College Ministry in a Post-Christian Culture

How to Pray for Your Pastors

Photo by Andre Freitas. Use via CCo.

Photo by Andre Freitas. Use via CCo.

In my last post, I gave some reasons why you should considering praying for your pastor and those in spiritual leadership. In this post I want to discuss what to look for in an intercessor, and how to pray.


There are many types of intercessors. Some may pray on a more occasional or casual basis. Others may be in closer communication with the pastor and make a more formal commitment to prayer. A small group may form an inner circle that keep the pastor accountable and are more intimately aware of his life and ministry.

What are we looking for in an intercessor? Wagner lists some characteristics of effective intercessors, which I’ve added to here:

1) They have the gift of intercession: they love to pray, and they see results.

2) They are submitted to the Lord, to their local church, and to the pastor and his ministry.

3) They have a close relationship with God. Intimate fellowship with Him.

4) They receive guidance from God. They demonstrate that they are open and obedient to His leading.

5) Prophetic intercession—they get an urge to pray for specific people & situations.

6) They are often quiet people—Wagner says they frequently don’t want to be up front or in the spotlight.

7) The pastor has high priority in their prayer lives—prayer is seen as vital for the ministry.

8) Open communication—there is strong two-way communication between pastor and intercessors.

9) Confidentiality—they can be entrusted with private matters, and keep them private.



What should you pray for? Wagner suggests the following general outline:

Sunday: Favor with God (spiritual revelation, anointing, holiness)

Monday: Favor with others (congregations, ministry staff, unsaved)

Tuesday: Increased vision (wisdom and enlightenment, motives, guidance)

Wednesday: Heart, Soul, Mind, Strength (health, appearance, attitude, spiritual and physical wholeness)

Thursday: Protection (temptation, deception, enemies)

Friday: Finances (priorities, blessings)

Saturday: Family (general, spouse, children)


Intercession, particularly in the context of a prayer shield relationship, is a two-way relationship. Here are several things pastors can do for their prayer shield:

1) Give specific information

2) Give input and trust to intercessors

3) Give feedback on answered prayers

4) Be open to intercessors

5) Share love and encouragement

6) Pray for them in return!

7) Thank them often

Why to Pray for Your Pastors

Why should you pray for your pastor? The short answer is: Because we need it! 

Quite often pastors are the ones expected to do the praying. If we’re in the room, we become the default person to open or close a meeting in prayer. We pray on Sunday mornings in our worship services and we close the prayer at small group. Wherever we eat, we pray for the meal. We are asked to pray for all kinds of needs and situations, and we usually respond by saying “I’ll pray for you.”

But pastors are people who need prayer too. Quite a lot of it. As E.M. Bounds says, “The preacher must pray; the preacher must be prayed for.”

I have been growing recently in my understanding of how important this is. Over the last several months I’ve developed what’s known as a “prayer shield.” A prayer shield is a group of people committed to praying for someone and their ministry. Though I have been blessed to have numerous people committed to praying for me and my family and ministry over the years, I had never built it up with the intentionality of a prayer shield, as described by Peter Wagner in his book of that name.

It’s made a huge difference for Jess and I. Just yesterday I fired out an urgent prayer request to my shield for a difficult meeting I was about to have. I can’t necessarily quantify this, but I can tell you that the meeting turned out far better than it would have if only Jess and I had been praying about it. And there have been many situations like that.

Here’s what I’m learning about why to pray for your pastors or others in spiritual leadership.

The Ministry of Intercession

By praying for your pastor, you are engaging in the ministry of intercession. What is intercession? “Intercession is the act of pleading by one who in God’s sight has a right to do so in order to obtain mercy for one in need.” As Christians, we have this right to approach God boldly through Jesus Christ. But few of us, myself included, make full use of this right and privilege. Wagner goes on to say that “The most underutilized source of spiritual power in our churches today is intercession for Christian leaders.”

Wagner lists four types of intercession:

1) general intercession

2) crisis intercession

3) personal intercession

4) spiritual warfare intercession

Intercession has a robust biblical basis. We find that many heroes of the faith engaged in intercession, often in intense and personal encounters with God. This group includes (but is not limited to):

  • Abraham (Genesis 18)

  • Moses (Exodus 33)

  • Samuel (1 Samuel 12:23)

  • Daniel (Daniel 9)

  • Paul (numerous instances)

And, of course, Jesus, the “Great High Priest” (John 17) who continues to intercede for us now at the right hand of God (Hebrews 4:14-16).

Paul requests intercession for himself and his ministry numerous times in his letters, including:

  • 1 Thessalonians 5:25

  • Romans 15:30

  • 2 Corinthians 1:11

  • Philippians 1:19

  • Philemon 22

  • Ephesians 6:19

He discusses the need to intercede for others in several places, including:

  • Romans 1:9

  • 1 Timothy 2:1

  • James 5:16

  • Philippians 4:2-3

All Christians can pray, and all can intercede. Some may find that they are specially gifted with intercession. “The gift of intercession is the special ability that God gives to certain members of the Body of Christ to pray for extended periods of time on a regular basis and see frequent and specific answers to their prayers to a degree much greater than that which is expected of the average Christian.”

Pastors need to be prayed for because of the nature of the challenges we face. The Enemy thinks strategically, and knows that if he can hurt a pastor, he can hurt a church. Wagner states several reasons pastors especially need your prayers. I don’t have any reason to disagree with this rationale:

1) Pastors have more responsibility and accountability

2) Pastors are subjected to more temptation

3) Pastors are more targeted by spiritual warfare

4) Pastors have more influence than others

5) Pastors have more visibility

In my next post I will describe the profile of an intercessor, and some practical ways you can pray for those in spiritual authority.


Why You Should Track Your Reading

Harry S. Truman, from the Truman Presidential Library.

It’s “Leaders are Readers Week” here on the site! I’ll be sharing some of my most popular content on why leaders need to read, and strategies to help you read more and better content.

I’d love get your input as well–please comment on what you read, how you read more, and what you’ve found helpful! 


In 2004, I started keeping track of every book I read. I started it out of curiosity. I wanted to remember what books I had read, and when I had read them. I was also curious about a few statistics, like:

  • How many books did I read every year?
  • When did I read them? Was my reading evenly distributed throughout the year, or clustered during “down-times”?
  • How many different genres did I read? Was I just stuck in one or two?

Reading is important, because as I’ve said elsewhere, Leaders are Readers. And there are numerous ways we can help ourselves become better readers, as I’ve written about here. The benefits are too many to mention, but it’s safe to say I wouldn’t be a writer if I wasn’t first a reader. Ten+ years of tracking later, I can say this has been a worthwhile project, and one I continue to do.

Here are several reasons why I’ve found it beneficial to track my reading:

1. I Read More

I get competitive–with myself. I want to read more this year than last year. This helps me be intentional about reading and carving out time to do it. Maybe you think this is weird, but I get a great sense of accomplishment when I complete a book and add it to my list.

2. I Read Better

I’m more selective about what I spend my time on. Because I can look at what I’ve read in the past, I get a sense of what I enjoyed and what was a waste of time. Memory helps me to be more selective and make better choices.

3. I Read More Widely

Early in 2013, I realized I hadn’t read poetry in a while. It’s not one of my go-to genres. So I picked up Christian Wiman’s book  My Bright Abyss, about the author’s spiritual meditations in the face of death. It was stimulating and very different from everything I had been reading, in a good way.

4. I Notice Trends

My list tells me if I’m reading too much or too little of a genre. Variety is the spice of life! Too much fiction? Too much history? Too much biography? Too much non-fiction? Then switch it up. My reading list is also helpful as a reference of my intellectual and spiritual history. I can look back and see what I was reading when I was really troubled, really busy, when that new idea began to take hold, etc.

5. I Finish More Books

I like to finish books. I know not everyone does. Not that you always have to finish, but its often good to. Good authors don’t pack their books with filler. They make every chapter, page, sentence and word matter. If you read good writers, you’ll want to finish more books.

As I mentioned in previous posts, I keep track of everything I’ve read–including a “To-Read” list–in Evernote. For a while I considered tracking it all in Goodreads, but didn’t like the social aspect. I don’t need to document all of it in public.

What about you? Do you track your reading? What have you found helpful in reading more, reading better, and reading more widely? 

How to Read More Books


Photo by Viktor Hanacek via Use through Creative Commons.

Photo by Viktor Hanacek via Use through Creative Commons.

It’s “Leaders are Readers Week” here on the site! I’ll be sharing some of my most popular content on why leaders need to read, and strategies to help you read more and better content.

I’d love get your input as well–please comment on what you read, how you read more, and what you’ve found helpful! 


In my last post, Leaders Are Readers, I made the case for being intentional about our reading, and gave you two of my strategies for reading more:

1) Keep track of your reading, and

2) Set goals on what and how much you want to read.

Here are eight more strategies to help you read more often, more effectively, and more enjoyably:

3) Schedule it. All this reading won’t happen on its own. This is the next step after goal-setting. All goals (including reading) should find their way on to your calendar. As they say, “What gets scheduled, gets done.” If it doesn’t, it won’t happen. Reading can happen anytime, but I also block out time just for reading during my week.

4) Keep a list of the books you would like to read. In addition to my list of the books I have read, I also keep a running list of books I’d like to read. (I keep both of these lists in one note, in Evernote, so I can pull it up wherever I am). I’ll never get to read all the books I’ve listed there, but it helps me remember and to motivate me to keep reading.

5) Always carry a book with you. Be ready! Your meeting might cancel at the last minute, or you might be stuck waiting for the bus. Better to bring something you want to read, as opposed to surfing random websites on your phone. I almost always have a book in my bag, and if I don’t, I can pull one up on the iPad or phone.

6) Utilize the rhythms of the year. Some seasons (like the Fall) are super-busy. It’s not feasible to read at the same pace all year. I always read more in the summer, because I have more flex in my schedule.

7) Utilize the rhythms of the day and week. For me, early morning is good creative time, a good time to write. Mid-day is good task time and meeting time. Reading is a good activity for later in the day, and later in my work week when my most pressing tasks have been completed.

8) Know when to read different types of books. Not any book will do at any time. For example, I carve out larger blocks of time for headier, more conceptual stuff, so that I can embrace it in a way that 15 minutes at a time doesn’t permit. At night, when I’m reading in bed, I don’t read work-related stuff and I don’t flit around on websites. That’s too much stimuli right before sleep. I tend to read historical biographies or lighter fiction. Plot-driven stuff, which is enjoyable, and perfect for that time of night.

9) Choose Variety. Mix it up! For me, a mixture of history/bio, fiction, leadership, and theology/spirituality. I’ve even been working in a bit of poetry. And read good books–talk with other readers. Don’t read junk. Challenge yourself.

10) Learn to speed read! One of the best books I ever bought was a clearance rack impulse buy at Barnes & Noble on speed reading. I don’t think I’ve ever cracked the word-per-minute stratosphere promised by the book, but I’ve certainly learned some techniques to read faster.

Do you practice any of these strategies for reading more? What would you add to this list? 

Leaders are Readers

It’s “Leaders are Readers Week” here on the site! I’ll be sharing some of my most popular content on why leaders need to read, and strategies to help you read more and better content.

I’d love get your input as well–please comment on what you read, how you read more, and what you’ve found helpful! 

I enjoy reading. I like to read everything, both paper and web, long and short form, serious stuff to the trivial. Whether its the New York Times, Grantland, and The Atlantic, or The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Gospel Coalition, and the Harvard Business Review,  I crave input. I often feel like I’m starving if I don’t read (or skim) several interesting articles during the day.

But in my mind, there’s no replacement for books. Whether print or on Kindle–I read both–there’s no replacement for the ability to develop a thesis, a thought, a theme, and work it all the way out. That’s part of what motivated me to write my books. The intentional deep thought that a book requires is invaluable for personal, intellectual, and vocational growth.

Unfortunately, despite more opportunities to read, people are reading less. An article in the Harvard Business Review blog gives some sad statistics:

Even as global literacy rates are high (84%), people are reading less and less deeply. The National Endowment for the Arts (PDF) has found that “[r]eading has declined among every group of adult Americans,” and for the first time in American history, “less than half of the U.S. adult American population is reading literature.” Literacy has been improving in countries like India and China, but that literacy may not translate into more or deeper reading.

If you’re not reading, you’re dying. You have less to give others. You are less interesting in conversation. You’re living on yesterday’s intellectual and creative manna. And yet it surprises me how unintentional people are about reading. I know we’re all busy, but reading is not a luxury, especially if you’re in a field that requires creativity and fresh ideas. It’s crucial to be intentional about reading.

Since 2004, I’ve tracked how many books I’ve read and what they were. I try to mix in a variety of authors, genres, and topics. I also want to know how much I’m reading. From 2004-2010, I averaged 30 books/year. That’s a decent number, for my life stage and vocational commitments. I know plenty of people who read more than that, and even more who read less.

However, I didn’t think 30 was good enough. So the next year, I upped the ante. I made it a goal to read 52 books in a year, or an average of a book a week. I nearly got there, the last two years. This year I’m off to a good start: I’ve read 9 books so far in 2015.

The result of this focus on reading is that I’m feeling more refreshed and energized. I have a ton of ideas flowing. My brain isn’t going down the familiar grooves and ruts, but exploring new territory. It’s making me a better leader. And I’m having a better time as I do my work. I may be busy, but I’m able to enjoy it more.

I’ve just given you two of my strategies for reading more: 1) Keep track of your reading, and 2) Set goals on what and how much you want to read. 

What about you? Do you set goals for your reading, or just let it happen? What do you read to keep yourself sharp?

In my next post, I’ll give you eight more strategies to help you read more often, more effectively, and more enjoyably.

Pastors: A Surprising Source of Innovation

Rev. Edmund Cartwright, inventor of the power loom.

I’ve been revisiting one of my favorite books of the last 2-3 years, the densely erudite Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. At times combative, enlightening, mind-bending, and frustrating, the book has much to offer. Taleb’s Big Idea resists simplification, but at the core he’s saying that much of our world is highly fragile, and vulnerable to the improbable and unpredictable. Rather, the antifragile is the class of things that not only survive chaos and disorder, but actually profit from it. There’s some very interesting overlap here with much of the missional/organic discussion, and I plan on writing more about antifragile implications for ministry. But not now.

Rather, I wanted to share this little gem on pastors (or more specifically, the English parish priest or rector). Taleb’s goal is to debunk the thesis that theory –> practice, arguing instead that practice (and constant tinkering) –> theory, and that true innovation and progress is made by the outlying tinkerers.

So let us start by debunking a causal myth about the Industrial Revolution, the overstatement of the role of science in it. Knowledge formation, even when theoretical, takes time, some boredom, and the freedom that comes from having another occupation, therefore allowing one to escape the journalistic-style pressure of modern publish-and-perish academic to produce cosmetic knowledge…There were two main sources of technical knowledge and innovation in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: the hobbyist and the English rector…An extraordinary proportion of work came out of the rector, the English parish priest with no worries, erudition, a large or at least comfortable house, domestic help, a reliable supply of tea and scones with clotted cream, and an abundance of free time. And, of course, optionality. The enlightened amateur, that is.

I’d probably challenge Taleb’s description of any pastor as someone with “no worries,” but you get the point. Taleb draws on Bill Bryson’s At Home to find “ten times more vicars and clergymen leaving recorded traces for posterity than scientists, physicists, economists, and even inventors.” This list includes:

Rev. Edmund Cartwright invented the power loom, contributing to the Industrial Revolution; Rev. Jack Russell bred the terrier; Rev. William Buckland was the first authority on dinosaurs; Rev. William Greenwell invented modern archaeology; Rev. Octavius Pickard-Cambridge was the foremost authority on spiders; Rev. George Garret invented the submarine; Rev. Gilbert White was the most esteemed naturalist of his day; Rev. M.J. Berkeley was the top expert on fungi; Rev. John Michell helped discover Uranus; and many more.

Some takeaways:

1) Real, valuable innovation often does not occur in the Ivory Tower or the centralized R&D departments; rather it comes from the fringe, from the “enlightened amateurs.” We’ve seen the same phenomenon in church/ministry circles for two millennia. Ironically, the ministry area located closest to the secular Ivory Tower, college ministry, has often been more of a fringe enterprise and therefore a fruitful source of innovation and revival for the church.

2) These enlightened amateurs need gainful employment and the means (including time) to pursue their interests. Being overly busy and obsessed with making every minute count may be efficient, but not effective in the most important ways. This concerns me, since so few of us ever allow ourselves to stop working, get bored, or have other interests.

3) Finally, an apologetic point. The role of the erudite English parish priest in scientific and societal advance has largely been ignored. While Thomas Jefferson’s polymathic gentleman farmer/scholar/inventor has been held up as an enlightenment ideal, not so the country priest. This should not be. The divide between the Christian religion and science is not as wide as it has been made out to be, particularly during the formative years of the Industrial Revolution.

Where does the fault for this division lie? Historically, it’s often been laid at the feet of Christianity, at those very same priests who contributed so much to knowledge. Taleb has an answer for this as well:

…Organized science tends to skip the “not made here,” so the list of visible contribution by hobbyists and doers is most certainly shorter than the real one, as some academic might have appropriated the innovation by his predecessor…Much of all this is a religious belief in the unconditional power of organized science, one that has replaced unconditional religious belief in organized religion.

In other words, faith. Yeah, I thought so.


PATHS, or Why Working with College Students is So Important

Photo by Aleksandra Boguslawska. Use through Creative Commons.

If you’re like me, you have conversations on a fairly regular basis where you explain to people why you value working with college students. I’ve used a simple acronym, PATHS, to remind myself and others why this ministry is so important. PATHS stands for Priority, Ambition, Trajectory, Heart, and Strategic.

Priority: During the college years, it seems everything is up for grabs. Students are confronted with hundreds of options about what to do for fun, what to study, who to be friends with, and more. We know that many students leave the church (and their faith) when they get to college, sometimes doing this emphatically and painfully. But many others simply put their faith on the shelf. It recedes in importance, getting crowded out and eventually strangled by the cares of this world (Matt 13:22).  One of the best things we can do as campus ministers is to help our students prioritize their faith in Christ above all else in everyday life.

Ambition: Many students dream big, and many of those dreams center on themselves. This is, after all, what our culture has conditioned them to do. Our work as college ministers must help them reimagine what true success, meaning, and fulfillment looks like, from God’s perspective. We must call students to let their lives be shaped by an abiding, driving,  holy ambition for the Kingdom of God to come in everything they do.  Even those who want to “change the world” must have their ambitions enlarged, to center on the infinite glory of God and what He is able to do; not our weak, small, self-centered dreams.

Trajectory: When a rocket takes flight, a navigational error of even a fraction of a degree can mean the rocket ends up in a radically different place than what was intended. Great care goes into plotting the early stages of flight, because they have a huge impact on the final destination. In the same way, college ministry must be concerned with the long-term direction of our students, not just the here-and-now. Our goal should be to see students equipped for lifelong faithfulness, not merely entertaining or sheltering them on the way to the rest of their lives. We take an active role in guiding students through the seemingly insignificant decisions during college that are profoundly formative for the rest of their lives.

Heart: College students (like many of us) don’t start out with a great deal of self-knowledge. Even for those who become serious about their faith, it can easily become an externally directed program of moral behavior modification. Campus ministers help students understand themselves at the heart level, and to embrace how the Gospel changes us from the inside-out. We are after far more than a pharisaical avoidance of certain 3D, HD sins common to the college years—we’re after full transformation, a transformation that starts with the heart and works its way out into every area of life.

Strategic: It’s my conviction that there is no more strategic area of ministry in the world than reaching college students. In college ministry, we get to engage with students during some of the most formative years of their lives. We reach them before the window of opportunity closes for many of them in the mid-20s. We get to lead future leaders, from virtually every tribe, tongue and nation from all around the world.  We get to influence students amidst the unique marketplace of ideas that make up Higher Ed. In short, if we reach college students, we will reach the world.  Virtually every other social and political movement in the world realizes this, and makes it a priority. So should we.  The degree to which we reach college students now will have a profound effect on the future of Christianity in North America and the world.

I’ve found that all of these reasons, taken together, are compelling.  Amidst the countless cups of coffee, pieces of pizza, texts, meetings, Facebook messages, gatherings, tweets, emails, and calls that make up everyday college ministry, PATHS reminds me of the big picture. God loves college students, and we have the privilege of serving them during this pivotal season of life.

This post was originally written for

ICYMI–Three Ways to Promote Healthy Relationships

Photo by Paul Proshin. Use through Creative Commons.

Earlier this week, I had a post over at the Collegiate Collective (where I’m one of the editors) on promoting healthy relationships. It’s been well-received. Here’s the lede:

Here we go again! It’s that time of year. You know what I mean: with Valentine’s Day nearly upon us, the litany of relationship talk reaches a crescendo: Dating advice. Getting pulled in to “does he or doesn’t he?!” talk. Breakup drama. Counseling the girl who’s never been kissed and the guy who’s slept around—sometimes in the same day. It can all get a bit overwhelming. And after years of giving the love/sex/dating/marriage talks again and again (and wondering if they make any difference), can we admit it gets a bit tiresome?

But we need to keep talking about relationships. Just not the kind everyone seems so eager to talk about this time of year.

Click here to read the rest, and Happy Valentine’s Day!

Ambition–Good and Bad

Photo by Dustin Scarpitti. Use by Creative Commons.

Are you a goal setter? Do you make resolutions? I do, I love to. I spent some time late last year setting some personal goals. Goals for my own faith, health, work, finances—we had a family meeting where we set some family goals for 2015.


But as you know it’s fairly easy to talk about it, much harder to follow-through. Especially because we are suspicious of having ambition. Is it ok to have ambition? Is it sinful?

Earlier this year, I preached on ambition. Redeeming Ambition Sermon, (take a listen) from Philippians 3:12-14 NIV

Ambition can be a good and powerful tool in God’s hands. How can we let God guide us with a holy ambition? Here’s the outline:

I. Ambition Itself is Good

II. Selfish Ambition is Lethal

It distorts, diminishes, and disappoints–and ultimately destroys!

III. Redeeming Ambition

“More important than looking inward is looking upward to Christ. Looking to Christ gives us a goal to pursue, a person to enjoy, a passion to feed. Looking to Christ orients the direction of the coming year—and of our entire lives.” — Nancy Guthrie

IV. Make it Your Ambition



We Have a Winner!

The votes have been cast…and we have a winner! The other day I asked you to help me decide which topic to cover next week at the Collegiate Collaborative. People cast their votes in the comments, through Twitter and Facebook, and private messages.

And the winner is…The Future of College Ministry! I love talking about this topic, and first started writing about it nearly 5 years ago. Since then, some of those predictions have come true. This topic feels more urgent than ever. I’m looking forward to revisiting this topic and bouncing it off some very sharp leaders next week.

I will also make that content available to you here through the blog–stay tuned for that!