A View from the Pew: Intercessory Prayer Ministry in Today’s Church

Note: After 10 years of writing “A View from the Pew,” I will be offering 12 monthly installments in 2024 to round out the collection and end this blog in December. Thank you for reading, and I hope these final expressions are meaningful and helpful.

Intercessory praying, or prayer on behalf of others, used to be an activity church folks did together, but the trend seems to be leaning away from public intercession in favor of praying for people privately.

There has been and probably always will be prayer as a part of worship services, but special services dedicated to prayer appear to be dwindling. Some of this is attributable to churches eliminating Sunday evening services, and the shift in focus of mid-week gatherings. Both are contexts in which I used to participate in prayer with other church members but which I have not experienced in quite some time.

It also has been a few years since I participated in a prayer retreat in which we gathered together for a season of both corporate and private prayer.

The American expression of Christianity has always been more focused on individual piety than shared worship, but my hypothesis is that the lockdown phase of the COVID pandemic, when many churches switched to online worship, has all but killed prayer meetings.

Our church still does a Wednesday night prayer meeting, but many more members receive the prayer list through email than participate in the mid-week service. During the pandemic, my parents’ church started a daily conference call during the week at 10 a.m. for the purpose of prayer. It has continued post-lockdown and is a meaningful time for members to connect and lift each other in prayer.

The pandemic, digitization of prayer requests, conference calls, and Zoom meetings all contributed to this shift in how churches pray together. No matter the form, I contend prayer is the glue that holds churches together, even when they are not physically present with each other.

I’m not here to argue the efficacy or operation of prayer. I do not claim to have a deep understanding of how prayer works. I have experienced the sense of belonging that occurs when I know someone is praying for me or when I hear someone pray for me.

I’ve long joked that prayer request time is just sanctioned gossip, and I’m sure you’ve heard the one about prayer meetings being called “organ recitals” because all anyone ever mentions is physical ailments they or loved ones possess.

Over the years I have lamented this reality less and instead chalked it up to people’s tendency to share with each other and with God whatever feels out of their control. Illness and recovery fall into that category, so naturally we will focus our intercessory prayer in that direction.

The next time you have an opportunity to pray for each other at church, I would encourage you to think holistically about the request to add context. What is prompting this person to mention this situation? How is this issue causing other problems for them? What tangible steps can I take to alleviate their suffering in addition to the spiritual practice of praying for them?

I am a habitual list maker and still value the prayer list as a structure for remembering to pray for people. I would like to develop the discipline that I have only occasionally succeeded at in praying for someone in the moment they come to mind, no matter at what random point in my day it happens.

When I pray for someone or for a situation, it changes my attitude and creates empathy. I am more attuned to their needs and how I can respond no matter the outcome of what I prayed for. Any differences or disagreements are set aside in those moments, replaced by compassion and genuine concern. My relationship with that person is strengthened because of and through prayer.

Our church’s prayer ministry includes sending note cards to those being prayed for. They can be signed or anonymous, but it reinforces the connection and encourages the receiver. I have both sent and received such cards, and it is a blessing on both ends.

The summer vacationing months as attendance at church grows more sporadic is the perfect season to revitalize your prayer practice. Whether together in a room at church or in the quiet of your morning devotions, let prayer lead you into a deeper connection with your sisters and brothers and a greater love for all people.

You and your church will be better for it.

Lance Wallace is a Baptist layperson and member of Parkway Baptist Church in Johns Creek, GA, does higher education marketing and communications at his day job, and blogs at newsouthessays.com.

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