In women’s ministry, we diligently plan Bible studies and events. But have you considered how to help all women in your church to grow in the practice of prayer? Engagement begins with a shift in expectations.
Each woman who enters the church does so with an individual story. She may remember talking to God since she was young, but when it comes to praying with other women, or even connecting with them, she may have a memory, a list, or a box full of bad experiences. Often when I ask uninvolved ladies at our church, “Have you thought about attending our women’s Bible studies or one of our events?” The answers follow the same theme: They are not interested in anything that might be associated with emotion or “drama,” so they avoid making acquaintances in new groups of women. Praying with them isn’t even a consideration.
Many women who have attended women’s Bible studies have experienced (among other things) prolonged personal sharing leading to short prayer time, and they are willing to avoid that at all costs. Furthermore, they know that relationship requires some vulnerability, and they’ve been burned before. So they are satisfied to pray privately—or not at all.
Jesus’s teaching on private prayer often seems to eclipse his main example of talking to God corporately in the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9-13). We shouldn’t use Jesus’s teachings on private prayer to avoid praying with other believers. Both are important. Expressing trust to God privately is an important spiritual practice; trusting him publicly produces a shared opportunity to glorify him with other believers.
Great things begin to happen when we employ a non-threatening prayer method through our leaders who are in discipleship relationships or Bible studies. Share your vision for prayer and pray with your ministry leaders regularly. Inertia for prayer in the culture of women’s ministry begins with them.
First, teach leaders conversational transitions to prayer. Leaders who learn gentle invitations to transition conversation into prayer after appropriate listening will change the expectation of the purpose for sharing. The women’s ministry culture matures when women have a new understanding of what prayerful conversations can look like with other women. This tool is not limited to Bible study or women’s events.
Second, demystify prayer. Encourage leaders to begin their Bible study semester with a low-key 30-minute training, focusing on the personal and relational (worship) aspects of prayer. Help hesitant women understand that praying humbly and responsively is more important than having flawless theology or perfect words. People have offered God many theologically incorrect prayers over the millennia, but God has been patient with all who humbly cry out to him. Emphasize that Jesus is delighting to pray for us and the Holy Spirit is praying for us even though we do not know what to pray.
Point out that each of us is called to pray, rather than publicizing certain women as champions of prayer. Remind women that praying doesn’t mean they have a responsibility to remember everything, but instead, express their trust and their need. A prayer list is a tool, not a mandate.
Third, teach a reliable prayer method. In the 30-minute training, teach the women a model such as ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication), or some variation of that. Switching the order to CATS sometimes lightens the room with laughter and brings appreciation of our spiritual need for confession. An even simpler and well-received model is Ben Patterson’s suggestion to pray in the model of three R’s: Rejoice, Repent, Request. It is helpful to highlight some relatable prayer suggestions, including praying simply, appreciating the benefit of silence during group prayer, using Scripture, and sharing requests by praying them directly to God. Women should be encouraged to go to prayer with Bible and journal in hand, actively using them during the prayer time to inspire prayer and record needs.
Fourth, practice. Prayerfully assist the women in the room to get into groups of 3-4. Reinforce confidentiality. If you do not have a sprinkling of natural leaders and people who are familiar with prayer in the room, the groups can be coached by one leader from the center of the room. Move through the aspects of prayer for 3-5 minutes each, using ACTS, RRR (see above), or the Lord’s Prayer pattern. Consistently, women are surprised that they can pray together for 10-30 minutes without noticing how much time passed. They also report that relationships with the other women grow.
The rewards of increasing conversations of trust and relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ are evident. When you see that the women who practice those conversations together are truly growing spiritually and relationally, you’ll want to see the culture of prayer spread.