The Ministry of the Word and Prayer

In the midst of a dispute about the daily distribution of food, the apostles say to those involved, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:2-4).

Insofar as those called to pastoral ministry carry on the work of the apostles, they, too, are to devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word. Since the bulk of what a pastor does is study to preach the Word, why is it also important to allot time to prayer? I’ve always found John Piper’s words thought-provoking: “Because without prayer the God of our studies will be the unfrightening and uninspiring God of insipid academic gamesmanship.”[1]

Here’s the question: If pastors are to give themselves both to study and to prayer, why do so few of us pastors actually pray? (By the way, I’m not accusing pastors of not praying, most of the pastors I know freely admit that they don’t devote enough time to praying.) I think D. A. Carson draws our attention to some key reasons as to why pastors fail to spend enough time praying.

The pastor’s job description has been diversified. Early on in church history pastors were seen as theologians-in-residence, but that all changed with the rise of modernism and the industrial revolution. For the most part, people no longer cared about truth per se, but with what worked and with how they felt. Thus, people wanted their pastors to embody what they valued. And according to theologian and cultural critic David Wells, what people valued were managers and psychologists.[2] So what do we have today? Carson notes that for the most part today, pastors are seen as “professional counselors, fund-raisers, administrators, committee members, referees, politicians, and media personalities.”[3]

Just yesterday I was reading a book on leadership where the author noted, “Most pastors enter the ministry because of a desire to teach and yet spend the majority of their time and energy in administration, attempting to resolve personnel conflicts and making impossible decisions.”[4] This simply proves Carson’s point that the pastor’s job description has changed. It’s changed because it’s been enlarged. According to Paul Tripp—the pastor to pastors—most congregations “expect that he [their pastor] will be able to joyfully carry an unrealistic job description that would overwhelm anyone this side of Jesus’s return.”[5]

Watch the link below to hear theologian Kevin Vanhoozer answer the question: What led to the separation between pastors and theologians?

Pastors suffer from an identity crisis. Professor Timothy Laniak noted recently that “For many, pastoral ministry involves an almost constant identity crisis.”[6] Because pastors are expected to be theologians, preachers, counselors, fund-raisers, committee members, church growth experts, evangelists, charismatic vision casters, and prayer warriors, and since it’s impossible for one person to excel at all of these things all at the same time, pastors are confused about where to focus their time and energy. What we’ve been trained to do in seminary and what we actually do in the local church are oftentimes two very different things.

Many pastors are discouraged. Just a few weeks ago, Pastor Phil Lineberger, the president of the Texas Baptist Association committed suicide due to depression. Shocking as that was, perhaps even more shocking was that I wasn’t shocked. Suicide among pastors appears to be happening more frequently.

Some pastors busy themselves in endless activism. Some pastors view themselves as part of the wing of either the Republican or Democrat parties and spend their hours engaged in political activism. Or else they give themselves to certain social causes, whether feeding the hungry, fighting sex trafficking, or abortion. These things may have their place, but if they keep a pastor from spending time studying, praying, and meditating then he must get his priorities straight.

Pastors, may we devote ourselves to the Word of God and prayer. Make time for what counts.


[1] John Piper, The Supremacy of God in Preaching, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 63.

[2] David F. Wells, No Place for Truth; Or, Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 101.

[3] This point, as well as everything in this blog can be found in his book A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992), 131ff.

[4] Dan B. Allender, Leading with a Limp: Take Full Advantage of Your Most Powerful Weakness (Colorado Springs: Waterbrook, 2006), 26.

[5] Paul Tripp, Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 93.

[6] Timothy S. Laniak, Shepherds After My Own Heart: Pastoral Traditions and Leadership in the Bible, New Studies in Biblical Theology (Downers Grove: IVP, 2006), 26.


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