“Let us pray” and authority

A former worship professor of mine wrote a great (if slightly ranting) blog post the other day about the theological and practical difference between “Will you join me in prayer?” and “Let us pray.”  That post sparked a lot of Facebook discussion, which prompted her to post three other really good blog posts.  If you’re like me, you’ll like a lot of what she writes (or at least it will make you think), so you should just check her blog out.

That whole discussion has stayed with me.  Some of those who mentioned not liking “Let us pray” noted that it is a command.  Although the language technically is one of invitation, I can see why people experience it as more command-like.  But it has me thinking about authority.

This morning, as I was doing yoga, my online video teacher repeatedly said things like, “please go into warrior pose” or “if you want to, join me in this pose.”

This evening in German class, my teacher asked us about every 10 minutes what we wanted to do in the class or if we liked the exercise we were doing or if we would rather do something different and what we would rather do.

And all that has me thinking again about authority.

There are times when I want (dare I say, we want?) to have someone lead me (us?) with a firm (though not tyrannical) hand.  There are times when I voluntarily give authority to my yoga instructor and my German teacher, and I want them to tell me what to do next.

Sometimes I think we in certain segments of the church shoot ourselves in the foot by shying away from taking authority or allowing others to have that kind of authority.

Don’t get me wrong — I know of many ways that power has been and continues to be abused, inside the church and outside of it.  But we do ourselves and other church members a disservice, I think, if we allow that abuse of power to be our only example of leadership and power — if we give up understandings of authoritative speech altogether, leaving them only to those who pervert those understandings for selfish ends.

I am convinced that there is place for loving direction and voluntary submission.

So maybe… maybe “Let us pray,” is an expression among many possible expressions of that kind of loving direction, exercised for a particular time, granted by the calling of God and the assent of the people, voluntarily submitted to by others, and held accountable to Christ and Christ’s body.

5 thoughts on ““Let us pray” and authority”

  1. “loving direction and voluntary submission” – yes! I’ve been thinking about other things recently along these lines, about who we submit ourselves to and how we go about submitting…Thanks for writing and spurring more thought, sister.

  2. Thanks, Laura. This prompted me to reflect critically on my own speech habits of late when leading worship as a Brethren in the local United Methodist congregations. My habit (and I’m not sure where/when/why I picked this up) when leading corporate prayer has been to preface and invite by saying: “Let us join our hearts in prayer…”
    I think I’m calling us together as one body, and I certainly treat the responsibility with all seriousness and trepidation. And as always (even when I pray privately), I’m deeply grateful for the petitionary prayers of the Holy Spirit on my behalf, when I don’t know how/what to pray.
    As Dana said, spurring post – thanks!

  3. I often struggle with claiming authority in leading worship. I don’t even like the term “worship leader,” but I use it because the congregation I often lead worship in hasn’t come up with an alternative. I prefer the word “liturgist” in my own process, but we’re so much in the free church tradition that I feel weird saying “I’m the liturgist this morning” to more than a few folks who know what I mean.
    There are times when not claiming authority means those in authority don’t even recognize they have it, and that can lead to abuse of power as well. If I don’t believe I have authority when I actually do, and I act like I don’t have authority, then if something I do does someone harm, I can’t hold myself accountable. In worship, whomever is deciding what to do and when does have authority in that moment. And those in the assembly/congregation know it.
    I can see how “Let us pray” might feel heavy-handed, but “Join me in prayer” sounds like “I’m up here praying by myself and if you want, you can join in.” But the liturgist is actually praying on behalf of the assembly. I’m not praying for my needs, I’m praying–we’re praying–for our needs and the world’s needs, and doing it together. I’m saying words that are intended to speak to everyone’s condition before God. I’m a part of the worshiping assembly, but I’m also claiming the task of putting everyone’s prayers in my words/my voice. There is actually a lot of authority there. If you think about it, praying holds vast amounts of power…but fortunately I’m not the only one praying. That’s why I’d prefer to say “Let *us* pray.” If anybody thinks of a better way to say it, please let me know.

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