This scene should be familiar to those who attend evangelical worship services or small group meetings.
“Does anyone have any prayer requests?” One by one, the people stand and make their requests known.
Someone might say, “Please pray for Jane Doe. She found out last month that she has breast cancer. They did surgery on her two weeks ago. Yesterday she started chemo, which is making her nauseated. She’s afraid her hair will fall out. It’s all starting to get to her. She’s very depressed, and the family is very upset.”
After several people share their requests with the assembly, the leader begins to pray. At some point, he will turn to prayer for Jane.
“And Lord, we pray for Jane Doe, who found out that she had breast cancer last month. Lord, we pray that her body will heal from the surgery she had two weeks ago. And we pray that the chemo that she started yesterday won’t make her nauseated anymore, and that you would take away her fear of her hair falling out. Take away her depression and give her family peace.”
Certainly, these are things for which the church can pray. But did the prayer leader really need to repeat all the details? For me, this is more than just a question of time management or repetition. The issue is the nature of prayer. Who is it that prays when the church gathers? When does the praying start?
I’ve tried the following approach with several mixed-denomination congregations, and I have had some success with it. I explained that it is the whole congregation which prays, and not just the preacher. And the praying doesn’t start when the preacher starts speaking. When a member stands and shares a need, that already is a prayer. In fact, the whole process is prayer. Instead of waiting for the preacher or leader to repeat what the requestor said, I ask the congregation to respond immediately.
If I served a more liturgical congregation, I could have taught the requestors to end their requests with “Lord, in your mercy.” And then the congregation would respond with “Hear our prayer.” That’s a little bit too “high-church” for most of the non-denominational congregations I’ve served.
Instead, I ask the members of the congregation to respond with a word with which they are very familiar: “Amen.” When the requestor finishes, instead of repeating what he or she just said, I say something like “Lord, we pray for Jane and her family” or “Lord, we lift Jane and her family up to you.” And then the congregation responds with, “Amen.” I repeat the same process for every single spoken prayer request. Even non-liturgical evangelicals can do that comfortably. Of course, that’s prayer with eyes wide open. And it lacks the hushed and holy tones of a long pastoral prayer. You can’t have everything.
I can still bring things together at the end with a brief spoken prayer – either planned or extempore – but I don’t have to repeat everything that the congregants just said.
Related: When the Church Prays