Why “Just Pray About It” Won’t Solve Your Church Problems

Every once in a while I hear from a leader who says “We don’t any need more ideas/strategies/conferences…all we need to do is pray.”

Well actually, writing this blog, quite often I hear from people like that.

Maybe you have people like that at your church.

You even know the conversation.  Every time you suggest “Why don’t we try reformatting our services/changing our kids ministry/reaching out into the community” they shoot back with “what we really need to do is just pray” (or “what we really need to do is get back to the Bible…”) as though that settled the discussion.

It puts you in a horribly awkward position.

If you disagree, you sound like you’re coming out against prayer.

If you agree, you’ve just mothballed any productive strategy conversations.

I mean who really wants to come out against prayer?

Not me. Not you.

And so, not sure what to do, we shut down the leadership conversation and all the potential that comes with it.

Can it be that something that sounds so spiritual can actually stop some very spiritual work?

In the name of God, some leaders might end up opposing the work of God.

And it’s all done in the most holy-sounding way.

Who’s right? How should you respond?


We Need To Pray

So before you freak out, I haven’t become an atheist.

Far from it. It’s not an exaggeration to say I pray every day. I also read the scripture daily and love it deeply.

I also believe I need to pray more. I agree that the church needs more prayer.

Finally, I believe all authentic, effective ministry is rooted in prayer.

But saying “All we need to do is pray” really misses how God actually works.

If all we needed to do was pray, we could lock ourselves in a closet and never come out. But I’m not sure that’s how God has moved historically.

What begins in prayer should usually end in some kind of action.


And We Need To Do More Than Pray

While prayer is foundational, God almost always moves people to do something.

The walls of Jericho ultimately fell down because having heard from God, people obeyed God, marching around the city for a week, blasting trumpets and shouting.

Come to think of it, that kind of sounds like a strategy doesn’t it?

Interestingly enough, the scripture is filled with strategy if you look for it.


Strategy Is Not the Enemy

Sometimes church people behave like strategy is the enemy.

It’s not. It never has been.

Strategy is not the enemy.

Apathy is.

Overly simplistic thinking is.

But strategy isn’t. A great strategy is actually a companion to a great prayer life.

Strategy is inherently biblical. For example, God noticed that Moses had a bad leadership strategy that was ultimately going to wear out both him and the people. So God used Moses’ father-in-law (of all people) to give him a new strategy that required tremendous reorganization.

Jesus intentionally organized his community of disciples into concentric circles of 70, 12, 3 and then 1. His prayer resulted in action…thoughtful action.

Finally, the early church continually rethought its strategy as the church grew and the mission expanded (see Acts 6Acts 13 and Acts 15 as examples).

We’re Supposed To Love God With More Than Our Hearts

So what’s the point?

Strategy should be a good word in the church. And it should be a good word in your church.

That means you should have the tough conversations.

You should surface disagreements (even pray through them).

You shouldn’t skirt tough issues.

It also means you need to lead.

Leadership requires your heart but it doesn’t stop there. It requires  your soul, your strength AND your mind.

So use your mind. And your strength. And your soul.

So Next Time

So next time someone interrupts the conversation and says “What we really need to do is pray”…what should you do?

I think you might agree…and say “I agree. We should pray.”

But then add.

“And after we pray, let’s get working on the most important issues facing us. The mission is just too important to ignore them.”

Great prayer can and should lead to great action.

It’s time for the church to act. And to get the best strategy we can find to accomplish the mission God has given us.

Have you ever run into leaders who block action in a holy-sounding way?

What’s been effective as you’ve navigated this?

Why “Just Pray About It” Won’t Solve Your Church Problems


  1. […] Why “Just Pray About It” Won’t Solve Your Church Problems – by Carey Nieuwhof […]

  2. Thomas Fultz on April 28, 2015 at 10:37 pm

    In Acts, Luke records that Paul was in the habit/practice of Praying First in order to hear God’s direction for ministry. As you pointed out, God asks us to love God with our heart, mind, soul and strength – this are actions that put our love in the day-to-day situations God has placed us or in which we discover we are in for God’s purposes. Now Paul would not respond by saying “we must pray first” on hearing a new situation, because he was “prayed up” already and ready for the action God called Paul to take. He may have said “this ties into my prayers of yesterday” OR “how did your idea come about in relation to what your are hearing from God as you pray?”.

    In prayer, Bible study and worship we are transformed by the Holy Spirit as we give yourselves to God – body and soul and mind. Romans 12:1-12

    1And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. 2Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. …. 4Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, 5so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.

    6In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. …

    9Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. 10Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. 11Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically.12Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.”

    Love, work hard, rejoice, be patient, and keep on praying as you take action.

  3. Julio Alvarado on April 25, 2015 at 5:38 am

    To learn to daily and consistently hear the Voice of God is what we all need whether you are a leader or church member. Though it is good of course to talk to God through prayer it is more important and more effective to hear from God through prayer in your prayer session so that you will know exactly what to do instead of just praying and hoping for preferable outcomes. The Church overall does a very poor job at teaching the people how to hear the Voice of God and more importantly how to learn from God for every aspect of the life of the believer just like Jesus experienced as a human being.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 25, 2015 at 6:09 am

      I agree Julio. We all need to pray and to listen. Thank you.

    • Dennis Tinsley on May 8, 2015 at 6:42 am

      I’m probably only 70-80% confident about any decision I’ve ever made; even the big ones. (Marriage, calling, buying a house) I guess that’s why I appreciate this post.

      Carey, do you think it’s possible in your leadership to land on 100% confidence through hearing from God? I know that sounds unspiritual, and maybe I am. What’s been your experience?

      • Carey Nieuwhof on May 8, 2015 at 6:49 am

        Dennis I’m with you. I don’t think I’ve ever been 100% sure. That’s where wise counsel, faith and scripture come into play. Also, look at your track record. Has it resulted in people coming to know Christ? Does it resemble a Christ-like life? That’s what tells me if I’m on the right path.

  4. Dan Lamos on April 25, 2015 at 3:23 am

    Thanks Carey! It IS time for the church to act. I love the perspective of “and after we pray let’s get working… “. Reminds me of an old Keith Green song “Make My Life a Prayer to You”. Yes I have run into leaders who block action in a holy-sounding way. Sometimes within my own mind! LOL… It has been very important in my life and leadership to not let bitterness take root when someone blocks action in this way. Humble, wise principles like “Mis-guided prayer isn’t any more useful or spiritual than mis-guided action” or “Spirit filled/directed action is just as holy as Spirit filled/directed prayer” can keep us working as a team and moving forward. I believe we are in the beginnings of a “renaissance” type of movement with young leaders who’s paradigm imagines the Holy Spirit as actually loving the world we are sent into every day. If our mission is to see God’s kingdom come and His will be done here as in heaven in Jesus Name and we are laying down our lives to see that mission accomplished, then “great prayer” WILL lead to “great action”. By the grace of God, I’m IN! Great post!

  5. Haydn Nelson on April 25, 2015 at 1:04 am

    Great post, Carey! We’ve got a saying on our staff team – ‘The presence of a strategy is not the absence of the Spirit’. Love your work!
    Haydn – Riverview Church, Perth, Australia.

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