I fell under a deep conviction in 2008. And beginning a ministerial career under God’s judgment wouldn’t be the best start. I acquired a nasty habit during my college years. I found myself often saying, “I’ll pray for you,” only to then forget completely. My neglect of others wasn’t intentional; I said, “I’ll pray for you,” fully-believing I would fulfill that commitment eventually. At best, this was unintentional hypocrisy and at worst, deception.
Below, I offer the system that I’ve put in place to fulfill my commitment. It grew out of extended reflection and asking God for his help in overcoming my inadequacy as a minister.
“How do you pray for your church members?”
I began by asking other ministers how they prayed for their people. Admittedly, most said they prayed for their congregation generally. Others prayed as specific requests arose. But I would then ask these pastors one final question: “Have you prayed for everyone in your congregation by name?” From congregations of 50 members to those of 500, the answer was “no.” Their answer echoed in my soul and I could not align that reality with what I believed to be a critical responsibility of a pastor.
So, in 2013 I decided the answer to my question needed to be “yes.” At the time, I was the youth pastor to a group of about 60 students in a church of over 500. I knew that if I waited for my students to come to me and ask for prayer, only a small percentage of them would receive prayer. I knew that if I would only pray for them generally, I would never actually pray for them specifically. Either option was unacceptable.
Establishing a Prayer System
My solution was to create a new and simple system. I bought cheap composition notebooks and put the name and picture of each family associated with our youth group in each notebook. Then I committed to take three of those books each week and write a specific prayer for that family in them. After praying for them, I wrote a note to them saying, “I’m praying for you this week. If there is anything you’d like me to pray for specifically, please let me know.”
As our youth group grew and the number of books increased, I began handing out books to other staff members—three books each week. I set the expectation that everyone who worked for me would pray for three church families each week. Within a year, each family had been prayed for at least three times and they had received three cards letting them know that they were being prayed for.
I have continued this process in my new role as Pastor of Summerville First Baptist. We have about 90 members and I have about 35 books. As I write this post, I have just picked up the remaining three books without at least one prayer written in them. In six months of pastoral ministry, every single family has been prayed for by name.
Now you might think, “I’m too busy for that.” The whole process takes less than an hour a week. Pastors, you can do this.
You may ask, “What’s the point?” Allow me to give you a few anecdotes.
When I began this system, a family came and told me they were thinking about getting a divorce and had been struggling with the issue. Getting a card in the mail after a particularly horrible fight one night was enough to prompt them to come and ask for help.
Just this past month I had a church member thank me for praying for her. She received the card that I was praying for her just before going into surgery. The catch? She didn’t tell anyone she was getting surgery. But knowing that I was praying for her made a world of difference.
Just this week, I prayed for a family only to find out afterward that the husband had just been in the ER. You can call these three stories coincidences. That’s fine. But I can tell you that I don’t have any divine coincidences when I don’t pray. But, when I do pray, the comfort and peace of Christ seems to settle on each member of my flock at the exact moment they need it most.
Brothers, if you’re at a small church, put a system in place to pray for your people. If you happen to be a church of over a thousand, commit your entire staff to praying for specific people. Require them to write out a prayer. Have them fill out a card. Make sure that the sands of time do not form prayerless mounds.
Many mickles make a muckle
There is an old Scottish proverb that makes me chuckle: “Many mickles make a muckle.” Simply, it means that the small things add up. Three families a week is not an unreasonable commitment. But three families each week becomes 156 in a year. In a decade, that’s 1,560 prayers for church members by name. And when we look back and ask ourselves, “Have I prayed for each of my sheep by name?,” we will be able to answer, “yes.”
Pastor Summerville First Baptist, married to Danielle, father of five, PhD student @SWBTS, MDiv SWBTS 2012, BA Theatre OSU