There are four prayer streams in the life of the people of God that are critical.
- The congregation gathered in and for prayer. Not preaching. Not teaching or training, but in prayer.
- Smaller prayer groups. Not the entire congregation gathered, but slices of church life gathered for prayer. For example, at the heart of every ministry and group in the congregation, there should be a developing prayer culture. To isolate prayer by framing it as ‘prayer ministry’ and placing it there; having youth and children, men and women, singles and seniors, a dozen other ministries here, all undergirded by the prayer ministry there – is fatal error. To assign prayer to a few, even a significant but detached team is to attempt to use prayer as a kind of engine for church ministries, and yet, separate from them. That makes prayer pragmatic, utilitarian, and that is a flawed equation. Every ministry, to be New Testament, is to be humbly dependent on God in prayer. At their heart, must be a culture of God’s Presence, of holiness and humility and that necessitates prayer. The goal is to press prayer into the seams of congregational life. If church activities and ministries are to be animated by the breath of God, they must be praying ministries – the Spirit is breath and prayer is breathing.
- The family altar. Currently, only 5 to 8 percent of Christian homes have anything resembling a family altar. That must change. If prayer is foreign to daily life, we declare to ourselves and our children, that we have learned to live without family gatherings in which God is at the center of our lives and activities, our daily relationships, in a formal and openly affirming manner. God must not be ignored. Our children, having learned from us to live without engaging God in an intentional manner six days a week, soon forego the seventh – not continuing church attendance as adults. Tozer bluntly declared, “If you will not worship God seven days a week, you do not worship Him on one day a week.”
- Personal prayer. Daily prayer. Relentless praying. John and Charles Wesley, when traveling together, had the habit of rising early to spend time with God, and then meeting together, often for an hour or more, before they began their day. Spurgeon would rise early for personal prayer, and then gather his family for prayer before they met the day.
Without personal prayer, without family altars, without small groups in which we are all active in prayer, the corporate prayer gathering lacks the roots that cause it to flourish. Yet, without the corporate prayer meeting, that models prayer, that offers teaching prayer experiences that become templates for personal, family and small group praying, the other corollary elements don’t develop. Each feeds the other, and none can replace another. They are interdependent. The most conspicuous of the four is the corporate prayer meeting, the congregation gathered for prayer. Without these, church is a ceremony, not a celebration of lives lived out God’s Presence.
Welsh pastor, Geoffrey Thomas, asserted, “There is no way that those who neglect secret worship can know communion with God in the public services of the Lord’s Day!” D. A. Carson notes, “The person who prays more in public reveals that he is less interested in God’s approval than in human praise. Not piety but a reputation for piety is his concern.”
We are not to go to church to worship, but to go worshipping – out of a life of worship. The form of corporate worship feeds the informal – confession, praise, offering, preaching, prayer, the reading of the Scriptures, repenting, professing, singing, sharing, the bread and the cup, baptism, the blessing. All these feed the personal, informal daily prayer times; and they in turn, feed the public.
This blog is part of The Praying Church Handbook – Volume III – Pastor and the Congregation which can be purchased at alivepublications.org>
 Geoffrey Thomas, “Worship in Spirit,” The Banner of Truth, August-September, 1987, p. 8.
 D. A. Carson, Matthew, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 12 volumes (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), 8:165.