I once heard Jack Hayford say “how can we expect people to pray at home if we don’t expect them to pray at church?” This is a really good question that makes a really good point. If people don’t see and experience heartfelt, genuine, authentic prayer on a Sunday morning, then the odds of them feeling comfortable praying at home, or with their family, are very low.
You may not realize this, but whenever you (or anyone else) pray into a microphone on a Sunday morning, all of the “normal people” in the room are taking notes. Probably not actual notes on a piece of paper, but mental notes. And they don’t even realize they’re doing it. They’re studying how you pray, what you pray most often, how your voice sounds, if you sound like you’re faking it, if you sound like you’re comfortable, etc.
Feel nervous yet? If you don’t, you should. It’s a big responsibility to pray publicly, simply because you are shaping how the people in the pews are going to pray privately.
If I could make one suggestion to worship leaders (myself included) and pastors about praying publicly, it would be this: pray like a normal person.
Yes, make sure you keep in mind which person of the Trinity you’re addressing. Yes, make sure you don’t meander and wander and say “um” or the infamous “Father God” five thousand times. Yes, make sure your prayer makes sense. Pray carefully. But don’t pray robotically.
The normal people in your congregation can tell when, for some reason, you raise your pitch when you pray as if you’re talking to a baby. Or if you get really breathy as if you’re in a library and don’t want to get dirty looks. They can tell when you’re using words you don’t normally use. And all of this not-normalness contributes to them not feeling like they can try it at home.
Step one: use your normal voice. Step two: use your normal vocabulary. Step three: don’t think too hard. Just pray, even if it’s a bit messy, just pray from your heart. Step four: keep it short and sweet and to the point. Step five: do not, under any circumstance, assume a faux-British accent.
Model careful, heartfelt, authentic, normal prayer to your congregation. They’re taking notes.