By Scott Patty
The church is a place of prayer (Romans 12:12, I Thessalonians 5:17). As a pastor, you can use your influence to teach and encourage people to pray. Here are some ideas for teaching people to pray that can easily be incorporated into your worship service and your church schedule.
1) Always have an opportunity for people to pray and be prayed for when they come to Sunday worship.
Several years ago I realized that people who come to our church and need prayer had no way of knowing who to ask or where to go. We established a time and place for people to be prayed for and we communicate it every Sunday in our worship service. It works for us to have prayer teams available to people at the end of the worship service. This is simple, effective, and puts prayer high on the priority list for our members each week.
2) Use the pastoral prayer with purpose.
A man told me that the pastoral prayer at his church was for the worship team to transition off the stage before the sermon. That’s not the purpose I have in mind. Use this prayer to really pray and to teach people to pray. It may take a little time for people to grow accustomed to a five to seven minute pastoral prayer, but given the opportunity they will. In fact, they will love it.
In your pastoral prayer lead the congregation through the various aspects of prayer; praise and thanksgiving, confession of sin, remembering gospel promises, petition and intercession. Pray for applications of the sermon text. Pray for the general categories of need represented by the people seated in front of you. Pray about big cultural issues at times when they are already being highlighted (Sanctity of Life Sunday, Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church). Pray for government leaders and about major events happening in your city or in the world. Pray for other churches and for missionaries. Pray for church members as they go to work, school, and serve in the community. Pray for the unconverted and for the evangelism efforts of your members. Allow for 30 seconds of silence so people can formulate their own prayers.
You may not be able to cover all of these categories of prayer in a given week, but if you make the pastoral prayer a significant part of your worship service, over time you will teach people to pray.
3) Pray with people on the spot.
I confess that when people approach me on Sundays and ask me to pray for them, I often forget to do so. I have started praying with them, then and there.
4) “Pray off” people.
This is a term we use when we pray for people who are leaving for a mission trip, moving away from our city, or are engaged in some other form of ministry that is out of the ordinary. We do this at the end of our worship service. It takes two minutes to call someone to the front, tell the congregation where they are going, and pray for them during the final prayer of the service.
5) Have prayer request cards for people each week.
Once turned in, these requests can be given to elders, deacons, church staff, and prayer teams. If you do this, you will want to include a note on the card that tells people who will see their request.
6) Make prayer a part of Sunday school or small groups.
You don’t have to change the schedule or call for a special prayer meeting. Include prayer in the groups that already meet. One of our Sunday school classes has a class host who emails the requests to the class members and keeps everyone updated on the requests. Our Community Groups make prayer a major part of our mutual discipleship and our evangelism efforts beyond the groups.
7) Hold prayer gatherings.
We decided to use 5th Sundays for an evening prayer meeting. Along with a prayer theme for each gathering, we include an opportunity for people to be prayed for regarding sin struggles, sicknesses, job and financial needs, and other needs.
8) Invite people to the elder and/or deacon meetings for prayer.
When people are in a crisis, life transition, or making a major decision, we let them know they are welcome to join the elders for prayer. We find much joy in taking 20 minutes out of a four-hour elder meeting to shepherd a member through prayer. And, we are teaching people to pray.
9) Ask people to pray.
Above all, give church members the opportunity to pray. Ask them to pray for each other, for the church, and for the kingdom and glory of God to spread in your city and beyond.
Use the pastoral influence you have, in your own way, in your own place, to teach and lead people to pray.
Scott Patty is the founding pastor of Grace Community Church, in Nashville, TN. Before he began Grace in 1993, he served as a youth pastor for ten years. He was raised in Nashville and came to faith in Christ as a high school student. He graduated from Belmont University in 1985 and Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1989. Scott is married to Beth and has two married daughters, Emily and Hannah.