Progressive Churching: On Group Prayer (Rock, Paper, Scissors)
(This post is a continuation of my Progressive Churching series;observations from the front-lines of curating a Progressive Christian Church)
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The Prayer Circle
One of the most common occurrences in the church world I grew up in was the prayer-time at either the beginning or the end. I'm talking about the "going around the circle and sharing prayer requests, then going back around the circle while everyone prays for said prayer requests."
These moments would often simultaneously encourage me and raise my anxiety. On the plus side, you were able to bring something to a group of people and receive prayer, support, and encouragement. You were also able to receive insights from other people about what was going on in their lives.
The downsides... no, that's too harsh... the potential trappings of this sort of group experience can often neutralize the positive effects. For instance, there's the girl who takes for - e - ver in telling her story related to her prayer request. There's the guy who solicits prayer for a neighbor's co-worker's friend's aunt who got pneumonia. There's the guy who blatantly overshares something about a friend of his which verges on (if it isn't outright) gossip, but it's veiled under "concern."
Then, during the actual prayer time, there's all sorts of other potential trappings, like the guy who prays a novel (*guilty*), or when you open it up for others to pray and nobody else does... because, well, praying out loud is terrifying for most people!
So, while these sorts of group prayer sessions can be wonderful and valuable and community building, they're not without risk.
When we started Sojourn Grace Collective we were (and remain) insistently mindful about building in to the DNA of this place a culture of the "small-church-feel." Now, fortunately we are a small church (just under 100 people), but in the event that ever changes we want to bring with us some of the things that connect us to our roots as an organic movement of people who started a house church together.
As mentioned above, the group prayer circles can be impactful moments of relational connectivity, but it just didn't seem to be something that would resonate with our particular faith community (not to mention all the potential trappings). So I got to thinking, what is a way that we can still accomplish the value of praying for one another, in a corporate environment, for the sakes of connectivity and community, but not suffer the unfortunate parts of it or make it feel forced?
Which led me to developing what I call Rock, Paper, Scissors Prayer.
Rock, Paper, Scissors Prayer
The idea is this. As a group, not everyone knows everyone's name all the time, but the way we configure our seating everyone can see everyone. So during the 4-5 minutes we allot for Rock, Paper, Scissors Prayer, I invite everyone to hold up one of three symbols.
If you would like people to see you and pray for some relationship in your life (spouse, parents, friends, co-workers, etc) then hold up a Rock.
If you would like prayers for stuff going on at work, or need prayer to help find work, hold up Paper.
And if you'd just like prayer for your internal self, the burdens and heaviness you carry, or if you're feeling pained and wounded, or if you're just not doing well, hold up Scissors.
Then, while everyone holds up a symbol (or, as some people have started doing, holding up BOTH hands with two symbols!) we silently pray for one another. Some people keep their eyes open and just slowly gaze around the room, praying as they go. Others will look up, find one person and identify their symbol, and then close their eyes to pray. I like to look around and find all the people who are holding up the same symbol I am, and pray for them. Sometimes you know their name, sometimes not. But you can at least connect their face with some sort of category in their life that they are vulnerably sharing with everyone else.
The result has been beautiful. It has provided meaningful space for our church to pray for one another and to receive prayer. It's not uncommon for conversations to strike up after church as people reflect back and offer specifics to their prayer requests. As a Pastor, too, now I have insight in to how to pray for our people during the week.
So if you lead a church or organization, big or small, that meets regularly and you're looking for a fresh take on the practice of corporate prayer, try out the Rock, Paper, Scissors Prayer. I don't have it trademarked yet, so go for it. ;)