Leading in Prayer

Richard Bewes once gave me this letter that he would have used at All Souls for people whom he had asked to lead in prayer. It’s vintage Richard and very helpful…….



Your help will be so much appreciated in this vital part of our Sunday Service. It would be good if you could kindly take time – however experiences you are at this – to read through these guidelines, as you prepare to take on this piece of ministry. The more carefully the prayers are prepared, the greater will be the sense of gratitude, from many hundreds of people, that we are all caught up together in a wonderful spirit of joint intercession. Thank you very much!

What the prayers are NOT;

They are not to be identified with the “worship” prayers at the beginning of the service. THIS slot is not so much “worship” as INTERCESSION (that is asking on behalf of others).

They are not your own “private” prayers, spoken out loud. The point is that you are at this specific moment in church, the SPOKESPERSON on behalf of everybody present – trying to sum up, and to express as far as possible, what we are ALL wanting to say to God. So it’s not “I pray that….”, but much more “WE now pray that…” When people say at the end of a service “I liked the prayers”, they mean that they could identify with what was being said from the front.

They are not opportunities to make political points, preach mini-sermons, read additional passages of Scripture on top of what has already been read etc. And let’s beware of giving the Lord historical / geographical/ Biblical studies lectures – eg “the Communist revolution which took place seventy years ago…”  “You know O Lord , that it says in your word “they shall beat their swords into ploughshares…”. And no giving out Notices; “We pray for the meeting of…to be held in the Waldegrave Hall on Tuesday, 25th March at 7pm…”

They are not prayers for the inner core of the All Souls Fellowship. Keep in mind that there is an outer fringe, visitors to London and plenty of the unconverted present. So try not to use “inside” language (eg ASIF – All Souls International Fellowship). Avoid using Christian names only of All Souls members and staff. NOT ” We pray for Richard, Rico” etc. That immediately baffles visitors and newcomers,  and tends to give the impression of a cosy closed fellowship. In fact lists of members / leaders can be too exclusive; you’re bound to leave out someone. 

Some positive suggestions:

After over 30 years at this (!) I have come to the conclusion that when people’s eyes are shut and they are being led in prayer, concentration dies at about the 25 second mark! This is scary….so we have to work at this. If a single prayer goes on for a minute, we can be sure that several hundred worshippers will have got left behind well before we finish that particular piece of intercession. In my experience, the best way to overcome this is to DIVIDE THE INTERCESSION SLOT INTO A NUMBER OF SHORT PRAYERS. Cranmer, who put  the old Cof E Prayer Book together, knew all about concentration. Hardly any of his prayers go beyond 25 seconds! When you’re actually leading from the front, 25 seconds feels absurdly short……but don’t let that put you off. It’s the SPIRIT  and DEPTH of the prayer that counts far more than the VERBIAGE and the LEGNTH.

HOW TO END A PRAYER: Make sure it’s Christian – ie, ending with a phrase that indicates the basis on which we can come to God – eg. “Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen”. “We pray this in Jesus Christ’s name, Amen” “We pray this for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen” (A secondary advantage is that this gives the congregation a signal as the when to say “Amen” together). Remember there will be Muslims, Hindus etc present, they  need to be educated about how to come to God. 

Sometimes you will have heard a leader in prayer take a one-sentence followed by the congregations’ response. There is certainly room for different approaches. Try and help the congregation to feel involved.

Try to express aloud what the bulk of people present would be wishing to pray, in terms of the the International, the National, the Regional and local. Let’s remember to pray for the Queen of this land, for Parliament, for local councillors. Don’t forget 1 Timothy 2:1-4 “First of all, then, I urge that requests, prayers, intercessions and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings, and all those in authority that we may lead peaceful and quiet lives….”

Each Sunday we like to pray for one of our missionaries. Would you be good enough on this occasion to remember publicly ___________________________________

If in doubt as to where they are, feel free to phone……….. for up to date information

A short checklist:

PREPARE YOURSELF SPIRITUALLY for this task. Ask the Lord to help you speak on behalf of the people to him at his throne.

SCRIPT YOURSELF It is not less “spiritual” to do this. Just remember that others have to “own” the phrases you use. So it really is worth working at this, rather than to have the odd note and then ramble aloud. Keep the “rambly” prayers for the occasions when you are surrounded by your own trusted friends.

TIME YOURSELF! You’ll be amazed. The unspoken fear of many is that we may mis-use – or under-use – the opportunity that God has placed before us of leading his people. Consequently we often over-fill a prayer with “matter”. We preachers do precisely the same thing!

CONFINE YOURSELF to a limited section/area of God’s work. To wander from continent to continent is, on the whole, too daunting for the average worshipper to keep up with. 

ADDRESS YOURSELF CAREFULLY, when it comes to speaking to God publicly. If a prayer is rather badly prepared, then the name of God slips in far too often as a sort of punctuation mark, (giving the leader time to collect his/ her thoughts before the next phrase has to be produced; e.g. “And so Father, we just pray for the homeless, that, Father, they may know  that we are thinking of them, and that in your good time they may be provided for, Father, and …..” My tip, then, is to work hard against sloppy phraseology: VARY the titles by which the LORD is addressed in any case. There are so many titles…. “Almighty and everlasting God … God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ … Lord our God … Sovereign Lord, etc We need not feel inhibited from learning from great prayers of the past, and indeed from using other people’s prayers. A last tip:

AMPLIFY YOURSELF Speak to the back row in church, not the front. The microphones are good but they require more than a conversational tone of voice. “Loud and Clear” is the drill! Remember that for many (maybe for yourself?) English is their second language.

ENOUGH FROM ME. You will not be under a spotlight of criticism as you take on this task. We all know that it is demanding. To me, it’s harder than preaching! I look forward to seeing you on Sunday, All those involved in the service normally meet together twenty minutes beforehand to pray for the service, so do come and join us at 9.10am/ 11.10am/ 6.10pm to pray beforehand.

In friendship and gratitude,

Richard Bewes

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