What will be the fruit of a congregation who consistently prays for their pastor according to biblical priorities? What might a congregation expect if they devote themselves to praying for those who are charged with caring for their souls? I will suggest seven areas of blessing that a church might expect from regular, intentional, biblically informed prayer for their pastors.
A Competent Pastoral Ministry
The first and most obvious blessing will be your pastor’s progress in the ministry. Paul instructs Timothy to immerse himself in his tasks of preaching, teaching, and godly conduct so that the congregation would be able to see the young pastor’s growth in ministerial competence (1 Tim 4:15). A congregation who prays for their pastor will be aligning themselves with God’s very purposes in the life of the pastor. God desires the shepherd to make observable progress in his ability to care for Christ’s flock, and your prayers will serve as one of the vital means by which this growth occurs.
Consider this: What could be better for your church than a group of overseers who are above reproach in their personal and public lives, who have no love for money, who are hospitable, generous, honest, and self-controlled; who are able, by God’s grace, to resist the temptation to commit disqualifying sin and compromise the ministry; who love their families and their people; who are powerful, edifying, skillful teachers of God’s Word; and who are courageous to do what is best for Christ’s sheep? While our prayers do not guarantee such blessings or exempt a pastor from personal responsibility to exert himself in pursuing Christlikeness, a church that is praying diligently for their pastor has much better grounds on which to expect these blessings than a church that neglects their responsibility to pray for their pastor.
A Spiritually Healthy Church
Pastors who model spiritual maturity, who preach, teach, and counsel well, who conduct their ministry according to the mandates in Scripture, and who are committed to the well-being of Christ’s sheep will be a means of much spiritual growth among God’s people. Your commitment to praying for your pastor will serve to benefit not only your pastor but all those under his care, including you! A church led by competent pastors will, over time, exhibit spiritual discernment, love for one another, active ministry among the saints and community, passion for the glory of God, a commitment to spread the gospel near and far, and humble obedience to Scripture.
The Salvation of Sinners and the Perseverance of the Saints
Paul connects the salvation of sinners, not exclusively, but nonetheless directly to a competent pastoral ministry. First, he instructs Timothy to do the work of an evangelist (2 Tim 4:5). Paul’s command here meant that among all his responsibilities, Timothy was to see himself as a soul-winner. Through his preaching, he was laboring to edify and strengthen Christ’s church so that her members would posses the skills necessary to conduct useful gospel ministry to people both inside and outside the church (Eph 4:12-16; Gal 6:10). But Timothy also needed to view himself as one who was calling unbelievers to salvation through the gospel. There would be unbelievers visiting the church who needed to hear a clear, compelling presentation of the gospel, and there were deceived professing Christians who attended the church but who needed to hear the summons to repent and believe. In his ministry, Timothy was an evangelist, and the more he grew in this area, the more opportunity there was for unbelievers to trust in Jesus.
Secondly and related, Paul instructed Timothy to “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching.” Paul’s directive here was not optional. “Persist in this,” the apostle told his young protégé, “for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim 4:16). Paul is not teaching that Timothy would save himself by his own efforts, or that true salvation can be lost, or that his shepherding work was ultimately determinative for the salvation of those in his congregation. Rather, Paul is reminding Timothy that God uses means to save His people, and the faithful teaching and personal holiness of a pastor is one of those vital means.
When Paul says that Timothy’s attention to his teaching and living will “save” his hearers, he is not referring to initial salvation, but final salvation. That is, God will use competent, faithful pastors to enable his people—those who are already in possession of a secure salvation (John 10:27-30; Rom 8:31-39)—to make it all the way to the end of their race and enter into heaven still believing in Jesus. One of the many fruits of a praying congregation is the salvation of sinners and their final perseverance in the faith.
Personal Encouragement to Grow
As you pray for your pastor according to his qualifications, responsibilities, and in light of his particular temptations and pressures, you will be encouraged to make progress in your own spiritual maturity. The qualifications given in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 do not place a higher standard on pastors as though they were a separate, more spiritual class of Christian. Yes, a pastor must possess some measure of each of these virtues in order to remain fit for an oversight ministry, and he will be judged according to greater strictness because he is a teacher (James 3:1). But Christians in all vocations should strive for the qualities outlined in the two passages of Scripture that discuss pastoral qualifications, and constant interaction with these texts as we pray for our pastors will tend to engender positive spiritual change in our own lives.
Love for Your Pastor
While I was in seminary, my wife and I attended a church led by a group of the most delightful and gracious men I have ever had the privilege to meet. I remember distinctly the time when the preaching pastor, from the pulpit, recounted his past ministry experience with stories of when church members would come to him, complaining about another staff member. Without fail, the pastor would meet their complaint with a question: “Have you prayed for them?” “No,” was the typical—almost universal—answer. But this pastor saw a powerful benefit of prayer in cases of personal complaint. Our hearts are generally softened toward the person with whom we have trouble when we begin to pray for their spiritual well-being, ministerial success, and joy in Christ. Indeed, it is nearly impossible when we intercede for others in this way to hold grudges, harbor bitterness, or nurture discontent. At the very least, we will be able to handle our complaint in a way that serves rather than discourages the other person (see Prov 15:23).
When we pray for our pastors according to biblical categories, we will be far less likely to judge their ministry efforts unfairly or in an overly critical manner. Rather, we will find our hearts growing in love for our shepherds and for their families, and we will labor openly for their good rather than secretly for their harm. And, as our hearts are warmed toward our pastors, we will find ourselves better suited to hear their teaching and submit to Scripture as they deliver God’s Word Sunday after Sunday.
A Happy Shepherd
Such prayer and love and genuine obedience to God’s Word from one’s congregation will make for a very happy shepherd. The author of Hebrews makes this connection plain when he writes, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Heb 13:17). When a congregation is praying for their pastor and their hearts are knit together with their pastor in love, obedience will tend to be the fruit. Such glad obedience will cause joy in the pastor.
But note that the benefits shared between a pastor and his people are always reciprocal. The happy, obedient congregation makes for a happy pastor, and a happy pastor is of great advantage to his people. A joyful pastor is a productive, hard-working shepherd whose labor will consistently bless and edify his people.
Emerging Future Pastors
Another fruit of a congregation that prays for their pastor will be the emergence of future pastors from that congregation. I can think of few things better for sparking a genuine yet reverent desire for pastoral ministry in the hearts of men than constant prayer for their pastor over biblical texts that speak directly to an elder’s qualifications, duties, and special temptations. Christian men who have an interest in pastoral ministry and who are in prayer regularly for their pastors according to God’s Word will entertain their desires with spiritual sensitivity, thoughtfulness, and an informed outlook on what pastoral ministry demands.
Many Good Reasons to Pray for Your Pastor
There are many good reasons to pray for our pastors, but we can’t stop there. We need to persevere in praying for our pastors. Christ has entrusted to him a task that made even the formidable apostle Paul cry out, “Who is sufficient for these things” (2 Cor 2:16)? He needs grace to remain qualified; he needs wisdom and perseverance to carry out his responsibilities; he needs power in his preaching; he needs patience in his counseling; he needs holiness in his personal life; and he needs authenticity in his walk with Jesus. He needs your prayers. Pray for your pastor.