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Most pastors unsatisfied with their personal prayer lives

PHOENIX (BP)–Very few Protestant ministers are satisfied with their personal prayer lives, according to a study by Ellison Research of Phoenix.

The study, conducted for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, surveyed a nationally representative sample of 860 Protestant church pastors. The study reveals just 16 percent are very satisfied with their personal prayer lives. Forty-seven percent are somewhat satisfied, 30 percent somewhat dissatisfied and 7 percent very dissatisfied.

There was a substantial difference by age group. Just 9 percent of pastors under age 45 are very satisfied, compared to 13 percent among ministers age 45 to 59 and 30 percent among pastors 60 or older. The youngest pastors are actually more likely to be very dissatisfied with their own prayer lives than to be very satisfied.

Few differences by denomination or theology were noted; the survey found that Presbyterian ministers tend to be significantly less satisfied with their prayer lives than others.

Pastors also were asked how long they spend in prayer each day, and what they pray for. The median amount of prayer time per day is 30 minutes, with a mean of 39 minutes. Although younger ministers are much less satisfied with their prayer lives, they spend about as much time in prayer per day as do older ministers. Lutherans and Presbyterians tend to spend less time in prayer than do those from other denominations, while Pentecostals and Methodists spend more time than average.

How do ministers spend their prayer time? For the average minister, it looks like this: 32 percent in petition/requests, 20 percent in quiet time or listening to God, 18 percent in thanksgiving, 17 percent in praise and 14 percent in confession.

If these percentages are applied to the average amount of time ministers spend in prayer, the typical pastor spends 12 minutes per day with prayer requests, eight minutes in quiet time, seven minutes giving thanks, seven minutes in praise and five minutes confessing sin. Again, this does not differ substantially by the pastor’s age or denomination.

Finally, pastors were asked what they had prayed for in the seven days preceding the survey. Most had a long list of topics. At least nine out of 10 had prayed for the needs of individual congregation members, the congregation’s spiritual health, spiritual growth for their church and wisdom in leading their church. Some of the things ministers were least likely to have prayed for included the financial health and numerical growth of the church, their own financial needs, persecuted Christians in other countries, individual Christian leaders and their denomination.

Throughout the study, Southern Baptist ministers were very similar to the average on most measures. One of the biggest differences was that just 24 percent of SBC ministers had prayed for their denomination in the last week, compared to an average of 39 percent for other denominational churches, including 49 percent among Methodists, 61 percent among Presbyterians and 67 percent among Lutherans. In general, mainline pastors are much more likely to pray for their denomination than are evangelical ministers (57 percent to 34 percent).

What defines pastors who are satisfied with their prayer lives versus those who aren’t? According to the Ellison study, the factors include:

— The amount of time spent in prayer: Pastors who are very satisfied spend an average of 56 minutes a day in prayer; those who are somewhat satisfied average 43 minutes; those who are somewhat dissatisfied average 29 minutes; and those who are very dissatisfied average 21 minutes.

— How they divide their prayer time: Ministers who are very satisfied spend considerably less time than average making requests and considerably more time in quiet time or listening to God; other areas (confession, praise, thanksgiving) are about the same.

— What they pray for: The more satisfied ministers are with their prayer lives, the more likely they are to spend time praying for “big issues” beyond their own lives and churches — overseas missions, persecuted Christians in other countries, local outreach and evangelism efforts, other local churches and pastors, global events, the country as a whole, individual Christian leaders, individual government leaders, and their denomination. Yet they are no less likely to pray for personal and church needs such as church growth or personal finances.

“The study clearly showed that what drives a satisfying prayer life for a minister is spending less time asking God for things and more time listening to what God has to say, praying for issues beyond their own personal and church needs, and spending much more time overall in prayer,” said Ron Sellers, president of Ellison Research.

Sellers added, “These are not minor percentage differences in the study, but major ones -– 78 percent of pastors who are very satisfied with their prayer life had prayed recently for overseas missions, compared to just 40 percent among those who are very dissatisfied with their prayer life, for example. These numbers are hard to ignore, and it would be unwise to do so.”

Ellison Research is a marketing research company in Phoenix. The sample of 868 Protestant ministers included only those who are actively leading churches. The study’s total sample is accurate to within plus or minus 3.2 percentage points. The study was conducted in all 50 states, using a representative sample of pastors from all Protestant denominations. Respondents’ geography, church size and denomination were tracked to ensure appropriate representation and accuracy.

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