By Trevin Wax
Every four years, pastors and church leaders are given the opportunity to show their congregation how and why it’s necessary to continue following the Scriptural command to pray for governmental leaders.
When an administration changes—when a new president occupies the White House and new senators and representatives fill the Capitol—we have the chance to show a watching world that we remain committed to following the instructions of our Lord through His apostles, regardless of party affiliation or what we had hoped for an election’s outcome.
Praying for leaders can be provocative, in the best way. According to a Lifeway Research study from 2017, more than half (57%) of Protestant churchgoers under the age of 50 say they prefer to worship alongside others who share their political views.
I imagine if the same survey went out today, we’d see the church even more divided on politics. For this reason, praying for our authorities is a demonstration that we belong to a kingdom that transcends the rancor of this present moment.
The words I wrote four years ago before the last inauguration apply just the same to this one:
If we are to be faithful in this era, we must be united in prayer. Paul urged “that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority.” Our prayer life demonstrates our “godliness and dignity,” and it “pleases God our Savior” (1 Timothy 2:1-3, CSB). Praying for the president is not optional. It is a discipline that God uses to temper our rhetoric and grant us a measure of compassion and respect for whoever is in the White House, even when faithfulness may require resistance and dissent.
So why should a pastor lead the way in praying for the new administration? Here are three reasons.
1. Pastors set the tone for unity in their churches.
Good shepherds care about the unity of the flock. Preserving the unity of the church is an ever-present burden in the heart of a good pastor. On the night before He was crucified, Jesus’ priestly prayer displayed the depths of His heart for unity among His people (John 17:20-23).
When the subject is politics, passions run hot! A cursory glance at some of the social media posts from church members or casual conversations over coffee reveal just how varied a congregation’s opinions might be about the news of the day.
One way a pastor can safeguard the unity of the church is by leading the way in corporate prayer. The pastor leads the church to pray together as one, just as the Lord instructed us to pray to “Our Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:9-13).
By praying together for people in leadership, the church takes on a posture of unified prayer, no matter how diverse political opinions may be.
2. Addressing division through corporate prayer can lead to deeper discipleship.
A second reason why pastors should lead the way in praying for the new administration is because it strengthens the discipleship efforts of the church.
2020 was a tumultuous year in many ways and for many reasons. Given the confusion that exists, some of it due to social media echo chambers and rapidly declining trust in traditional institutions and media outlets, people may struggle with what to believe. What’s true? What’s false?
In our day, we’re seeing the fruit of the postmodern turn, on both the right and the left, when political leaders treat truth as if it’s infinitely malleable, ready to be spun in favor of this or that narrative.
A pastor in this moment doesn’t need to feel the responsibility of figuring everything out on behalf of the congregation. Instead, our goal should be to tether ourselves to the one thing we know to be true—God’s Word, and the Savior who is the hero of the Story.
By tying ourselves to Scripture, by leading in corporate prayer in a way that aligns with the Lord’s instruction and also brings the power of God’s Word to apply to these particular circumstances, we show our congregation where truth can be found.
In doing so, we model wisdom and discernment, and, as the Proverbs command us, steer clear of speech that resembles the obstinate, the simple-minded, the scoffer.
3. It paves the way for a strong collective public witness.
When we pray for those in authority over us, as Paul instructs us in 1 Timothy 2:1-4, we communicate something beyond the words we speak.
In times of upheaval and uncertainty, what will people find when they visit our churches and hear our prayers? Will they find a leader and a people wringing their hands, rattled by the uncertainty? Or will they find us confident in the sovereignty of God, cheerfully obedient to the Scriptures that tell us to pray for those in authority?
Confident, cheerful, courageous followers of Jesus who use their pulpit and platform to model obedience to Christ may be the means by which God woos non-Christians to “the knowledge of truth.”
Pastors and church leaders, don’t miss the opportunity to model for your people what genuine prayerfulness looks like in this turbulent time. Spend some time looking up how prominent pastors through the years have led their congregations through political transitions. Watch how pastors just last week led their people in prayer during a national crisis.
Above all, seek the mind of Christ in all you say and do, so that He’s glorified and His people edified.
TREVIN WAX (@TrevinWax) is the senior vice president of theology and communications at Lifeway, as well as a visiting professor at Wheaton College. He is the author of several books, including his latest from B&H Publishing, Rethink Your Self: Looking Up Before Looking In.