A Gathering Voices Post by David Maxwell
In recent years a change has occurred in the way many churches do community prayer. The reasoning seems solid—let the people’s voice be heard. Where once a carefully crafted pastoral prayer was delivered, today a microphone is passed around for people to offer their own prayers in their own words. This can last anywhere from a few minutes to eternity and is often concluded by a short closing prayer by the pastor.
The uncontrollable nature of this sort of prayer causes anxiety in some because services go into overtime, while it comforts many who wish to articulate their own petition or thanksgiving. I assume most of us tolerate this style because we don’t want to be worship snobs and it often is very meaningful.
I admit to being a public prayer voyeur and critic, not something to be proud of. I certainly am the last to claim to be a prayer expert. I’m more like a clumsy disciple asking Jesus what the heck to pray for. However, listening week in and week out to these prayers, I have seen some patterns of prayer I don’t find helpful.
- Prayers that teach or preach. The usual warning flag are the words, “Lord, teach us that . . .” It feels manipulative. The person praying is using God to get their point or position across.
- Prayers that are announcements.
- Prayers that aren’t sincere. An example here is how often a prayer for traveling mercies really means “Look where I’m going you losers.”
I do think it would be helpful for pastors to teach the congregation how to pray. Easier said than done for sure. Who really feels qualified to teach people how to talk to God?
Two studies recently published on prayer might be helpful tools. “Why Pray?” and “What Happens When We Pray?” are good for group or private study.
Lest I sound insincere, let me say I enjoy prayer during worship in all forms. A well-crafted liturgical or pastoral prayer can be challenging and comforting and give me things to pray about privately during the week. So can hearing a friend share their heart wrenching divorce news in their own words.
My plea to leaders is to teach us how to pray. It is so important but not something we naturally know how to do. Perhaps we can have our cake and eat it too. A well-crafted community prayer led by the people.
What are ways you teach prayer to others?
Additional Resources from www.TheThoughtfulChristian.com