What’s the Purpose of Your Prayer Meeting?
By Jon Graf
A while ago I was engaged as a consultant by a southern mega-church that wanted to improve as a praying church. In the course of our discussion, the senior pastor shocked me when he said, “I can’t recommend our weekly prayer meeting to many believers.”
About 8-10 people attended the meeting (in this church of 6,000). They were sincere people. But they were all seasoned intercessors who did not know what it meant to pray in a public gathering. They all prayed exactly as they would have in their own prayer closet. They practiced personal prayer in a group setting.
Each one that prayed, would pray for 10-20 minutes, covering everything they could think to cover. And some would do so with emotion that was a little over the top for those around them. Tears and loud sobbing were a part of it. For the normal individual it was downright uncomfortable.
This pastor felt—and rightly so—that the prayer meeting would set less mature pray-ers back, rather than teach and encourage them to participate.
What’s the Purpose?
Asking “what is the purpose of your prayer meeting?” may seem like a silly question. You want to seek God. You want His power, direction, His will to be released through your prayers. You want to see your church become more dependent on Him. What do you mean what’s the purpose of our prayer meeting?
Recently I participated in leading an evening of prayer at a church. It was the culminating event to a conference that had several speakers. The pastor wanted all of us—him, me and the other leader--to each feel free to step to the microphone and lead a section of the prayer time. We did have a little planning for direction ahead of time, but not a lot.
The prayer meeting was fine as prayer meetings go, but something happened that got me thinking about the purpose of a prayer meeting.
At one point in the service the microphone was opened to individuals to come up and pray. At first instruction was given as to some general topics (schools in the area, etc.), but as was typical at prayer meetings it become a mix of topics that were on the hearts of the pray-ers. What struck me was that the intensity of the praying increased. So much so, that soon the prayer meeting became not participatory for all, but it became a spectator event where the congregation watched as only intense intercessors prayed. After a while we got them back into groups to pray on a selected topic and the meeting was participatory for everyone again.
There was nothing really wrong with the meeting but it got me thinking about purpose.
When I go into a church and lead a prayer meeting I have two primary purposes in mind—and neither one has anything to do with seeking God or power, though those are important. I want to show a more dynamic way to conduct a prayer meeting, and I want to do so in a way that will draw in the weakest and most immature pray-er. I do not want to intimidate anyone.
Not all prayer meetings should be or need to have that purpose. Mine do because of what I am trying to accomplish in a church when I speak there. I am trying to get the average pew sitter engaged in prayer.
My point is that a good prayer meeting leader should think about purpose when he or she plans the meeting. What do you want to accomplish with this prayer meeting. Do you want it to be accessible to all, or should it be an outlet for the strongest intercessors to go after God’s heart. If the former, than you have to watch format and passion. If the latter than you can’t worry that you only have five people coming to the prayer meeting.
If you are calling the meeting in order to storm the gates of heaven over a specific situation, than there is no problem with intercessors “cutting loose” and praying strong, bold, emotional, and even long prayers. But if you want to have a prayer gathering that accessible to every level believer in your church, than it needs to be formatted in a way where even the weakest pray-er would feel comfortable there and there is a way in which they could participate. That probably means restricting the length of individual prayers and more prayer in smaller groups.
Many churches try to design their primary prayer meeting so it can be a place where any level believer can learn, participate and experience prayer. This means you do a variety of prayer methods, not sticking to the same format week after week. (Remember people’s prayer styles?) You make sure that people understand proper protocol when praying in a group: short prayers on one topic, have a leader give the prayer subjects, break up how you pray—sometimes in small groups, sometimes as a large group. If you allow the seasoned intercessors cut loose, then soon it will only be them praying at these gatherings.
But churches also recognize the need to have a seasoned team of prayer warriors whom it can call on to pray fervently, with no restrictions, over important issues of deep need. Kind of like a prayer swat team! There are times to let those people free to pray anyway they want. But in most churches the place is not the weekly prayer meeting that is available to all levels of believer. There might be some times when a subject comes up at a regular all-church prayer gathering where you want these warriors to cut loose. That’s okay. Letting them know ahead of time, is great. But if that is not possible, in the midst of the meeting, if you said, “we need our prayer warriors to press in, or cut loose on this issue.” They will.
Even the Apostle Paul recognized different purposes for prayer and levels of intercession. In Colossians he told the believers, “Epaphras . . . is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured” (Colossians 4:12). Here he talked about an intense level of prayer. But in writing to Timothy, he reminded him that “petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving [should] be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:1-4). All levels of prayer, different types of prayer should all be used in praying for the salvation of people. Different types of prayer for different purposes.
What about Multi-Church Prayer?
Understanding a prayer meetings’ purpose is also important when you try to bring churches in a community together to pray. If you have multiple theological streams of intercessors together, you should still ask what’s our primary purpose? If it is unity, then you want to do everything you can to assure that it is formatted to appeal to the most conservative church that was invited. Unity is more important than allowing prayer practices that might make some uncomfortable. You want to bring everyone in.
But if your purpose is something else (and it is perfectly fine to have a different purpose)--say to bring intercessors together to do spiritual warfare over your community--than you may not need to worry about making the meeting comfortable for every possible participant.
Don’t forget to consider these things when you plan your prayer times. Recognize that if the prayer time is geared toward one purpose, than you may not see something you want to see—more people, etc. Also recognize that your prayer meeting will be more effective if you format it with purpose in mind. Also remember that if others don’t share your purpose they can work against you. It might be important to share your purpose with the group so they understand what you are trying to accomplish, and what might be appropriate.
While some of you may be sighing, “I just want to get people to come out to a prayer meeting. Now I have to think about purpose, too?” Don’t feel stress. It really is not that hard. If you want a gathering accessible to all levels, then a few simple principles need to be put in place.
If it is not important to “coddle” to the less mature pray-er, that is perfectly okay. But remember that, like my opening illustration, the gathering will eventually reflect the prayer styles of the most dominant intercessors. Lots of spiritual power can come out of that for your church . . . and that is good.
--Jonathan Graf is the president of the Church Prayer Leaders Network and the Publisher of Prayer Connect magazine. This article is taken from his soon to be released book, Restored Power: Becoming a Praying Church One Tweak at a Time (PrayerShop 2016).