The greatest leadership principle I was taught I learned when I was a teenager. At an event geared for teenagers called Jesus Northwest speakers and music groups challenged us into a deeper relationship with God. Speaker Becky Tirabassi challenged us to pray 10 minutes a day for the rest of our lives. From that moment my life has never been the same.I stood to my feet to acknowledge that was a commitment I wanted to make and have been faithful to and grown in that commitment over the last twenty-five years. That challenge to pray and stay in the Word was given again the night of my ordination by Dr. Larry McKain. I'll never forget what he whispered in my ear in a noisy room, "Those who stay close to God make it in ministry, those who don't, don't make it very long."
What I know now having served as a senior pastor, is that is it out of prayer, listening to the heart of God that comes vision, direction, and discernment. In restarting two churches, God has been the foundation who has brought life out of what appeared to be dead. There is no one else to depend on but God, there is no other option than to stay close to the Lord, for if I don't, this church won't make it, and my sheep won't grow in a relationship with Jesus Christ. One pastor said, the people in your congregation will never rise above your leadership as a pastor. How true that has been. Doing ministry in my own strength and natural abilities works for a while, but true lasting transformation in peoples' lives happens out of my prayers for them and God's work in their lives. What might take me weeks or years to do, God can transform in a second.
Spiritual leadership starts with prayer. Prayer is simply communicating with God. If I don't pray for my sheep every week, who will? If I don't pray and seek God's face, how will I know where to go and minister in a given day? If I don't pray for God to speak through the sermon, I have nothing of value to say. If I don't pray for ears to be open, the message falls on deaf ears and people leave unchanged. And please understand, this is not about me, it's about the Living God breaking into the hearts and lives of people to give them new life! It's about God's direction and me being faithful to follow. The greatest adventures of ministry have been birthed out of prayer. Divine appointments await, for God is calling all the sheep to come back into the fold. God's timing is perfect. God's way is flawless. God's heart is for us. And with the God of all creation on my side, miracles happen. Jeremiah 33:3 says, "Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know." With my heart open to God's leading, this is how I end up in a park where a woman is crying and needing God. This is how when someone calls my cell phone trying to sell me something, God transforms the conversation and I end up praying for her.
God wants to make the most of every opportunity and that is one thing I pray for myself and church. "God, would you orchestrate divine appointments today that someone might come to faith in Jesus Christ today." I pray that we might "abound in love for one another." I pray that people might "join in with what God is already doing all around us and that our eyes might be open to see what God is already doing." I'm done with low level faithless prayers. To truly believe God means my prayers are filled with faith and hope, knowing the God of the universe has held the sun in place, changed his mind and relented wrath, healed someone without being physically present, provided water from a rock, made a way where there was no way by dividing the sea. This is the God I serve. This is the God who through His beloved Son Jesus said in John 14:12, "Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father." That is how a little 2-year-old was healed of staff infection overnight when the ICU doctors had given up. That is how an older retired logger who could hardly get out of bed to come to church, skipped in the next week with the back of a 19-year-old, before he started logging. That is how an association of pastors went from arguing theology every week in a town of 12% Christians to actually praying together and transforming a town with the love of Jesus Christ! God has all the answers and is the answer. The closer I am to Jesus who is truth, the further I am away from the lies of this world. Spiritual leadership runs after the heart of the Father, who meets us right where we are. Even the prodigal son who liked to party, the Father met him with a party. Stop now, seek God's face. The phone will ring, the mind will wander, the social media will be tempting, but let nothing stop you from making time every day to spend with the Lord. When I heard about people who serve a false god praying three hours a day to a god who could not help them, God challenged me to spend even more time than that initial commitment of ten minutes with the Living God who can transform families, churches, cities and nations. "If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray, and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways then I will hear from heaven and I will forgive their sin and heal their land," 2 Chronicles 7:14. Don't give up. Stand up and make a commitment of 10 minutes a day for the rest of your life in prayer. It just might change everything.
Rev. Kelli Westmark is an ordained pastor serving as senior pastor at the Lincoln City Church of the Nazarene on the Oregon Coast and a 2003 graduate from Nazarene Theological Seminary.