It is easy to become so eager to do ministry that we don’t prioritize the most important things. Prayer is one of these things. If you want to reach every student in your community, it has to start with prayer. Chris Selby joins Brian on the podcast for this episode. Chris is a missionary to Youth Pastors and tells his story of how his youth ministry saw 140 reached for Christ in one year.
Q: What were the first few years of ministry like for you?
A: I was a bi-vocational youth pastor in my first ministry. I expected the kids to bring their friends to youth ministry and listen to me preach as I shared the gospel every week. I tried to have the best programming possible, which worked some, but I did not know what it meant to equip my students. I had baby Christians and just as many were leaving as were coming. I could not get my students to live on mission for Christ.
At a Dare 2 Share event, Greg Stier asked if I spent more ministry time in prayer than I did on announcements. That question hurt, so I tried adding prayer into my ministry night. Then Greg’s book, “Gospelize” really helped me understand what it actually was to incorporate intercessory prayer. Even then I still had trouble maintaining the emphasis on prayer until I was convicted at a Lead the Cause event in Denver. My students were apathetic, and I was praying for God to move in their lives. Then God told me in the still, small voice, “if you want me to do what you want me to do, you need to get serious about prayer.”
I made a commitment to get up 1 hour earlier every morning to pray. (We as youth pastors will need to make sacrifices to really start making disciples like Jesus did.) I prayed for every student by name. I saw a huge difference in my life, and my students’ hearts started to break for God and their unsaved friends. I made every part of the ministry night 15 minutes so prayer could have an equal 15 minutes. I was no longer just adding prayer to my ministry but making it the ministry.
That year we turned our retreat into a prayer retreat, taking only about half the normal number of kids. That weekend became the most transformational weekend in our ministry. The students only had their Bible, and we sent them out for an hour at a time in prayer with a single passage. When they returned to share what God was telling them, some students would be weeping, glowing, repenting, or coming to salvation. Many students still look back on that weekend as transformational and 10 of them were baptized. It exemplified the prioritizing of prayer, which gave them the chance to learn how to pray.
During that next school year, our 35 students had 1,300 conversations about Christ and lead 140 people to salvation. It was all prayer.
Q: What exactly did it look like for you when you began to pray for your students?
A: I had 70 students and I listed their names alphabetically on a note in my phone. (If you are going to use your phone, always put it in airplane mode.) If I did not already know what each student needed prayer for, I would ask. I would pray for them by name, what they needed, and that God would shatter their hearts for their lost friends and family members. Then I began texting about twelve students a day asking them how I could pray for them. I was able to get to them all in about twice a week. I was spending much more time praying for them than I was on ministry programming.
Q: How did your students and leaders initially respond when you restructured your ministry to prioritize prayer?
A: I was incorporating it as the Spirit led, which was not all at once, so they embraced it. We definitely lost some kids, but we still had those core 35 kids on board from the trip.
The first thing we did to prioritize prayer was taking a whole ministry night to pray. We set up stations by the P.R.A.Y. acronym (Praise, Request, Admit and Yield). The lights were off, candles were everywhere, and we had them take off their shoes. Some students were confused, but the 35 core students got it and led the way. After sharing some scripture about prayer, the students all went to different stations.
Then we focused on helping our kids find their prayer rhythm. Some liked to walk while praying, and some liked to run, draw or journal while praying. We tried them all.
Q: Did this lead to your students praying for their friends?
When you praise God in prayer first, your requests will become in line with His, and you will be given anything in line with what God wants. We cannot save anyone, but we can pray for them and join in what the Holy Spirit is doing in them. Instead of choosing friends to pray for, we encouraged our students to ask God who He wanted them to pray for. Many students got names that surprised them. We told them that it was because God was pursuing that person and wanted to use them to do so.
We would do everything we could to get our students praying. Each week we would have a giant cause circle with students’ names to pray for. One coach used 2x4s and chicken wire to hold rolled up cards with a student’s name. His students would pick a card and pray for that person for 15 minutes.
Often, we want to move forward in ministry and life without prayer, but prayer is what fuels it.
Part 2 of this discussion will be next week, when we talk with Chris about relational evangelism.
The book, “Gospelize” by Greg Stier is discussed in episode 42, “7 Values of Gospel Advancing Ministries.”
More information on the Prayer Circle can be found on Dare 2 Share’s website, dare2share.org.