In our attempt to be more efficient and due to our commitment to the clock, we often trim things from the services that should be guarded and insert things that have no place in the worship service. At least, that’s my personal opinion as I survey church worship services while traveling and reevaluate our own worship service back home. When trimming things from your own worship service in order to become more efficient, could I make one plea? Don’t take away the pastoral prayer.
I’ve witnessed people in the church become angry because someone moved a particular piece of church furniture or because a guest unknowingly sat in their typical seat on Sunday. I know how this looks and feels from the perspective of a pastor, but I’d like to put out a request to guard the pastoral prayer and keep it secure in the life of the weekly worship service. In fact, an argument could be made that we don’t need less praying—if anything, we need more praying in our worship.
Defining the Pastoral Prayer
To pray is to communicate with God, but there are different types of prayer. There is a time and place for private prayer, family prayer, and corporate prayer with the church. In Geneva back in the sixteenth-century, John Calvin led his church to incorporate the invocation, a prayer of confession, prayers of illumination (before and after the sermon), and a pastoral prayer. These public prayer times in the life of the church are important. For the sake of this article, we will focus on the pastoral prayer.
The pastoral prayer is the moment in which the pastor leads the people before the throne of grace, and seeks to prepare the congregation for worship. A working definition of the pastoral prayer is as follows:
The public and intentional prayer led by the pastor-teacher in effort to praise our Trinitarian God, intercede for the church’s sin, and a public petition for the church’s immediate needs.
This intentional time of worship in prayer should be well thought out, prepared beforehand, and it should avoid the use of filler words, repetitive phrases, cliches, and “spiritual” sounding vocabulary.
Important Elements of the Pastoral Prayer
A pastoral prayer must be pastoral. It should go without saying, but a responsibility to pray for the people and to lead the church in prayer is something that should be carried out with respect, humility, and responsibility. D. A. Carson writes:
In the last century the great English preacher Charles Spurgeon did not mind sharing his pulpit: others sometimes preached in his home church even when he was present. But when it came to the “pastoral prayer,” if he was present, he reserved that part of the service for himself. This decision did not arise out of any priestly conviction that his prayers were more efficacious than others. Rather, it arose from his love for his people, his high view of prayer, his conviction that public prayer should not only intercede with God but also instruct and edify and encourage the saints. 
From that statement, I take the following list of elements:
- Pastoral Sensitivity and Affection
To pray well is a constant battle for the Christian, and to pray in public well takes time and specific intentionality. The pastor who offers the pastoral prayer must be careful not to ramble and to fill up the prayer with filler words. In English class back in high school we often used filler words to meet the minimum length of the assigned paper. When praying, and especially praying in public, we need to refrain from such practices. George Muller once wrote the following, “Our prayer meetings have been a blessing to us and united us more than ever in the work.”  He wasn’t writing about the public prayer meeting or the pastoral prayer, but Muller understood the importance of prayer and he led his orphan ministry to the throne of grace daily. It’s one thing for a pastor to preach well, but if he is not leading the church to the throne in prayer, his preaching will likely fall on deaf ears.
- D. A. Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His prayers, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1992), 34-35.
- George Muller, The Autobiography of George Muller, (New Kensington, PA, Whitaker House, 1984), 127.