Teaching Our Congregation to Pray Corporately
We want to be a praying church
We have set aside Wednesday nights for corporate prayer and we desire that all of us will make it a fixed priority in our weekly schedules. The early church was a praying church, “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:41-42). Further, the apostles called for prayer in the churches. An example of this is when Paul urged Timothy that the church in Ephesus be a praying church, “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:1-4).
This is why every aspect of the church’s life and ministry ought to be undergirded with regular, fervent prayer.
Many different experiences
In our local church, we have found that people have had many different experiences in churches where corporate prayer is practiced. They naturally bring those practices into their new church. Some of their practices may even be harmful. For this reason, we have found that the church needs instruction in order to engage the time for the greatest value. However, we quickly acknowledge that the most influential matter of corporate prayer cannot be taught or governed. It is the power of the Holy Spirit working through a consecrated people, in true fellowship with God who have fixed their hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. Even so, there are things we have tried to teach our church in order to rightly enter into our times of corporate prayer. Therefore, the things we teach regarding prayer are not recipes for success. Rather they are underlying practices that assume the power of the Holy Spirit.
Following are twelve guidelines we recommend to our church for corporate prayer at Hope.
1. We move quickly to prayer.
As we gather for corporate prayer we desire to move quickly to prayer. We begin with singing right away, then receive some brief instruction on prayer from one of the elders or another appointed man in the church, and then we go straight to prayer. We do not take requests as this consumes valuable time that can result in unprofitable speech and even gossip. This is why we go directly to prayer.
2. We desire our prayers be God centered and Christ exalting.
As we enter into prayer, we desire that our prayers be substantially and expansively God centered. This means that we prioritize giving glory to God for His person and His works.
3. We recognize there is a difference between corporate and private prayer.
In private prayer an individual goes to the secret place to pray personal prayers. These prayers are individual in nature and evidenced by the use of the word, “I” in the prayer.
In corporate prayer the church goes to a public place to pray and they use “we” rather than “I.” This indicates that the church is a unified body. There are several aspects of this unity. First, when we pray, we are representing one another. Second, we are helping and guiding one another by carrying one another along. Third, as one body, we lift one voice to God.
4. We are acknowledging we are not alone in this world.
You are part of a family. We support one another. We listen to one another. We groan together. We weep and rejoice together. We acknowledge one another – our sins, struggles, joys, and victories. When we pray about problems… its no longer “their problem,” it’s “OUR problem.” This is the nature of our unified prayer. The Bible commentator, John Fawcett, explained it this way, "Before the Father’s throne, we pour our ardent prayers; our fears, our hopes, our aims are one, our comforts and our cares."
It’s very nature draws man close to God. When we are commanded to pray, it is an appeal for love. Come close. Speak. Listen.
5. We understand that prayer involves man in the holy and perfect work of God in the world.
God has ordained all things for His own glory including every moment of history. History is important because God is using all of History to glorify Himself in the salvation of sinners and their final glorification. He takes the despised, defiled, unprofitable sinners of this world and welcomes them into His eternal home.
In this sense, God uses the prayers of His people to accomplish what He has pre-determined by the sovereign power of His will. In prayer, we enter into the work of God.
Prayer is meant to play a primary role in the life of the church for advancing the kingdom of God. Since prayer is one of the most important weapons against the works of darkness, it is very important that we are a praying church.
6. We recommend that prayer is “the chief use of the tongue.”
John Calvin speaks of prayer as the chief use of the tongue, “During our Savior’s ministry, He referred to the Temple as ‘A house of prayer’ (Matt. 21:13). He taught by this term that the chief part of His worship lies in the office of prayer, and that the Temple was set up like a banner for believers so that they might, with one consent, participate in it . . . The chief use of the tongue is in public prayers, which are offered in the assembly of believers, by which it comes about that with one common voice, as it were, with the same mouth, we all glorify God together, worshipping Him with one spirit and same faith” (Calvin’s Institutes III, p. 29-31).
7. We have a general pattern for prayer.
We have the pattern for prayer that many Christians use: A.C.T.S (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication). These elements should be part of every prayer meeting.
Adore Him in the way He desires to be adored,
Psalm 48:1, 9-10
Confess to Him the way He desires to receive confession,
1 John 1:9
Psalm 51:4, 10-12
Give thanks the way He wants to be thanked,
Make supplications for the things He desires to do,
1 Timothy 2:1-2
8. We encourage one another to pray the words of Scripture
There are particular blessings that come from praying Scripture. We are not suggesting that all our prayers must come from Scripture. Please consider looking at your Bibles to see what Scripture might be a blessing to the congregation. Pray, using His Sword, Hebrews 4:12, “For the Word of God is living and active.” Pray His language. Pray His commands. Pray His promises. Pray for His intentions.
9. We give specific instructions for prayer
1. Pray all, to fulfill the command to pray.
Often a few end up praying and it’s the same old people. If you are one of those who normally does not pray, ask yourself why and take steps to break your pattern of un-involvement. Most of the time people don’t pray because their spiritual fervor is at a low point. They have not been feeding themselves spiritual food and are starving and therefore have nothing to give. If you have nothing to give, realize that you are not only hurting yourself, you are also defrauding your brethren.
2. Pray short, so more can pray.
Long prayers should be avoided in order to allow all to pray.
3. Pray consecutively without gaps, to redeem the time.
Often there are gaps in the prayers with long silences. The church should avoid these, and take up the time for more glory given to God.
4. Pray together, to be unified.
When we pray we should be praying the same thing together with heartfelt affirmation of the prayer.
5. Pray responsively, and say “Amen” at least in your heart.
Letting a prayer fall to the ground without explicit agreement and saying “amen” either in your heart or with your mouth diminishes the weight of the prayer in your heart. This is one way prayer unites us.
6. Pray loud enough so others can hear.
One problem with corporate prayer is that people often pray as if they were alone, as if they don’t understand the difference between private and corporate prayer. So, be sensitive and kind and pray so that everyone can hear… even the oldsters who can’t hear that well anymore and the people in the far corner of the room.
10. We involve the whole family in prayer
Bringing children to prayer is an important part of their involvement in biblical church life. Since, prayer is one of the most important aspects of church life, it should not exclude children. Here are a few tips for including children.
First, prepare them for prayer. Like any other believer they need to be taught to pray in the same way Jesus taught His disciples when they asked, “Lord, teach us to pray.” Children should be taught the meaning of prayer and how to conduct themselves in a prayer meeting. For example, they need to be taught to listen, and say “amen” to the prayers. If they are very little, you can squeeze their hands when a prayer is concluded to remind them to be involved.
Second, use your family worship times to instruct them on how to pray using the Lord’s prayer as a guideline.
Third, recognize when they are not praying in a godly way, by speaking to them if they are praying with silliness, monopolizing or to draw attention to themselves. The Apostle Paul said that when he was a child he spoke and thought as a child, and so we should not expect children to pray the prayers of the mature, but we should not constrain them in prayer unless their prayers are inappropriate.
Fourth, help your children. One of the challenges with including children in prayer is fidgeting. My own grown children have had a practice with their children that I feel has been very effective in dealing with this problem. They simply require that their children fold their hands during prayer. It helps a great deal. They have found that in time they will be able to sit still in prayer.
11. We remember the warning: God does not hear prayers when there is sin.
The very act of prayer is designed by God to restrain sin in our lives. God gives us His Spirit, His Word, a conscience, the Lord’s Supper, and prayer. God desires for us to meet our sin through prayer. He does this through warning us of the kind of prayer that will go unanswered as in Psalm 66:18-20, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, The Lord will not hear. But certainly God has heard me; He has attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God who has not turned away my prayer, Nor His mercy away from me!”” See also, 1 John 1:8.
If I have seen iniquity in my heart and indulged in it, if I have seen it and been unwilling to despise it and turn away from it then I am a hindrance to the whole church when we pray.
12. We remember why we must pray
We must pray because God has called us to pray, we need to pray and the world needs us to pray. Some men traveled to meet Charles Spurgeon to see what they could learn about the remarkable ministry they had observed at the Tabernacle. They asked about why there was so much power in the ministry. He took them down the hallway, and down two flights of stairs to the basement. He opened the door and there were 200 men on their knees. Spurgeon said, “this is the boiler room of the church.” The pulpit was directly above the room. He told them that their prayers lifted him up to heaven while he was preaching. This is what we are doing in prayer. When we come together we become the chief power source of the equipping and evangelization of the church.
Scott T. Brown is the President of the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches and pastor at Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forest, North Carolina. Scott graduated from California State University in Fullerton with a degree in History and received a Master of Divinity degree from Talbot School of Theology. He gives his time to expository preaching and local pastoral ministry, as well as conferences on Biblical doctrine and church and family reformation. He and his wife Deborah have four grown children. Scott helps people think through the two greatest evangelistic and discipleship institutions God has provided — the church and the family.