Prayer is a powerful tool in your ministry. Wait. You knew that. After all, Jesus prayed. The apostles prayed. Scripture tells us of some crazy things that happened when people prayed. Cool. My guess is that you already pray for all your students, leaders, and volunteers. Beautiful. What else? Could a greater intentionality of prayer take your ministry to another level of effectiveness, make you a better leader, and raise up your students to be more committed disciples of Jesus?
Why not use this summer season to pray for your students, your ministry, families, and neighborhoods.
Pray In Eager Expectation
God is everywhere all the time. He is just as much here with me in this room as I type as he is right now across the country and around the world. There is no limitation to his “everywhereness” Yet there is something profoundly different in inviting God into our space. There is something far more intimate when we ask God to “show up” not taking his presence for granted.
In my first years in youth ministry, I never seemed to see the need to spend time in prayer simply asking God to come. I made really cool invites, spent time convincing students to come, inviting special guests, but I guess I just assumed that Jesus would come. After all, “when two or more are gathered…” You know the rest. I made the thoughtless assumption that as long as a bunch of Christians showed up, so would Jesus. And he did. Sometimes. I think.
The truth is, I couldn’t tell you one time that God made his presence known beyond all doubt when I didn’t specifically ask. Why is that? It’s simple. I wasn’t looking. But when I dropped to my knees and asked God to work in the lives of my students, to speak through my words, to magnify our worship for his glory, to fill the room with his Spirit, and to turn hearts toward him. My eyes were open. But why?
Because asking creates expectation.
When we stop our busy selves long enough to invite God into the very space we are trying to worship him in, it turns our eyes in his direction. And because we asked, we start to look, and we start to notice.
But be careful. This is a dangerous ask. We are inviting the God of the universe, the Creator, the All-Powerful One, the King, into our space. Our prayer positions us to receive him and experience him in a way we might not have anticipated. It will fundamentally change the way you pray for your ministry and the way you approach gathering times. It will even change you.
Pray To Be Just Dumb Enough
So now you are praying that God shows up in a mighty way. You’re expecting, you’re watching. Everything is planned perfectly. Tonight’s gathering will be perfect. Lives will be changed, souls will be won, and Jesus will be glorified. That is until technology crashes, the lead singer of the band is sick, your guest speaker never showed, or some other (what seems like) major disaster at the worst possible time. That’s it, the nights over. Nothing has gone according to plan and now instead of focusing on where or how Jesus is going to make himself known, you are focused on who you need to blame.
But what if behind all of that disaster was Jesus? I have a plaque in my office that was given to me as a gift from some former students. It was a going away present with one of my strange quotes that they never forgot. It reads, “Be just dumb enough.” I know it sounds strange. Let me explain.
I once had the privilege of leading students in creating and executing youth retreats. Part of which was spiritual development for the wider student body, but another part was used as leadership development for my team of students. The first thing we learned was to pray that God would not be a part of the event and reduced to a spectator, but take over. Our job was to be just dumb enough to plan so big that it was almost out of reach. Why? So that God could take over. And when he did, we only would have him to credit for the event. Essentially it removes us from the focus and our ability to give ourselves too much credit.
Be just dumb enough was a reminder that every plan we made, everything we did needed to be brought into the throne room of God and left at the King’s feet. We acted merely as stewards of the moment. But the moment was his. In other words, first, pray that the Spirit of God fills the room and your students. Second, be a good steward of the time you have been given. Be diligent and thorough in your planning. Sweat the small stuff. Quality matters. But then, get out of the way. If it goes sideways—and you have done all you can to make it great—God must have a better idea. Don’t ask God to fit inside your plans, adjust to his.
Thy Kingdom Come…In Youth Group
Jesus told his disciples to pray that the kingdom of God would be made known on earth (Matthew 6:10). Your ministry should be a microcosm of that prayer. Ideally, the kingdom is made up of God’s people who are gentle, kind, loving, patient, peaceful, full of joy, humility, self-control, goodness, etc. The kingdom is made up of people who support, love each other, and hold each other accountable. But the kingdom is also counter-cultural, seen as a little backward to outsiders, and yet welcoming in every way. Imagine a ministry that reflects those qualities.
But praying for this kind of growth in your ministry goes far beyond a gathering or worship set. The prayer is making the kingdom personality part of your ministry’s DNA. It becomes the driving force behind everything. Ideally, it would change your students when they are at home, school, sports, and out with friends. Once it’s unleashed it cannot be contained to space or time. A ministry infused with a kingdom personality takes on a life of its own.
Most of us have learned since childhood that prayer is powerful and that prayer works. But the lifeblood of our ministries depends on prayer. It starts with a simple invite, which leads to an expectation and boldness to unleash God’s will and purpose for a group laser-focused on Jesus and his kingdom.
One more thing, don’t do this alone. Gather your leaders, your students, and do this together. Not only will you be modeling prayer in a way that will impact those around you, it creates an incredible sense of unity. The more of your ministry that is on the same page as Jesus, the better the experience for the students. Sit in a circle, hold hands, pray all at once, take turns, etc. It doesn’t matter, just pray. Pray, a lot.