Though Wednesday nights are typically assigned as a prayer meeting in certain “Baptist” churches, the Sunday morning gathering may contain very little substantial corporate prayer. As a personal observation, there was a time when I dreaded being called on to pray at random by the preacher. The fear did not come because I did not want to pray, but that I was not prepared to pray at that moment. In search for a coherent thought, I would stammer and give the most general of prayers: “Lord, thank you for the message. Help us to obey it. Amen.”
I do think there is a simple way in order to press upon a congregation the importance and power of prayer. One way is to elevate prayer to a key part of the worship service. This can be first exemplified by the pastor since he often has opportunity to pray. Simply taking the time before hand and plan out the opening prayer in stead of allowing it to be an impromptu exercise can go a long way to teaching others to pray. Church history is full of men who wrote prayers: the contemporary church can learn a lot from those prayers and perhaps even write its own.
A second way to encourage good corporate prayer is by taking out the element of surprise. Some churches call on men and women of the church to offer up prayers. Often this is done impromptu and the person who is called on to pray may not have been prepared to pray at that time and offer up a well meaning but distracted prayer. Perhaps the worship leader can let the person who will be offering the prayer know a week ahead of time. One practice that was helpful in one church I attended as a teenager was that the scripture reading for that service was assigned prior to the actual reading. The negative side was that the assignment was only about 10 minutes before the reading, but it’s a good step none the less.
If churches are serious about the place of prayer – a proposition that I believe and accept but have not articulated here – they will take the time to think ahead and plan out the place of prayer in the service. We know that Sunday is just around the corner and that prayers will be made – should’t we be prepared for them?
Bryan Chapel in his book Christ Centered Worship give a good overview of the philosophy of worship, but he concludes with historical models of worship liturgy used by ancient and contemporary Christianity. One of the values of studying the liturgy of the past is that knowing the reason behind a liturgy actually aids in the worship of the believer. This does not necessarily need to be done didactically through a class on liturgy. Rather, a body can teach the reasons for its own liturgy by using the liturgy as its own self-documenting service.
For example, one can walk through the Luthern liturgy and explain each element of the service, but a Luthern service is typically laid out so that each element describes what is happening.
One missing aspect in the liturgy of some conservative churches is a well thought out and logical liturgy that does more than just lead up to the “preaching” time. Thoughtful liturgy is an incredible teaching tool for the edification of the body if churches will take the time to think though it.
The churches I have in mind which have a weak liturgy are minimalist in regards to worship: only those things explicitly demanded by scripture are suitable for corporate worship. Though not a bad starting point, these churches tend to downplay some aspects of worship since how explicit does something have to be in Scripture before it is acceptable?
Corporate pray, as an example, is a lost art in many conservative congregations. I actually cannot remember the last time a prepared prayer was read before the congregation that thoughtfully praised God for all his worth in clear, concise, and understandably deep language. Paul, wrote out his prayers to the churches he corresponded with: reading Paul’s letters is perhaps the closest some get to a corporate prayer!
My point is not about prayer – perhaps I’ll write a post about that later. My point is that a good liturgy teaches while it leads the congregation into fellowship with God. Prayers, music, songs, readings, and sermons are all elements of liturgy, but they way they are stung together to lead to a fuller understanding of God’s revelation of Himself is the practical value of a liturgy.
Perhaps we need to rethink through how three songs, a couple prayers, and a sermon leads us into fellowship with our Savior.