The Prayerful Leader: An Open Letter – California Southern Baptist Convention

The Prayerful Leader: An Open Letter

Published May 30, 2023

Dear Pastor, Elder, Deacon, and Church Leader:

              I write this letter as a pastor to encourage, to caution, and to make a plea. All three are bound in the hope that you will strive to become a prayerful leader. I share my ministry shortcomings and exhortations from fellow pastors to demonstrate how a spiritual leader must rely on God in prayer. This is not just a mere task of a leader but vital for health, wisdom, empowerment, and intimacy with our Sovereign Lord. In the final section of this letter, I will provide resources that have blessed me to cultivate a passion for prayer and serve as aids to fulfill Paul’s admonition in I Thessalonians 5:17 to “pray without ceasing.”

              I was fortunate to shepherd two churches for seventeen years. One was a small church plant meeting in a school, and the other was a large church with tremendous resources. God blessed my time as I saw lives transformed and the Kingdom expanded. Along the way, I fell into a pattern of trusting my own instincts and wisdom than relying on God. My times of prayer were no longer intimate, impassioned, or desperate. Rather, they became perfunctory, formulaic, and sporadic. I failed to personally cultivate a culture of prayer and the church became a reflection of my spiritual life. The result was burnout, a lack of trust among leaders, and conflict. As one of the pastors, I bear responsibility.            

Yet, through this time of brokenness, God was good. As the psalmist reminds us, “His lovingkindness is everlasting!” The result is a return to the simplicity of sitting before the Lord to cry out, listen, and wait expectantly. It is as Daniel Henderson writes, “A return to old paths.” It took a full four months of consistently being with the Lord before I was restored to health – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Prayer is now the lifeline that covers my life, my family, and my ministry. Through prayer, God has worked in ways that could not be possible otherwise. Hope returned. Relationships are restored. Sins are exposed. Lives transformed. Repentance, forgiveness, humility, and love are made manifest through an ethos and culture of unceasing prayer.  There is unspeakable joy in the Lord!

In my ministry, I have an expectation for my team that each of us pray at least an hour daily. Our team meetings are bathed in prayer. We have an ongoing chat where we share urgent prayer requests, praises, and updates. In fact, I just shared an update of answered prayer as we rejoiced in the news of a brother’s cancer in remission.

Let me share a few words from fellow pastors to emphasize the primacy of prayer:

“Every leader has strengths. Some are better communicators than others. Some are very personable, while others are wonderfully administrative…But there are insufficient areas that must be developed…As a leader, there is one place you cannot afford to be weak. Every spiritual leader must be strong in prayer.

Effective leaders understand that prayer can do what God can do. Prayer is our singular path to bring God into every realm of ministry to others. Prayer is the key to God’s presence and power resting on our lives and the lives of others. Prayer is always the precursor to revival…

              Prayerlessness is the worse sin because it is the highest indication of pride. A day without prayer is a day we’ve told God we can live without Him. It speaks of a lack of trust and the vain work of human ability alone. How can we know God’s agenda? Lead people where they need to go? Give them what God is saying? See God’s power resting on those we are called to lead? See real life change in us and others?” (Bill Elliff taken from Prayer with No Intermission: 40 Days to Unceasing Prayer)

“If they were convinced that their problems are spiritual, they would spend more time in prayer meeting than in planning meetings…If human effort is the means of moral victory over spiritual forces, then the more believers exert themselves physically, the greater the chance of victory. On the other hand, if the only recourse is to fully depend upon the Lord, then they would spend more time on their faces in His presence seeking His help…If the church wants to succeed in its God-given mission, its leadership must realize that one of its greatest needs is more prayer meetings, not more planning meetings. If the monthly leadership meetings would give more time to prayers than to planning, leaders would soon find a change in attitude, in perspective on ministry, and in results. (Donald McDougall taken from Old Paths, New Power: Awakening Your Church Through Prayer and the Ministry of the Word by Daniel Henderson)

“If we believe in the power of prayer, if we believe that God works through the prayers of his people, if we see that the Holy Spirit moved powerfully in response to the prayers of believers in the book of Acts and in the history of the church, then why does the church today not give a higher priority to prayer among the leaderships of the church? Praying is the work of the church…I think we have relied on our wisdom, on our power, on our emphasis of the Word and our understanding of it to the detriment to our relying on prayer. A prayerless church is a powerless church. And prayerless preaching is powerless preaching.” (Jon Hoekema taken from Old Paths, New Power: Awakening Your Church Through Prayer and the Ministry of the Word by Daniel Henderson).

              Finally, I commend these resources to you. They opened my eyes to what is possible when we allow God to be involved in every aspect of our lives through prayer. Once in God’s presence, there is no turning back:

  1. Elliff, Bill. Prayer with No Intermission: 40 Days to Unceasing Prayer TruthINK Publications, 2018.
  2. Henderson, Daniel. Old Paths, New Power: Awakening Your Church Through Prayer and the Ministry of the Word Moody Publishers, 2016.
  3. Whitney, Donald. Praying the Bible Crossway, 2015.
  4. OneCry Podcast — OneCry – A Nationwide Call for Revival and Spiritual Awakening

Let me conclude with these words from Scripture from Ephesians 6:18 that this would be indicative of us, “…praying at all times in the spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.” Let this be said of us in this generation, “We were a people that prayed!”

In Christ,

Francis Chung