Apart From Me You Can Do Nothing: Pursuing Consistent and Meaningful Prayer in Student Ministry

“We should probably pray.” Even if we don’t vocalize those words, we often sense that we should incorporate prayer more consistently and meaningfully into our ministries. 

 In John 15, as Jesus was preparing his disciples for his impending arrest and crucifixion, he gave them one of the most profound metaphors for the christian life. Jesus said that he is the true vine, and that his disciples will bear fruit as long as they are abiding in him: depending on, trusting in, and drawing life from him.

In verse 5, he gives the gut punch: “Whoever abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” Nothing? Really? Yes, nothing that is of eternal and spiritual value. 

 One of the primary ways we as student ministers can abide in Christ and depend upon him is through prayer. Prayer is the humble acknowledgement that any and all spiritual fruit will be the miraculous result of God’s gracious intervention and not of our own effort. Pastor and author John Piper writes, “We are called to labor for that which is God’s alone to give. The essence of the Christian ministry is that its success is not within our reach.” Prayer then is not simply extending our reach and effectiveness, but enabling our reach and effectiveness.

Here are four practical suggestions as to how we can pray more consistently and meaningfully for the teenagers under our care.

Pray Regularly for Every Student by Name

One of the practices that has helped me be consistent in prayer is to have a list of students broken up by gender and age. Some of your ministries are small enough to do this more easily. Some, not so much. Find a way to make a list that has you praying for every student by name at least monthly, if not weekly. Using that list, I try and base my prayers for them off of some Scripture verse or passage. 

There’s several ways this can take shape. First, under each student’s name, I list out two to three Scripture references along with a summary of the request I’m praying for them. So for one student, I may be praying for increasing wisdom and discernment (Philippians 1:9-11). For another, I may be praying for growth in humility (Mark 10:43-45).

Sometimes I use those prompts, but other times I might use a passage that I’ve recently read during my own personal study. For instance, when I recently read Psalm 46, I prayed for individual students to believe that God is their refuge and strength, and that he is very near in trouble. Other times, I’ll use a passage that our church is studying corporately, or a passage that students will soon be exposed to at one of our gatherings. We recently went through 1 John as a student ministry, so I took many verses from those passages and translated them into prayers for individual students. 

Pray Together as a Group of Leaders

A second practice our ministry tries to regularly incorporate is praying together when we gather for monthly leader meetings. Many student ministers don’t have the privilege of having a team of volunteer leaders to share the ministry load. If that’s you, I’d encourage you to consider how you might implement that in your context. But for those who do, regularly gather with your leaders for a time of encouragement, equipping, and most importantly, prayer. 

I usually try and have two to three intentional prayer prompts to guide this prayer time. Sometimes it’s an upcoming event like a camp or retreat weekend. Other times it’s just a general prayer request for spiritual renewal in our ministry or spiritual growth in the hearts of our students. 

Either way, we make this a priority for our meetings. I encourage you to put this at the front of the meeting. If prayer is the last thing on the meeting agenda, it either gets cut short or cut out. If we do nothing else, we must be sure to pray together. 

Pray With and for One Another During Gatherings

A third practice is to take some time during your ministry gatherings to pray for one another in smaller groups. However you structure your ministry, at least a little time in smaller groups for discussion and prayer is fruitful.

I recently came across a model that was outlined by another student minister. He suggests spending a few moments walking in the light (confessing sin) and bearing one another’s burdens (sharing things that are heavy). 

Sharing these things creates an obvious and meaningful opportunity for prayer for one another. Students may feel awkward and uncomfortable with this at first. If this is new for your students, it may be best for you to initially lead these times of prayer and model intercessory prayer. Cast vision for how praying for one another is a normal part of our walks with Christ. Be intentional to encourage students as you see them grow. At the end of the day, the best way to get students comfortable praying with others is to get them praying with others.

Pray for Neighbors and the Nations

A final way we’ve incorporated prayer into our student ministry is by praying for our neighbors and the nations. Each Sunday, we pray for a different country of the world, and we often pray for the unreached people group of the day at our Wednesday gathering. 

Resources like Prayercast and Joshua Project provide great summaries and bullet points for prayer requests. If your church has individuals or families serving in a cross-cultural ministry context, make it a rhythm to pray for them occasionally when you gather. You can also create time and space for students to pray for friends, classmates, or teammates who don’t know Christ.

Why We Pray

Writing an article on prayer is humbling. So is student ministry. So is prayer itself: the mighty God of the universe listens to our feeble and distracted requests and then responds!

Even more humbling is the gospel message that drives all our ministry, prayer included. We minister and pray not as attempt to merit or deserve God’s love and acceptance, but as a response to his grace.  

The gospel is the good news that Jesus, through his perfect life, death, and resurrection, has already done everything necessary to bring us into a relationship with God forever. The gospel humbles us by telling us that a relationship with God is not the result of our labor and effort, but by sheer grace alone. Prayer, then, is a response of gratitude for and dependence upon the love and acceptance that we’ve already received in Christ. We pray because we know that apart from Christ, we can do nothing. 

On our days and weeks of prayerlessness, the gospel reminds us that God’s love and acceptance of us in Christ hasn’t waned. And like the gospel, prayer humbles us by telling us that ministry fruit is not the result of our labor and effort, but that it too is by God’s sheer grace. 

Ryan Wood is the student minister at First Baptist Church in Fort Payne, AL. He is happily married to Ashley, and they have two children, Harper and Haddon. He has an M.Div in Christian Ministry from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Prior to serving at FBC, he served in student ministries in Georgia and North Carolina. Ryan loves spending time with his family, the outdoors, and making and drinking good coffee. He desires to see students increasingly love God, the church, their neighbors and the nations for the rest of their lives.

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