As I traveled by plane to speak at a mega-church’s youth ministry weekend bash, I daydreamed of what I expected would happen.
The hosts would pick me up and take me out to eat. We would pray quickly over the meal, then chat. After lunch, I would be taken to the church with my bodyguards (the two youth pastors). They’d show me the largest gym I’d ever seen, we’d survey the meeting rooms, and then I’d get whisked off to the hotel for some down time.
Over the next three days, I would meet the “important” people: the “tech team,” the band, the drama guy and key volunteers. People would ask me stuff like, “What is your talk on tonight?” and “How did you get into youth ministry?” “Has anyone told you your nose resembles an eagle’s beak?” and “Are you as funny as Duffy Robbins?”
The weekend would go great; it would be fun, and God would do a good work.
There was only one thing missing. Prayer.
What Happened to Prayer?
OK, dream overâ€”back to reality. The event happened just as I expected. Heavy on programming, low voltage on communion with God. Group prayer was nowhere to be found. Usually by the midway point of a typical weekend, I tend to take the initiative. I play in my head a little game called “I wonder if we’ll get together for prayer?” until I can bear it no more and get desperate!
Our soul needs prayer from others. I know people prayed individually, but there is something immensely satisfying about huddled prayer with others. Collective soul power. Paul spoke of a prayer warrior: “Epaphras, who is one of you, says hello. What a trooper he has been! He’s been tireless in his prayers for you, praying that you’ll stand firm, mature and confident in everything God wants you to do” (Colossians 4:12, The Message).
Why has prayer become less important than skits, PowerPoint and eating?
Youth workers are starving for a God-connection with people surrounding them. I mean, who prays for you or with you? Henry Nouwen refers to it as “being fully present.” Encouragement through prayer with another human being is powerful.
Paul, while sitting in jail, asked, “[R]emember to pray for me in this jail” (Colossians 4:18).
Our paid children and youth staff met for a time of temperament inventory, eating, laughing and a “little” prayer. That “little prayer” became lengthy, heart-pounding and soul-full praying.
It all started with the question “How are you doing personally and professionally?” One individual would speak, and then everyone would gather around one by one and pray. I imagined the typical 30-second prayers, but I was wrong. Prayer was fervent, passionate and intense; there were tears and the bearing of our hearts. Those who were ready to throw in the towel were renewed or at least delayed from quitting, and the discouraged were empowered. We all left that day invigorated, alive and new, at least for the moment.
Don’t Suffer Alone
Which would you prefer? Scenario one (and you can’t count the hotel and food!) or scenario two? Most of us want scenario two but live in scenario one.
James Taylor sang about being “down and discouraged.” Do you have a friend like Epaphras? Let someone know you are struggling. Don’t suffer alone. Some of you reading this might be depressed, at high risk for alienation or just ready to leave the ministry.
James 5:13-16 say, “Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray … pray for each other that you may be healed” (Today’s NIV). In the next few days, ask two people to intercede for you regularly. Calendar a meeting with your Epaphras for huddled prayer. When you find the joy getting sucked right out of you (church staff meeting, whiny mom, cynical teenager) or are tempted to go sell Amway, pray with someone who cares about you! It might just save your soul.
David Olshine is Director of Youth Ministries at Columbia International University in Columbia, S.C., and the author of over 15 books, including I Want to Talk with My Teen About Guy Stuff. He and David Burke are the founders of Youth Ministry Coaches, a coaching and consulting business (www.youthmincoaches.com).