Too often, we spend our time thinking about strategies and techniques to develop leaders instead of praying. Our focus is more on methods, whereas Jesus’ focus was on men and women. Our time is spent with each other in planning and strategizing; Jesus’ time was spent with His Father in communion and fellowship. His inward union with His Father was the source of His success in building leaders; if we are to excel in building leaders, our ministries must be born out of inward, living union with God as well (John 15:5).
Therefore, our leader development process must revolve around prayer.
Jesus chose His new leaders in prayer. He was about to commit His entire future world-wide agenda to only a few men, so they had better be the right ones!
One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, He called His disciples to Him and chose twelve of them, whom He also designated apostles … (Luke 6:12-13)
Not only did Jesus commit His choice of leaders to God in prayer, but prayer was His first priority as He continued to build them. He didn’t just pray Himself; He taught His disciples how to pray by His words and works.
They knew He spent entire nights in communion with His Father (Mark 1:35-37; Luke 6:12-13; Matt. 14:23). He not only prayed alone but also in the company of His disciples (Luke 11:1; 3:21; 9:28; Matt. 26:36). Jesus didn’t merely teach a course on prayer; His disciples watched Him pray. After one of these times, His disciples were so conscious of their own comparative incapacity for prayer, they requested, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1).
In response to this request, Jesus taught them a simple form of prayer (Luke 11:2-4) and then shared one story emphasizing the need for perseverance in prayer (Luke 11:5-8) and another revealing the simplicity of faith in prayer (Luke 11:9-13).
At other times, Jesus taught them on prayer (Matt. 6:5-13; 21:21-22; Mark 11:22-26; Luke 18:1-7; John 16:23-24).
Jesus (and Paul!) consistently prayed for (Luke 22:32; cf. Col. 1:28 – 2:1; Gal. 4:19; 2 Tim. 1:3), with (Luke 11:1) and over their emerging leaders ((1 Tim. 4:14; cf. 2 Tim. 1:6).
To succeed, we must do the same. This is one of the first responsibilities of a leader who is building another: he must lead him to know God. Few leaders will learn to pray by themselves. They need to be taught, not just how to pray, but how to live in continual inward union with Christ. As Jesus lived in continual fellowship with His Father, He revealed and modeled that life to the leaders He was building:
If you really knew Me, you would know My Father as well. From now on, you do know Him and have seen Him … Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father … (John 14:7-9)
Both from Jesus’ life and from His teaching, His new leaders learned to know the Father. They learned to pray. They learned to live in continual fellowship with God. They learned to trust God, to rely on Him in all situations. They learned to talk to God, to share with Him their deepest questions and struggles. They learned to look to God for everything – for the provision of all their needs, for the answers to all their questions. They learned to live in His presence. They learned to know God.
In saying this, we again draw a vast contrast between Biblical methods of leader development and most of our modern methods of building leaders. Little (if any) attention is given to this great endeavor. Little time is devoted to teaching our new leaders to pray. Certainly we are busy teaching them about prayer, but do we teach them to pray? There is no lack of courses and books about prayer today, but we must give our new leaders more: we must teach them actually to pray, we must teach them actually to know God, not only to know some facts about Him.
The primary characteristic of an effective Christian leader is that he knows God and that he lives and ministers out of his inward union with Christ, and this happens through prayer.