Encouraging God's people to pray is one of the pastor's most trying jobs. Three reasons exist for why this is so.
First, pastors often approach this difficulty mechanically. We find a passage on praying, talk about how God desires us to be praying, then tell people to get to praying. Then we get discouraged over the lack of response. We need to recognize the problem is not in making known the duty. Every Christian knows he should pray. Simply urging the church to pray more usually results in condemnation about our prayer life rather than consecration in this holy duty.
Another great struggle in praying, as one of my mentors regularly reminds me, is scheduling it. We simply do not make it the priority it should be. Sadly, the church does not always help its folks in this regard. Often the church has one weekly, corporate prayer meeting that can conflict with the full schedules of its members.
A third obstacle to prayer is that the motivation to sacrifice our own interests to pray is usually lacking. Note how when crisis strikes, people more naturally pray. Yet in seasons of congregational comfort, prayer usually lags in intensity. E.M. Bounds says, “Prayer is the oral expression of desire. The deeper the desire, the stronger the prayer.” Pastors must help the congregation recognize existing spiritual needs that call us to prayer.
So how can we overcome these obstacles and help stir one another up in prayer? One means I have learned from others and used over the years, with last night being the most recent, is to introduce the idea of Prayer Societies.
Simply put, a Prayer Society is a group of two or more people meeting for prayer at their own arrangement for a specific purpose and agreed upon duration of time. During periods where prayer is needed, be it new initiatives, financial crisis, spiritual malaise, or, in the case of our congregation, a combination of church expansion, a pastoral search, and an upcoming evangelistic outreach, having a season where groups of people are meeting in voluntary prayer times is encouraging and exciting.
To organize the societies, we encouraged people in the following ways.
- A society could consist of some men meeting before work, women walking and spending time together in prayer, young people gathering before or after a church service, etc.
- One person should be designated as the coordinator with other members listed.
- The society would meet at least once monthly during the designated time of prayer.
- A specific purpose or theme for prayer should be selected. Examples would be “Personal Holiness,” “Evangelism of the Lost,” “Church Unity,” etc.
- A commitment would be made to meet regularly, with 15 minutes or more devoted exclusively to prayer.
- A short time of Scripture reading, quotation, or singing of a psalm could be done at the beginning and/or close of the time to give direction and a sense of God’s promise.
To further help, we handed out to the congregation these Prayer Society Sheets (linked here for an example) and asked them to hand a form in identifying their group. This not only encourages the leadership in knowing the groups that are praying, but develops the congregation's sense of accountability to one another in praying.
I have witnessed many encouragements from these societies over the years. Yet perhaps none have been as touching as seeing teenagers and even younger children finding a quiet room in the church with their friends and pleading together voluntarily for the kingdom.