Jeremiah Lanphier and the Power of Prayer

Life in the Big Apple was just as busy In 1857 as it is today. The economy was prospering and the “good life” was on the horizon, but the threat of civil war loomed. A gentleman named Jeremiah C. Lanphier saw the city from a different perspective. Lanphier saw a deep spiritual need amid the hustle and bustle, the laughter and the parties. Lanphier felt that God would have him be an instrument of change in this metropolitan city. New York City was in dire need of spiritual life.

The old downtown North Dutch Reformed Church employed Jeremiah Lanphier in hopes that he would influence their area for the gospel. Lanphier began his assignment on July 1, 1857. He put together a folder announcing the church and the new ministry. He distributed this folder along with Bibles and tracts. While he found some success, he was overwhelmed at the enormity of the task. His prayer, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” led him to a novel approach.

Lanphier had found prayer to be a great source of comfort. He had noticed how the businessmen were “hurrying along their way, often with care worn faces, and anxious, restless gaze.” Lanphier presented the idea of a prayer meeting for businessmen to the church board. Their response was less than enthusiastic, but they agreed to allow Lanphier to proceed. Determining that the noon hour was the most feasible time for a prayer meeting, he printed and distributed a handbill publicizing the meeting, and he promoted the meeting with great zeal.

Lanphier’s handbill to promote the prayer meeting said: “A day-prayer meeting is held every Wednesday from 12 to 1 o’clock in the Consistory building in the rear of the North Dutch Church, corner of Fulton and Williams streets. This meeting is intended to give merchants, mechanics, clerks, strangers, and businessmen generally an opportunity to stop and call on God amid the perplexities incident to their respective vocations. It will continue for one hour; but it is also designed for those who find it inconvenient to remain more than 5 or 10 minutes, as well as for those who can spare a whole hour. Necessary interruption will be slight, because anticipated. Those in haste often expedite their business engagements by halting to lift their voices to the throne of grace in humble, grateful prayer.”

Lanphier also took out a full-page ad in the paper advertising the weekly prayer meeting and inviting all who could to come. The first prayer meeting was held on September 23. For the first thirty minutes, Lanphier prayed alone. Then he heard some footsteps, and for the closing moments of this historic prayer meeting, six men knelt to pray for New York. On the next Wednesday, they met again as planned, and the number grew to twenty. When they met during the first week of October, the men felt they should begin to meet daily for prayer; and so they did.

On October 14 more than one hundred people came. By the end of the second month, three large rooms were filled. The Fulton Street prayer meetings were under way. Lanphier had discovered a hunger to meet with God in the city. Other prayer meetings began almost simultaneously across the city. Many churches sponsored such meetings without knowledge of other activities similar to their own. Morning prayer meetings ings were also begun in churches in New York and Brooklyn. Within six months, fifty thousand were meeting daily in New York, while thousands more prayed in other cities. This was the beginning of what is called the Laymen’s Prayer Revival of 1857-58.

Too often we isolate ourselves in prayer, focusing on individual prayer. What if we met with others to pray in community for our communities, our cities, and our nations? What might God do?

Seven Ways to Encourage Your Pastor

This month is — among many other emphases — Pastor Appreciation Month. We have days for just about everything now, and months with various recognitions. I totally missed the recent national grandparent day, the first year I could actually celebrate it! We have national popcorn day and donut day. I’m guessing we have more of those than national salad day or eat healthy day, but I don’t keep up with these anyway.

I’m a pastor, part time though I am. I teach current and future pastors, and I spend a lot of time speaking to and meeting with pastors. I love pastors and I love serving as one. Here are a few things you can do to encourage your pastor or pastors. Yes, I confess, these will sound like I’m standing up for pastors and even defending them almost to a fault. Guilty as charged. The pastors I spend most of the time with are passionate, hard working, evangelistic, godly folks  who put their heart and soul into what they do.

  1. Pray for your pastor. Really. Pray, daily if you can. It’s hard serving as a pastor. REALLY hard, some days more than others. He is shepherding a flock, and sometimes sheep act like sheep. And, he has to deal with wolves at times, many of whom dress remarkably like sheep. Prayer matters. You don’t know the burdens he faces, because the fiercest ones are those he can’t talk about. He loves his Lord, he loves his call, and he loves you. He understands what he signed up for to be a shepherd to people who are all over the place spiritually. But he wants and needs nothing more from you than your faithful prayers.
  2. Let your pastor be human. Jesus already walked this earth. He alone was sinless. Yes, your pastor should set a standard of godliness. But he is neither an angel nor a part of the Trinity, so allow him to be human. You don’t know his inner battles, but they are there and they are real. He generally can’t share those with you, but that doesn’t make them any less true.
  3. Love your pastor’s family. In some ways it’s even harder to be a pastor’s wife or children than to be the pastor. Go out of your way to speak to the children, and let his family be real (which means imperfect). Pray for them. Encourage them. Include them in your world, but give them space not to be “on call” all the time.
  4. Write a note of encouragement. I don’t mean one of those “It’s Pastor Appreciation Month so we have to get a card” deals. Don’t get me wrong, those are appreciated, and sometimes those are the only notes a pastor gets (if those). Just randomly write a little card. Or better, write a card about something specific your pastor said in his message or something he did well. Most pastors hear plenty about what they and their church are not doing well. I just got a text from a new young pro who just wanted to thank me for some things I said in my teaching the past couple of weeks, things that specifically helped him. This unsolicited kind word from someone fairly new to our group means a lot. It is possible that some pastors get too much attention from their church, and too much praise. But in my experience of being in over 2000 churches that is the very rare exception. You aren’t likely to praise your pastor too much, especially if you always give God glory in your gratitude. I don’t personally know a single pastor who deeply loves his call who is getting too much encouragement.
  5. Protect him from himself. Most pastors I know work really hard and rest very poorly. Yes, some pastors are lazy, but I don’t encounter those fellows often. More are likely to burn out than rust out, but they shouldn’t do either. Make sure he takes vacation times (you should as well), has solid family time, and has something in his life — a hobby, for instance, outside the church. He needs margin, and so do you.
  6. Don’t be a pain. By this I mean be aware of what is on his plate. If you have a genuine concern or complaint, feel free to share it. Just don’t do so right before or after a service. Preaching/teaching the Word is exhausting spiritually, emotionally, and physically. Whatever problem you have will probably still be a problem the next day, so in most cases it can wait. Another example: don’t be a leech. You don’t have to have your pastor’s ear about everything (you can go to the Lord, which is better!). And please, after a service if several people are waiting to speak with him, don’t take 15 minutes explaining your latest interpretation you found for an obscure verse in Zephaniah (I could tell many stories here). If you have a genuine need, tell him, but think about the timing.
  7. Walk with Jesus. This is the most important thing you can do. There are enough knuckleheads in your church, people your pastor and others invest in over and over and over again who continue to choose to walk their way too often, to treat Jesus like a mascot instead of their absolute master. Don’t be that one. You aren’t perfect and neither is a pastor, but the more you walk with Jesus, the most joy you will have and the more joy will come to your pastor.

If you are a pastor reading this, and you feel alone, discouraged, and maybe even want to throw in the towel, let me tell you how precious you are in the sight of the Lord. You are called by God! What an honor! Rest not in your productivity; or, don’t fret over the lack of the same. Remember your identity is in your Savior, not in your trying to be someone’s savior. Don’t compare yourself to others. Look to Jesus. Remember Romans 8:1 is also for pastors. Fulfill your calling for an audience of One.

Want to Be More Productive? Take a Break. Really.

Today my Disciple-Making Class will not meet for class. Why not? Because all the students will be taking the three-hour course time for a personal retreat. We will be doing two of these during the semester. The first one follows a uniform guide I gave them which you can find here.  The second will be more up to the student in terms of its focus.

Taking time–three hours or more for a personal retreat has become vital to me. It didn’t come easy. I’m a Type A, diagnosed ADD, hard charger and workaholic by nature. But creating margin in life generally and taking personal retreats regularly have literally changed my life. Our minds, our spirits, even our bodies and souls need breaks. And, I’ve found that by taking breaks and cutting out some unnecessary things in life I not only have less stress, but I get more done!

A personal retreat obviously helps our spiritual lives, but it does more.  Much has been done in terms of willpower research. As followers of Christ we have remarkable resources–the Holy Spirit, the Word, the church, the call of God, and more. But that does not keep us from being human. We still have limitations. We do not have unlimited willpower, and this impacts our interactions with others, our dealing with stress, and our ability to ward off temptation.

Willpower is an exhaustible resource. It has to be replenished.  The mind, like the body, needs rest.

Willpower in itself is not a character issue. But, when your willpower is weak, it becomes a character issue. If we use willpower so much in one area, we suffer in another.

Willpower is replenished through rest, and margin. This changes as we age. I don’t have the stamina physically or mentally I once had. I can strengthen these, but I won’t ever match the strength I had when young. The ace is I have much more wisdom than I had when younger. So, I can say no easier than I was when younger and almost addicted to people pleasing. I can focus on a few specific things God called me to and stay more focused than when younger. And, I have a much, much greater appreciation for sabbath rest.

The first step in getting healthy is not diet and exercise, but getting enough sleep. The first step in having healthy minds is not to add more information, but to let them rest. This week Nobel Prizes were given in several fields, which reminded me how Einstein finally solved relativity not when he sought to do so, but as he took a walk, giving his mind a rest.

If you want to be more productive, or simply have less stress, take breaks. This week I’ve had a really busy schedule, speaking a total of six times (I’ve lost count) to very different groups, as well as a number of individual meetings. I’ve enjoyed it thoroughly, and I’ve also taken some glorious naps and slept TEN HOURS last night. I’m also on break this next week. When I work, I work hard. But I do value those breaks.

Because I’m speaking to students at Southern Miss University at lunch today I will be doing my retreat tomorrow up at our farm. I can’t wait! Build margin into your life, take breaks, and value retreats. It is life giving.

Shared Ministry Is the Best Ministry

Being a part-time or bivocational pastor carries many challenges. Being a full-time pastor , and especially a lead or senior pastor, brings with it a heavy burden as well. I’m concerned that too many pastors today struggle with surviving in ministry. Too many deal with real issues of depression and discouragement and become easily distracted from their calling by the many issues that pull at them.

I’m a classic, type A, which means I would rather do things myself and just get the job done. I’m not a natural delegator. However, being a part-timer means I have no choice but to share ministry with others. Which is a good thing, because that’s actually the way God intended it. Ephesians 4 tells us we who lead the church have the calling not to do all the work of ministry but to equip the saints to do so. Too many pastors follow the lone ranger approach rather than the shared ministry mindset.

I’m grateful for the ability to share ministry with so many. I lead the young pros ministry at Richland Creek Community Church. We are the size of a lot of churches with some 80-100 actively involved currently. Every large church I’ve found that has this many young pros has a full time minister, so I’m the exception more than the rule. Shared ministry is the biblical way and the sensible way to lead. My primary calling is to teach the amazing students at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and how I love them. I also write books, and I travel good bit to speak for Jesus. I have to be extremely careful not to overdo things. That’s why I thank God for the folks I share ministry with at the Creek.

I have a great assistant, a young man named Kevin Goebel from Louisiana. Kevin is a newlywed! He just married Casey, who is an EDD student of mine as well. Kevin takes care of so many logistical issues, things I both hate and stink at. We have over 80 going to our fall Getaway in Black Mountain, NC, later this month. I secured the speaker, Micah Fries, and the leaders of worship, two of our small group leaders Bruce and Karla Kassebaum, and I oversee the general schedule. But all the details of lodging, money, meals and other logistics Kevin handles well.

I also don’t teach every Sunday, but about half of them. I’m gone some, but sometimes I will be there and let others teach. This fall I have three guys–Kevin, Tre, and Jason–who teach in my place. It hasn’t affected our attendance at all (these guys are fine teachers, after all).

We have six small groups led by married couples, most of whom are middle aged: The Swangers are the newest ( their first meeting was last night!), the Browns, the Meachums, the Kassebaums, the Sturgeons, and the Cramers. These people are amazing. Last night as the Swangers met, not only did the couple they replaced join them for their first meeting–the Liles, who are also such a blessing–but Troy and Sherry Meachum and Bill Cramer came as well. I didn’t ask them to do that. This is just what they do. They go the second mile. They encourage one another, build one another up in love, and help me in ways words can’t describe.

Pastor, how much of your ministry do you give away? Make no mistake, I’m the leader of the ministry. Ministries need one to look to, but so much of our ministry is done by others. And so should yours. And, that’s not to mention the host of young pros who teach youth Life classes, serve in special needs and a myriad of other ways.

Ministry is not about seeing how much you can do, but how well you can equip, encourage, and provide opportunities for others to do as well. I’m grateful for the joy of serving young pros and these great people with whom I share this work.