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I am married to a pastor of a small SBC church. Every Sunday evening I have a 30-minute prayer time for the ladies of the church. It feels like a disaster! Women ramble on and on with “prayer requests” that really seem to be either gossip or current news events. When it comes time to actually pray, I’m the one who is praying and everyone else is completely silent. Recently, the women were so out of control with talking that they didn’t even notice when I said it was time to pray, so I canceled the prayer meeting until further notice.

I know praying together as sisters couldn’t be a bad thing, but what do I do if it seems like no one else is actually praying? Am I giving up too soon? And just to be clear I’ve tried different “formulas” for the meeting (having specific scriptures that we pray, having a specific theme for the prayer, etc.).

Oh dear sister, I’m so sorry for your frustration! I have led a few ladies’ prayer groups myself, and I know it isn’t easy. If I could offer you one word of encouragement, though – your ladies are showing up! One of my dilemmas was having ladies who didn’t see prayer as important enough to even come to a prayer meeting. You’ve got them there – that’s a huge hurdle that’s out of your way.

But once you’ve got them there, what do you do with this gaggle of gals? Let’s see if we can figure that out together.

A few things I’m surmising from your e-mail:

First, I’m guessing you’re a sweet, younger lady and that at least some of the ladies in your group are 10+ years older than you are. (Even if I’m wrong, I’m going to go with this for a minute because there are probably some ladies reading this who are in that dynamic.)

Trying to lead ladies who are older than you are can be intimidating, especially when you have the added pressure of your husband being the pastor – you want to reflect well upon him and not be the cause of any issues he would have to deal with. If your personality is very easy going and less assertive, that’s going to add to the challenge and result in things like the ladies ignoring you when you say it’s time to start praying.

Another dynamic that’s probably affecting your group is that at least some of the ladies are there mainly because you’re the pastor’s wife, and they either feel a sense of duty to be there or they want to support you with their presence because they love you, or both. Neither of which are bad things, because it’s getting them to show up (and, hey, a little love and support never hurts, right?). But it may mean that prayer isn’t the primary reason some of them are there.

The way you describe the ladies’ talking, behavior, and “prayer requests” leads me to believe that they probably don’t know how to pray in a corporate prayer meeting, especially one that’s not an “organ recital” (all the prayer requests revolve around people who are sick, having surgery, etc.). Sadly, this is pretty typical for SBC churches in my experience.

The extensive conversing may also signal that these ladies are starved for meaningful fellowship with one another.

So taking all of that into consideration, here are a few thoughts I had:

🙏 I think taking a hiatus was a good idea. It will give you time to regroup and reorganize your approach. My counsel would be that as long as you have ladies who are willing to attend, it’s too soon to give up (assuming, of course, that your husband is in agreement with that).

🙏 Set aside a block of time to talk this through with your husband and ask his advice. Just by virtue of being a man, he has a different perspective than you do, and probably has some helpful ideas and suggestions. As your pastor, he likely has additional insight on the ladies in your group, as well as some leadership strategies and experiences that could be beneficial to you.

🙏 When you start the group up again, you might want to consider, if it’s possible, having your husband lead for a couple of months. It’s just a fact of life that people act differently around pastors than they do around others. My guess is that your ladies will sit quietly and attentively for your husband. If you can develop that habit in them over the course of a couple of months, it will be easier for you to step in with more confidence and assertiveness when you resume leading the group.

🙏 Find an older godly lady who has experience teaching and leading women’s classes and ask her to mentor you. 

🙏 If that older godly lady is one of your church members, and you and she are both willing, maybe it would work for her to lead the group for, say, six months to a year while you attend as a participant. That could be helpful in two ways: a) You could learn by observing her leadership, and, b) You could model for the other ladies what it should look like to be a participant in this group, and they could learn from your example.

🙏 It sounds like these ladies need to be discipled regarding what prayer is and how to do it. Instead of immediately diving back into praying when you start the group back up, consider taking a few months to study prayer together first. The day I received your e-mail, 9Marks introduced their new book on prayer called Prayer: How Praying Together Shapes The Church. I haven’t read it (it’s in pre-release right now), but from the description, it sounds like it could be a good book to go through with your ladies. You’re also welcome to use any of my articles on prayer (I’d recommend this one and this one in particular.) And be sure to check the bookstores at GTY and Ligonier.

🙏 It also sounds like your ladies need more structure and guidance. One thing you might want to do is dispense with the verbal sharing of prayer requests as it’s traditionally done and restructure that aspect of the meeting. There are several different ways you can do this:

⇒ You decide the prayer focus (praying for the lost, missionaries, revival, an upcoming church event, etc.) for each week. Write down specific things to pray for – nearly verbatim, if you have to – on an index card or piece of paper and hand one to each lady as she comes in. For example, if you’re praying for missionaries, give the name of the missionary and a few needs he has.

⇒ Homework assignments. At the end of each meeting, tell the ladies what the prayer focus will be for the next week, give each one a card with a different aspect of that topic, ask her to be praying about it during the week and to come prepared to pray aloud about it at the next meeting. For example, if you’re going to be praying about VBS next week, the cards might say things like leaders, teachers, students, gospel presentation, safety, etc.

⇒ “Conversation prayer“. This works really well with children and people who are inexperienced with corporate prayer. Basically, what you’re doing is replacing prayer request time with praying for the request as it’s mentioned. You open with a brief prayer. After that, the floor is open for anyone to pray about anything they would ordinarily have mentioned as a prayer request. The only catch is, they have to keep it to three sentences, max (You’ll want to stress this rule and remind them of it often). This keeps the prayer time from being dominated by long-winded people, and it introduces an idea others can build on in prayer which encourages more people to participate. Additionally, it takes the pressure off of those who are nervous about praying out loud. For example, one person might pray, “Lord, please comfort and strengthen Sally in the death of her husband,” which might prompt the next person to pray, “Please provide for her material needs now that she’s without George’s income,” and the next: “Please show us ways we can minister to Sally.” There are going to be long silences at first. That’s OK. Wait it out. When it’s time to wrap up, you lead the closing prayer.

⇒ Guided conversation prayer. Same as conversation prayer, but more structured. You choose a few areas of prayer focus and let the ladies know what they are before the prayer time begins. Open in prayer, introducing the first topic. The floor is now open for anyone to pray up to three sentences on that topic (and, of course, people can pray more than once if they want to, but only three sentences at a time). When it’s time to move on, announce the next topic or pray a brief prayer introducing it.

⇒ Small group prayer. If you have enough people, break them into groups of 2-4, and assign each group a topic to pray about. When the groups start getting quiet, hand them another topic to pray about. (Be sure you’re giving them plenty of time to pray, though. I’ve been in prayer meetings using this method where the leader hops from one topic to the next so fast that the first person in the group doesn’t even finish praying before the topic is changed.) For a 30 minute meeting and groups of 2-4, I’d recommend no more than 3-4 topics for each group.

🙏 If you think lack of fellowship might be a factor in the ladies’ behavior, there is nothing wrong with making the last “prayer meeting” of each month a low key fellowship – a “three weeks on, one week off” kind of thing – where they have the unprogrammed space to just sit and talk (and snack – gotta have snacks!). Fellowship is vital to the life of the church, and, believe me, as they get to know each other better and bear one another’s burdens, they will bring more things to the table to pray about during the three weeks of prayer meetings.

🙏 Most importantly, you pray. Pray for patience and confidence as you lead. Pray for each of the ladies in your group. Pray that God will grow them in maturity in prayer. Pray that He will help everyone stay focused. Pray that those who are timid will be emboldened and that God will rein in those who have a tendency to dominate. Prayer is an area of spiritual growth, and only God can produce that growth. Ask Him to.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

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