For many of us, leadership is a by-product of youth and children’s work. But we want to lead well, so each month we unpack an issue we face as leaders, and offer some guidance to traverse it.
Welcome to part two in our series on leadership disciplines – a combination of spiritual practices and leadership rhythms that will have a significant impact on who we are becoming and where we are going as leaders. Last month we discussed the practice of fasting, this time we reflect on the primacy of prayer.
There is a direct correlation between a leader’s faith and their prayer life. Prayer-less people cut themselves off from the renewing work of the Holy Spirit. They end up leading out of information, because they have no revelation, by which I mean they become dependent upon resources, sermons and ideas others have developed because they have not been listening to God for themselves (which, to be clear, doesn’t mean using well-developed resources is bad, it just means we access the ones the Lord is leading us to utilise).
Prayer-less people give out for God more than they receive from him and end up ministering on empty. But here’s the problem: you can’t minister on empty, because you cannot give what you do not possess.
In stark contrast, then, the prayerful person leads out of overflow. From the place of intimacy flows faith, courage, vision, passion and revelation. Just as Jesus only did what he saw the Father doing (John 5:19), so the prayerful person leads in direct response to the leading of God. The prayerful person, being rooted in God, is emotionally consistent, content whatever the circumstances and has an identity that is not dependent upon the apparent ‘success’ of their ministry.
They are stronger in their battles against sin, more readily exhibit the fruit of the Spirit in their lives and more resolute in their determination to give themselves fully to the work of the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58). From the place of prayer flows wisdom, direction and clarity. As Richard Foster has it: “Prayer catapults us on to the frontier of the spiritual life. Of all the spiritual disciplines, prayer is the most central because it ushers us in to perpetual communion with the Father.”
Thus, every form of spiritual leadership must be rooted in a life of prayer. We will never develop the spiritual fortitude and gravitas necessary to lead a group of people toward God without it. So then, how do we build this indispensable practice into our lives as a non-negotiable rhythm?
To get us started, here are three things that Jesus did that we should do in order to develop a rich and consistent life of prayer.
“That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all who were ill and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: ‘Everyone is looking for you!’” (Mark 1:32-37, emphasis mine).
1. Jesus got up (in the morning)
“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up…”
Now if you, like me, are not naturally a morning person, then I want you to notice that in the passage that Jesus had two very legitimate reasons to not spend time in prayer first thing in the morning:
He was working late.
He had other things to do.
But Jesus did it anyway, because he knew that how we spend the first moment of the day will inform how we experience every moment of the day.
Jesus got up because he knew that the best way to start your day is in prayer. And if Jesus needed to do it, how much more so do we?
“Every form of spiritual leadership must be rooted in a life of prayer”
2. Jesus got away (from distractions)
“…got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place…”
Jesus got away from any potential distractions so he could focus his attention on God…and distraction has never been a bigger problem than it is for you and I today in the digital age! Ronald Rolheiser writes: “We are distracting ourselves into spiritual oblivion” and for most of us, the primary culprit of this debilitating distraction is the phone in our pockets.
Our phone is constantly on the hunt for our attention. This happens in obvious ways – notifications, ringing, bleeping, flashing, vibrating -– but also more subtle ways. One recent study published by McCombs School of Business demonstrated that merely being in the same room as our phone causes us to be more distracted and less able to focus!
Thus, is we want to develop a deep and vibrant life of prayer, we must get away from the distraction of our phone by putting it out of sight when we’re spending time with Jesus. If we go old-school and use a physical Bible, notepad and pen in our devotional times, we will be less distracted and more able to fix our attention on God.
3. Jesus got alone (with God)
“…where he prayed.”
Henri Nouwen writes: “Without solitude it is virtually impossible to live a spiritual life…We do not take the spiritual life seriously if we do not set aside some time to be with God and listen to him.”
Leadership is inherently about others. Our role as spiritual leaders is to lead our children and young people toward God. Solitude provides an antidote to the continuous giving out that leadership requires and postures us to receive from God in order that we might give out again.
The best gift we have to give to our children and young people is a life overflowing with the love of God. So then, if we want to be leaders centred in God, leading from a place of revelation and overflow, we must develop a consistent life of prayer. To that end, we chose to imitate our master: we get up in the morning, we get away from distractions and we get alone with God…because we will never become a leader of spiritual authority without a life that is rooted in the practice of prayer.
We have launched a video series based on ‘Leadership 101’.