Penny Shell, Ed.D., is a chaplain at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital, Rockville, Maryland, and an elder at Sligo Seventh-day Adventist Church, Takoma Park, Maryland.

The pastor or worship leader frequently asks an elder or other layperson to give the pastoral prayer, a sacred and vital part of the worship service. This prayer should be prayerfully planned and reverently presented.

Many people feel uncomfortable when asked to give the pastoral prayer in a worship service. The following guidelines may enable them to contribute effectively to the worship service through prayer. Those already comfortable giving a pastoral prayer can learn ways to refine and develop their ability.

The goals of these guidelines are:

1. To enable you to recognize your ability to create a pastoral prayer.
2. To help you feel more comfortable with giving a pastoral prayer.
3. To help you create a prayer that can be used in your home congregation.

Consider the following questions as you plan your pastoral prayer.

1. What have you heard in a pastoral prayer that you liked?
2. What have you heard that you didn't like?
3. Why do some people find it difficult to give a prayer?
4. Do men and women pray differently? Is that good?
5. How does the pastoral prayer differ from the invocation? from the benediction?
6. What is the difference between public and private prayer?
7. What is inclusive language? Think of some samples.
8. Is it better to use Thou or You when referring to God?

Public Prayer and Private Prayer


1. Both grow out of meditation with God.
2. They require a proper mix of humility and boldness.
3. They grow out of knowledge of the local situation.
4. Both can include times of silence.


1. Public prayer is written down and reworked. (If prayers weren't written down, we wouldn't have many of the Psalms.) Private prayer is spontaneous and stumbling.
2. Public prayer is shared; private prayer is not.
3. Public prayer talks of concerns of the group. Private prayer focuses on concerns touching the life of the individual.
4. Public prayer is related to the occasion/the worship. Private prayer focuses on what is meaningful to the personal life.
5. Public prayer is often organized. Private prayer tumbles out as it comes to mind.

Suggestions for Improving the Pastoral Prayer

1. Relate the prayer to things that people are already thinking about: the weather, the season, the holiday, national and international events.

2. Relate the prayer to the sermon, the hymn, or the Scripture reading. Referring to the section of the worship service just preceding or following the prayer works well.

3. Reflect on and borrow familiar words, but rework them to fit the day. Some familiar words come from hymns, Scripture, and Spirit of Prophecy writings.

4. Use inclusive language as much as you can. This means to include all of the audience in your prayer. Avoid using the term man; generically use human or person instead.

5. If you use Thee or Thou, be consistent. If you use You, then follow through with it for the whole prayer.

6. Get involved with your prayer before the service─experience it as a sincere expression of your heart. Don't lose the spirit of it as you wait to pray.

7. Write your prayer on a 4 x 6 card, which is quieter than rustling paper at a microphone. The card is easy to hold behind your Bible or hymnal. Leave room for requests.

8. Ask the pastor or head elder to notify you of requests for prayer and of needs or celebrations. Write them down.

9. Modulate your voice slightly lower than usual. Speak slowly, clearly, and meaningfully. Avoid being dramatic.

10. Often remember the pastor and the pastor's family in the prayer.

11. Consider printing the prayer in the bulletin for the congregation to read together or responsively.

12. Occasionally use silence, but make clear to the congregation the purpose of the silence.



Spiritually prepare yourself. Prayer is created best in prayer. If at all possible find a time and place where you will not be disturbed. Sit quietly and let the swarms of troubling, demanding thoughts of your daily life fly around your head like bees and finally drift away. Sit without attempting any creativity at first. Let three or five or more minutes drift by while you let peace settle around and within you. Then let the Lord know your need, and ask for a blessing.

See yourself as one of the congregation. When you are relaxed and ready, turn your thoughts to the congregation or group for whom you will pray. Think of their needs and the situations you all face. Turn to the parts of the Lord's Prayer and begin to write. (See the analysis of the Lord's Prayer in the block that accompanies this article.)

Rework your prayer for smoothness and clarity. Try saying your prayer out loud. Do you stumble? Reword it. Stay inside your prayer as you practice reading it out loud. If you become distanced from the feelings of the needs and praise, your voice will betray you.


Penny Shell, Ed.D., is a chaplain at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital, Rockville, Maryland, and an elder at Sligo Seventh-day Adventist Church, Takoma Park, Maryland.