Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
Most who pray publicly do so extemporaneously.
As an example and one from whom we can learn much, I commend Thomas Cranmer’s collected and written prayers known as Collects.
Though I am not mandating we move towards written prayers, I am encouraging us to think about the form and content of what we pray corporately. We not only manifest what we believe but we model our response to God through prayer. There is something to the statement: “lex orandi, lex credenda,” What we pray reflects what we believe. (Some add lex vivendi, so that it means, “how we worship reflects what we believe and how we live”.)
A Collect is both a “gathering of the people together” and also “‘collecting up’ of the petitions of individual members of the congregation into one prayer.” More specifically, “A Collect is a short prayer that asks ‘for one thing only’ and is peculiar to the liturgies of the Western Churches. It is also a literary form (an art comparable to the sonnet) usually, but not always, consisting of five parts.” (From C. Frederick Barbee and Paul F. M. Zahl, The Collects of Thomas Cranmer [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999], ix-xi).
For an example, consider the Collect for Purity (Communion).
Tim Keller learned a great deal about praying publicly from reading Thomas Cranmer’s collected written prayers known as Collects. In fact, from the form/structure used by Cranmer, Keller began to follow a similar format as he considered his own public praying, which generally consists of the five parts listed above.
Evangelicals often conclude that extemporaneous prayers are more godly and spiritual than written prayers. There certainly is a place for extemporaneous praying. But it is not the only kind/type of prayer. In particular, when the people of God gather during a corporate worship service, it is worthwhile to give careful thought and prayer to the corporate prayer during the service. Written prayers can be dead, but so can extemporaneous prayers. Both can also be living and full of life and truth. The written prayer helps you to be purposeful and intentional in your praying. We certainly don’t expect the pastor to preach the sermon extemporaneously, neither should be approach corporate prayer any differently.
One of the ways I helped pastoral interns in this area is that I asked them to write out their prayers when they would pray corporately during the worship service. It was not a discipline that was necessary/required to do always for the rest of one’s pastoral ministry days. But it is a good discipline to learn to think through the prayer so that it is centered on God in all his Trinitarian fullness, faithful to the Scriptures, and pastorally sensitive to the people. That ought to remain central in one’s pastoral prayers, whether or not they are written out.
Cranmer’s outline/structure for prayer has been instructive and helpful for me personally, and in how I think through modelling for others corporate prayer.
A few questions: