Praying the Headlines

Engaging Students in Intercession

It’s no secret that students are attracted to visual media. Images from television, video games, mobile phones, and the Internet saturate their days and nights. They use images to communicate with their friends. They learn with visuals in the classroom. They entertain themselves with pictures and animation.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise, either, that the church is incorporating visuals in worship to connect with youth. Though good arguments can be made for limiting the use of images, their use in worship can be a powerful means of shaping people’s experience of worship.

Consider the prayer of intercession. This can be a challenging time to maintain worshipers’ attention. Many times these prayers are long. Most often they are spoken by one individual, usually the pastor, and they rarely include active congregational participation. Add to this an extended prayer list of health concerns and we have a recipe for extreme boredom.

The addition of images here can make a world of difference, especially through a method called “Praying the Headlines.” This is a creative way to pray that engages youth in worship and also involves them in planning and leading worship.

Over the course of a week take the local or national newspaper and tear out the major headlines. Gather twenty-five to thirty, pulling from the regional, national, and world sections. Look through the science section, health section, and business sections, and tear out both good news and bad news.

Invite a student to scan in the headlines and create a PowerPoint presentation. (Newsprint on black background works fine.) After putting the headlines into a presentation, arrange them into two broad themes: headlines for thanksgiving and headlines for petition. Within the broad categories, arrange the headlines by regional, national, and world events. Finally, sift for the most significant headlines, selecting ultimately fifteen to twenty items for prayer.

When the time comes to pray, allow the visuals to lead. Leave five to ten seconds between each slide to allow space for silent mediation, petition, and thanksgiving. It may be helpful to add verbal cues before each section: “Loving God, we lift up to you silently the needs of the world” or “Gracious God, hear our prayers of thanks for the good in our world.” Consider closing the intercessions with a simple sung refrain like, “Lord, Listen to Your Children Praying” (Psalter Hymnal 625).

I’ve found that praying this way engages students visually. It helps make prayers of intercession relevant, reminding worshipers of God’s work around the world and expanding their sights beyond their immediate concerns. Through the images, we bring into worship the stuff of the world and help people pray authentically for the work of God’s Spirit.

Rev. Paul Ryan has mentored emerging worship leaders for twenty years at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he is the worship pastor overseeing daily chapels. He also is a resource development specialist with the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Paul is married to Sheila, is father to two high school boys, and is coach to dozens of middle school track and cross-country kids.

Reformed Worship 94 © December 2009, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.