The Renewed Pastor (edited by Melvin Tinker, Mentor, 2011), a book of essays in honour of the pastoral ministry of the Revd Philip Hacking, is worth buying purely for the chapter on The Pastor at Prayer.
Written by the Revd Peter Lewis, Senior Pastor at Cornerstone Evangelical Church, Nottingham, it is a timely reminder that the best quality expository preaching is nothing worth if delivered by a prayerless pastor. In the light of the fact that the Revd Hacking’s ‘long-stay’ parochial ministry in Fulwood, south-west Sheffield, was powered by faithful intercessory prayer for individuals, the Revd Lewis superbly explains the spiritual necessity of prayer for effective pastoring:
God’s work in people is not easily done: we are not puppets, we are moral agents. Prayer takes time to work because God takes time to work in all of us. He has to work against much ignorance and many prejudices; against fears, inconsistencies and follies. God’s work in people is a delicate, complex and very special one. It is remarkable that He offers to share that work with us and asks us to work with Him. This is a very great privilege. It involves much faith and prayer, much thoughtfulness and consistent living on our part.
Given the indispensability of intercessory prayer for Christ-honouring pastoral ministry, it is surely not unreasonable to conclude that a pastor who does not spend as much time interceding for individuals as he does in sermon preparation is wrongly motivated. He is, to quote the aphorism, in love with preaching; he is not loving people, neither the found nor the lost.
In short, he is going on an ego-trip.
This is a sobering warning for those of us schooled in rigorous expository preaching as an antidote to past evangelical pietism.
The Revd Lewis’s excellent chapter is rather spoiled by the appendix. He tells an anecdote about a prayerful missionary to whom God reportedly revealed his intention to use a specific individual to evangelise Nepal: -
this was a case of a given assurance, a prophetic revelation of God’s Spirit, and it was given to a man of prayer. God does not tell His secrets to those who only drop in for a chat.
The problem with such a view of prayer is that it can lead to competitive legalism. Up your intercessory prayer hours and you’ll get privileged inside information from on high denied to others. That can unfortunately be used an excuse for prayerlessness by modern pastors wanting to emphasise the dangers of past evangelical legalism.
Cranmer’s Curate is inspired and humbled by the example of Ephaphras whose pastoral prayer Paul commends in his letter to the Colossians:
He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured (Colossians 4v12 – NIV).
What a man! And, significantly in the context of Colossians, Paul says nothing about him being told secrets.