How To Lead Prayer – Encouragement and Tips for the Beginner

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A note to all of you men that are experienced in leading worship: You should know that the young men and new converts are in awe of you. They don’t know how you can be asked at a moment’s notice and be ready to lead a prayer. All they know is that if THEY are asked they will melt into a pool of fright. They think that you must have a special talent from God. And they KNOW that they don’t have it.

I’ve been on both sides. I’ve been the scared-to-death, cotton-in-the-mouth, jelly-legged, brain-blocked young man trying to utter a prayer that made sense and now I’m one of those who can be asked on a moment’s notice and not break into a cold sweat. I’m not saying that the congregation says, “Wow” when I’m done, but I can do a credible job. Do I have a special talent from God? No, I’m afraid not. My history doesn’t bear that out. Did I have special training? No, it was all on the job training.

I don’t have a clear memory of the first time I led a prayer, just impressions. Those impressions are of fear, failure and shame. I was baptized when I was fifteen or so and I was big for my age (near six feet and over 200 pounds). This is all just to say, I know what you’re going through, I’ve been there. I’ve felt the dread, the sweaty palms, all of it.

What can I say to help you get through it? There are things you need to understand before you stand to lead a congregation in prayer.

No one expects you to be a Bible scholar at this point. Are you afraid you’ll say something wrong? You will say something wrong at some point. If not, you do have a gift from God. Just keep the prayer simple and from the heart and if someone comes and points out a misunderstanding you may have that was revealed in your prayer, thank them for pointing it out and go on. You won’t be the first nor will you be the last.

The congregation is grateful that you have the courage to lead. This is most sharply felt in very small congregations. Picture a Wednesday night when five women and one man make it to Bible study. If the preacher was one that didn’t make it (it’s happened to me) then the service is led by someone who may not be proficient at all (or any) of the things that need to be done. I’ve heard sincere gratitude expressed to the man who put duty before his personal comfort. He led the prayers, and the songs, and he did some Bible readings, maybe for the first time. Even if he did some things badly the ladies made him think he prayed like Elijah, sang like David, and read like Ezra. The idea is that the congregation isn’t waiting for you to slip up so they can titter at you. They are grateful that you stood when called upon.

No one expects you to lead prayer like an elder or a preacher. Elders and preachers have led hundreds, maybe thousands of prayers. Don’t try to sound like someone else and don’t worry that your prayer is not long enough. Try not to frame thy prayer in the language of King James unless thou art truly acquainted with it. In the future, if you become acquainted with it, and you truly feel that using it is the most reverent way to approach God then by all means do so. Just don’t feel that it is a requirement to be heard by God. Simple and modern is just fine.

The following are some recommendations I give to men who express to me that they don’t feel prepared when it comes to public prayer:

Pray at home. In order to train to pray publicly you’ll need to stop saying quiet prayers within your mind. You’ll need to verbalize. This forces thoughts to become words. When you pray privately at home, verbalize. When you pray alone in your car, verbalize. When you pray at the dinner table, verbalize. Use words and be careful with your diction.

If you’re in a small Bible class let the teacher know that you could use opportunities before a smaller group.

Study prayer to know what God would have us to be concerned with in prayer. Too many men learn to lead prayer solely by the examples of those whom they have heard pray. You should go to the source. You should ask what God would have us pray about. God has specific concerns for which we should pray. These include the spread of the kingdom, the holiness of Christians, the forgiveness of sins, praising God, thanking God and making petition for personal needs. Get out a Bible concordance and look up the words “pray,” “prayer,” “prayed,” “praying,” etc. and you’ll begin to get a good idea of what God’s concerns are. Pray about those.

Pray for those things appropriate at the moment. When you lead prayer, don’t feel obligated to include everything that might be God’s concern in every opportunity for prayer. An opening prayer should include things that a closing prayer does not and vice versa. Prayers at the beginning of a Bible class should not be just like a prayer before a meal. Prayers at the Lord’s table should be about the element about to be served.

Forget about making yourself look good or sound good. Conversely, forget about not making yourself look like an idiot (which is what beginners usually fret about). Put your mind on God, on His grace, His mercy, His holiness.

It’s a privilege to lead the Lord’s people in prayer. It is humbling and faith-building. More men should prepare themselves to do it. More men should accept the responsibility. Zero men become preachers who don’t lead public prayer. Zero men become deacons who don’t lead public prayer. Zero men become elders who don’t lead public prayer. As a Christian man it is a necessary step in your Christian development. You can do it.

See also How to Pray

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14 Responses to “How To Lead Prayer – Encouragement and Tips for the Beginner”

  1. Linda Kaiser says:

    I am trying to encourage my sisters to offer the prayer during our ladies’ Bible class. May I take your article and change it to reflect what women should do when preparing to pray before other women?
    I think you offer some great advice.
    Thanks, Linda Kaiser, Clearfield Utah

  2. I had thought about the ladies who need to learn to pray publicly at ladies’ Bible class and ladies’ days and such. Much of the article would apply to the ladies as well. You may quote my article but I encourage you to write your own for the sisters.

  3. […] G.E. Watkins has a great article for those who are facing the challenge of leading a public prayer. I don’t have a clear memory of the first time I led a prayer, just impressions. Those impressions … […]

  4. Danny Gordon says:

    When I am called upon to lead a prayer I just pray from the heart. My father always told me that a prayer from the heart is pleasing to God. So to all first timers just letit come from the heart and you will be ok. A tip though is to not let a prayer sound rehearsed or let it sound as if it was pre-written.

  5. Clint P. says:

    I like your last point. It’s not a speech, it’s a conversation with God.

  6. James says:

    I really enjoyed this, being on the drama team at church, I’ve always struggled at saying my prayers from the thought of them not being good enough even, when they came from the heart.Please keep up the good work.

  7. marvin g. says:

    really think GOD for someone having the vision to do something like this for the new converts and the unexperienced brothers in the church. keep up the good work brother

  8. JAIPAUL says:

    dear brother

    its verymuch useful subject for not only beginers and also all brother of youth, who have will to do gods work and going backward due to fear of heart to stand.

    Thank Q very much to given wounderful lesson to stand and these lesson big support to every one who ever preach gospel

    your brother in christ
    Jaipaul

  9. John David Wright says:

    Bro.Watkins,

    I make an effort to use good sound commentaries as I prepare primarily expository sermons. One series that I gain a lot of help from are those prepared by brother Bob Winton. I have his CD downloaded on my computer.

    Do you know of other commentaries similar to his that I could purchase and download on my computer?

    Also, can you email me some web sites to go to for searching for good helpful illustrations. I fill my sermons with many verses, but I like to have a few good illustrations. They are hard and time consuming for me to find.

    Do you have any suggestions?

    Thank You Sincerely,

    John David Wright

  10. this helps me a whole lot thank you

  11. Damon Burkley says:

    this helps thank you and bless you

  12. Summer says:

    thank you, It’s difficult to find anything on tips for public prayer for 1st timers. I would love to find some sample prayers just to help me get my words going. My fear is not finding the right words.

    • The right words are your words from your heart. When you lead you’re not there to impress people. You’re there to lead them and to speak to God. God wants YOUR words from YOUR heart.

  13. NixManes says:

    And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. -Matthew 6:5-8

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