|HOME - Leading Intercessions in Worship|
|ARTICLE:||LEADING INTERCESSIONS IN WORSHIP|
|OUTLINE:||PART I - Understanding Worship and Public Intercessions and their relationship|
|2. Worship Explained|
|3. The 'Direction' of Intercession|
|4. Public Intercessions Differ from Private|
|5. The Role of Silence|
|PART II - The Structure, Style, and Language of Public Intercession|
|6. What to Avoid!|
|7. The Structure of Public Intercessions|
|8. The Style of Intercessions|
|9. The Language of Intercessions|
|10. The Length of Public Intercessions|
|11. The Context of Your Intercessions|
|PART III - Practical Points about Lists, Scripts and Speaking|
|12. The Use of Intercession Lists|
|13. Script, Notes, or Off-The-Cuff?|
|14. From Where?|
|15. Speaking Well|
|PART IV - Conclusion and an Appendix on the 'Peace'|
|16. Prayer and Prayer Support|
|18. Appendix: The Peace|
|PART I - Understanding Worship and Public Intercessions and their relationship|
|1. Purpose||(back to top)|
'Would you take the prayers please?' This article is written to help three different sorts of folk:
|2. Worship Explained||(back to top)|
a) The two main 'directions' of worship
Just as natural conversation is two-directional and moves back-and-forth, so natural worship is two-directional and is best described as moving 'up' and 'down'.
Its 'downward' movements are GOD's responses
Its 'upward' movements are OUR responses to GOD
|As you will see, grasping this simple truth has important practical implications for leading public intercessions. Look to see where your ministry of 'intercession' comes in the following two lists.|
GOD responds 'downward' to us using words, silence, actions or things:
WE respond 'upward' to God using the same four ways (words, silence, actions and things):
Good worship is a conversation between God and his gathered people, and goes alternately 'up' and 'down' as each
responds to the other's last item. For example we hear
of God's holiness and respond by acknowledging
our sinfulness; God then responds by declaring
his forgiveness and we respond by giving
This is the natural movement of worship. Just as conversation is a strain when the back-and-forth momentum is lost, so worship is a strain when its up-and-down momentum is lost.
b) The 'horizontal' element of worship
Worship itself needs no 'horizontal' element, but a gathering of people always does. Christian worship, therefore, inevitably has to fit-in at some place in its up-and-down conversation between God and us some 'horizontal' communication between ourselves. You'll be familiar with the sort of things I mean:
We begin our service by singing hymn number 20.
Your prayers are asked for Mrs. Blenkinsop...
We welcome as our guest preacher this morning...
I publish the Banns of Marriage between...
Our congratulations on their Silver Wedding to...
There'll be coffee and biscuits in the hall afterwards.
Such comments, instructions and information are 'horizontal'.
c) The 'forward' element of worship
Worship deals with the past and prepares us for the future. Take 'confession' and 'commissioning' for instance, they would obviously come in that same order as confession deals with the past while commissioning is for the future. The first aim of worship is to meet God, the second is to be sent out by him in the power of his Spirit.
Bear this movement in mind. Note where your intercessions occur, and avoid moving the worship backwards or slowing-up this movement forward.
|3. The 'Direction' of Intercession||(back to top)|
Now we understand worship's up-and-down rhythm, it is obvious that INTERCESSION is
AN 'UPWARD' USE OF WORDS, US TO GOD.
Many neither know this, nor apply it. Grasp it, and it will help you greatly.
INTERCESSIONS ARE NOT MULTI-DIRECTIONAL
Were you ever reprimanded by: Remember who you're talking to? The advice applies here. The following is a parody of a prayer when the intercessor forgets who he/she is talking to, and the 'direction' of intercession is forgotten. The words explode in all directions like an ignited box of fireworks!
Sections (i), (iii) and (v) are addressed to God; (ii) and (iv) to the congregation!
We'll see how it should be done later.
|4. Public Intercessions Differ from Private||(back to top)|
Public prayers are NOT private praying done in public. Public and private praying aloud are so different that the
ability to do one well is no guarantee whatever of success with the other!
At the end of this paragraph is a good private prayer. Its sentiments appear in the Psalms. Apart from it being a private prayer, it has all the merits you would aim for in your public intercessions. The prayer below is -
Oh God! I'm absolutely fed-up! I can't go on. What shall I do?
It is a good and authentic personal prayer, but it would only begin to be an appropriate corporate prayer if the entire congregation felt that way! Public praying is not saying one's private prayers publicly.
|5. The Role of Silence||(back to top)|
You might instinctively want to use silence, or the thought of it might scare you. Either way you need to understand
it a little.
In group worship the up-and-down dialogue is fitted into a pattern into which people enter because it is a corporate affair not a private one. That means that for perhaps an hour, worshippers are expected to go with the flow.
A congregation is a gathering of individuals, and their needs vary. One may need to spend time listening to God, another pouring their heart out to him; one may need healing, another may need to be convicted of sin; and so on. The enormous advantage of silence is that it allows freedom both of direction and content.
While some may think that in silence everything 'stops', in fact a corporate Christian silence should be overflowing with God's activity. (This may come as a surprise to those who have attended prayer-meetings where the expectancy is such that any drying-up of verbal input is regarded as failure!)
Silence coming in corporate worship, as distinct from experienced on a hilltop, comes in a setting that acts as a considerable safeguard against misleading religious impressions.
(See my article DISCERNMENT - TOOL FOR SPIRITUAL SURVIVAL.)
|PART II - The Structure, Style, and Language of Public Intercession|
|6. What To Avoid!||(back to top)|
Here is an example of what to avoid. It shows that good public praying does not come automatically to the sincere.
"And we do just pray on this lovely morning, dear Father, that you would vouchsafe particularly to bless our Ash
Wednesday, no, umm, Maundy Thursday service this coming Thursday evening at, - umm - seven-thirty when John Smith
the vicar, no, Rector, of St. Mary's just up the road is going to preach for us here in the evening. Vouchsafe,
particularly, we beseech you to bless him as he prepares to bless us, particularly as his wife told me last week
when I met her in Sainsbury's that he had a heavy cold, and during the next few days when I know he is so busy and
won't have much time to spare and he's got three funerals, poor man. And we pray, dear Father, that you'd
particularly bless any newcomers we get at that service on Thursday evening, we'd like lots of them. May they come
to know you, well, I mean Jesus, well both of course and the Spirit too."
It is a prayer of great love and caring concern, a personal prayer of deep sincerity, but it is not in its style the
best sort of prayer for public intercessions. It shows why I wrote this article, and why I want to turn in this part
to the Structure, Style, Language and Length of public intercessions.
|7. The Structure of Public Intercessions||(back to top)|
"!D'recbtntaaifruortdueofs" - or to put the same thing in another way -
"Don't be afraid of structure!"
(a) Having structure in public intercessions -
(b) The Lord's Prayer, for example, is brief but very carefully and deliberately structured:
It has something of a 'boomerang' movement.
(c) Avoid moving in two directions at once.
Leave such tricks to stunt pilots and politicians!
Suppose there's been a rail crash just before the service. Many will not have heard about it, but need to know, so there is an 'horizontal' communication to be fitted in. Some would speak to the congregation in the middle of addressing God, thus:
(To God) We ask your blessing, Father, on the train crash casualties
(To worshippers) which took place a short while ago at Waterloo, killing three people.
(To God) Be with those who mourn, those who suffer and those who help
A better solution is for you, or someone else, to address the congregation first -
|When in our prayers we refer to a train crash, one occurred just an hour ago at Waterloo killing three people.|
|And then pray to God thus:|
|We pray for those at Waterloo, for those who suffer, etc...|
As the leading intercessor it is your responsibility to be as up-to-date as possible. It is a horrible experience
to pray for a sick member and to be told after the service 'Oh I thought you'd have known, he died in the night!'
Members of congregations assume everyone in any leadership role has miraculous powers of foreknowledge!
Use your friends, radio, T.V. to keep you in touch until you leave home, and ask some of your fellow worshippers always to alert you before the service to anything you might have missed.
|8. The Style of Intercessions||(back to top)|
Your beliefs and aims will dictate your style.
If you believe you are speaking on behalf of local Christians to your loving heavenly Father, then you will naturally address yourself to God with a style that is clear, straightforward, trusting, relaxed and confident.
Were you to believe, however, that your task is to address and impress the congregation - then your style would be attention-getting, impressive and assertive; ideal for a successful audition but totally wrong for successful worship.
Get your aim right, and your style is likely to be appropriate; misunderstand your task and your style will be wrong.
Because those who stand up and speak during worship are usually teaching us, it is easy to assume that it must also be one aspect of leading intercessions. No! A congregation might indeed learn a lot about God from good praying, but the ministry of intercessors is not to teach. (Nor, I might add, is it to amuse or entertain. Amusement, entertainment and teaching may all have a right place in worship, but they are 'downward' addressing people, not 'upward' addressing God.)
By the way, don't be impressed by the "sincerity" that oozes from politicians on TV prior to an election! Christian sincerity is simply trust in God, it has nothing at all to do with sugar-coating your voice, tone, speech and choice of words. Such "sincerity" is false, self-centred and off-putting. Forget completely about "sounding sincere" - just do it!
|9. The Language of Intercessions||(back to top)|
If your belief and aims are right, your style will be right (see section 8). If your style is straightforward,
trusting, relaxed and confident, then your language should be - but it is worth checking!
We may feel shy, insecure, or scared stiff when we do things in public. We might find ourselves becoming pompous and overblown in our language and style as an unconscious way of covering-up our unease.
I shall deal with whether to pray off-the-cuff (extempore), with notes, or with a script, in section 13. Whichever you opt for, here are some guidelines.
|10. The Length of Public Intercessions||(back to top)|
The full version of the Lord's Prayer lasts no longer than half a minute.
You are diligent to be reading this. Don't let your obvious thoroughness lead you to think that biggest is best. You don't have to make a big show!
A great deal will be happening between the congregation and God both before and after your praying. The whole encounter does not depend on you. All you have to do is to make your particular contribution appropriate.
Forget Hollywood's courtroom dramas! As a Christian intercessor you will not be trying to win a case by clever arguments or passionate appeals to an unreasonable judge regarding people he dislikes! Your task is publicly to express the main children's longing to their loving Father, who knows what you need before you ask him. You cannot, need not and should not cover everything! Do not be so thorough that you turn something that should be a relief and a refreshment into something discouraging and tiring.
Some churches restrict their public intercessor to just two sentences per topic followed by half-a-minute's silence. If you feel this is skimpy, look again at the Lord's Prayer!
I shall consider intercession lists in section 12, but I will say meanwhile that the aim of intercessions is not endlessly to list names you cannot pronounce, of people you do not know, doing jobs you can only guess at, in places of which you are totally ignorant!
|11. The Context of Your Intercessions||(back to top)|
To be appropriate should be your overriding aim. It is necessary to state it because of the tendency to be
inappropriate, whether by wrong language, speaking in the wrong direction, or by insensitivity to the situation.
Your public intercessions are made on behalf of those present. They may be rich or poor, white or coloured, well or
sick, persecuted or free, a handful or a stadium-full. Such factors must influence the language, content and style
of your prayers.
Being appropriate requires sensitivity and flexibility, especially if situations change. If, for example, there's been a national or local tragedy, or the visiting preacher ignores his advertised topic.
As worship is an on-going dialogue, it is absolutely essential that you take note of the 'conversation' that your praying will follow.
|PART III - Practical Points about Lists, Scripts and Speaking|
In this part I shall deal with the use of lists; the use of a script, or notes; where to be, and the mechanics of
|12. The Use of Intercession Lists||(back to top)|
(a) General Lists
These can be useful. Cycles of prayer ensure that we keep aware of aspects of the Christian family and the world that we might otherwise ignore. It helps keep our own lives in perspective. A too-rigid addiction, however, can be inappropriate. If you are scheduled to pray for inner-city work in Birmingham but have a speaker from the Missions to Seamen, pray appropriately on the themes that have naturally arisen, and let the prayer for Birmingham on that day be carried by other Christians. They are guidelines, not tramlines.
Use detailed information selectively. God is capable of answering our prayers about a church without reminding him of the names and ranks of all twenty of its staff!
(b) Sick lists
Prayer for the sick is a topic in itself (see my article HEALING PRAYERS BASED ON SCRIPTURE). Make sure the 'sick list' is up to date! People do recover and also people die. Arrive early enough to find out who has walked off with the list!
There are two categories of folk who can get overlooked: the housebound and those with long-term illness.
How should we pray for them? Always? This might mean that they are named at every service for twenty years! This naturally blunts the importance of their needs in the minds of the congregation. They become like verbal wallpaper, always there, but never noticed.
Never to pray for the housebound or those with long-term illnesses is also inappropriate. Their crisis is never over, and its unending nature may require even more spiritual resources than those whose crises pass. It strikes worshippers as odd if the disabled worshippers they see around them are never publicly prayed for. Those of us with long-term illnesses do not want to be a burden and impose unnecessarily on the prayers of the Christian family, but neither do we want to be left-out altogether.
I would suggest that if numbers are small, then at certain times, (festivals? fifth Sundays? monthly?) some of the long-term ill are prayed for by name. If the numbers are high then one long-term sufferer might be prayed-for each Sunday.
What about the use of names?
|13. Script, Notes, or Off-The-Cuff?||(back to top)|
a) Praying off-the-cuff ('extempore')
My parody of a prayer in section 6, showed what can happen when sincere prayer is made off-the-cuff (extempore). Had it been written it would have been much clearer, much less muddled, much less distracting and less than a quarter of the length.
...and we ask your special blessing on our Maundy evening service and particularly on Mr. Smith as he prepares to speak to us. Help us to welcome newcomers and may they truly encounter you, the Living God.
Muddled praying is most certainly good enough for God who delights when his children share verbally with him. But when we lead public intercessions while we are addressing God, we have to 'take with us' some 5, 25, 50, 200, or 1,000 other people. The style of our speaking needs to be one with which they will identify easily.
When we pray off-the-cuff (extempore) all our thinking has to be done as we go along, hence the usual er's and um's. A British Party-leader when asked what his main strength was gave his reply off-the-cuff: 'Well, er, um, I suppose it might be, er - decisiveness!'
Extempore praying suits the many less-formal Christian occasions, but there are not many who can lead public intercessions well without either notes or script.
b) Writing notes or script
When we write a prayer, however, our thinking can be done before others hear its results! Most of us cannot think clearly and quickly enough to produce straight out of our heads words of the order, precision and clarity that we would produce on paper.
|14. From Where?||(back to top)|
If you pray in front of the congregation and facing them it feels to you and them as if you are talking to them
not talking to God on their behalf.
Often the intercessor is placed in that position unthinkingly simply because there is a microphone handy! But, unlike the proverbial children, intercessors need to be heard, not seen.
There are few churches nowadays who would not have someone able to install a temporary microphone. (But see my comments about speaking in section 15).
Praying from such a wrong place imposes restraint on intercessors not to draw attention to themselves by unnecessary eye-contact, body-language or impressive appearance.
Facing the congregation is also the stance required by T.V. crews when they televise worship, and feel impelled to photograph the action by filling the screen with the intercessor's face.
Try and avoid this inappropriate position if possible. Opt for something that visually indicates what you are doing, by, for instance, standing or kneeling at the head of the congregation, or in the midst of it, and facing the same way as they are. (Unless the building has a seating-pattern of a circus rather than the usual bus-arrangement!)
|15. Speaking Well||(back to top)|
This article would be incomplete were I not to mention something about speaking!
We can all talk well, but few can talk well in public without some guidance.
Note the following
Much speaking in public does not necessarily mean that a person does it well - and there are British Royalty (no names!)to prove it! Being heard is all about breath and projecting the voice.
There is a guaranteed way to reduce breathing and voice-projection to their minimum.
You will have seen it often: hold your script tight to your waist, tuck your chin in and keep your head down. If, in addition, one is nervous, then there's a wonder that any voice can escape at all!
The answer is very simple.
|PART IV - Conclusion and an Appendix on the 'Peace'|
|16. Prayer and Prayer Support||(back to top)|
If your prayers are to be appropriate a spiritual sensitivity is necessary. So arrange things, that you will not
embark on this ministry flustered, angry or unprepared. It might do your leaders good if you protested - or even
refused - whenever you are asked to do it at unreasonably short notice.
In the days preceding, pray for the service, its leadership and those attending. Pray that the Spirit of Jesus would go ahead of you to provide an atmosphere of prayer into which your ministry will flow.
Other members of your Church should be praying for you and your ministry of intercession. Public intercessors in particular ought to find it easy and natural to pray for others who share their ministry - as they know its effort and cost!
|17. Summary||(back to top)|
There's more to Leading Public Intercessions than meets the eye!
Those who are chosen to do it have an important ministry both to God and the worshippers. While we would not expect someone to preach well at very short notice, leading intercessions (like reading and preaching) requires preparation to do really well.
I have tried in this article to provide a thorough grasp of the subject, its aim, and the factors that influence it. I believe that a good understanding of it provides a firm foundation for those who want to do it well or to teach others about this grossly underrated but very important ministry.
|Appendix: The Peace||(back to top)|
The Giving of the Peace is not always a peaceful subject! Understanding its 'direction' can be very helpful; in fact
it has more than one, and this is where the problems lie!
On the surface the Giving of the Peace seems obviously horizontal . This is why, like the notices, it is felt by some to be an intrusion into worship, as we 'greet one another'.
I feel that the real 'direction' of the Peace given and received is not 'horizontal', but in fact, downward. We give God's Peace, not ours. It is a 'downward' act by word, touch and manner. It is not really a 'horizontal' imparting of our own peace or our own affection - we may ourselves have both or neither.
An example of the way the Peace is a spiritual affirmation rather than merely a social encounter was the occasion when an overweight person lacking all self-esteem experienced in the 'Peace' God's acceptance, and found instant healing.
Knowing the main 'downward' directions of the Peace should help those who find it difficult -
|(back to top)|
|Copyright John Richards 2001, but waived for users of www.helpforchristians.co.uk|