R J George’s “Pastoral Theology”, (3 volumes), which I have recommended in a previous post, is a distillation of biblical teaching and sanctified common sense. Even allowing for the differences of age and culture this work still speaks today. It is easy reading; not a heavy series of annotated lectures but more a series of fire-side chats. Light reading but surprisingly challenging.
You can access the three volumes through:
Here is part of one of his two lectures on the Prayer Meeting
LECTURE IV THE PRAYER-MEETING
We are now ready to turn our attention to the activities of the congregation, or The Pastor and People at Work. In placing the prayer-meeting first among the activities of church-life, I follow the example of most writers on Pastoral Theology. Dr. Wilcox says: "Some writer has said to the young pastor: 'Give one-third of yourself to your pulpit, one-third to your pastoral calls, and one-third to the prayer-meeting.' "And he adds, "This estimate of the importance of the prayer-meeting is hardly exaggerate."
Dr. Cuyler in How to Be a Pastor, says: "The prayer-meeting may fairly claim to be regarded as second only to the pulpit in the spiritual life of the Christian Church. Some would give it the first place, for, while many churches have managed to keep alive without a pastor, none are likely to preserve their vitality and vigour without a regular gathering of the flock for public devotion."
Murphy says: "The piety and usefulness of the Church are most intimately connected with its prayer-meetings. Whether as cause or effect, it is found that the degree of the one is always in proportion to the interest manifested in the other. It will therefore be seen at once that this is a subject that claims the most careful attention of the pastor. It is one which he must not only study, but carry out into practice from the first to the last day of his ministry. Everything demands of him that it should be made most prominent, in both thought and practice."
These are very strong testimonies. I think the writers describe the prayer-meeting, not as it is, but as it ought to be — the ideal prayer-meeting. Let it be your purpose to make the ideal prayer-meeting the real one in the congregation of which you are to be pastor, and then the best that has been said of the prayer-meeting will be true of yours. There is a fine field for progress in this department of our church life.
Let us consider:
Wherein Lies the Importance of the Prayer-Meeting.
I. It measures the spiritual life of the Church.
The prayer-meeting is the spiritual thermometer. The rise and fall of interest in the prayer-meeting marks the change of heat or coldness in the church. You may be at a loss to determine which is cause and which is effect; i.e., whether the cold prayer- meeting makes a cold church, or a cold church makes a cold prayer-meeting; but we know that a cold prayer-meeting indicates a cold church. They are inter-operative.
Not only is this true of the congregation as a whole, but equally true of the individual members. Those members who habitually attend the prayer-meeting will have warmth and fervour; while those who habitually absent themselves fall into spiritual decline. And even the same individual will grow hot or cold according as he attends or neglects the prayer-meeting.
Murphy says: 'In a measure that can scarcely be mistaken, the attendance and interest in these meetings show whose hearts are alive to the things of Christ, and what is the extent of spirituality that pervades the body."
What could more clearly demonstrate the importance of the prayer-meeting than this fact?
2. It increases the spiritual life of the Church.
The prayer-meeting is not merely a thermometer, to measure the heat of the spiritual body; nor yet a pulsimeter, for indicating the frequency, force, and variations of the spiritual pulse. It also supplies spiritual strength and increases the vital forces of the spiritual nature. It comes midway between the Sabbaths to arrest the rushing tide of worldliness and to draw the Christian apart from the exacting cares of this earthly life; and it makes him "to sit in the heavenly places with Christ. "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint." (Isa. 40:31)
3. It utilises the spiritual life of the Church.
a. The members are called to exercise their gifts in the prayer-meeting itself.
In the public worship on the Sabbath, the services are wholly in the hands of the pastor; in the prayer-meeting they should be as far as possible in the hands of the people. As the apostle says: "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another; and so much the more as ye see the day approaching." (Heb. 10:25.)
b. The spiritual power generated in the prayer-meeting pervades all the other activities of the Church.
It has been well said that, "when the hearts of Christians are in it, and the life and unction of the Holy Spirit pervades it, it sends out its blessed influence to every part of the Church work." Through it the Lord's Day services are made more profitable, the Sabbath school is blessed, the effort to attract to the sanctuary is prospered, the family is happier, and the fruits of the Spirit are everywhere seen.
It is not enough to say that the prayer-meeting creates the power, and the other agencies utilize it. The prayer-meeting is itself the connecting link between the Spirit's power and the human instrumentality. It is the band that unites the revolving shaft with the machine, and starts the click of cogs and the whir of wheels.
The importance of the prayer-meeting is seen in that it measures the spiritual life of the Church; still more, in that it increases it; and most of all that it utilizes it.
II How to Secure Attendance at the Prayer-Meeting.
1. Arrange carefully as to the place of meeting.
a. If possible have all meet together.
It is always heartsome to have a good-sized meeting. It promotes a warmth, and sociability, and congregational spirit.
b. If necessary, district the congregation.
You must study the convenience of the people. They cannot be expected to come regularly from long distances. Even when the main body of the people meet at the church, it may be well to arrange cottage prayer-meetings in the outskirts, — both in city and in country congregations.
c. If there are several prayer-meetings, let them unite on special occasions.
For instance, this would be well once or twice during the week of prayer, and in the meetings preparatory to the communion.
2. Aim to have the place of meeting attractive:
Such provisions for the comfort of the worshipers are means of grace. People dislike to leave their comfortable homes and cushioned furniture and walk for miles to do penance sitting on a hard board, shivering with cold or stupefied and sickened with foul air.
Dr. Wilcox says: "Do your best to make it a cheerful, social room. Give it the air of a home-parlour. Have a carpet or drugget on the floor."
Especially, whatever else is lacking, let the room be amply lighted. A dingy place is enough to take the life out of any meeting that ever was gathered.
3. Reserve a time for the prayer-meeting, free from all other meetings.
It may be weekly, or semi-monthly, or monthly, according to circumstances: but let it have a stated time, and guard it from interference. This is of great importance in the cities. In and about Pittsburgh, it is well understood that Wednesday evening is prayer- meeting evening. Pastors should agree together that no meetings will be arranged which might draw away members from each other's prayer-meetings. Determinedly resist any interference with prayer-meeting night by any lecture course committee or by any proposed form of social entertainment. I sympathize far more than I once did with those pastors who refuse to dismiss the prayer-meeting for the sake of reform lectures or union services. These do not fill the place of the prayer-meeting, and, ordinarily, they should not ask to take its place. The modern device of arranging weddings for prayer-meeting evening is not from above. My advice is: Exalt the importance of the prayer-meeting in the minds of your people by refusing to yield its place to any ordinary occurrence.
4. Give frequent and kindly invitation to attend the prayer-meeting.
Do not scold. It does no good. Invite and persuade. Let your invitations be marked by serious- ness and solicitude. "Come early and get a back seat" is a modern pulpit witticism which is in very bad taste. It vitiates the appeal to the conscience by trifling with sacred things. It is not the speech of moral earnestness.
5. Refer occasionally in your discourses to the good things offered and enjoyed at prayer-meeting.
This doubles the appreciation of those who have enjoyed the good things; and it may awaken a sense of loss in the minds of the absentees. You need not always tell what the good things were. "The secret of the Lord is with the righteous."
6. Make the meetings interesting.
After all is said, this is the only way to have a good attendance. A few saintly souls will, from a sense of duty or by sheer force of habit, meet from week to week, and "go through" as they used to say in the good, old-time "Society"; but the ordinary modern Christian will not do that. The prayer-meeting cannot live on its good name. It must have worth.
On one occasion, in our Synod, a minister gave a very lengthy and pithless address on how to get the masses to attend church. When, at last, he gradually settled into his seat, another brother sprang up, and, in a quick, alert tone, said: "There are just three things to be done to bring the masses to church:
(1) Invite them to come;
(2) Welcome them when they do come;
(3) Give them something for coming," and down he sat.
It was as if someone had opened a door and let in a blast. It is a good rule for securing attendance at prayer-meeting.
7. Encourage sociability at the close of the meeting.
A general handshaking, with especial attention to strangers, is a good thing. Yet a word of caution may be necessary just at this point. If a meeting has been peculiarly solemn and impressive, it is proper for the pastor to ask the people not to dissipate its good impressions by frivolous conversation, but to cherish them by speaking to each other of spiritual things.