For some reason, doing prayer well in Growth Groups/Bible Study groups is really hard: even the most high-performing all-star groups find prayer a challenge. Time pressures, distractibility and, letâ€™s face it, our sinful hearts combined with a dozen other factors mean that we rarely get the most out of praying together in groups. But thereâ€™s no point getting discouraged about it. Prayer is not something to give up on! Hereâ€™s a few ideas that I hope will encourage and refresh you as you pray in groups.
The main driver for a healthy group prayer life is conviction about the value of prayer. The Bible gives us many reasons to pray: itâ€™s a privilege to be able to approach our heavenly Father (Deut 4:7, Luke 11:1-4); prayer is made possible by the sacrifice of Jesus, our great high priest (Heb 10:19-22); and praying is something we are commanded to do (1 Thess 5:17). You can read more about these reasons, along with a deeper theology of prayer, in Prayer and the Voice of God.
The factor that I find particularly motivating for Growth Group prayer is that prayer expresses our dependence on God for growth. It drives out self-reliance! Paul demonstrates this in Ephesians 1:16-17: even though Paul is Godâ€™s great apostle to the Gentiles, equipped with the spiritual gifts of teaching, he prays to God for growth in his readers: â€œI do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of himâ€. So if Paul thinks prayer is necessary for good things to happen, how much more should we be praying!
So if we are convicted of the value of prayer, how can we improve the prayer life of our groups? Here are three ideas.
The first thing is to give up on the dream of always smoothly integrating prayer into the group time. Being smooth is for jazz musicians, not Growth Group leaders! Growth Groups should be ready to drop into the hard work of prayer, no matter how clunky it feels. If Epaphras â€˜wrestledâ€™ in prayer for the Colossians (Col 4:12), we should expect prayer in groups to be difficult and even somewhat awkward.
Secondly, try a variety of prayer strategies and techniques. Hereâ€™s a few:
1. Vary when you pray. Praying at the start of the study can catch people when theyâ€™re fresher. Praying at different points during the study can be a jolting reminder of the power and value of prayer. Praying at the end gives people a chance to pray in response to Godâ€™s word with thanksgiving or a God-centred request.
2. Pray sometimes as a big group and sometimes in pairs or triplets. Keep these small groups fixed or mix them up each time. Keeping them fixed promotes deeper trust and sharing, but mixing them up allows you to pray personally with different members of your group over the term.
3. Donâ€™t share prayer points for some weeks. Instead, bring a plan for something on Godâ€™s agenda youâ€™d like the group to pray for. This could mean praying for peopleâ€™s evangelistic contacts, praying for ministries and leaders in your church, or praying for missionaries youâ€™re partnering with.
4. Try prayer diaries, emails or closed social media groups to promote ongoing prayer for each other during the week.
Thirdly, we need to pay attention to our own prayer lives. A wise pastor once told me that the best way to get people praying in Growth Groups was to be praying myself in my own time. All of us struggle with this, but I believe itâ€™s true: if we pray and are growing in prayer ourselves, somehow that will rub off on the group and benefit them.
So donâ€™t be discouraged that praying in your group is hard. Every group finds it hard! Remember your convictions, give up on the idea that it will be smooth, and try what you can to get it going. God loves to answer prayer, and we can be confident that good things will happen if we pray together.
~ Richard Sweatman