I have often thought about what my greatest surprise will be when I go home to be with the Lord. After much pondering, I have concluded that it will be the tremendous power and peace that was available to me through prayer on this side of heaven—and how infrequently I used it!
—Richard Burr, Developing Your Secret Closet of Prayer1
The first time I read that quote, it stopped me in my busy ministry tracks. Although I often taught on prayer, my own prayer life had grown stale and sadly infrequent.
As a women’s ministry leader, I had wandered into dangerous territory, trying to lead a large and thriving women’s ministry that wasn’t covered in prayer. For years I had faithfully been serving as a women’s ministry director at our church, keeping busy teaching women’s Bible studies, planning conferences, and encouraging other women to put their hope in Jesus.
But in the midst of all that out-of-breath-serving-Him busyness, I had lost the wonder and awe of the sacred privilege we have of entering His throne room in prayer.
Though I knew prayer needed to be a top priority, I had dropped the baton of prayer that had been passed on to me from my prayer warrior pastor dad and grandmother. The irony of that “baton drop” was that it was mainly because I was so busy “doing” ministry.
And I suspect that you also wrestle with the same issue as a ministry leader. We can be passionate about prayer, even teach about the importance of prayer . . . without actually praying!
In The Screwtape Letters, a Christian apologetic novel by C.S. Lewis, the demon Screwtape writes in his letter to his nephew and minion, Wormwood:
Once you have made the world an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing. Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades, matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours—and the more “religious” (on those terms) the more securely ours.2
Now that might seem like an overly dramatic quote, but it resonates with the tyranny of the urgent for women in ministry leadership. Often we are so distracted by planning events, retreats, Bible studies—and even ministering to the women we serve—that our commitment to prayer becomes secondary or an afterthought.
What if things could be different? What if instead of prayer being a peripheral part of your ministry and calling, it became central to the work He has called you to do?
Let’s explore some practical ways to make prayer a central part of the ministry you lead.
1. Seek Out a Prayer Partner
First, seek out a prayer partner, someone who will not only hold you accountable to pray but who will actually pray with you consistently. As a women’s ministry director at a large church in the Detroit area, the Holy Spirit impressed on my heart that I was going to need a mentor who would also be a woman of prayer. Soon after, God brought Joanie across my path. She was about twenty years older than I was and asked if I knew anyone who was looking for a prayer partner. And I said, “Me!”
Joanie had no way of knowing that God had already prepared my heart to meet her. We immediately began a commitment to pray together every week. Joanie is the one who taught me how to worship our God through prayer and to not always jump in asking Him for help or blessings.
That was almost twenty years ago, and though I’ve moved far from Michigan, we still pray for each other often. She is the one who consistently prays for my daughters and grandson now that both of my parents are in heaven. What a gift! Be brave, dear leader, and ask someone to be your prayer partner, or let God open just the right door as He did for me, and watch what can happen.
2. Shift the Focus to Worship and Prayer
When I first took on a women’s ministry leadership role at another church, I sensed the Lord wanted us to focus more on prayer and worship. So the monthly gatherings with dinner and crafts that the women had become accustomed to became a night of worship.
We saw our numbers triple. Our speakers were women who were passionate about God, His Word, and prayer. We invited some well-known authors in our area to teach as well as women within our own church family. We kept the focus on worshiping our God and praying together. This became a highlight of the ministry, and it had a great impact in our community as women felt comfortable bringing their seeking friends. We also drew in many younger women to these nights of worship.
3. Start a Prayer Team
Though many women’s leaders long to have a team of women committed to praying for the ministry, it can seem hard to find those women. I wrestled with that when I started in ministry. Ask the Lord to open your eyes to women who love to pray. It didn’t take long before God showed me two staff members who served our church in a different area than women’s ministries.
Their hearts for prayer were evident in our staff chapel times, so I asked them if they’d be willing to head up the prayer team for our women’s retreat. They jumped at the chance and did a phenomenal job of gathering a team who were committed to pray for the retreat in the months leading up to it. They also oversaw the prayer room at the retreat. They even prayed over every chair in the auditorium before the first night’s session began, praying for the woman that God knew would be sitting in that chair. They then continued as a team, covering our nights of worship and other events in prayer.
Praying in Community
Now, I know that prayer partners, nights of worship, and prayer teams are not new ideas. But they are all strategic, measurable ways to make prayer a central part of the ministry you lead. As I’ve mentioned, a commitment to prayer can be pushed to the edges in the midst of a growing and busy ministry. I’ve been there and done that.
But what can guard against this happening is:
- A prayer partner holding you accountable to pray.
- A prayer team whose main purpose is to pray for the ministry.
- Prayer and worship becoming the core of the ministry.
Do you see the common thread of praying in community with one another with all three of those strategies? I can testify that Joanie and my prayer team holding me accountable to pray with them spilled over into my personal prayer time alone with my God.
I’m not sure I’ll ever “arrive” when it comes to prayer this side of heaven. I think I will struggle with making prayer a consistent part of my daily walk with God until I’m finally with Him in eternity. But my prayer for myself—and for you—is that at the end of our lives, we’re able to look back and change one word in the opening quote I shared:
I have often thought about what my greatest surprise will be when I go home to be with the Lord. After much pondering, I have concluded that it will be the tremendous power and peace that was available to me through prayer on this side of heaven—and how frequently I used it!
May it be so!
1 Richard A. Burr, Developing Your Secret Closet of Prayer (Chicago: WingSpread, 1998), 8.
2 C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (New York: HarperOne, 1942), 34–35.