The Pastoral Prayer: Don't Ditch It! Don't Wing It!

Pastoral Prayer

Brothers and sisters,

Greetings in the name of the Great Shepherd who loves the church and gave Himself for her. This week we get to hear from Brad Somers, who was prompted in his thoughts by our National President, Steve Jones. The topic is pastoral prayer.

The Pastoral Prayer: Don’t Ditch It! Don’t Wing It!

Every Church has a way of leading its congregation in worship. Every Church has a liturgy, whether they call it that or not. Every part of the Church’s liturgy teaches our people something. A good question is, what is our liturgy teaching our congregation?

An all-but-forgotten aspect of the liturgy that most non-traditional churches have gotten away from is the Pastoral Prayer. I confess that I have only recently, in the last four years, seen the pastoral prayer (prayer of supplication) as a valuable part of our liturgy as a young church plant. I am still growing in how to use this critical time in our worship service to best equip and encourage the variety of people who attend.

Church History supports the Pastoral Prayer 

When John Calvin pastored in Geneva, his liturgy for worship, including the pastoral prayer, followed the examples of older pastors like Zwingli and Farel [1], who had already bee leading reform in Switzerland. These reformers, including Luther, were reaching all the way back to St. Chrysostom. [2]

What they sought to define and pass on to other pastors and churches is what theologians call the Regulative Principle. This principle sought to narrow down what the Bible prescribes for the true expression of worship in the true Church of Christ. [3]

C. H. Spurgeon, who our tradition holds as the true godfather of modern Baptists, believed in the regulative principle the English Puritans sought to follow in their worship. For Spurgeon, this included prayer, pastoral prayer, congregational singing, Scripture reading, preaching, and the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. [4] More specifically, regarding the Pastoral prayer, Spurgeon saw this as of utmost importance for pastoring and teaching his congregation.

D. A. Carson helps us when he writes, “Public praying is a responsibility as well as a privilege. In the last century, the great English preacher Charles Spurgeon did not mind sharing his pulpit; others sometimes preached in his home church even when he was present. But when he came to the ‘pastoral prayer,’ if he was present, he reserved that part of the service for himself. This decision did not arise out of any priestly conviction that his prayers were more efficacious than those of others. Rather, it arose from his love for his people, his high view of prayer, his conviction that public praying should not only intercede with God but also instruct and edify and encourage the saints.” [5]

The All-Time Greatest Pastoral Prayer

One of the most helpful thoughts for pastors is to see how Christ placed such importance on praying for the sheep that were and would be under His care. A slow and prayerful read through John 17 before outlining the weekly Pastoral prayer is an invaluable way to see the flock entrusted to us from the eyes of the Great Shepherd. In this way, we can see that we enjoy joining our prayers with Christ’s prayers for His people.

Some Suggestions On How TO and NOT to use the Pastoral Prayer

As mentioned above, I am still learning to do this well. In my formative years, what passed for the pastoral prayer was a prayer right before taking up the offering. Even then, it wasn’t what I would call a pastoral prayer. Quite often, a timid deacon or usher was asked in the spur of the moment if they would pray for the offering and the people.

Here are a few simple suggestions to move your pastoral prayer to a meaningful expression of Christ’s heart for His people and our world:

  • Pray through John 17 each week as you prepare a pastoral prayer for your congregation. Ask God’s Spirit for insight to join your prayers with Christ’s prayers for his church.

  • Pray to God. Your prayer is not to the people. It will serve as a tool to teach them how to come to God in true supplication for others. With this in mind, there is no need to teach God about principles from His word as you pray. He already knows. Don’t use your pastoral prayer to add a second micro sermon to the congregation.

  • Start with Thanksgiving. It is a great mercy that God pursues, loves and cares for us. Be genuinely overwhelmed by this with your church body.

  • Pray the heartbeat of the scriptures. I would suggest using the focus theme of the sermon or the sermon series God has led you to preach that Sunday. Even pray specific verses from that week’s text. All scripture is profitable for the maturing of your congregation. I suggest avoiding different teaching elements during the prayer times that might be good but do not have the heartbeat of the scripture texts you teach that Sunday. If, at every point during the worship service, the congregation is given one more point of application outside of the text, however true, it tends to overwhelm and dull the impact made in the preached text for that week. Teach those who lead worship and prayers to stick to the text’s focus.

  • Start by making much of the small and move to make much of the world. Find ways to cry out for the people right in front of you. Don’t forget to pray for the kids in your congregation. Anytime I have been intentional about this, I have heard from both kids and parents that it was meaningful for them. Include specific prayer requests for the needs of your flock. Move out to your town, city, and region.

  • Pray regularly through a list of sister churches or churches that preach a clear gospel. Pray for their elders, pastors or leaders by name.

  • Pray for a visitation of God in your community broader. For revival and that God would give for your inheritance the lost around you and your people.

  • Pray for the issues of the day that both cause your people to delight and to be overwhelmed. The world is marked by heartbreak and tragedy. We also hear of victories or healings that can be celebrated before God. Do not ignore these powerful moments to teach the flock how to rejoice and weep as they turn to a Sovereign God.

  • I would suggest that you either write out or point-form your prayer. Either way, it should not be too wooden and should give us the freedom to pray to the God who delights to hear the requests of his people. When I take an hour or so in the week to write out or point-form my prayer, it helps me not be repetitive and allows me to be creative as to how I weave the text’s theme through the various parts of the prayer.

  • Work to keep it concise, another good reason to at least have an outline. 3 to 5 minutes can be challenging for a modern-day congregation to concentrate on prayer. Unless they are used to it, 7-10 mins will lose them entirely.

Long prayers either consist of repetitions, or else of unnecessary explanations which God does not require; or else they degenerate into downright preachings so that there is no difference between the praying and the preaching, except that in the one the minister has his eyes shut, and in the other, he keeps them open. It is not necessary in prayer to rehearse the Westminster Assembly’s Catechism. - C.H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students

This free resource of Spurgeon’s pastoral prayers has been inspirational as I try to gain a clear footing on caring for and teaching my young Church in prayer: Spurgeon’s Prayers Personalized

I would love to hear about your experience and the benefits of the pastoral prayer at your Church. Drop me a comment or a note.

Brad Somers

Foot Notes:

  1. Roots of Reformed Worsip Article

  2. Divine Liturgy of St. Chrysostom

  3. The Regulative Priniciple

  4. John Calvin’s Order of Worship

  5. Spurgeon, The Art of Pastoring

  6. D.A. Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers.

  7. Bonus footnote: resource of Spurgeon’s teaching on the Pastoral Prayer of Jesus

1 Comment

Very helpful thoughts, Brad!

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