Almost every worship service will include some expression of prayer. And, almost every church has a unique way of praying in a corporate setting. I’m convinced the ways we incorporate prayer into our worship services says a great deal about what we believe about prayer.
I also want to note an important thing to remember about prayer: God – in His wisdom and for His purposes – has chosen prayer to be essential for impact in ministry. Jesus Himself modeled this truth.
Have you heard this quote, “We don’t pray for the work – prayer is the work”?
So, prayer is essential and available. Here are some ways we should and shouldn’t use prayer in corporate worship and suggestions on how we can improve the ways we lead prayer…
Don’t use prayer as only as a “transition.” How many times have you said, “Okay band and singers, I’m going to pray after the song to give you all a chance to leave.”
I get it. We want the musicians to exit in a way that doesn’t interrupt the flow of worship. But, think about what that statement says about what we believe about prayer. We are actually suggesting to our people that prayer is only a cover for more important things.
Solution – Tell the church after the song, “We are going to prayer right now. Move to a posture of prayer that is meaningful to you.” Then instruct your musicians join the church in that posture – at the altar, in their seats, or standing – instead of running for the exit. Then, at the “Amen,” they can move to the place they need to be for the rest of the service.
Side note: Musicians should be engaged in the whole service – not at the coffee pot in the music suite while the pastor preaches.
Don’t use prayer for announcements. I have to admit… this can be funny when it happens. Without meaning to, we can focus on saying things in prayer for the benefit of the people listening. “Lord – bless the Johnson family who lost their father last Wednesday as they prepare for the service tomorrow at 3:00 here at the church.”
Solution – What would happen if the spoken prayers completely focused on calling on the name of the Lord and inviting His Spirit to work among us? Make it a point of emphasis when you pray and communicate this expectation to anyone who is praying in the corporate setting. Intentionally use scripture as the text for prayers.
Eradicate the “Now I lay me down to sleep” prayers. Many churches have these… A church member that will be called on to pray and will say the exact same thing every time. Repetition is not the problem. We should repeat Biblical prayers. The problem is mindless, meaningless repetition.
Ever hear one of these?
Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for this day. Thank you for blessing us. Take these tithes and offerings and bless them and use them to help our missionaries all over the world. Lead us, guide us, protect us, and help us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
There’s nothing wrong with that prayer in and of itself. But, if repeated every Sunday before the offering (for so long that all the students and children in the church are making fun of it and mouthing along with it as it is offered), it will belittle the significance of prayer in worship. As a worship planner, we have to aspire for more. It takes on even more importance when we realize that our public prayers in church will shape the prayer lives of our children for generations to come.
Solution – If your church has a tradition of a certain group of people praying at the same time and saying the exact thing in a trite exercise of transition, work with your Pastor and leaders to stop it. Treat prayer as though it matters more than that – because it does.
Don’t rush through prayer. Take a look at a recent video of one of your services. Note how much time was spent in prayer. In an hour-long service, it is amazing to think that we might spend less than five minutes in corporate prayer.
Solution – Consider a longer prayer time that is guided by a leader. As the congregation waits, the leader could instruct and focus the prayers of God’s people. Don’t be afraid of silence in worship. The most impactful moment of all is when nothing (or perhaps some underscore) is happening.
Beyond any of these thoughts, spend some time thinking about how prayer is positioned in your worship gatherings. What does the way you lead your people in prayer say about what your church believes? How could prayer become a more meaningful part of the corporate worship experience of your church?
Do you have any testimonies about how corporate prayer affects the worship of God in your church? We’d love to hear them. So please share with us in the comments below.
Mike Harland is the Director of LifeWay Worship. When he’s not directing 30+ employees, you’ll find him leading worship at various churches around the country, writing/arranging worship songs and/or, writing his next book. In his spare time, he loves playing basketball and spending time with his family. Mike can be found on Twitter @MikeHarlandLW and on facebook.com/Mike.Harland.37.