For many who grew up in the church, nothing is more terrifying than being asked to pray in public. Whether it is praying at a family meal, in a Bible study, or even in front of your church, corporate prayer can be daunting. Perhaps you feel this way because you think you will embarrass yourself or aren’t quite sure what to say.
When I was in 10th grade, my youth minister invited me to stand before the congregation and share my testimony after a week of cross-cultural ministry. Reluctantly, I agreed. I spent hours preparing to share my testimony, I spent very little time even considering how I might pray in front of the congregation.
As I stood before the congregation with trembling hands and a shaky microphone, filler words permeated my prayer. While I was thankful for the opportunity to share my testimony and pray before the congregation, I was embarrassed by the way words such as “um” and “like” followed nearly every word. I knew I should have prepared better, but I wasn’t sure where to start.
In Praying in Public: A Guidebook for Prayer in Corporate Worship, Pat Quinn lays out seven biblical principles that guide corporate prayer. The topic of corporate prayer has been a common discussion among evangelical leaders in the past few years.
Quinn builds on the foundation of other writers and explores the way public prayer has been expressed throughout church history. From early works such as the Apostles’ Creed and 5th-century Latin liturgies to the writings of John Calvin and Martin Luther all the way to the Puritan classic, Arthur Bennett’s The Valley of Vision, and contemporary works, Quinn engages with the diverse, rich liturgical tradition of Christianity.
Framework for Public Prayer
In this new book, Quinn aims to provide readers with a biblical framework and several examples of public prayer.
At its core, his framework for corporate prayer carefully and intentionally teaches the congregation to pray. In each chapter in the first half, he helps churches instruct their members to see public prayer as a formative practice rather than a transitionary period between worship sets.
In Quinn’s mind, congregational prayer should be taken as seriously as the time of worshiping through song or preaching. He rightly points out that Jesus himself teaches the disciples to pray by praying. Quinn argues that churches should treat public prayer as a tool to instruct the congregation.
He fills the second half with examples of prayers his congregation has written. The result is a beautiful collection of prayers for our time.
Quinn’s Praying in Public comes alongside the tradition of Thomas Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer and Bennett’s Valley of Vision in its potential to affect churches for generations to come. While the older prayers Quinn leans on are foundational to our understanding of public prayer in the church, the modern spin on liturgical prayers reveals corporate prayer as an accessible and relatable way to unify believers as they worship the triune God.
Instructing the Congregation
To develop these kinds of prayers in our churches, we must rely on Quinn’s seven principles. Many of them will seem obvious to evangelical Christians. From reverence in prayer to the familiar model of adoration, confession, and supplication, most of Quinn’s ideas are familiar.
Trinitarian and well-prepared prayers are also foundational to Quinn’s argument, but these principles are often ignored or even frowned on in the modern church.
Emphasizing the importance of Trinitarian prayers, Quinn leans on the old saying, “We pray to the Father, through the Son, by the power of the Spirit.” Quinn rightly takes a step further to remind readers that “This is not simply a formula to follow, it is the natural movement of a mind instructed in gospel truth and a heart enflamed by the gospel of grace.”
Focusing on the Trinity, we can pray with a right understanding of God as he describes himself in Scripture. We worship a God who is triune, and it would be wrong to ignore that.
Should We Prepare Public Prayer?
The idea of preparing a prayer may seem antithetical to some evangelicals, but Quinn argues that “effective public prayer is well-prepared prayer.” This is an interesting proposal alongside Matthew 6:7: “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.”
Quinn also draws on 2 Timothy 2:15 to argue for preparing public prayers: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”
At first glance, these two verses may seem at odds. Yet, in order to rightly understand and practice congregational prayer, we must recognize that these verses together present a biblical vision for prepared prayer. This type of prayer must not be empty or full of meaningless words, but should come from the heart and rightly handle God’s Word. Prepared public prayers facilitate true worship, allowing prayer to flow cohesively from the heart.
Two Ways to Enjoy This Book
While Quinn provides a helpful framework for approaching congregational prayer, this book is filled with beautiful prayers that instruct believers how to pray.
As you read, learn how to instruct your congregation. Quinn provides helpful principles that will help you write better prayers for corporate worship. Consider writing down these principles and using them next time you lead your congregation in prayer.
I encourage you to read the second half twice. It can be tempting to skim, grab a few helpful principles, and move on, but this book has more to offer. Consider slowing down and praying through each prayer in the next few months. You—and your congregation—will benefit.