For the last two weeks, our church has been doing something that we have never really done before. After the message, we typically would go straight into singing 4-5 songs in response to what we had just heard from God's word. There is a short prayer time for the entire church that takes place as well that leads into the singing. As the music ministry leader I made the decision to add an additional "church prayer" between the corporate prayer time and the music. A short prayer is placed on the screens for the church to pray together and then the music begins. It was very evident to me that this would make some people feel uncomfortable, and I was well aware that as we did this, it could result in nothing more than a monotone, emotionless chant. After hearing some people ask questions about it (which I am very thankful for), I thought it would be good to lay out some reasons why I implemented this as the start to musical worship. First, I want to give a little personal history that may help the discussion.
To begin, I spent my earliest years in the Roman Catholic Church, so speaking in a monotone chant as a congregation is nothing new to me. In fact, I never ever liked it at all. It always seemed so meaningless and obligatory. I never felt any connection to what I was saying and therefore thought the whole thing was just ridiculous. I'm pretty sure the adults around me were thinking the same thing as they went through the motions without any care for what they were actually saying. I mention all of this because it would seem I would be the last person to suggest a "church prayer" for everyone to recite. Didn't I learn as a child how meaningless it was to everyone? Truth be told, after doing it the last two weeks I can hear a voice saying inside of me, "This is wrong. No one likes this. It's meaningless. It's just like when you were a kid." However, I have learned over the years that when I hear or feel things like that, I need to check if they are rational, biblical, or lies from the Enemy.
With that short history in mind, let me throw out why I proposed we attempt this as a church:
1. I had heard of other churches doing this with some success in regards to uniting the body in one prayer. Focusing everyone towards one specific prayer in order to get everyone meditating on the same thing either prior to or after the message. I realize that many churches do this ineffectively & ultimately fail at this, but I will get to why I think this a little later.
2. It serves as a transition from praying as groups to starting the musical part of our worship service. Rather than have the band leader add more preaching to the message that was already preached, or pray a short prayer out loud and then say, "Stand up we are going to sing now," the church prayer has the opportunity to set us all up to sing wholeheartedly and make a joyful noise as a church, not just individually amidst others.
3. It teaches us how to pray through scripture. I once was leading a Bible study and asked the group, "Has anyone here prayed through scripture before?" The response was a unanimous "no". I've found at times that I am often without words, and find myself not knowing what I could possibly pray. Praying through scripture helps in getting us to pray something, and we can know that what we are praying is pure truth. Every prayer that we have read as a church is a bunch of verses put together in one coherent thought. They have actually been taken from Matthew Henry's Method of Prayer which you can check out here. The verse references are added to the bottom of the prayer to show that these are not meaningless words we are saying, but we are praying the word of God back to him. I have also been trying to find prayers that line up with what has been preached to further help us stay focused on what God is trying to teach us.
Now for some important points that will hopefully clear up some things.
1. It was never my intention that everyone would need to pray these prayers aloud. Everyone could pray in their own minds or at a whisper if they wanted. The important thing is what is being prayed, not how many people are saying it out loud.
2. I mentioned above that many churches fail at doing these types of things. I believe that they fail because neither the leaders, nor the body really take to heart what they are saying. A beautiful prayer to God that is intended to build up both the body and bless our Father can instantly turn into monotone, pointless regurgitation of what is written on the screen. However, it isn't that the prayer is bad, but that we have let it become so drab and worthless to us that we say it the way we do. Or, on the other hand, the fear of man is so strong that we don't want to sound like idiots reciting some prayer we've never seen before.
3. This is actually a sub-point to clarification #2. Think of music in the church for a moment. Most people have no problem singing the same songs over and over again throughout the year. These songs are done as a community and yet they can seem so personal. I think that musical worship is "easier" than worshiping through prayer or hearing the preached word. Think about this for a moment. If we read the lyrics that we love so much, the same ones that are so meaningful to us, without any music at all, we would say those same words in a monotone and boring way. The music forces us to respond loudly and emotionally. It does a lot of the work for us because it brings us to a place where we want to participate. Preparing ourselves to hear preaching or for praying as a church out loud or in groups is not nearly as easy. It is a battle. However, uniting in one prayer does not have to sound like reciting lyrics without music, or like a cult with no ability to think on their own. If everyone were to pray out loud the way that they sing & recognize that they are praying to the living God, it would change from a boring reading to a real and authentic cry to our Lord.
Ultimately, reading through a prayer together can be a recipe for disaster, but only if the people involved treat it as nothing more than reading. It could be much more, but then again, if it is something that we don't give much effort to, and continue to not give effort to, or it just never leaves the "this is weird" stage, than it would make sense to remove it & try to accomplish the same goals in another way.
Hopefully this clears up some of the reasons why I added this to the beginning of the music portion of the service, but if not, I'm just an e-mail address away from answering any questions, concerns, or ideas. I am very thankful for the people who have had questions about this already and am grateful for their honesty.