It is interesting that for all the talk about the necessity of prayer in our ministries and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, the time devoted to prayer in most weekend services is minimal and sometimes almost non existent. In addition, it is often obvious that when there is prayer it has not been thought through and yet it is meant to represent the whole congregation. Corporate prayer is often an afterthought in our worship experiences.
Here is an interesting question. Where do people learn how to pray? I am not talking about praying for personal needs, as we are all pretty good at that, human nature being what it is. But where do we learn to pray for the work of God in our lives, for the expansion of the gospel, for confession of personal and corporate sin, for our communities to be touched with God's grace, or to thank him for the amazing grace He has showered on our lives?
Think of the prayers of the Old Testament or the New and ask yourself, "When do I hear prayer like that in church?" If not modeled in our services, where will it be modeled? If that kind of prayer was important to the prophets, Jesus or the Apostles, why is it not equally important to us? Often we are left with an anemic idea of what prayer is about when it is central to all we will become as Christ followers.
Those who come from a tradition of liturgy know the value of well thought out prayer. Sure, it can become rote, as any worship can, but the value of carefully crafted prayer that reflects the priorities of God (not always the same as ours) and lifts up the majesty and greatness of God is powerful. Whether prayers of the people, prayers of blessing, of confession or praise, how we lead people in corporate prayer says much about our own value of prayer and about what we are teaching our people in this regard. The very language we use in leading people in corporate prayer either lifts Him up or "dumbs" him down to those we lead.
We ought to put the same time, preparation and effort into corporate prayer as we do for all other parts of our services. It is a holy moment when together we lift our hearts to God's throne and corporately confess, praise or ask for His intervention for the sick and hurting. I suspect that off the cuff prayer is treated as such by the congregation while seriously thought out prayer is treated with equal seriousness by those who should be silently (or sometimes verbally) participating.
Take time to look up the great prayers in Scripture and think about the concerns that were lifted up to the Father. And, encourage the practice of well thought out corporate prayer in your congregation.