Charles Olsen notes that we often bookend church meetings with perfunctory invocations and benedictions. He suggests that if we redefine activity of the people of God serving on church boards as worshipful work, then prayer will no longer be relegated to a book-end position; instead, it will saturate the agenda and thread its way throughout the meeting.
Frame the Agenda with Prayer
Use opening and closing prayers that relate to the agenda of the meeting. The invocation might focus on the image of God and create an openness to and awareness of the Spirit’s presence and leading. The closing prayer might be a thankful offertory for the work of the meeting—lifted to God.
Glean for Prayer
At the beginning of a meeting, you might assign four people to keep notes with an eye toward separating out items for prayer. (They do not record the decisions being made. That is the task of the recording secretary.)
Offer Prayers of Confession
Naming “how things really are” and “what is left undone” are healthy processes for a board, but by themselves they can bind and paralyze it; the board needs to have a safe place to work through these issues.
Often discussion and discourse are anything but harmonious. Singing together models the harmony to which they aspire. The presence of wonder and mystery in music also helps break up the framework of most meetings by adding some “grace notes.”
Time-out for Prayer
After twenty minutes of debate and discussion over an issue on which people seem divided, the egos take over. Some deliberative groups have found value in taking three to five minutes of silent “time out” for personal refocusing and prayer.
At the beginning of the meeting, assign each person to a certain fifteen-minute segment of the meeting; during that assigned time, members should pray silently for each person in the group and for the deliberative process in which the board is engaged.
Draw upon Model Prayers in Scripture
Olsen suggests using some of the models of prayer offered in Scripture such as using the Psalms, the Lord's Prayer. He also suggests that prayer is modeled in various parts of the New Testament such as Jesus’s prayer for his friends and disciples (John 17) and Paul’s heartfelt prayer of thanksgiving for his friends (Phil. 1:3–11).
Acknowledge Subliminal Prayer
Prayer may be ceaseless and subliminal, even when we engage in active work or deliberation. Such prayer plays just below the conscious level. The old desert saints wanted to pray without ceasing, so they attached the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me, a sinner”) to the rising and falling of their breath. For a while the breath carries the prayer. Then in a mystical moment the prayer carries the breath without one’s thinking about it!
Meetings Are Worship
Resistance to infusing the work of a board with prayer tends to come from the conviction that “there is a place for everything and everything should be in its place”—that worship belongs to Sunday and sanctuary and prayer belongs to worship. But an inspirational moment in a meeting does wonders in loosening the strings of resistance, and those inspirational moments will come once worshipful work is attempted. Let the only rule be “meetings are worship.” All else will flow to and from that fountain. Then we can drink from its fullness!
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