Editor’s Note: This article originally ran in August 2018.
Every Wednesday at lunchtime, Matt Wiley, church planting pastor of Shawnee Presbyterian, makes his way up the steps of the Oklahoma State Capitol. In a Senate meeting room, pizza and salad are waiting for him, along with around 25 people hungry for Scripture, prayer, and an opportunity for real-life connection with a local pastor.
It’s been more than two decades since Chuck Garriott, director of Mission to North America’s Ministry to State, started the weekly Bible study for Oklahoma’s legislators and staffers in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing. Since then, Garriott moved to Washington, DC, to share the gospel there. But shoots of his ministry have slowly begun growing elsewhere — including state capitals such as Helena, Montana, and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
“A lot of times people — even pastors — go to their lawmakers because they want something. Our posture is ‘We’re not here to get anything, we’re just here to love you.’”
Back in Oklahoma City, the weekly gathering no longer includes just politicians. In fact, it’s mostly non-politicians: staffers, people from the tax commission, employees of the state Supreme Court, construction crew members, even the shoeshine guy.
“These people have been praying for each other for years, have gone through low valleys and high mountaintops, and really appreciate the community of prayer,” Wiley says.
Around 2012, the group had dwindled to just a handful. At that time, one participant shared that his marriage was dissolving, and asked for prayer. Even so, the marriage ended. Then, 18 months later, he shared that they had begun talking. Not long after, they remarried. The man was certain that his friends’ prayers were crucial.
After that, the Bible study began to grow. Bobby Griffith, pastor at City Presbyterian, who inherited leadership of the group from Garriott and recently passed it off to Wiley, explains that the uncommonness of offering something with no strings attached is shocking at the state capitol.
“A lot of times people — even pastors — go to their lawmakers because they want something. Our posture is ‘We’re not here to get anything, we’re just here to love you.’ … We don’t have any agendas.”
The ministry continues Paul’s ministry in Acts 26, explains Thomas Eddy, associate director for Ministry to State state capitols. “I’m sure Paul disagreed with the emperor, Festus, and King Agrippa.” He could have argued with them, but instead, Paul shares the Gospel. He is convinced that the gospel brings change.
In addition to sharing the gospel, Ministry to State also hopes to establish a biblical conscience among policymakers, and to pray for those in government.
For Steve Bostrom, Helena, Montana, is the embodiment of “hard soil.” After an unsuccessful church plant, Bostrom became a pastor-at-large in Helena, a status that enables him to minister in a variety of contexts, including to elected officials through Ministry to State.
In addition to leading a weekly Bible study, Bostrom receives a daily list of prayer requests for government leaders. After praying for them, he sends them an email letting him know how he prayed for them that day. “That has opened all kinds of doors,” he says, including invitations to meet with legislators, opportunities to speak at official functions, and requests for counsel.
Recently a state senator sought his advice on budget matters that Bostrom says were outside his experience. Still, he shared wisdom from Scripture, and she took notes.
Despite the good work in Oklahoma City and Helena, Ministry to State is far from reaching its goal of establishing a presence in every U.S. state and Canadian province capital. The biggest obstacle right now seems to be awareness.
“Most of the PCA has never heard of Ministry to State,” Eddy says, even though, as far as he’s aware, the PCA is the only ecclesiastical denomination that provides a gospel outreach to government leaders. “The Westminster Confession declares it our duty to pray for the civil magistrate. The Scriptures tell us to minister to those whom God has placed in political leadership, to pray for them, and when possible, like Paul, to present the gospel with the hope that Jesus will change lives,” he says.
For more information visit pcamna.org/ministry-to-state.
Illustration by Andrew Colin Beck