Prayer is essential. Amen? Everyone will quickly agree that prayer is vital to the Christian life. We’d agree that it is important for the individual and for the church. We’d even agree that it should be a part of our group time.
But too often, prayer easily becomes routine, mindless, or functional in all areas of the Christian life. My former pastor would say: “If you can say Amen, say Ouch.”
Prayer, perhaps more so than other disciplines, seems to need regular tune-ups. After putting enough miles through daily routines—the back and forth of life—prayer gets out of alignment. It’s not smooth and natural. It’s noticeably shaky.
Honestly, does prayer for your group feel forced? Does it feel like an obligatory add-on? Is it something you do because everyone knows we’re supposed to?
Here are four ways I’ve experienced group prayer time get out of whack and veer off track:
- Transition Time: Prayer is used almost purely as a way to interrupt the murmuring conversation in the room to signal the start of spiritual things. It is also the way to have the opposite effect at the close of your spiritual time. It’s the church equivalent of the school bell ringing to tell everyone to settle down or to pack up and move on.
- Gossip Time: Prayer requests are thinly disguised gossip. Concern is really criticism. If any actual request is made, it’s often little more than “pray for them.”
- Deflection Time: Prayer requests quickly snowball down family trees and seven degrees of separation as we announce that we know somebody related to somebody who has a physical malady. Other members often pile on to this, adding that they too know somebody with something similar. Nothing personal is shared. Again, if any actual request is made, it’s often little more than “pray for them.”
- Speaking into a Vacuum Time: Prayer requests are voiced by members of the group, yet nobody makes note of them, they’re not prayed for after they are mentioned, and they are not followed up on during the week or at later group meetings.
To be fair, each of these four misalignments of prayer probably started on the right track and sort of wore out without anyone noticing until they became powerless. But once we notice the lack of power coming from this type of “prayer time,” it’s easy enough to adjust our focus and steer our groups back into the way prayer is a true source of power and encouragement.
Let’s revisit where we miss the point above and pull the mindless routines out of the ditches:
- Intentional Focus Time: Prayer can be a wonderful start and finish to your time together—arguably the best way to focus attention on God’s Word, will, and work in the lives of everyone in that moment. Yes, it can serve a practical purpose, but in order to truly have spiritual power, everyone needs to join in agreement with the prayer to focus hearts and minds on receiving and responding to God’s Word. Use this time to draw attention to our dependence on God’s Spirit to reveal truth and empower obedience. Be specific about the day’s focus, needs, and desires.
- Personal Request Time: Intercession is important. This is clear in Scripture. As a way to avoid gossip, deflection, or inaction, it’s helpful to focus this time together on ways the group can immediately intercede for members. It’s also beneficial to pray not only for specific needs but also for specific steps of faith and obedience members feel God is impressing on their hearts, possibly in response to the biblical truth just studied as a group. Even if praying for a close relationship to someone in the group, encourage elaboration on how the group member is feeling and what they can do to minister to the needs being prayed for. Other important needs outside of the group are still welcomed but may be better to email or add to the social media group.
- Active Response Time: Encourage someone to take note of the prayer requests, sharing them with group members through an email or private social media group. Pray specifically in the moment—especially if it is an obviously painful or overwhelming need for an emotional group member. Finally, be sure to not only pray for group members and their needs during the week but also to connect with them through calls, messages, or in person to check on them. Follow up in the next group time for any updates or praises in how God may be working in the situation or even in their own lives through group members actively ministering to others.
The key to all of these is being intentional, focused, personal, and specific.
Three primary benefits should result when prayer is regularly fueling our time together as a group:
- Learning: A true and meaningful experience with God’s Word.
- Application: Clarity, motivation, and accountability for personal obedience and therefore personal growth.
- Relationships: Deeper community develops as people are genuinely cared about, cared for, experience a greater understanding of God’s Word, and are encouraged to walk by faith.
How have you seen prayer as a powerful way to experience God’s work in the lives of your group?
Jeremy Maxfield is a writer and editor for the adult discipleship team in the Lifeway Groups Ministry division. For over 10 years, he has been serving churches through publishing, freelance writing, and pastoral staff positions. Jeremy and his family are actively involved at Fairview Church in Lebanon, TN. Follow him on Twitter: @jrmaxfield.