A Pastor’s Prayer for Parishioners

by Barry Howard

Gracious and patient God,

Today I pray for those who are members, formally or informally, in the congregation I serve.

I pray for the young and the elderly, the sick and healthy, the employed and the unemployed, the happily married and the unhappily married, the active and the semi-active, the veteran saint and the new believer, and the spiritually passionate and the spiritually frustrated.

I am aware that there are diverse and divergent life experiences confronting each individual on this day. I pray for those who are at the top of the mountain, experiencing success in their business, stability in their home, growth in their faith, good health, and/or unspeakable joy in their heart.

I also pray for those who are currently in the valley of despair, experiencing frustration in their business, friction in their home life, lukewarmness in their faith, mounting concerns with their health, and/or perplexing anxiety in their soul.

I pray for every member of this spiritual family to know and appreciate the value of spiritual community, to worship and to serve with regularity, to listen and to speak with intentionality, to be honest and to be humble, to be reverent and to be respectful, and to weep and rejoice, privately and together, as needed.

Help us as your family to balance those ongoing tasks of reaching out to those outside our family while ministering to each other within the family, so that neither task is lacking.

Help us as your people to work energetically for the common good of your community-yet-under-construction, so that our personal ambitions and our preferential agendas do not derail or defeat your initiatives that are often invisible to the self-absorbed eye.

Help us as your church to experience the joy of serving, the elation of cheerful and sacrificial giving, a peace that surpasses understanding, and the unique bonding that comes from sticking close by each other during all of the seasons of life.

Help us as your children to continually and wisely realign our lives, not conforming to the illusions of pop culture, but always being transformed by the durable and timeless work of Jesus Christ.

Keep us in tune with your Spirit who convicts and comforts, guards and guides, equips and encourages, and who is working actively to generate good in all circumstances, especially those difficult circumstances that we perceive as devoid of good.

Since life in this world is imperfect and every individual life including our own falls short of your standard, teach us to be more gracious and less judgmental, more inclusive and less exclusive, more compassionate and less condemning, because we have already seen this kind of grace demonstrated in the story of Jesus.

In this crucial day in time when it is tempting to neglect spiritual community due to our busy schedules, to replace worship with trendy entertainment, and to prioritize self-interests above service, remind us that we are people of the towel, both to wash each other’s feet, to dry each other’s tears, and to wipe clean the slate of sins on earth even as you have purged our sins from our private record in heaven.

Encourage and equip us to be your hands and your feet, your light and your love, and your disciples and your servants in a world that needs authentic witnesses of your love and your mercy.

May we receive each day as a gift, and like Jesus, to value relationships above the quest for riches and the preservation of traditions, and to prioritize covenant loyalty above comfort and convenience.

As you prepare us to live life to the fullest, shape us into incarnate representatives of your presence and exemplary constituents of your grace, for we pray in the name of the One who came to give us life and life more abundantly.   Amen

A Pastor’s Prayer for Pastors

Gracious and Loving God,

Today I come to you as a pastor praying for pastors. I pray for all men and women from every walk of faith who are called into this peculiar and rewarding vocation of encouraging and equipping others for their journey.

First I pray for pastors to be encouraged. Although this work brings much joy, this work can also be highly discouraging. I pray for those pastors who are right now living through the dark night of the soul, some experiencing darkness because of the challenges of their congregation, others experiencing darkness because of emotional depression, and still others experiencing darkness because of physical or spiritual fatigue. I especially pray for those pastors who are discerning whether to go to a new place of service, and for those pastors who have confirmed the call to stay where they are to seize the opportunities and tackle the challenges. I pray for the energy of pastors to be revitalized so that pastors can dream dreams and have visions, and do their work with the right spirit.

I pray for pastors to be faithful. I pray for pastors to live in faithful covenant to their families, both their spiritual family and their immediate family, and to always distinguish between their covenant responsibilities of the two. I pray for pastors to be faithful to our calling, always discerning and following your missional initiatives, and to be continually engaged in dialogue with you.

I pray for pastors to be anointed with a fresh dose of courage. These are stressful times and it is no time for your shepherds to be sheepish. You did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of courage, so help us as pastors to speak and act courageously with moral and ethical conviction for causes that are just and right. Help us to act with courageous conviction in living and preaching the good news to all people regardless of ethnicity, creed, or economic status. And help us to have the courageous insight to navigate our congregations toward the ways of Christ, and away from any popular fads, trends and perceived shortcuts to growth that both trivialize the gospel and minimize the Christian experience.

I pray for pastors to have endurance. I pray for pastors to work intentionally and intelligently, to carefully manage the demands of an unpredictable schedule, to faithfully practice Sabbath-keeping, and to respond with tough love to those occasional high maintenance saints who can become like thorns in the flesh and pains in all of the wrong places.

I pray for pastors to be effective preachers. I pray for us to be both prophets and poets, who tell the truth and love the people. I pray for pastors to speak with authority from on high and yet have street savvy, so that we can simultaneously be heavenly minded and do some earthly good. In a world filled with bad news, I pray for pastors to be articulate and welcomed voices of good news, bringing your right word at the right time.

Lord, it is an engaging, yet gut-wrenching time to be a pastor. And although faith no longer enjoys privilege and preference in the public square, we are confident that the message of faith is astoundingly relevant at the major intersections of life and that the message may be heard more profoundly in the congestion of the daily grind than from the assigned seats of privilege.

In a world where people are not content with easy answers; where truth is sometimes black, sometimes white and sometimes gray; where shallow spirituality doesn’t “cut the mustard”; and where seekers are searching for authenticity; help us as pastors to rise to the occasion to speak the truth in love, and to be more about the business of the kingdom than the kingdom of business. Help us as pastors to find security in our belonging to you and not in the whims of the culture in which we live or the opinions of the beloved people we service.

For every pastor, and especially me, O Lord,
I pray for clarity of call and clarity of conscience.
I pray for physical health and spiritual vitality.
I pray for emotional stability and spiritual sensitivity.
Restore unto us both the joy of our salvation and the joy of ministry,
That the fire in our bones will be transformed into the energy and enthusiasm with which we serve.

In the name of the One who calls us, who encourages us, who empowers us, and the One who has promised to be with us until the end of the age and beyond.   Amen

(Barry Howard serves as the Senior Minister at the First Baptist Church in Pensacola, Florida.)

Jet Rogers: “I Learned a Lot about Life and Sports from Coach Bryant”

(In 2008, I interviewed Jet Rogers about his memories of serving as an assistant coach at Alabama under legendary coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. Last Saturday the Kentucky game, the University of Alabama recognized the undefeated 1966 team.  Coach Rogers is now the oldest living coach from that 1966 Alabama team and I am honored to serve as his pastor. The following is a re-posting of my interview with Coach Rogers in 2008.)

Memories of Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, 25 Years Later

By Barry Howard

As a child growing up in Alabama, I knew firsthand that legendary Alabama football coach, Paul “Bear” Bryant, was larger than life. Twenty-five years after Coach Bryant’s death, his name still invokes awe and respect. Known for his trademark Hound’s-tooth hat and his low rumbling growl, Coach Bryant is remembered as one of college football’s winningest coaches and one of Alabama’s most memorable citizens.

Although he did not have a degree in the subject, Coach Bryant employed sound psychology in his coaching strategy. As he urged ordinary young men to become champions, Coach Bryant taught perseverance and endurance: Never quit. It is the easiest cop-out in the world. Set a goal and don’t quit until you attain it. When you do attain it, set another goal, and don’t quit until you reach it. Never quit.

Coach Bryant retired at the end of the 1982 season with a record of 323 wins, 85 losses and 17 ties. He died on January 26, 1983.

Coach Jet Rogers, now an active member in our church, served as an assistant coach on Coach Bryant’s staff at the University of Alabama from June 1966 through July 1971. I took the opportunity recently to ask Coach Rogers about his memories of Coach Bryant:

Question: When Coach Bryant stepped onto the field, he was respected by his players, the fans, and his opponents. How would you describe Coach Bryant off the field?

Coach Rogers: He was a business man, reserved. One-on-one he would listen to what I had to say, then try to give me good advice.

Coach was not critical of others and kept a positive attitude. He would not allow us to use the word “can’t.” Beginning on Thursday, he had on his “game face” through Saturday, and we coaches would steer clear of him.

Question: What was Coach Bryant’s attitude toward his players and staff members?

Coach Rogers: He believed we all were part of his family. He loved us!! He would worry a great deal about our traveling so much in automobiles as we recruited prospects. We truly felt he was like a father to us, because he pushed us to do more and to be better in every possible way.

Question: What are some of your most significant memories from working with Coach Bryant?

Coach Rogers: I learned a lot about life and sports.

  • WINNING: Coach had us believing that we were going to win, regardless of who we played.
  • HELPING: I needed some financial help and asked Coach Bryant to call the bank for me and set up a loan. He proceeded to give me a father-son talk and wrote me a personal check to meet the need. Also, one year, my wife and children were in a car wreck. Coach Bryant visited our daughter in the hospital and presented her a gift which thrilled her to death.
  • COMPASSION: My dad passed away right after the 1967 Sugar Bowl game. Following the funeral, we returned to Tuscaloosa, and Coach Bryant walked down the hall to my office. He closed the door and told me, “A man’s daddy is the most important person he has because when you’re down and out, maybe broke, or your wife is leaving you, or things get out of control, you can always go to your dad and ask for advice. He is the one person that will help you. Jet, I know how you feel, now with your dad gone. I want to be a father figure for you.” This meant so much to me.          

Question: In recent weeks the ethics and sportsmanship of some athletes and coaches have been called into question. In your opinion, did Coach Bryant practice good ethics and sportsmanship?

Coach Rogers: Yes. Coach informed parents that he would lead and teach their sons the ethics and rules of the game. He also had his own rules—some were written down and the main one, in my thinking, was: “Don’t embarrass your family; don’t embarrass yourself, the coaching staff or the University.” Coach Bryant told his players if they got an unsportsmanship penalty, they would not play anymore in that game. Further, if the player blatantly caused a penalty, he would not play in the next game. This happened to one of our best defensive players in one game, prior to our game against Auburn. Consequently, he was taken from the game and disallowed to play Auburn.

Coach stressed “respect for self and respect for authority.” His players wore a coat and tie to all the games. Also, they were to be mindful of the fact that when their coach stood up to speak to them after finishing a meal together, everyone was to stop eating and “listen up.” We were at a Bowl game and Coach finished eating, stood up, and tapped his watch a couple of times, then faced the team. One player continued eating his meal, and Coach Bryant said to him, “I want you to get up from the table, go to your room, get your suitcase, and head back to Tuscaloosa.”

Question: Do you still have contact with some of the players who played for you and Coach Bryant?

Coach Rogers: Yes. While at Pensacola High School, I hired three former players: Alec Pittman, Steve Root, and Robin Cary. I have been in a position to help one or two Bama boys in their search for coaching jobs.

About two years ago (2006), the University of Alabama honored the 1966 football team. This team went undefeated, plus a Sugar Bowl win against Nebraska. This 1966 team is known as the team without a ring, because we were the only Division I team without a loss or a tie. We all were so excited to be together again, everybody was hugging each other’s necks! These ex-players were thanking us for helping them accomplish so much. We should have been thanking them. Players and coaches are family—Coach Bryant instilled this in us.

Question: Are there any players who stand out as having demonstrated exceptional character during or since their playing years?

Coach Rogers: I can think of many players. John Croyle, Leroy Jordan, Jeremiah Castille, Ray Perkins, Woodrow Lowe, Joe LaBue, and Eddie Morgan are a few I shall mention. Coach Bryant expected us to be of good character. In his words, “If you don’t have character, you better get it soon or you will be gone.”

Question: How would you want others to remember Coach Bryant?

Coach Rogers: I honestly believe that most all of the players under Coach Bryant loved, respected, and honored him. I certainly did. I still miss chatting with him over the phone after we moved away from Tuscaloosa. If you were not fortunate to have known Coach Bryant, please read about him. I have heard comments concerning Coach that are untrue. It really upsets me when I hear people say that he drank too much. I was in his company many times, and I never witnessed him drinking excessively. I don’t think he would exhibit poor judgment. He meant so much too many—more than anyone I have ever known. People need to know that he molded lives.

Question: How do you hope your players remember you?

Coach Rogers: I loved each of them and tried to give them Christian leadership. I tried to help mold their lives. Two of my players became ordained ministers. I attended a funeral in which an ex-player preached. He shared with me that I had a strong influence on him. I appreciated this more than if he had said I was a great coach. I hope each of these men remember me as a coach who respected them, cared for them, and gave them something to lead toward productive lifestyles.

Question: What advice would you give to young high school and college athletes concerning sports and life?

Coach Rogers: I would emphasize these four areas…

  • ATTITUDE – Always have a good attitude. If you are on the 3rd or 4th team, don’t pout; just convince the coach that you are going to get better. Take your sport serious and use it to help mold your life for the future.
  • PUNCTUALITY – Always be on time for practice, meetings, meals, classes, etc.
  • EGO – Never get the big head. Be humble, be thankful for the ability you have and opportunities that you make happen. Always give your best; nothing less than your best.
  • SPIRITUAL LIFE– Go to the church of your choice. Try to live close to God and let Him guide you daily. If you do this, you will accomplish much and be a happier individual.

 

(Barry Howard serves as senior minister of First Baptist Church of Pensacola, Florida.)