I think one of the most underrated things a pastor can do is pray for his congregation. I think pastors, of course, should do all of the regular tasks we might expect: preach, study, counsel, meet with the elders, and perform the regular pastoral administrative responsibilities, which may vary from church to church. But I think pastors should invest regular time in praying for their churches. I know most pray for the congregations from the pulpit, and this is a vital and important task. But often times pulpit prayers are filled with those in dire need. But what about the people in your church who never have serious problems or illnesses? Chances are they have needs as well but don’t get the attention that they might need.
One of the practical things you can do to ensure that you pray for all of the people in your church is to pray through your church directory. Depending on the size of your church, you might be able to pray for several households per day and get through your church in a month. If you have a small to medium-sized church, you can add an additional layer of pastoral care by e-mailing, calling, or talking with the people for whom you’re praying. Send an e-mail, for example, that lets the person know you’re praying for them and ask whether they have any requests that you can lift in prayer. You can write these requests in a small journal or perhaps immediately on to the pages of the directory. This way you can keep track of continued or answered items of prayer. This not only enables you to intercede on behalf of your sheep, it also provides you with greater opportunities to make direct contact with them and convey your care and love for them. As much as a church member needs to hear you preach God’s word, he also needs to know that his pastor cares and regularly lifts him up in prayer.
As a minister of the gospel, you are many things—a preacher, teacher, and counselor. But you are also a shepherd, one who should regularly be on his knees before the throne of grace on behalf of your sheep. Grab your church directory and pray for your sheep. And if you don’t know how to pray for your sheep, sit down at the feet of the apostle Paul and learn from him and his prayers for his sheep:
For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe (Eph. 1:15-19a).
You don’t have to pray through your directory—use whatever method works best, but pray for your church!