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How to Offer an Invocation


A couple of weeks ago Rev. Joe Nelms, Pastor of Family Baptist Church, gained national attention by delivering a rousing invocation at the Nationwide Federated Auto Parts 300 NASCAR event in Nashville, TN. National media quickly picked up on the prayer and the video has since gone viral. While Rev. Nelms’ prayer may not make it into the core curriculum of any worship course at an accredited theological seminary, it does provide an opportunity for me to share a few suggestions on how to offer a public prayer.

1. Know the Purpose for the Prayer
Public prayers are often requested as a part of corporate worship or some public gathering. When asked to perform such a task, the first question you should ask is, What is the purpose of the prayer? What function does the prayer serve in the context of the event? For example, in times of corporate worship several public prayers may be utilized: an invocation to invite or acknowledge the presence of God; an offertory prayer to express gratitude for the faithful and gracious provision of God; or a benediction to ask God to depart with the people as they endeavor to fulfill His purposes in the world. Other times of prayer may be more pastoral in nature and share concern for personal needs and burdens within the congregation or request wisdom and discernment that is needed for a special decision the church is facing. Every public prayer is designed to serve a particular purpose in light of a larger function, and that is where you should begin.

2. Voice the Prayer of the Community
When asked to deliver a public prayer one should consider the audience or the congregation. What are their concerns? What would they pray if they were in your shoes? Part of what distinguishes corporate prayer from private prayer is that the person who offers the corporate prayer offers it on behalf of and for the larger group. If your audience is your regular congregation, you need not be as sensitive to biblical words and theological concepts as you would if you were at, say for example, a NASCAR event.

3. Prepare in Advance
Some religious traditions are comfortable with writing public prayers as a part of their preparation while others are reluctant to write their prayers out. Either way, it is thoroughly appropriate to give some consideration and thought to the prayer well in advance. A little advance preparation will prevent your prayer from coming across as wordy or redundant.

4. Remember your True Audience
At the end of the day, all prayer is directed to God. When you pray, either publicly or privately, you pray to God. The purpose of prayer is not entertainment and its not to make an impression. All genuine prayer is to God as though no one else exists, even when offered in public. I don’t think of God as a cosmic killjoy who doesn’t delight in His children at play. But in a world where 1 out of every 3 people live on $2 a day or less, I think its safe to say that there are larger concerns than high performance tires.

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