In the previous article, we looked at some ways that elders could encourage assembly prayer. The focus was mainly corporate, seeking to strengthen the prayer life of the church by encouraging prayer in the home, and by making certain the church is a healthy environment for prayer.
Another area in which elders can make an important contribution to the prayer life of the church is through mentoring younger men in their private prayer lives and ultimately in the ministry or work of prayer in the church. That will be the focus of this article.
An Important Work of Elders
Everyone knows that elders are supposed to be examples to the flock (I Pet. 5:2). But how often has it been stressed that this necessarily includes prayer? It is sometimes said that prayer is not preparation for the battle; it is the battle. That’s probably an overstatement, but it does make an important point. Most armies going out to war are mainly young men with a few of the older, experienced soldiers leading. They became officers through years of experience, and thus they have a lot to offer.
We know that the disciples of the Lord asked Him to teach them to pray (Lk 11:1), (which He did), and we know that Paul trained Timothy in all aspects of the Lord’s work and instructed him to do the same for others (II Tim 2:2). Prayer was one of the priorities of the early church (Acts 2:42). Thus it is reasonable that we should follow the example of those who went before us and whose record is preserved in Scripture. As part of discipleship, elders ought to be instructing younger men about prayer by word and example.
In order for this to happen, there are some convictions that must be embraced by those who lead. Perhaps they are obvious, but are worth stating at the outset.
In the first place, church elders must believe strongly in the need to train the next generation for the Lord’s work. The classic verse (2 Tim. 2:2) has already been cited, and describes an unbroken chain of godly men to carry on the work. However hard working and gifted, any elder who thinks of himself as irreplaceable will eventually become a liability. Preparing to “pass the baton,” as they say in racing events, is an integral part of good leadership.
Secondly, elders must be convinced that training younger people is by its very nature, an active work. (see ESN Nov. 2009). Just going about business as usual and hoping others will absorb practical skills by osmosis simply won’t do. There must be the sacrifice of time, good communication with emphasis on listening, and plenty of practical experience in the field for mentoring to be effective.
Thirdly, both elders and young people must understand that prayer is not a spiritual gift any more than are faith or love. Learning to pray is hard work, a discipline involving sacrifice and faith. Having a mentor is not a requirement, but it will yield great dividends when help and encouragement come from one who has already learned the basics. Discipleship and accountability go together.
The Quiet Side of Mentoring
At this point, someone may feel uncomfortable because “I am not an outgoing, public speaker…….” Be assured that the greater part of the exercise of prayer can be done in private, i.e., “one-on-one.” The mentor is not flaunting his prayer life, but neither is he hiding it. The Lord Jesus clearly prayed before His disciples at times—we know this because they wrote down what He said. Praying with one or two can be a training time as well as a blessing for all.
Of course elders should ensure that in their public feeding of the flock (either personally or through those they invite), important disciplines of the Christian life such as prayer are well represented. Believers must be taught about the different types of prayer available to them, the various elements of praying in the will of God and great Bible prayers. But those young in the faith also need to learn how to do it for themselves. This is where one-on-one work really shines.
Ideally, spiritual mentoring is going on in the home. But for many, the assembly is the only place of spiritual training. It is sad when the church is so concerned about a polished image that it loses the joy and freshness of the early attempts of young ones to get involved. The assembly is not a stage for actors, but a family and a school for learners.
The Public Side of Mentoring
Beyond the regular meetings on Sunday, there are opportunities for leading in prayer at visitations, in small groups, at special assembly functions and even the giving thanks for food in which training can occur. Much good can come if mentors will give those they are working with small assignments, and then meet with them to go over progress, to answer questions and to make suggestions.
Tips to Help
1. Mentors should be encouragers. Emphasize the positive. Look for small things to commend. Young believers can be very fragile and easily discouraged by sharpness or the feeling that they “can’t do anything right.”
2. Emphasize courtesy. Others may be waiting to pray so keep your own prayers brief and stick to the subject. There will be time in private later for extended prayers. Speak so that others can hear and understand, and ultimately add their “amen.” (I Cor. 14:16). Avoid using public prayer to advance a personal agenda or make innuendos about assembly problems.
3. Cultivate simplicity. Prayer expresses dependence upon God. It is not a teaching opportunity or a time to impress other people. It helps to picture oneself standing in the very presence of the Lord Who is asking, “What is it you would like to say to me?”
4. Reverence for God is always in order. We do not speak to One on our level, as to a peer, as we would address a fellow student or work mate.
5. The prayers recorded in Scripture are there to help us. We gain depth in our prayer life when we learn to pray for things spiritual and eternal rather than just temporal and temporary. Am I interceding for others in areas of spiritual maturity and godly character?
Once More on the Environment
I am always amazed at the reaction I sometimes get when addressing elders and I mention the word “environment.” For example, “The assembly must provide a healthy environment for young men to pray.” Why the problem? Maybe it’s just the normal suspicion of anything new or different. The dictionary defines environment as the setting in which something takes place. We can certainly understand how the church is necessarily the setting for certain things, e.g., for its meetings and functions. Elders must face the fact that God gives us the responsibility to be sure things which honor Him may in fact take place unhindered by senseless traditions or a critical spirit.
Are the believers supporting the elders as they provide mentoring for the younger ones by sharing words of encouragement? An environment of thankfulness and appreciation is a healthy setting. Are schedules planned to involve young men as appropriate? Sure, it may be quicker for the meeting chairman to open the meeting in prayer himself. But here is a valuable opportunity to use a young brother. How often do elders take a young man along when visiting a sick person or shut-in, and then ask him to give a brief report at the prayer meeting?
There are many creative ways to foster a training environment. And it won’t do to simply hope all this will happen! God has entrusted good things to His people and told them to “Occupy until I come.” One of those resources is youth. We dare not wrap His gifts in a napkin and hide them away, but with planning and diligence, we can present to Him what He entrusted to us – with interest!