1. Prepare. Some traditions use set prayers. Others rely on extemporaneous prayers. Both have their place. But I believe what our congregations need most are studied prayers. These prayers may or may not be read, but will be thought through ahead of time. Public prayer is often boring because little thought is put into it. There’s no training for it, no effort put it into it. An hour or two is not too long to spend in preparing a long, pastoral prayer.

2. Use forms with freedom. Learn from The Valley of Vision or Hughes Oliphant Old or the Book of Common Prayer. But suit their prayers to your own purposes. The Didache, after laying down set prayers for Communion, also allows “the prophets to give thanks however they wish.”

3. Pray Scripture. Don’t just ask God for what we want. Let him teach us what we should want.

4. Don’t footnote. Spurgeon: “It is not necessary in prayer to string a selection of texts of Scripture together, and quote David, and Daniel, and Job, and Paul, and Peter, and every other body, under the title of ‘thy servant of old.’” The Lord already knows who said everything so don’t tell him again in your prayers.

5. Leave the preaching for the sermon. Don’t exhort. Don’t explain texts. Don’t unpack complex theology. Spurgeon again: “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.”

6. Share some details of congregational life, but not all.
A good shepherd will often mention by name various sheep that need special care. But don’t try to cover every engagement in the last three months or surreptitiously announce the youth retreat in your prayer (“Lord, be with our young people gathering this Friday at 5:00pm with their Bibles and a sleeping bag…”). Spurgeon one more time: “As I have said before, there is no need to make the public prayer a gazette of the week’s events, or a register of the births, deaths, and marriages of your people, but the general moments that have taken place in the congregation should be noted by the minister’s careful heart.”

7. Pray so that others can follow you easily. The goal is edification (1 Cor. 14:17). So don’t let your sentences get too long, too flowery, too ornate. If you write out your prayers, write for the ear not for the eye. On the other hand, don’t use distracting colloquialisms like, “Lord, you’re so sweet.”

8. Keep it relatively brief. Better to be too short than too long. Five minutes is plenty in most North American churches. Seven to ten minutes is possible is you are experienced and have trained your people well.

9. Remember you are praying with and on behalf of others.
Use “we” and “our” (like in the Lord’s Prayer). This is not the time to confess your personal sins or recount your personal experiences.

10. Order your prayer. Make sure there is a flow and direction. Don’t get too wordy. Keep a good pace. It often makes sense to work from the inside out, praying first for concerns of the congregation and then moving out to the community, the global church, and the world.

11. Beware of verbal ticks. For example: popping your p’s, smacking your lips, sighing, ums, mindless repetition of the divine name, unnecessary use of the word “just” and “like,” an over-reliance on the phrase “we pray” or “we would pray” instead of simply praying.

12. Show proper reverence, confidence, and emotion. Pray like you mean it, like God is God, and as if he really hears us.

13. Pray before you pray. Ask God for help as you prepare. Ask him for humility and grace as you go up to pray.

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Comments:


21 thoughts on “Thirteen Tips for Leading the Congregation in Prayer”

  1. Michael C. says:

    #11 was really on my mind and is something I’ve done in my private prayer life to really focus more on praying! It’s like those worship songs that speak of how we will eventually worship God… just not right now.

  2. Fantastic list! Being a new, young preacher I’ve been thinking about this very issue, especially with regard to writing out prayers as opposed to uttering them extemporaneously. I hoped that it wasn’t ‘weird’ that I outlined many of my prayers ahead of time. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Great list, Kevin. This is an area where I think many pastors (myself most certainly included) could definitely do better. Thanks for the shared wisdom.

  4. jeremiah johnson says:

    Perhaps this would help too.

    To say prayers in a decent, delicate way is not heavy work. But to pray really, to pray till hell feels the ponderous stroke, to pray till the iron gates of difficulty are opened, till the mountains of obstacles are removed, till the mists are exhaled and the clouds are lifted, and the sunshine of a cloudless day brightens-this is hard work, but it is God’s work, and man’s best labor. – E. M. Bounds

  5. Really helpful, Kevin, thanks. I’ve archived it.

    …mindless repetition of the divine name…

    This is extremely important. It’s better to say “Um,” than to say “Lord,” when you mean, “Um.” When I was a young Christian, a friend of mine used to repeat “Heavenly-Father-Lord” every 5 seconds or so. Not only did it drive me nuts, but it made me wonder if he could be saying that sincerely every time.

  6. Blaine Moore says:

    Excellent and important! A pet peeve of mine is to hear a preacher re-preach his sermon in the closing prayer :) – also the mindless, repetitive verbal ticks you mentioned. We don’t do those kinds of things when speaking face to face with another person – it would be preposterous! “So Jim, I’ve come into your garage, Jim, to ask you, Jim, if I could borrow your lawnmower, Jim my neighbor, if you would let me.”

  7. Larry says:

    #11 especially! I’ve never understood why everything we ask of God must be prefixed with “just”. Lord we just ask you to bless us today. :-)

  8. Curtis says:

    VERY helpful and immediately useful. Thank you.

    In what work of Spurgeon’s did you locate those quotes?

  9. Kevin DeYoung says:

    The Spurgeon quotes are from Lectures to My Students, the chapter on public prayer.

  10. I appreciate this list. For me, Matthew Henry’s “Method for Prayer” (http://www.matthewhenry.org) is an invaluable resource in preparing for prayer.

  11. I appreciate this list. For me, Matthew Henry’s “Method for Prayer” (http://www.matthewhenry.org) is an invaluable resource in preparing for prayer.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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