Spiritual Practices for Preaching
Praying for Your Congregation
Prayer is an act of hopeful expectation. Hope is not denial, nor is prayer, but a faithful openness to deeper realities within challenging situations. Often liberal and moderate churches expect too little of God and too little of ourselves, and we get exactly what we expect. When we expect great things of God and ourselves in prayer and active partnerships, great things emerge through the deeper movements of cause and effect. The bumper stickers—"expect a miracle" and "accept a miracle"—remind us that we live in an energetic, lively, and surprising universe. As Christian healer Agnes Sanford affirmed, electricity is all around, we just need to plug into it for the light to shine, and so it is with prayer. This is not magic, nor supernaturalism, but an awakening to the energy of an adventurous God "in whom we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28).
In this spirit, I suggest the following practices for preachers and congregations:
- Make a pastoral commitment to pray for the well-being and vitality of your congregation.
- Make a pastoral commitment to pray for vital, spirit-centered worship. (By "spirit," I mean God's immanent, all-embracing, life-transforming, all-welcoming Holy Spirit.)
- Make a pastoral commitment to pray for "problem persons" as well as advocates: experience God's light surrounding them as you visualize them as God's beloved children.
- Change your professional self-talk from limitation and negativity to abundance and affirmation.
- Invite the congregation's leaders to commit themselves to five minutes of prayer for the congregation and its mission each day.
- Sponsor a series on prayer and spirituality, as complementary with social justice and concern. Help people find a theology of prayer that they can affirm and practices that fit their personality types, theology, and lifestyles.
- Consider starting a service of blessing and healing, grounded in hopeful expectation of God's presence within the "natural" processes of cause and effect.
- Invite the congregation to pray with expectation for God's movements in worship.
- Invite two or three people to focus prayerfully on the worship service—before and after—praying for the preacher, pastoral staff, and other participants, and for God's blessing of the day.
Transformation begins with a simple prayer. The Apostle Paul simply reminded his congregations of his daily prayers for them: "I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ."
God is doing a good work in the church and everyone's lives. God is doing a good work in the preacher's life. Let your congregation know that you are praying for them, that you want their highest good, personally and as a community, and that you are praying that the congregation embody God's vision for it in this time and place. Invite them to join you on the journey. And, anticipate great things in worship, preaching, and service through God's grace.
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty one books, including Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for lectures, workshops, and retreats.