One of the main goals of a Life Group at our church is to get to a point where the group members are praying out loud together. For some groups, the idea of group prayer seems far off and unachievable. For other groups, group prayer has become a staple. When it comes to prayer, the role of the leader is two-fold:
- Personal prayer life: To continually develop his or her own prayer life.
- Group prayer: To help cultivate an environment of group prayer.
Personal Prayer Life
The personal prayer life of a leader is one of the most important areas a leader can develop. It’s evident throughout Scripture that prayer is vital for the health of Christians, but often we overlook actually praying. Jesus said: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Having an intimate and intentional relationship with Jesus bears fruit. We must first have this kind of relationship with Jesus before we can lead others there.
Jim Egli has done extensive research on the correlation between a group leader’s prayer life and the health of the group. Egli’s research found that the most important thing a leader can do for his or her group is to pray regularly for group members. Finding opportunities to pray throughout the day can help shape us into prayerful leaders.
A few years ago a friend shared with me that he prays for his group on the way to and from work each day. Rather than listening to the radio or music, he prays for one group member in the morning and a different one in the evening commute. By the time he gets to the end of the week he has prayed for all the members of his group. Since hearing his story, my drive home has become a time for me to pray for my small group. You may find another way to pray throughout the day for your group members. The point is to create space in your life to pray regularly for your group.
What does healthy group prayer look like? Unfortunately, many of the most popular group prayer methods aren’t ideal.
One of the most common prayer methods today is the “lone leader” method. Time is spent sharing prayer requests, the leader writes down the requests, and then the leader prays for the requests. There are several problems with the “lone leader” method:
- Only one person in the group is praying out loud.
- Usually more time is spent discussing the prayer requests than actually praying.
- Prayer requests are given central stage and opportunities to engage in praising God, asking for forgiveness, and thanksgiving are neglected.
Barriers to Healthy Group Prayer
Let’s be honest. Group prayer makes a lot of people nervous or frustrated. If we want to move beyond the “lone leader” method to open prayer, we’ll have to address these barriers. Dan Mancini once wrote about four common barriers to group prayer that I’ve found helpful:
- Group members lack experience with prayer.
- Group prayers lack authenticity and depth.
- Group prayer times lack structure and variety.
- Group members don’t follow up on prayer requests.
All of these contribute to a lack of comfort around prayer. As a group leader it’s your responsibility to help combat this. It often takes time to become comfortable praying out loud with others. Some of this will simply take time. After all, as your group continues to meet, builds trust, and gets to know each other, the comfort level will increase.