Takeaway: Small group prayer is fundamentally different than individual prayer or pastoral prayers.
Prayer is an important part of the growth of any Christian. Small groups or community groups are a significant part of the discipleship strategy within most churches. Unfortunately, prayer within small groups is not usually given the attention that it needs.
Prayer, more than most spiritual disciplines is something that is caught more than taught. Most people learn to pray either as small children at bed time or by listening to pastors or other church leaders pray in large group setting. Neither of these two styles of prayer lends itself a small group setting well.
Andrew Wheeler, a prayer leader at Willow Creek Church, has the most useful (and frankly only) book on small group prayer I have read. Many parts of it can be adapted to learn about prayer in other settings as well. The end of the book has some thoughts about how prayer in other settings influences our prayer in small group settings.
My experience in group prayer is primarily from International Renewal Ministries’s Pastor Prayer Summits. These gatherings are 3 or 4 day settings without any agenda other than prayer. But the fact that people have agreed to come to 3 or 4 days solely focused on prayer means that those sessions are unlike the standard small group.
I first read this book soon after it was first published. It was then several years before I was in a regular small group. I am re-reading this book to because my wife and I have recently started a new small group and I am increasingly convinced that we need to model prayer that is focused on building community, caring for the people of the group, and inclusive of everyone that is in the group.
The most important suggestion that I carried from IRM is to help people learn build on previous prayer. Pray for healing of someone, then pause and allow someone else to continue that prayer, or if no one feels led to continue to prayer after a brief pause, then the prayer subject can be changed and the same thing happens again. I have been amazed to see how prayers that would not otherwise be prayed, are prayed because the group learns how to ‘agree with one another in prayer’.
Wheeler has different experience in group prayer than IRM, but his practical advice is very useful. If you are a small group leader, I would highly recommend reading this book. One of the best parts of the book is that he frequently uses examples of prayers (both positive and negative) and then talks about why he thinks those prayers would be helpful or problematic within small group prayer times. It is important to remember that setting matters. A prayer that is appropriate by yourself, might not be appropriate from the stage during a worship service or in a small group setting.
There are a number of suggestions that are both useful and practical. The most important, is that expectations are important. Many people come to small groups with very different expectations. While that is true about everything, it is very true about prayer. So the leader’s job is to set expectations. Tell everyone exactly what you want them to do, give boundaries, set time and participation expectations and ask what people want to do. Nothing is more uncomfortable than not knowing what is expected. Another suggestion that is repeated from a couple different tacks is that prayer should be talking to God. If you need to say something about a prayer, or to a person, then it is best to stop praying and address the person, then go back to praying or say it before or after the prayer.
Prayer is in large part an acknowledgement that we are not the ones in charge. So it may be even more important, that in our western, middle class, self-sufficient churches that prayer gets the attention that it needs.
Other Bookwi.se Reviewed Books on Prayer:
- The Meaning of Prayer by Harry Emerson Fosdick
- How to Pray by R A Torrey
- The Power of a Whisper: Hearing God, Having the Guts to Respond by Bill Hybels (Read Again Review)
- A Praying Life by Paul Miller (Read Again Review)
- Beginning to Pray by Anthony Bloom
- Jesus Prayer by Frederica Matthews Green
- Prayer by Richard Foster
- Contemplative Prayer by Thomas Merton
- Sun Stand Still: What Happens When You Dare Ask God for the Impossible by Steven Furtick
- On Earth as It is in Heaven: How the Lord’s Prayer Teaches Us to Prayer More Effectively by Warren Wiersbe
- EM Bounds: Man of Prayer by Lyle Dorsett
- In Constant Prayer by Robert Benson
- Living Prayer: The Lord’s Prayer Alive in You by Dennis Fuqua