Last week I had the opportunity to participate with a group of pastors in a round-table discussion. The topic was corporate prayer (i.e. prayer meetings), and each of the pastors spoke of his church’s practice of prayer. It was a fascinating discussion and I thought it might be helpful to share a few of my takeaways.
Prayer Is Difficult. We all know this theoretically and we all know it experientially. It was both encouraging and discouraging to see it and own it together. It was encouraging to know this is a shared battle and discouraging to know that real victory will be elusive. I don’t think there was one pastor there who believed his church was excelling in prayer and who was really comfortable with his leadership and the church’s participation in this area. We should not be surprised. If prayer is the means through which God works, Satan will inevitably make it an area of concentrated attack.
Many Have Given Up. While every church has had a weekly or otherwise regular prayer meeting at one time, many have since abandoned it. Usually this is a result of the church losing its enthusiasm for prayer and their belief in its necessity. Many have made prayer supplemental instead of instrumental in the life of the church. Some have replaced the prayer meeting with programs or small groups, and some have not replaced it with anything. It seems clear that the pastor needs to show leadership here; it is unlikely a church will be more enthusiastic about prayer than its pastor is.
It’s Easier To Talk About Prayer. In many cases churches talk about prayer more than they actually pray. If there are 60 or 90 minutes set aside for a mid-week prayer meeting, often only 20 or 30 minutes are actually used to pray while the rest goes to Bible study and sharing prayer requests. It is often easier to talk about prayer and prayer requests than it actually is to dedicate a sustained period of time to praying.
Persevere. It was a blessing to hear how many churches have persevered in prayer even when attendance at the meetings is far too low and even when enthusiasm has waned. Satan knows he can undermine a church’s effectiveness by undermining a church’s prayer life. Persevere in the face of his attacks!
I learned a lot of useful tips from those pastors. Here are a few of them.
Longer ≠ Better. We need to protect ourselves and our churches from believing there is a necessary correlation between the length of a prayer and the godliness of the person praying, or between the length of a prayer and the likelihood of God answering it. God is no more likely to hear and respond to a long prayer than a short one. Many prayer meetings suffer when the people pray for too long.
Pray Honestly. A pastor needs to remind himself and his church that we do not pray to impress the other people in the room, but to pour out our hearts to God. Public prayer still has that one-to-one dimension of a child before his Father.
Pray Scripture. The pastor can and should use the prayers in Scripture as a means of teaching his people how to pray. He should also model how to pray Scripture. Where our prayers tend toward “give me!” the Bible’s prayers are far more focused on God’s purposes and Christian character.
Identify Gifting. God blesses many churches with certain people who are gifted in public prayer. Consider strategically encouraging these people to commit to your prayer meetings, to pray often, and to see this as a ministry to and for the church.
Make It God-Centered. It is easy to slip into a pattern of man-centered rather than God-centered prayer. Man-centered prayers tend to ask “how can God help me with my problems?” while God-centered prayers consider “What is God doing in this? How can I join in God’s purposes here?” This changes not only what we pray for, but also the way we pray.
Pray in Small Groups. One church has one of their small groups each week dedicate their entire time to prayer. So while the entire church may not pray together that week, one of the small groups is interceding on behalf of others.
Variety Matters. Even something as good as a prayer meeting can grow stale over time. There is value in planning out a few different kinds of prayer meetings and changing it up on a regular basis. For example, one week have the men and women pray separately; another week pray only prayers of thanksgiving or confession; another week pray for only certain kinds of requests.
Prayer is and always will be a constant battle. Do not give up!