My first day in the office as a new pastor was a Wednesday. Therefore, one of my first tasks was to lead prayer meeting. I admit, I went into the service a little skeptical. My church growing up did not have prayer meeting (or if it did, no one I knew went to it). But all it took was one night, and my perspective completely changed. I quickly saw the incredible blessing that this service could be to a church.
Many Christians see no benefit in having a prayer meeting each week. “Prayer Meeting,” in their experience, may have been nothing more than a third sermon for the week. It was really a normal worship service, with a few minutes of silent prayer tacked on at the end. Or their experience may have been more along the lines of what one deacon referred to as “Organ Recital,” where everyone sits and just recites what’s wrong with various church members’ organs, or other body parts.
So what can we do to redeem the perception and practice of the “prayer meeting” in our churches? I offer these five strategies:
1. Recognize the Biblical Importance of Corporate Prayer
Throughout Scripture, the people of God have always gathered for times of united corporate prayer (2 Chr 20:4, Ezra 8:21, Esther 4:16, Acts 12:12). Often, these times of corporate prayer were in response to a crisis, but in the book of Psalms, we see that prayer was a part of the regular worship of the gathered people of God (Ps 122:6, 123:3–4, 125:4). In Acts 2:42, we see that one of the primary things the church is to do when it comes together is to pray. In these biblical instances of corporate prayer, prayer is not a thirty-second afterthought at the end of a sermon. It is a primary, and on certain occasions the singular, purpose of the gathering. As churches, we ought to consider this when incorporating prayer into the services of the church.
2. Use a Prayer Meeting for Prayer
Following these biblical examples, we need times dedicated specifically to prayer. We should not use a prayer meeting primarily as a time for a third sermon or a midweek Bible-study. There is nothing wrong with that kind of meeting, but it should not be called a “prayer meeting.” Yes, we should root our church’s prayer in the Word of God, but remember that you have come together for the primary purpose of prayer. The majority of the meeting should not be spent teaching, or even in listing off prayer requests. The overwhelming majority of the prayer meeting should be devoted to exactly that—prayer!
3. Pray for Spiritual Health
The Bible absolutely encourages us to pray for the physical health of others. Many of the times of corporate prayer in Scripture are for physical deliverance from affliction. But we should not do this at the expense of praying for the spiritual health of the church. If we look at Matthew 6:9–13 and the example of how our Lord taught us to pray, eighty percent of the supplications are made with regard not to our physical needs but to our spiritual needs. While legalistic percentages are not necessary, we should recognize that both individual and corporate prayer should be centered on our need for the grace of Christ above all else. Set the example in your church by praying for spiritual health more than you pray for physical health.
4. Pray for the ministry of the church
Scripture is filled with prayers that the church would fulfill the work of the kingdom. The church prays for laborers to go into the harvest (Matt 9:38) and for boldness to speak the Word (Acts 4:29). It prays for doors to open for the Word of God and for the clarity of those preaching it (Col 4:3–4). The church has been given a commission to go and make disciples, and we have the promise of Christ’s presence as we do that (Matt 28:18–20). If we believe this, should we not therefore ask our Lord for His strength and guidance as we seek to carry out gospel ministry in our churches? A practical way we have done this at our church is by adding a section to our weekly prayer list that gives prayer requests for each ministry of our church. We rotate each week between praying for Worship Ministry, Sunday School, Youth Ministry, etc., according to the specific request given by the leaders of those ministries.
5. Recognize what Corporate Prayer communicates to the church
Placing an emphasis on corporate prayer in your church also reiterates on a practical level what the Bible teaches us about the church. We believe the church is dependent on God. Prayer communicates our dependence on God for knowing and doing His will (Col 1:9-11), for perseverance in the face of spiritual warfare (Eph 6:18), and for richer and fuller worship (Eph 3:17-19). When we pray corporately, we communicate through our action that we believe we cannot function as a church apart from the sustaining grace of our Lord.
In a time where churches struggle to get members to attend more than once a month, the vitality of a separate prayer service may seem like the least of our concerns. Because of this trend, many churches have retired the prayer meeting as a relic of the past. But Scripture shows us a clear model to be followed and benefit to be gained when the Body devotes itself to seeking its Head in prayer. May we take advantage of this incredible benefit to our churches, and may we cultivate a continuing and growing desire for it so that the church of the Lord Jesus Christ might never cease to pray!