In Judah it was said, “The strength of those who bear the burdens is failing. There is too much rubble. By ourselves we will not be able to rebuild the wall.” -- Nehemiah 4:10
Probably much like yours, my first few years in pastoral ministry were unforgettable, just not in the way I’d imagined. To put it succinctly, the walls I’d built up regarding my calling and (perceived) competency came crumbling down pretty quickly in those initial days of shepherding.
And our God rebuilt me using an older brother’s faithfulness to invite me into a prayer group.
I was a neon-emerald shade of green when I was called to my first pastoral role as discipleship pastor, serving in a 60-year-old Baptist congregation in the midst of some exciting changes. I came in with so many grand plans to build up the church through small groups and personal disciple-making.
But what looked at first to be an idealistic oasis soon turned into a desert of spiritual depression. Under the reality of pastoral burden, I quickly discovered that a single sermon or teaching was not a silver bullet. I began to see my ministry philosophy met with raised eyebrows (“Is he wanting to kill Sunday School?”) and discouragement (“We’re not in a place to do this kind of ministry here, Jared”). The repetition of these responses from other leaders, mixed with my own sinful fear of man and people-pleasing insecurities, created the perfect storm to paralyze a young pastor.
Surrendering to my introverted preferences, I went within. There were few people in my church and staff to whom I felt I could turn for true spiritual encouragement. I felt misunderstood and listless. I even began to avoid my fellow pastors as much as I possibly could. “Who would care to talk to this sad, strange little man pretending to be a pastor?” I thought. Such were the lies I began to believe.
One day in the midst of this struggle, I had a meeting with my preaching professor at Southwestern Seminary. At the end of our meeting, he stopped me on the way out of his office and invited me to join him and three other students in a Friday morning prayer group. It was an instant balm to my wounded soul. It felt like a big brother finally put his arm around me. I lived a week off of the encouragement of that invitation alone.
For the next two years, I spent every Friday morning at 6:30am in the office of Dr. Calvin Pearson, where the Lord began to rebuild my heart. There was very little intensive counseling involved. We simply let the Holy Spirit lead us in praise and petition before God, using the Scriptures as our guide. I learned to listen to others as we prayed. We interceded for each other in sorrows, frustrations and unparalleled joys.
The Lord used those two years of Friday mornings to graciously tear down filthy, sinful walls in my heart. Calvin pastored me well in those years, and he did so mostly through prayer. God used a faithful mentor leading me weekly into the gift of prayer to rebuild my life and remind me that the praise of His name brings the greatest clarity and confidence. Those mornings forever changed the way I pray and pastor and disciple men.
My mind often drifts back to Friday morning prayer meetings in Dr. Pearson’s office. I’m reminded of God’s faithful use of community to rebuild this young pastor and prepare him to shepherd more boldly and faithfully. I want to do the same for the men in my church and sphere.
Join me, brothers. Gather some men in your congregation, deacon, or elder board. If there are any men of whom you say, “I think he would benefit from someone discipling him, but I just don’t have the time to take someone through a book," you’re probably right. But you have the time to invite some men into a small group each week to use a psalm each day, or other passage, and lead them to the throne.
You’ll learn more about them and yourself doing this each week than you might ever have learned just having conversation. Using prayer to disciple men directs the conversation to the throne of the King. Let these men see your confidence and your anxieties, let them see you approach the throne of grace and lead them to do the same.
You inviting men into a discipling group for the sole purpose of prayer will change them forever. It did me. And it still does each Tuesday morning.