“Mix your praise with prayer and your worship with intercession” (Kent Henry)
I’ve been in hundreds of worship services and prayer meetings.
Humble, lovable worship dude has put in his 10,000 hours.
Yet, sometimes I struggle when leading congregational prayer.
Some of us are not skilled in the art of prayer.
If the prayer is off the top of my head (extemporaneous), it might lack depth and thoughtful connection to the theme at hand.
I can default to safe, well-worn cliche’s. Sometimes I repeat the same prayers I’ve uttered many times before.
Other times my inner space cadet may come out andÂ I might even say something, wellÂ … stupid.
Now I know that would never happen with you.
But I have heard some wacked-out public prayers that seriously crossed the line into bad theology.Â Just sayin’ :)Â Don’t let that be you either.
Here’s a better way.
Write Out Your Prayers
Write your prayers out word for word. Or write an outline with bullet points for your major thoughts.
Recently I put a lot of energy into planning the prayers I would use in our service. I needed three, a response to the message, the offering and the benediction. I share these later in this article with a video from the service.
Written prayers got a bad rap in the Reformation. Probably deservedly so. We don’t need to perpetuate dead traditions. We don’t need to be actors playing a role, reading dry, formal, ritualized scripts.
However there is a big upside to planning the words you will speak as congregational prayers. This does not hinder the Holy Spirit in my opinion. In fact I believe the Spirit can be as present in the planning as He is in the moment.
Benefits of Crafting Public Prayer:
- Tighter focus on the theme
- Prevents rambling
- You don’t have to worry about losing your train of thought or saying the wrong thing
- Economy of words, say more with less
- Higher quality, higher value content = Higher impact
- Smoother, more relaxed, more polished experience for the listener
If the Holy Spirit participates in the preparation, a well-constructed prayer can be a powerful vehicle for encounter.
7 Tips for Planning High Impact Congregational Prayer
1) Use music creatively.
Choose a musical setting for the prayer.Â In this example we played “Pour Out Your Spirit” by Tom Lane.
You could write original prayer music.
Another idea is using just the chorus or a snippet of a song or hymn.
- Be careful that the music is not distracting.
- Make sure the tonality complements the theme of the moment.
- Keep sounds with a percussive attack to a minimum, as they tend to fight the intelligibility of the spoken word.
2) Sing a simple phrase antiphonally.
Antiphonal singingÂ (call and response) is modeled in Psalm 118 and 136, where the leader makes a declaration and the people respond with “His love endures forever”.
In our example, I created a simple melody for the refrain “Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer”.
This may take considerable time and experimentation to get the cadence and melody hooky and singable.
3) Plan theÂ structure so it has a good flow.
One good flow is to make a “Prayer Sandwich” where the form is Praise, Ask and Thank. See this post for a more in-depth explanation.
Another progression is “From the Inside Out”, from internal concerns to external. In our example the structure was Thanks / Petition / Intercede
- Thanks – We focus on God’s character and ability.
- Petition – We focus on our need and ask God to meet it.
- Intercede – We contend for the needs of others and pray in agreement with His will, that His kingdom would come and His will be done.
4) Write the text exactly as you will say and pray it.
This took a lot of thinking, research, trial and error.
Some of these prayer points were from a synopsis of the scripture passage and the message.
Others were from resources like the hymnal, prayer books and these web resources:
- United Methodist Offertory Prayers
- Mission St. Clare Prayers
- The Voice – Public Prayers
- WorshipandChurchMusic.com /Pastoral Prayers
You don’t need to reinvent the wheel.
Look for model prayers. Borrow ideas from them. Steal if you must.
Then, rewrite them in your own words.
Write so you sound like you.
5) Keep phrases short, punchy and to the point.
I like prayers from the Book of Common Prayer (Free Download).
Some I could use exactly as written. Others, the ideas are fine but the language is way too stiff and formal. I change them.
Words don’t sound aloud like they read. Write so the prayer speaks clearly and directly.
Get to the point.Â Get rid of flowery language. Simplify complex sentence structure.
Â 6) Plan the transition phrases also.
Smooth services should flow like a relay race. The leader of one leg passes the baton to the leader of the next leg.
The transition phrase communicates “Everything’s cool, here’s what we’re doing next …” Either the guy passing the baton sets it up, or the guy receiving it gives a word of direction.
The idea is make it clear and easy for people to understand what’s happening, follow,Â and participate.
Kind of like volley-ball, one sets up the ball, the other spikes it.
7) Practice speaking and playing.
Once you have picked your music, composed the singing section, and written your prayers – practice. Practice until you know it well and feel confident.
Yes, your confidence must first be in God, but you’ve got to do your part. Rehearse!
For me, trying to talk and play an instrument (usually guitar or piano) requires a lot of skill and coordination.
It’s not easy to do. You have to rehearse this just as you would learn a song so that the muscle memory becomes second nature.
After 10,000 hours you’ll be an expert.
VIDEO Example: Converging planned and spontaneous music and prayer.
In this video example, the script below is exactly what I used, making a few adjustments in the real service. The prayer and three verses of the song took about six minutes total.
You may notice in the video I varied in places from the script.
Transition: I invite you now to respond to the word of the Lord through this time of prayer and intercession. With the music weâ€™re going to pray in response to some specific areas and as we do, we can agree together singing this
Â Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer â€¦
Â Thank Him
1) Thank you that you still speak to day. Thank for the still small voice, thank for speaking in the gentle whisper. Give us eyes to see and ears to hear what the spirit is saying today.Â Â
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer
Ask & Petition
2) We Lift Up The Weary and discouraged. We ask for times of refreshment, the winds of renewal
- May the wind of your presence give us the perspective that blows out the stress and tensions in our lives.
- May the earthquake of your love shake our hearts to know you are with us, that we are never alone.
- May the fire of God burn out the chaff of despair
- Lord we ask to receive that new hope by faith . Release wisdom and revelation. Hope and inspiration to see your hand at work. You are a comforter.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer
3) The Body of Christ. Thank you we are not alone, so we pray for the church, this church and the church worldwide.
Father, we pray for your Church. Fill it with truth, in all truth with all peace.
Where there is corruption, bring purity;
Where there is error, bring correction
Where in any thing it is amiss, bring reformation.
Where it is right, strengthen it;
Where it is in need,Â bring provision;
Where it is divided, bring reconciliation and unity for the sake of Jesus Christ your Son our Savior.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer
Song: Pour Out Your Spirit (Tom Lane)
Offering & Benediction Prayers
Here’s the prayers I used for the offering and benediction, adapted from Offertory Prayers|UMC|Michigan and FaithandWorship.com
Â Offering Prayer
Father we thank you for the peace that you alone through your Son Jesus Christ freely give us by the presence of your Holy Spirit.
Lord, the problems of this world seem overwhelming.
Thank you that through the work of the church worldwide, and of which we are a part, we can make a difference.
Â We can serve the poor, bless the downtrodden and send light into darkness.
And so we bring these tithes and offerings and offer to them to You in faith and with faith that you will multiply and use them for the glory of your kingdom.
In the name of Jesus, who had nothing, but possessed everything.
May the love of the Father
the tenderness of the Son
and the presence of the Spirit
gladden your heart
and bring peace to your soul
this day and all days, Amen.