Monday, February 21, 2011

Some brief guidance for intercessors

With a large tip of the hat to Doug, whose 'Leading Common Worship Intercessions' was invaluable.

Firstly, my thanks to you for agreeing to take on this ministry. Prayer is probably the most important element of Christian life as it is the foundation for everything else that we do, and intercessions – which are all about enabling people to pray – are a central element of our gathered worship. So herewith some hints and tips for how to lead intercessions.

Most important, expanding on the above because it is worth emphasising, is this: intercessions are about leading people in prayer, not praying in front of other people. The intercessor must therefore always have in mind the effect that what they say will have on people who are engaged in addressing themselves to God. Anything which distracts the person praying from that process is therefore a mistake. Here are some examples:
  • providing new information, or even giving too much information at all! The intercessions are not the notices, nor are they a television news bulletin;
  • nor are the intercessions a sermon, a place to engage in argument, or even a place to give views – praying for the situation in the Middle East is fine, praying for the Israelis (or Palestinians) to stop being such evil people – this is not fine;
  • if you are quoting a prayer by a famous saint, you don't need to give acknowledgements – simply say the prayer in the way that it was intended;
  • being too long or too wordy, so that the people praying end up thinking about the intercessor rather than about God – keep things as simple as possible. As a general rule ten seconds of silence is more effective than a hundred words;
  • using a complex response which people find difficult to join in with.

So if these are things to avoid, what are the things to do? Firstly, remember that we do not know how to pray, but the Spirit prays through us – in other words, our task is to join in with something that is already going on, that has been going on for thousands of years. When we pray we are jumping into a stream that is already flowing, we don't need to initiate the process. When we pray we are standing on the shoulders of giants.

If you are due to lead the intercessions, take some time to look at the readings set for the day, most especially the gospel lesson, and see if you are inspired to touch on particular themes (and trust your inspiration). Look at the prayer list in the black folder; I would not recommend reading out all the names left on the cross in the porch, but reading out all the names in our community who need praying for (the second list) is good. Catch the news headlines from the day before to see if there are any topical worldly issues that people may wish to bring before God.

Classic patterns (full texts available from Sam)
A five-fold pattern: Church, world, local community, the sick, the dead.
A three-fold pattern: world, church, individuals.
(These are addressed to God)
Bidding prayers (eg 9 Lessons, Good Friday) – these are addressed to the congregation, who pray in the silence and response.
Patterns can be used as a platform from which to jump off creatively, eg to include sung responses.

Suggested reading:
Leading Common Worship Intercessions, Doug Chaplin
Leading Intercessions, Raymond Chapman


  1. Good advice.

    Do you recommend that people write out their prayer? One thing that can be very distracting is when someone is praying off the top of their head and fills their prayers with unnecessary vocatives, projecting clauses and disfluencies: "Lord, I just, um, Lord, we want to pray, Lord, that..."


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.