Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Prayer Life of Westernized Pastors

Lake Michigan, off Holland State Park (MI)

Although I've been a Jesus-follower for 42+ years, it was 35 years ago that I got a significant prayer life. It happened with Northern Baptist Seminary asked me to teach a class on prayer. I accepted, and knew in that kind of class we had to actually pray, not just agree that prayer is good, and not just read some great books on prayer. Real prayer is an act, not a theory.

Let me define "significant prayer life" as: a life of going apart to 'lonely places' and spending several hours a week praying. By 'lonely place' I mean a place apart from one's office, home, and workplace. Included in "going apart" is: leaving the cell phones behind. Can you pray while texting someone else? Of course. But it's like spending a candelight dinner with my wife and my 907 Facebook friends. Does that count as a "date?" Not really.

For a Jesus-follower (one who follows after Jesus, in practice) "prayer" is: talking with God about what God and I are doing together. “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16)

Underline "often," "withdrew," and "prayed."

I'm now around the 2,000 mark for pastors and pastoral candidates taught in seminaries, conferences, and retreats. My classes have been on prayer and spiritual formation. I have found that 80% of Westernized pastors do not have a significant prayer life. Many have confessed this to me. 80% of non-Westernized pastors do have a significant prayer life. I think it works like this. The more stuff a person has, the less they actually pray. Conversely, the less stuff a person has, the more they pray. The less stuff, the more sense of dependency; the more stuff, the more sense of independence.

As a result of taking a class like mine I educatedly guess that, among Westernized pastors, 40% acquire a sigificant prayer life that will last the rest of their life. I have had some of them share with me that the prayer life "took," and they've never gone back to prayerlessness.