DES MOINES, Iowa – The Bible calls us to pray for our leaders, and that's exactly what a group of pastors is doing every day at the Iowa state capitol.
"Having a pastor in the Capitol is another day in Iowa, it's just another day, it's as common as a legislator being in the Capitol," says Greg Baker from The Family Leader.
The group first meets at a nearby church to pray and discuss what the lawmakers will take up that week. Then they head over to the Capitol and start meeting with elected officials from both sides of the aisle.
"I like it because as a person I have home issues and I do believe that the prayers that the pastors have done for me has helped some of the issues in my home life and helped me to carry those issues as I continue to work for my constituents," Rep. Ruth Ann Gaines, (D-District 32), told CBN News.
Sen. Craig Johnson, (R-District 32), echoed a similar sentiment, saying, "whether I get to see them personally or whether they're meeting with someone else, it's always good to see that moral support out there."
Prayers for Both State and Federal Lawmakers
And they're not just meeting with leaders on the state level – US Senator Chuck Grassley tells CBN News he's happy to see these pastors following the biblical calling.
"I say read First Timothy 2 where it says to pray for people in government, and I welcome that," says Grassley. "What Washington, DC needs – and any public official at any level of government needs – is to pray for public officials to have wisdom."
The pastors also enjoy the opportunity to meet with their elected officials.
The Role of the Pastor: To Come Alongside
"That's my role here, is to come alongside to find out how we can pray for different people and how we can lift them up so that ultimately they realize that they matter, and that they matter to God and that they will do things with Godly intent and Godly wisdom," says Trevor Pinneger, an Iowa pastor who's been visiting the Capitol for three years.
This idea, known as "the church ambassador program" started taking shape after the 2012 election when Bob Vander Plaats, President of The Family Leader, felt a deep change was needed.
"We really did a gut check, we looked at ourselves in the mirror and said what is this all about?" recalls Vander Plaats. "And that's when we said we need to authentically engage the church, we need to be about cultural transformation and the only way we're going to get cultural transformation is if we lead with the gospel."
And that includes bringing faith and political leaders together.
Building Relationships and Trust
"It's really this relationship to where the church, the pastor is concerned about this elected official, it's bringing the institution of the church to the institution of government," says Vander Plaats. "What happens there when you do that relationship? There's a trust that gets built up."
While the pastors don't bring a political agenda into the Capitol, they're available to add a faith-based perspective to issues.
"Whatever the issue of the day is God's word will speak to it, and who better than the pastor of the local church meeting with the local elected official to talk through well what does God's word say about this issue?" asks Vander Plaats.
Greg Baker, who leads the pastors in each day, has seen legislators change their stance after prayer.
"We had a legislator that completely turned 180 on a pretty controversial issue last year in regards to abortion, completely turned 180 by relationships with pastors," says Baker.
Baker maintains the key to success is remaining non-partisan.
"Our end goal isn't policy, it's not favoring one person over the other, our end goal is a relationship and we'll see where God allows that relationship to go," explains Baker. "And it's an intentional relationship meaning there's a gospel component to it."
The "Spiritual Temperature" at Capitol is "At an All-Time High"
While hundreds of pastors from around Iowa are involved in the program, they only take a small group into the Capitol on a daily basis.
"One of the things we're seeing is that the spiritual temperature at the Iowa Capitol, it's at an all-time high," says Vander Plaats. "And we couldn't be more excited about that because it's the engagement of the church at the Iowa capitol."
The Family Leader is partnering with people who will bring this to other states like Aaron Baer, President of Citizens for Community Values, in Ohio.
"In some sense, it's the most common sense thing, it's relationship, it's the way we approach ministry in so many other contexts – let's build trust, let's build relationship," explains Baer. "But for some reason in the political and government arena, we've never approached it like that for the most part."
Baer offers this advice to others looking to mimic this program, "approach it in a spirit of humility and a spirit of courage. These people that are making our public policy decisions every day, they're just regular people."
He says it's an easy program to start because people are hungry for this.
"When you start in that firm foundation it brings much more enduring success. It's not just about winning the next political battle or winning the next news cycle or media cycle it's about seeing long-lasting transformational change in our state and nation," continues Baer.
Goal: Engage More Christians in Politics and Government
The ambassador program is just one part of the family leader's broader "Daniel Initiative" that aims to engage more Christians in politics and government.
"When the trust gets built up we do believe that our voice then does matter in elections, our voice then does matter in policies and we want to see that happen, but its not hijacking the church for a political gain, it's not hijacking the church for a candidate win," says Vander Plaats.
And since they're seeing positive results – they're already planning to expand into states like Minnesota, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, and Florida.
The pastors are now regular fixtures in the Capitol, and in the four years of their visits – only five members have turned down their offers to pray with them.