Three Stages Toward Greater Prayerfulness
Review of “Lead with Prayer” by Ryan Skoog, Peter Greer, and Cameron Doolittle
At the start of the new year, I wondered aloud in these pages whether “the American Church’s seeming failure … is the result of a prayerlessness that reveals lack of faith.” That failure is evident in our declining numbers, our moral failures, and our feelings of burnout. What Jesus said about the demonized boy in Mark 9:29 needs to be said about our ineffectiveness today: “This kind can come out only by prayer.”
How, then, do we become more prayerful Christians? And if we lead Christian institutions, how can we lead more prayerfully? Those are the questions Ryan Skoog, Peter Greer, and Cameron Doolittle set out to answer in Lead with Prayer.
The authors lead parachurch ministries: Venture, HOPE International, and Practicing the Way, respectively. They apply their advice to Christian leaders in church and parachurch ministries but also to Christian leaders in the for-profit world. They firmly believe that prayerfulness can help Christians lead better regardless of the institution.
The authors move readers through three stages in the course of the book:
- how to prioritize prayer,
- how to grow in prayerfulness, and
- how to multiply prayer within an organization.
Notice the progression: from leader to organization. No one can lead where they have not gone themselves. If we want prayerfulness to characterize the organizations we lead, we must become prayerful first.
If we want prayerfulness to characterize the organizations we lead, we must become prayerful first.
Prioritizing prayer in our personal lives requires creating a “rule of life” that governs how we use our time, among other things. This means developing a habit of praying regularly throughout the day, for example, when we rise and when we turn in for sleep. But it also means cultivating an awareness of God throughout the day. This is what Brother Lawrence referred to as “the practice of the presence of God.”
Growing in prayerfulness requires going deeper than time. It means leaning into prayer during difficult seasons. It means engaging with Scripture through devotional practices such as lectio divina. When we have wronged others, we need to repent. Growing in prayerfulness also benefits from fasting and taking spiritual retreats.
Finally, multiplying prayer within our organizations means taking corporate prayer seriously. This is especially true of explicitly Christian organizations, such as churches or parachurch ministries. If we want to develop a culture of prayer, prayer with and for coworkers must be a norm, prayer must be included in our team meetings, and time and money invested in prayer activities and spiritual retreats.
Each chapter of the book ends with a prayer tool. It offers advice for how to implement the topic of that chapter. For example, the prayer tool for the chapter about investing in prayer suggests setting aside a physical space for prayer in your organization, designating prayer leaders, creating systems for gathering and sharing prayer requests, and scheduling prayer activities.
Throughout, the authors draw on biblical principles, traditional spiritual practices, and personal experience for guidance. The book’s special sauce is its deep dive into the prayer lives of Christian leaders around the world, whether through interviews or biographical research. This feature grounds the book’s advice in contemporary, real-world examples.
As a Christian minister, I read this book with local church pastors and congregational leaders in mind. Although it has obvious applications for parachurch ministries, too, I would recommend pastors read this book alongside staff members and key volunteer leaders, such as board members. Doing so may very well spark the kinds of discussions American Christians need to have to address the difficulties our ministries are currently experiencing.
That said, I would close with the reminder that prayer is not a means to an end — or at least not merely a means. Prayer is the end itself. It is an intimate, trusting, and honest communion with God. This should make you more effective in doing the mission God has given you and your organization. But if it transforms you into a greater person of faith, it has done its intended work.