An excerpt from A. Donald MacLeod’s latest book.
An explanation for this book.
My wonderful 21-year-old grandson, Callum, asked me two questions as we were discussing his future: “What is it like to be a minister, Gramps? How has the ministry changed since you were ordained back in 1963?” It is to respond to these questions that I have set out my answer, in hopes that it will clarify both his understanding, and share what I’ve learned during my years of service. — ADM
Chapter 5 – Ministry to a New Generation
Writing about the prayer life of a minister, I must start with a disclaimer. There is no subject that makes me feel more inadequate, more prone to the complaint that I am a hypocrite, but I know of no minister who feels that his or her prayer life is totally adequate, as the sheer pressures and time constraints of our profession make it very difficult to find the time we need to spend on our knees. It is also one of the most subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) temptations of the Evil One to keep us from this essential ingredient of a fulfilling and life-changing ministry. In eternity, the question will be asked of each of us, as to how faithful we have been in our prayer life, and I can speak only for myself when I admit that I have been sadly deficient in this regard. With this caveat, I proceed to the Scriptural teaching about the minister as intercessor, and turn to the life of our Lord. I have always found helpful a marvellous book, Our Lord Prays for His Own, by Marcus Rainsford, who pastored first in Dundalk, Ireland, and later at St. John’s Church in Belgrade Square in London. His classic treatment of John 17 provides soul-searching explanations of our Lord’s high-priestly prayers for His followers as He was on His way to the cross. Jesus is our example and there is no better illustration of this than His prayer for Peter as He and the disciples gathered at the Last Supper, and he indicated that he was praying for Peter that his faith not fail. As I have asked the Lord to strengthen the commitment of a faltering parishioner, I have often thought of His prayer and recognized that although there may not be an immediate answer, we can be sure of one at the end, in His will, because He is faithful.
Our Lord prays that His disciples will be one, even as He and His Father are one, and that He would, in His time and good pleasure, fulfill His purposes in our lives, as His intercession combines with our prayers to keep those who are under our charge faithful and fruitful. My own praying for my congregants started early in my ministry as I found myself in conflict with the woman who provided a student minister with room and board in her guesthouse. For some reason she took an immediate dislike to me, and did everything she could to thwart my ministry. One day I picked up the party line at our house to call a parishioner, only to hear her lambasting the new student, and advising her friend not to return to church the next Sunday. She was also the organist at this small country church, and one Sunday, minutes before worship was to begin, she decided she would not turn up to play. Fortunately, we had an alternative, and a replacement was quickly arranged, but it was a shattering experience, and I barely got through the service. I prayed urgently that the Lord would remove this trial, but she stayed on and remained as organist, though I was able to make alternative boarding arrangements the next summer.
A second challenge occurred the night I learned, at the very end of my posting, that a family in my congregation, returning from a holiday in Saskatchewan, had had a serious car accident and three parishioners had been killed. I remember standing outside the home of the family I was visiting at the time, and prayed earnestly to the Lord that I would be given strength as I went to visit the bereaved family that dark night. The sad thing was that I had neglected my own personal devotional life for several days previously, and had to be reconnected with Jesus, but the Master came and healed me and used me in turn to bring healing in that terrible situation. Four days later, as mourners crowded the packed church to pay their last respects, Dr. Reid supported me as he preached a magnificent sermon.
The whole incident was a powerful reminder to me, as I started my final year in university, that God was in control of my life, and how essential both my devotional life and my dependence on Him would be for an effective prosecution of a Gospel ministry.
One of the powerful resources for my prayer life throughout my years of ministry has been a diligent study of Paul’s great prayers for his correspondents in his epistles, as he lists the requests he makes for the congregations in Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, as well as in the letters to Timothy and Titus. We can connect with him and I have often turned to his words in specific intercessions during my prayer times, naming people and situations. It means that I do not deal in generalities, but focus on particular needs and individual requests.
When I came to start a new church in Scarborough, suburban Toronto, I found the pressures of beginning a church from scratch very demanding, but also very exhilarating. Things were going well, and the congregation was growing as we approached the building of a new edifice, but then a problem occurred, and everything seemed to fall apart. Two prominent families in the church were caught up in a moral crisis, and I blundered in where angels would have feared to tread. Both families left our church, along with several others, and I poured out my heart to the Lord in desperation. The Rev. Gerald and Kitty Griffiths, who had had a connection with one of the families called me to say they were en route to catch a plane at Pearson and would stop by to see us. They came in and prayed with me and I shall never forget their intercession which sustained me in a dark moment, and gave me strength for the journey.
I also received reassurance from a denominational official, the Reverend Howard Doig. We clergy need each other’s support as no one else can fully understand the challenges we face. As I was thrown upon the Lord, blessing and growth came that summer as they had never done previously. Once again, challenges in the ministry brought me back to the Source of my strength, and I was grateful to the Lord for His presence and peace.
While I was in ministry at Knox Church, Toronto, I discovered the benefits of a “monthly prayer day.” I would go off to our denominational retreat centre in Crieff, where a cottage was made available for me in beautiful woodland surroundings. There I would shut the door, take out my Bible, and furiously write out my prayer needs in longhand as I cited all the situations in my ministry that needed intercession. Then I would commit them to the Lord in prayer. I never returned from those days apart without peace restored and calm gained. I have kept those pages and as I look over them I see how faithful God has been in His presence and grace.
I remember John Allison, a beloved minister in the PCC now gone to glory, who would list his prayer requests with a blank column on the right side of the page to record when an answer was given or how it was resolved. John, who had been a fellow student at Westminster Seminary, experienced challenges in his years as pastor in British Columbia and Ontario. He was known as a great person of prayer, and whose premature death saddened us all. As his former roommate, I can still see him at 6 a.m. every morning, kneeling beside our bunk bed where he had the lower level with his feet turned outward in prayer, as he would spend more than an hour each day in intercession. No wonder God powerfully used him through the years of suffering and challenge.
In subsequent years, when I moved to the city of Boston, I was able to make use of a Roman Catholic retreat centre, where I found consolation and courage in my times of solitude and prayer. I did not need a rosary to systematize my intercession, but found again that systematic writing out of prayer needs kept me on target and disciplined a mind that could easily be distracted during those times.
Confidentiality and discretion are essential in group prayer, particularly clergy group prayer. Gossip must be avoided. Some years ago, while I was in Boston, there were a number of evangelical young PCUSA pastors who gathered in a small New Hampshire village every month for support and prayer. All went well at first, and I was grateful that my assistant, fresh out of seminary, had found courage and strength there, but then I started to hear reports that she had requested prayer for her relationship with her “difficult senior pastor.” The complaint was that I had not allowed her equal time in the pulpit with me, and that I had been overbearing.
It compromised my relationship with several of those pastors, which was awkward.
One of the greatest helps in my devotional life has been my use of certain classic books on prayer. As a teenager I was introduced to Hallesby’s book, Prayer, and subsequently Augustine’s Confessions and books written by Oswald Chambers, Amy Carmichael, and A.W. Tozer.
Books of prayers were also useful. When I was a child, my father would conduct our daily devotions from A Chain Of Prayer Across The Ages: Forty Centuries Of Prayer, 2000 B.C.-A.D. 1912, compiled by Selina Fitzherbert Fox and published in 1913, which incorporated prayers from many sources. Dad used to say that this kept us from wandering and was helpful in focusing both our language and our content. He also would bring us regularly to Anglican Evensong which was a beautiful worship experience based on the magnificent Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England. We attended memorable worship services in St Andrews Church on Nathan Road in Kowloon. Some of those prayers still illumine my own language in prayer and intensify my understanding of talking with God, so that my thoughts do not wander. Our family worship had been a very powerful experience growing up, and I attempted to recreate it for my own family worship. We made prayer a family experience which we hope provided inspiration for our children and grandchildren. On a
memorable trip to the UK in 1966, a friend from Harvard Graduate School days, the Rev’d Michael Higgins, who was then a curate in an Anglican Church, introduced me to The Minister’s Prayerbook, It became a vade mecum for me over the following decades.
The practice of intercession is the greatest instrument the Holy Spirit can use in our ministry, and we neglect it at our peril. God is waiting to bring blessing to us as we wait on Him. The power of our public praying as we lead a congregation in worship is determined by our personal prayer. “You have not because you do not ask.”
A. Donald MacLeod
Christian Ministry Today is the working title for this book. Publication arrangements to be finalized.
A. Donald MacLeod is a former research professor of church history at Tyndale University College and Seminary in Toronto. He was born in Philadelphia and studied at McGill, Harvard and Westminster Theological Seminary. He was ordained as a minister in the PCC and served as a pastor and church planter. He was president of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada from 1973 to 1975 and General Director of the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship of Canada from 1975 to 1980. He helped establish The Renewal Fellowship within The Presbyterian Church in Canada and served as its Chairman from 1980 to 1985. He also served as Senior Minister of Newton Presbyterian Church in Boston. He is on the Appendix to the Roll of he Presbytery of Kingston.