How to Pray Aloud in a Group

Megan Hill

In 2012, researchers at the University of Nebraska-Omaha asked 815 college students to identify their three greatest fears. Far more than they feared heights, flying, deep water, and even death, the students feared “speaking before a group.”

If public speaking is the general population’s greatest fear, public praying very well may be its Christian equivalent. And this fear is not restricted to ordinarily timid people. Even leaders sometimes have trouble leading in prayer.

Stonewall Jackson’s Story

According to S.C. Gwynne’s Rebel Yell, Stonewall Jackson’s pastor once urged more congregation members to lead in prayer during the church prayer meeting. Afterward, Jackson went to see him, explaining to the pastor his fear of praying publicly. “But,” Jackson said, “if you think it my duty, then I shall waive my reluctance and make the effort to lead in prayer, however painful it might be.”

At the next meeting, the pastor called on Jackson. His prayer was “faltering, agonizing, [and] cringe-inducing.” For several weeks, the pastor didn’t ask him to pray again, not wanting to subject Jackson to what was obviously an ordeal.

So Jackson went back to see him. “My comfort or discomfort is not the question,” he protested. “If it is my duty to lead in prayer, then I must persevere in it until I learn to do it aright, and I wish you to discard all consideration for my feelings.” From then on, Jackson doggedly continued to lead in prayer, and, though Gwynne reports that he was never eloquent, he managed to become competent.

When it comes to praying out loud in a group, we must begin where Jackson did. In order to gain competence in public prayer, we have to know what we are doing and be convinced that it is an opportunity for our joy and the good of others. Only then will we be constrained to practice until we “learn to do it aright.”

What We Do

What are we doing when we pray publicly? Whether we are praying at a church prayer meeting, a time of family worship with our children, or a gathering at the bedside of a sick and suffering Christian sister, our task is to express to God the unified desire of everyone in the room.