After you’ve spoken for 35-40 minutes, filled the space with words, and then hopefully brought things to a conclusion, what do you say? This is the question that pastors face week after week when they pray after the sermon. Sometimes I transition directly to a song of response, or the Lord’s Supper, but often I wrap up my preaching in prayer and face a couple challenges.
-It is easy to think this prayer is less important than the sermon. Especially after all that goes into sermon preparation if something is going be overlooked or forgotten it is usually this closing prayer.
-As I pause to pray I remember something I meant to say but didn’t and then try to craft my prayer to communicate the missing point.
-The prayer is simply a repetition of the main points of the sermon, with a short, “God teach us these” appended in the last sentence.
-After the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual expenditure of preaching there isn’t much left and the prayer comes with little sense of energy, faith, or hope.
Praying after the sermon: the practice and some patterns
-I came across the advice that a preacher should prepare the introduction and conclusion of the sermon once the primary thrust is known as these are very important in terms of communication. This makes sense and I think I need to include the “concluding prayer in my conclusion preparation.
-As you pray after the sermon there is a shift in audience, as we were speaking primarily to the congregation but now we speak to God. While the teaching continues, as it does every time we pray before people, the emphasis has shifted and the prophet has become the priest.
-There will be continuity, some reiteration, and a place for missed thoughts to come out but only in light of asking God to lead us in his ways. For example if the sermon has laid out three results of a life built on Christ (courage, content, and character) it is appropriate to ask for a firmer foundation in Christ and the resulting practices described in the sermon. Furthermore, if something important is missed in the sermon – say the preacher speaks of the results of a life built on Christ (courage, content, and character) but forgets to connect this to the foundation – it is appropriate to pray that we would never forget our weakness and the necessity of God’s grace in Jesus to enable us. There are different angles which the concluding pray can take that are based out of the sermon but have not been touched upon in the preaching. The concluding prayer could primarily focus on praising God for all that Jesus has done to give us a firm foundation. Or it could focus on confessing our lack of courage, our tendency towards compromise, or our failure as the body of Christ to exhibit Christian character in specific ways. There is an important place for both repetition and innovation in this prayer.
-In the concluding prayer I find that the Holy Spirit leads me in praying along the lines of sermon but in directions that I had not explored or anticipated. Particularly, I find that I’m enabled to pray pastorally, articulating the challenges that the congregation will experience as they try to receive God’s word. If I speak of courage I find myself praying through our fears of rejection, doubts of God’s dependability, and longing for integrity. If I preach about the message of Hope which Jesus and his followers proclaim, I find myself confessing our inability to find the right words, our lack of conviction when we speak, and our halfhearted enthusiasm for the spread of the gospel.
-In praying, I speak as a shepherd of God’s people but also as a sheep. While my preaching will certainly use “we” and “us” there is much more in the praying. I come alongside the congregation and pray for myself, as one of God’s people, in the concluding prayer.
-Lastly, there is an important role for longing and emotion in this prayer. While we must certainly never manufacture or fake emotion, every preacher should experience vulnerability as they take risks in proclaiming God’s, not only putting his truth but also themselves out there. After preaching we should be full of hope for what God will do but also deeply aware of our own inadequacies. Coming before God in prayer is thus full of emotion as we express our heartfelt desire for God’s kingdom to come in the midst of a needy and sinful people.