put into the golden censer and burned as incense before God, works mighty spiritual upheavals and revolutions.
Prayer is not a little habit pinned on to us while we were tied to our mother’s apron strings; neither is it a little quarter of a minute’s grace said over an hour’s dinner, but it is the most serious work of our most serious years. It engages more of time and appetite than our longest dinners or richest feasts. The prayer that makes much of our leadership must be made much of. The character of our praying will determine the character of our leadership. Light praying will make light leadership. Prayer makes leadership strong, gives it anointing, and makes it effective. In every ministry known for good, prayer has always been treated very seriously.
The Christian leader must be preeminently a man of prayer. His heart must graduate in the school of prayer. Only in the school of prayer can the heart learn to lead. No learning can make up for the failure to pray. No earnestness, no diligence, no study, no gifts will supply its lack.
Talking to men for God is a great thing, but talking to God for men is greater still. We will never talk well and with real success to men for God if we have not learned well how to talk to God for men. More than this, prayerless leadership is deadening leadership.
The above are the words of E. M. Bounds, from Power Through Prayer. We also highly recommend Daniel Nash: Prevailing Prince of Prayer by J. Paul Reno, an outstanding book on prayer.
In our next Letter, we will begin a study in a new area of Christian leadership.
Next Letter: A Summary of the ConneXions Model of Leader Development
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