The Elements of Public Worship
Part I – PRAYER
“Offering prayer in public is an aspect of leading in worship that deserves focused attention. Because the Lord’s Day worship service is a public service, the prayers in these services are of necessity public… this means that public prayer will differ from private prayer in both its subject matter and its aim. Namely, public prayer must edify the public. Prayers offered in public are audible not silent, and must be intelligible because they aim at not personal but public edification. Their purpose is to bless both God and the congregation. There are two audiences, one on earth and one in heaven. This is precisely the apostle Paul’s point in 1 Cor. 14:14-19. … Public prayer, while addressed to God, is for public edification and instruction. It is another kind of pulpit speech, closely related to preaching.”
– Terry Johnson, The Pastor’s Public Ministry
Next to preaching, prayer is the most important aspect of our worship unto God. The book of Acts bears eloquent testimony to the central role of prayer in the early church. We read in Acts 1:14 that the first thing the early church did after the ascension of Christ was to be joined together constantly in prayer. A little later on we read the following list of things that the Apostolic church was devoted to doing; preaching, teaching, fellowship, prayer and communion (Acts 3:1). We are even told that the primary duties of the Elders of the church are “prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4).
This central importance of Prayer in the Apostolic church was reflected in the worship of the Puritans, our forefathers in the faith, who would sometimes pray for an hour or more in the public worship of God. What may amaze us is that their congregations experienced this aspect of their ministry as a great blessing, rather than a cause for weariness or boredom. By contrast, the public prayer of the evangelical church today has dwindled away to almost nothing, with some churches cutting them from their services entirely. If we desire to experience all the abundant blessings and grace of God, then nothing is more needful than a revival of our public and private prayers.
I’ll be discussing both pulpit prayer and prayer meetings in other posts, but I do want to recommend one book in particular that will be tremendously helpful to Pastors and elders in learning how to pray as part of their public ministry: Samuel Miller’s Thoughts on Public Prayer, and in particular the practical and biblically sound advice he gives in chapters 4 through 6. I will be quoting copiously from this work in particular. If you are the type who has the patience to read in electronic format, the book has actually been scanned in its entirety by Google Books and is available as a FREE PDF download here.