Phil Miglioratti @ Reimagine.Network Interviewed Carolyn Carney, Author of
“The Power of Group Prayer: How Intercession Transforms Us and The World”
[This interview is included in the Leadership Lab: Learn The Art of Facilitating Collaborative Prayer or Planning]
"When we learn to intercede with others...
Our hope for change grows
Our prayers are emboldened
We can pray longer with increasing energy and inspiration
We come to understand God differently."
PHIL>>> Carolyn, this statement at the beginning of your book is crucial to understanding why corporate prayer is transformingly different. It seems the key is to reimagine prayer by learning how to pray with others.
CAROLYN>>> Yes! Typically, I don’t believe we have many good models of how to pray effectively with others. Often our examples in church are that of the “pastoral prayer,” where the pastor prays in front of the congregation for 3 or 5 minutes in a monologue. Or in mainline churches, like the Episcopal church, where we have the “Prayers of the People.” Here, one person prays many short paragraphs, interspersed by “Lord, in your mercy…”, to which the people respond, “Hear our prayer.” In both instances, we are together in a room, but I would not say that we are necessarily, praying together.
Another example that I use in the book is one of my first experiences at my church’s Wednesday night prayer meeting. We divided up into same sex small groups. I remember ours had about a dozen women. I’d say now, that was too many to pray effectively together. We all shared prayer requests, which were dutifully written down, ostensibly, so that we could keep praying on our own during the week. When we finished with the sharing of requests, there was not too much time left to pray. One person started and named each request one by one, so that there was not much left to pray for. I do not doubt the sincerity of the woman’s prayer or that she desired God to be at work in each of these situations, but I also think we can do better at praying together than that.
I use this analogy of building a highway through the mountains in the book. Simply put, when you build a highway you have to know what is blocking the highway from going through and remove it, and then bring in what needs to be there in order to have the highway. So, when Paul is looking for a job, we just don’t ask God, “Lord, please give him a job.” We think of all the things that are in the way of Paul getting the job that he wants: short-sightedness, despair, a lack of jobs in his field, being stuck. Then we pray in what we believe Paul may need: a connection, encouragement, imagination, trust that God sees him, etc. A group of four could spend an energizing time praying for Paul’s job, if they used short sentences and added to what the previous person prayed. I call this “praying in agreement,” where we make an audible paragraph together, by one person praying 1-2 sentences, the next person taking something that the first person has prayed a little bit deeper, and the next person doing the same and so on and so forth, until there is a bit of a pause, and then a new subject is brought up.
PHIL>>> Unpack for us what happens when we present our praise and petitions in a group (triad, small group, congregation)...
•Our hope for change grows...
CAROLYN>>> When I pray with other people in a group, and we pray well together, focused on something intentional, I understand that I am not the only person who cares about this, or sees something wrong. My hope grows because I hear other people asking God to work along some of the same lines I have asked God to work.
•Our prayers are emboldened...
CAROLYN>>> Someone recently asked me if I had the gift of faith. I said, “No. In fact, I think I am mostly a pessimist. But when I pray with others, I hear their expressions of faith in God being at work in an area I no nothing about or have long ago given up on. When they pray passionately for something, as I listen to their prayer, something changes in me and my prayers are birthed in a new boldness.
•We can pray longer with increasing energy and inspiration...
CAROLYN>>> OH, this is one of the sweetest things about praying in agreement with other like-hearted followers of Jesus – I can pray for hours!
•We come to understand God differently...
CAROLYN>>>And then after praying, not only am I drawn closer to God, I have a clearer understanding of his activity in the world. I see his grace and generosity, his authority and compassion, his steadfastness and condescension.
PHIL>>> Agree or Disagree: Most prayer meeting formats simply call for individuals to take turns around the circle praying their personal need/fix/want list rather than facilitating a group conversation.
CAROLYN>>> Agreed. And this is why prayer meetings are typically boring to many folks.
"Prayer that transforms is the kind of prayer that helps to move mission forward."
PHIL>>> How does corporate/group praying move mission forward differently than individual intercession?
CAROLYN>>> Corporate/group praying only moves mission forward when mission is the central focus of why the group is gathering together to pray. If the group gathers to pray for individual needs, then mission will not move forward. But if groups gather together and pray the way that I suggest in the book, then I believe mission will move forward.
We don’t like to be told that the way we are praying is wrong. It feels like an insult, because prayer is such a private matter. Well, it is, when we are praying in private! But when we are together as a group, we should pray differently. If a group is gathering together from a particular church, we should not be spending most of our time in prayer concerning ourselves with Aunt Susie’s hip surgery, because Aunt Susie lives a thousand miles away!
What is the role of your church in the community? What could it be? What reach could the church have? These are the things that we need to be praying about and concerning ourselves with when we gather together to pray. It’s not that I don’t care about Aunt Susie, but is there not another place of prayer where I can bring that important request? If the church has one evening a week where we gather together to pray, let’s make good use of that time. And if we do, if we pray with great intention about the mission of the church, then, mission will move forward.
"Praying in agreement is like constructing an audible paragraph together."
PHIL>>> How does a prayer leader introduce then facilitate a conversational style of praying to a group or congregation?
CAROLYN>>> In the book I write this about praying in agreement: A paragraph, of course, is a cohesive group of sentences on one particular theme. Here’s how it works in prayer:
A topic is raised. A number of people should pray on this topic, having each prayer BUILD UPON the previous prayer, as if you were constructing a paragraph. For instance,
- The first person prays, “Lord, make us mindful of your presence tonight, that we might hear your voice and allow you to lead us.”
- Second person prays, “Yes, Lord. We confess our egocentrism and pride, our view that our way is right, that we know the way we should go. We need you to lead us.”
Third person prays, “Lord, the way that seems right to us, leads to death (Prov 14:12). So, we seek your way tonight, we seek your voice tonight. O, lead us, Lord, in the way we should go.”
Every prayer gathering will be helped by seeing praying in agreement as the main means of praying together as a group. Praying this way keeps up the energy and doesn’t allow folks to ramble or dominate. We become more mindful of what others are praying. Since people are praying just a couple of sentences, it is much easier to follow what they are saying. You are saved from having to “pray it all” because you are only praying a sentence or two. Those who are new to praying aloud are rarely intimidated by praying 1-2 sentences. Also, praying this way helps to keep people from being intimidated by the eloquence of a long-winded pray-er. I depend on you to add to my thought. We are unified, we stay engaged, we stay on topic.
PHIL>>> How do these descriptors apply to concerted ('performed together; in cooperation') praying?
- Worship-bred (birthed in worship)
- Spirit-led (yielded to ...)
- Scripture-fed (biblically prompted)
- Corporate-said (agreeing in conversational prayer)
CAROLYN>>> I have not used such a rubric for prayer, but I can see where, in many ways, it follows along with my thinking on group intercession. God invites us into partnering with him in prayer. It helps us to begin our prayer from a place of having God and his nature front and center (worship-bred). We yield to the Spirit as we listen for directives about how to pray. Sometimes the Spirit directs by giving an image, a word, a Scripture. That can led us to pray in a particular way that we had not thought of logically. I have examples of this in the book. Scripture, of course, is critical to feeding intercession. Think even of how many times The Lord’s Prayer has been prayed through the centuries! It is Jesus’ answer to the disciples request to be taught how to pray. Then, lastly, is the agreement of the body of believers in conversational prayer. Here is real unity, oneness of heart and mind and soul.
PHIL>>> One more exhortation or encouragement to equip us to reset how we think about collaborative prayer?
CAROLYN>>> Many churches have a mission statement. No doubt, there was much prayer undertaken when the mission statement was determined. But what prayer has happened around that mission statement recently? Brainstorming around the mission statement – what would the community look like, here in the pews, and outside the church walls, if we were to fully live into that mission statement and then focusing your prayer time on the outworking of that mission statement is a great place to start praying in an effective manner.
PHIL>>> Carolyn, please write a prayer pastors and prayer leaders can use to reimagine praying when "two or three of my followers gather together..." (Matthew 18:20)
CAROLYN>>> Lord, teach us to pray.
NEXT STEPS ~ This interview is included in the Leadership Lab: Learn The Art of Facilitating Collaborative Prayer or Planning
Carolyn Carney is the national director of spiritual formation for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. She has a master of arts in spiritual formation and leadership from Spring Arbor University and serves as a spiritual director and retreat leader. She has led prayer groups and intercessory prayer training for more than thirty-five years. Carolyn lives in Jersey City, New Jersey, with her husband, David, and their exceptional dog, Keeley.
Read her article "2 Simple Ways to Revitalize Your Church with Group Prayer."