Kevin DeYoung has an excellent post on leading congregational prayer. I appreciate everything he writes and I do try to follow most of this as much as I can. For instance, I write out most of my congregational prayers. I find that it helps to keep my prayers disciplined and focused. One of the best ways to lose a congregation in public prayer is to begin sermonizing — you’re ostensibly addressing God, but the real target is still the ears of the congregation. This is much easier to do when praying ex tempore, off the cuff. After all, the one big thing on the minister’s mind is the sermon that he just preached. He is a preacher. However, when he prays, he must be a supplicant and intercessor. It can be hard to make that switch. Writing out the prayer before getting on the pulpit makes it easier, at least for me.
We ministers ought always to remember that congregational prayer is challenging for those who are praying with us. The minister has it easiest. He should try to do everything he can to assist the congregation in their participation. Prayer requires focus and it is easier to focus when you are the one speaking the words. If the attention span of a congregation for preaching is limited, how much more do you think their span for a corporate prayer will be limited? I might get some flack for saying this, but I would say that a prayer that goes beyond five minutes is too long. Do that and I’ll bet that you’ve lost at least 75% of the congregation. Didn’t the Lord Jesus have something to say about long prayers? It’s probably not pretentious (I hope not!), but it is unhelpful and will result in the hollowing out of our worship.