Most Christians learn to pray from two sources. First, those who were raised by Christian parents may have learned from them. Sadly, many Christian parents simply don’t have a good handle on prayer themselves, so after their children memorized “God is great, God is good” and “Jesus tender, Shepherd hear me, bless this little lamb tonight”, they’re pretty much left to fend for themselves.

The second source where Christians learn to pray is during church gatherings. Sunday school teachers used to be one of the primary prayer instructors for many, if not most, of us. But the fact is, most Christians have learned to pray watching and listening to…

…their pastor:

God of our fathers and mothers, look upon us with mercy and grace as we come before you with penitent hearts and pensive minds. We are ever mindful that we have grieved your heart in thought, word, and deed. We have left undone that which you have called upon us to accomplish in your name. We have not loved our neighbor as ourselves. And we have not loved You with our whole heart….

Beautiful praying is a good thing. But it is beautiful praying that is the biggest hindrance to our congregants learning to pray effectively. Let’s be honest…who talks like that? Only someone who has written down their words and then read or recite them.

Sure, the psalmists wrote prayers. The prophets wrote prayers. John and Paul wrote prayers. All of them are beautiful and heartfelt. But in their culture, people learned to pray around the table, in the fields, in the marketplace, as well as in the Temple, tabernacle, and synagogue. Prayer was part of the culture.

That’s not so today. Not by a looooong shot. Today, most Christians need to be taught how to pray, else they’ll be like so many of our church leaders when they’re asked to prayer…they’ll squirm and do almost anything to pass that privilege (or ardent task, in their opinion) back to you or anyone else willing to do so.

What’s the solution? I’ve developed a workshop that I take to churches and clergy gatherings. There are a number of different teaching models. Let me share just two of them.

  1. Talk less about what needs to be prayed about and pray more about those needs. So often in small groups and prayer meetings, we ask for “prayer requests.” When we do, invariably there is a lot of talk about prayer needs, but when it comes time to pray about those needs, the time “talking about” dwarfs the “time of” prayer. I no longer ask for prayer requests in these instances. Instead, I simply remind the folks that we’re a nation of priests and each one of us is charged to pray for those in need. If we know of or have a prayer need, we’re tasked with taking that need before God ourselves. Then I pray for those needs I’m aware of and responsible for, and encourage the others to do the same.
  2. Stop writing your pastoral prayer. I know, that violates many worship experts who caution us against sloppy praying. But perhaps our congregants would be less intimidated about praying aloud if we were a little more extemporaneous, transparent, and faltering in our prayers. I no longer blush when my prayers falter. I realize I’m prone to repeat myself when praying about a concern. And, frankly, my prayers aren’t very pretty. But I’ve trained hundreds of people how to pray because the one thing they recognize about my praying is that it’s real, it’s from the heart, and it doesn’t depend on rhetoric, public speaking, or literary skills.

So, pastor, before you write your prayer for Sunday morning, remember…you’re doing more than taking the congregation to the quiet prayer place. You’re also teaching.

Teach them well.