5 Things Not To Do When Leading Corporate Prayer
In our church there are several pastors who share the responsibility for leading corporate prayer in the main worship services so I wanted to wait for a week when I had done it so that no one would think I was commenting on the inadequacies of another person. I also wanted to wait for a week when I had done a particularly bad job so that no one would think I was sharing from a position of exceptional strength. Having met those two criteria this past Sunday, I figured that now would be a good time to share a few thoughts on the mistakes you should try hard to avoid when leading corporate prayer.
1. Telling stories
From time to time I catch myself telling stories during corporate prayer. I don’t mean telling a story before leading in corporate prayer; that might be appropriate, rather I mean telling a story during corporate prayer. I don’t know why I do this, and yet sometimes, I know I do. God knows who I met with this past week, he knows how that conversation went, he knows more about my week than I do, he never forgets anything and so it is almost certain that I am not telling this story to inform God of a need, rather I am telling this story to inform the people of a deed that I did and for which I would like to be suitably praised.
Don’t do this when you lead corporate prayer.
Some of the great prayers in the Bible do contain narrative sections, but if you read them you will discover that they are not stories about what God’s people have done, they are stories about what God has done for them. Rehearsing God’s deeds can be useful; rehearsing your own is absolutely not.
2. Preaching sermons
I caught myself doing this in my prayer after the sermon on Sunday. I realized as I started praying that I had forgotten to share one of my most brilliant insights in the last section of my sermon and so, on the fly, I worked it into the prayer.
Don’t do this when you lead corporate prayer.
It is entirely appropriate to respond to the sermon in prayer, but it is not helpful, generally speaking, to elaborate upon it. Prayer and preaching are fundamentally different. Prayer is speaking to God, preaching is speaking to people. That difference ought to be fairly obvious, but I confess I sometimes struggle to keep it straight. Do your best to speak to God in response to the sermon rather than speaking to people more about the sermon.
3. Illustrating points
You can take the preacher out of the pulpit but it is hard sometimes to take the pulpit out of the preacher. Preachers get into the habit of illustrating complex points through simple word pictures or common analogies. While that can be very helpful when preaching a sermon, it quite transparently does not belong in a prayer. Think about it. God is never confused. Prayer is about talking to God. Therefore, I’m pretty sure you never need to “bring it down to street level”. Just say what you are trying to say and move on. If you are illustrating a “point” you are trying to make in prayer, go back and read my second item. Prayers don’t have points, they have petitions. If your prayer has points and illustrations you aren’t talking to God, you’re talking to people.
Corporate prayer should be in language that is natural to you, intelligible to the corporate body, but obviously directed solely to God. In such a situation, illustrations and points are clearly out of place.
4. Making announcements
I didn’t do this one this past Sunday but I’ve done it before. Often in our services the corporate prayer time follows the announcement time and just like I can forget a great line from the sermon and be tempted to slip it in, so too I can forget a key announcement and try to jam that in.
Don’t do that.
There is nothing wrong with finishing your prayer and then mentioning that there is another important announcement that you forgot to make. There is never a reason to pray “Dear Lord, please bless the youth retreat as they gather at 5:30 pm with their sleeping bags and toothbrushes packed in their water proof knapsacks. Bless them likewise as they hand in their $55 registration fee and their signed waiver forms. Help them to understand that if they don’t have those things they will able to attend the event. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.”
That is not a good prayer under any conceivable circumstances.
5. Attempting alliteration
Alliteration can be very helpful in a sermon, but again, prayers are not sermons. Preachers use alliteration because it helps people to remember things. Since God doesn’t struggle with short term memory lapses, alliteration can be considered unnecessary and borderline inappropriate during corporate prayer.
Alliteration is just one example of what can happen when pastors try to be too scripted during corporate prayer. If you give a preacher too much time to gather his thoughts they will come out in either a 5 point outline, a chiasm or a complex alliteration. This is the danger with written prayers. To be clear, it might be helpful to have a few reminders written on a piece of paper:
- Pray for the youth retreat – Holy Spirit move during the Bible Studies!
- Pray for Mrs. Smith – God grant her comfort as she recovers from surgery.
- Pray for the workers in the nursery – God grant them patience and the preacher brevity!
It may also be appropriate to write down a Scripture verse that you intend to include in your prayer, but by and large, avoid taking a fully written script into corporate prayer. A pastor with a script will preach a sermon. It will have points. There will be an illustration. There will be a chiasm, maybe even a joke and several words that start with “G”.
Don’t do it.
Do you love God? Do you love your people? Have you read your Bible? Do you mourn for sin? Are you thankful for grace? Then you can pray! If you are worried that you will ramble without some sort of structure then use the Lord’s Prayer. There are 6 petitions in the Lord’s Prayer that you can use to wrestle your thoughts into some sort of balance and cohesion. You likely have that memorized already so you should be good to go.
Remember, pastor, brother, friend, you are not trying to communicate your virtue or intelligence to your people, you are trying to express your gratitude and dependence to your God.
That is easy to forget, but delightful to remember – thanks be to God!