In a culture where the individual is everything, a congregational prayer meeting is perceived simply, as a lot of individuals in the same room praying. Sadly, we are blind to the critical importance of corporate prayer. We fail to see the difference between the individual’s right and privilege of prayer, not to diminish its value or power, and corporate prayer, from the office of the church.
Eugene Peterson lamented,
The single most widespread American misunderstanding of prayer is that it is private. Strictly and biblically speaking, there is no private prayer. Private in its root meaning refers to theft. It is stealing. When we privatize prayer we embezzle the common currency that belongs to all. When we engage in prayer without any desire for or awareness of the comprehensive, inclusive life of the kingdom that is ‘at hand’ in both space and time, we impoverish the social reality that God is bringing to completion.
Peterson concedes that prayer involves the individual, but he asserts,
…it never begins with the individual and it never ends with the individual. We are born into community, we are sustained in community; our words and actions, our being and becoming, either diminish or enhance the community, just as the community either diminishes or enhances us.
In the gospels, we find the model of individual prayer – Jesus, portrayed in prayer, constantly. In the early hours of the day and late at night. Before and after ministry events. Prayer marks His life. He ministers out of these private times of prayer, after being alone with His Father. This is the premier model – Jesus, a man, living in and out of divine collaboration, a God-man partnership, a heaven-earth tandem; a man tuned to heaven who speaks and acts out heaven’s word and will.
In Acts, we meet the church gathered in prayer, corporate prayer. Though there are moments of individual prayer – that is, the personal prayer life of the believer never goes away – the corporate prayer expressions dominate. Corporate prayer provides another dimension. Here is the church gathered, many members, one body with Christ, the Head, now in heaven. This heaven-earth tandem is corporate. It is the reformation of the Old Testament tabernacle community; people who lived under the fire and moved following the cloud. Who camped around the ‘Presence’ of God.
In ancient times, the church sponsored daily corporate prayer called Lauds (Morning Prayer) and Vespers (Evening Prayer). When people lived in small villages with the church at the center of the town, daily corporate prayer gatherings drew the villagers inside for moments to consider God in the midst of their daily lives. These two go together. They complement each the other. Neither is complete without the other; the personal and the corporate. This individual intimacy with God and corporate humility and unity is prayer with the goal of personal transformation and the collective prayer of a people who by such prayerful assemblies, declare their deep dependence on God as His visible community. Through prayer, we are a part of His body on the earth, carrying on His business, engaging in kingdom transactions in His behalf. You can never have a praying church without praying people; and you will never have a prayerless church with praying people.
Scotland pastor, William Still (1911-1997) asserted that the church-wide prayer gathering should be “the tip of the iceberg.” Prayer should be pervasive throughout the life of the church. Without a church-wide prayer meeting, however, the so-called tip of the iceberg, one can almost certainly guarantee that there is little prayer throughout the various organizational layers and operations of the church – a house of prayer.
- This blog is an excerpt from The Praying Church Handbook – Volume III – The Pastor and the Congregation. Purchase today>
- Give a donation to PROJECT PRAY>
Douglas Small is founder and president of Alive Ministries: PROJECT PRAY and he serves in conjunction with a number of other organizations. He is also the creator of the Praying Church Movement and the Prayer Trainer’s Network. However, all views expressed are his own and not the official position of any organization.
 Eugene Peterson, Earth and Altar, 15-16.
 Ibid, 22.
 Philip Graham Ryken, When You Pray: Making the Lord’s Prayer Your Own (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, 2000), 15.