“Ascribe to the Lord the glory of His name; bring an offering, and come into His courts. Worship the Lord in holy attire; Tremble before Him, all the earth. Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns; indeed, the world is firmly established, it will not be moved; He will judge the peoples with equity.” Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; Let the sea roar, and all it contains; let the field exult, and all that is in it. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy before the Lord, for He is coming; for He is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in His faithfulness.”
No element of the evangelical liturgy is as clearly Biblical as the call to worship. It is deeply rooted in Biblical language, Biblical history and Biblical theology.
God’s call is fundamental to the general announcement of salvation and the specific work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. God’s call creates, gathers and identifies. It invests an ordinary gathering with the significance of the people of God entering into the presence and purpose of God in worship.
The call to worship is a re-enacting of fundamental and highly significant aspects of the life of the individual and corporate people of God. We are called to God, called to worship, called to mission and called to present attentiveness to the Word and its work among us. We are called to think of God and to hear his commands and invitations.
In my own experience, there is a sense of betrayal that happens when a worship service fails to include a formal call to worship. The informality of many evangelical services is spiritually discouraging, leaving the worshiper with no corporate experience of God calling him/her to attention and the glad work of worship. It is as if we have simply been put together with no purpose any more significant than to do the next thing we are asked to do on someone’s list. Our identity, our “calling” into the experiences of praise, prayer and worship has been forgotten or completely overlooked. There’s something profoundly wrong with the relatively meaningless beginnings to many evangelical worship services.
Have you ever been at a worship gathering where the service began with nothing? Perhaps an awkward attempt at humor followed by the announcement of a hymn? No call to worship. The impact of this lack of seriousness and intention is real. It discourages, not encourages, worship with heart, mind, soul and voice.
Now, I understand that if a call to worship is not specified it is not likely to be included, and I understand that habits such as beginning a service with humor can simply be a way to let off a moment of nervousness. But in the context of worship, the call to worship’s absence sends us out in no direction, with no identity and leaving the responsibility of creating this identity and purpose to something else in worship.
In the meantime, who are we and what are we doing? The call to worship established this important context, and I believe that is fundamental to meaningful and intentional worship.
The loss of the call to worship or the replacement of it by- of course- more music- is a significant and damaging loss. And a totally unnecessary one.
A clear strong voice, calling us to recognize God, to be serious in joy and whole-hearted in singing, praying and hearing…this is a fundamental element of worship. No technology needed
This is an area in which the “seeker” model of worship presents a real challenge. The call to worship is antithetical to the purpose of seeker worship, which is to include those who do not consider themselves to be the people of God or in relationship with God. It is in this area that many Christians struggle when their church leadership asks the church to relinquish the familiar external, liturgical signs of being God’s people and take up a more missional, seeker-friendly identity that abandons things like the call to worship.
Resources for calls to worship are easily found in books of worship, common prayer, services and liturgy. In his excellent book Christ Centered Worship, Bryan Chappell has an outstanding discussion of the call to worship and examples of finding/constructing them from various sources in and outside of scripture. Many resources for calls to worship can be found on the web.
Designing an appropriate call to worship that encapsulates the direction of a worship service is a great help and encouragement to every worshiper. I hope those wanting to establish a liturgical renewal in their churches will learn to design calls to worship that speak to the congregation, invoke the presence of God and focus the purpose of worship.