October 24, 2017

The Evangelical Liturgy 7: The Invocation

WARREN_G_For beginners, read the Introduction to this series, then visit the categories menu and hit “Evangelical Liturgy” for all previous entries. In a sentence, I’m walking through all the parts of the traditional Protestant worship service and discussing the value of recovering our own liturgical tradition.

The invocation has the distinction of being one of the most included and traditionally placed remnants of the Protestant liturgy, but also of being one of the least seriously considered parts of the worship service. We can always count on an opening prayer, but there is no predicting what we’ll hear. (Unless you are in a church where it is completely predictable what you will hear, no matter what else is happening.)

The invocation reflects a congregation’s theology of God. The God addressed in the opening prayer must be the God of scripture and his relationship to the worship service that is beginning must be that of the God who calls his people together around Jesus, his Kingdom mission, his Word and his sacraments. This is the God of all the Biblical story, but also the God Jesus taught us to address as Father.

The invocation is a prayer. It is not a sermon addressed to the congregation but using God as the excuse. One of my pastors once called a prayer in our morning service “The finest prayer ever prayed to a Highland congregation.”

Prayers should have about them a kind of intensity, focus and humility that appropriately reflect who is being addressed. As Annie Dillard says, we ought to be wearing helmets. But at the same time, we are warned about the super-piety of Pharisaical prayers. I have been more irritated by pietists trying out for the theological Olympic prayer event than by a dozen stumbling evangelical youth director prayers.

The congregation should know this is an invocation and not a pastoral prayer, offertory prayer, prayer for the sermon, etc. In tone, content and brevity, it should reflect its intention: to invoke- recognize and invite- the presence of God.

What about written prayers? Douglas Wilson defends this will in Mother Kirk (an excellent book) and gives many fine examples at his blog and sermon podcasts. Wilson shows that the themes of worship, Christian year, lectionary, life of the congregation and Gospel can always come together in a well-crafted invocation.

Why would someone not devote 20-30 minutes to preparing a prayer? I trust an invocation to make us aware of the presence of God far more than I trust a band and a $75,000 sound system.

What about the prayers of the prayer book or of other Christians? Certainly they are usable, but I have a strong preference for the authenticity of one’s own prayers and find that I prefer to integrate these prayer resources into my own prayer using my own voice and vocabulary.

Keep the invocation brief. The dynamics of worship are not well served when a long prayer subdues a congregation before a sermon or even a song.

Comments

  1. Well said, and advice that will be well taken.
    What is your feeling on the “worship leader” or song leader praying an invocation before music to start the service? Or a deacon or elder?

    • Really a matter of the particular congregation and how traditional/contemporary they are. Personally, I am for giving musicians as small a role in worship as possible and using other laypersons/ministers/elders/deacons as much as possible. Most of the damage to worship has happened because lazy pastors just “let the worship leader” go. Well….he’s not a “worship leader.” He’s a musician leading worship, and someone praying the invocation or reading scripture is just as much a “worship leader.”

      peace

      ms

      • Giving a natural soloist and performer a mike and a free slate can be a danger. Sometimes those who approach the stage reluctantly speak best. Is it rally odd that i never thought of puting half an hour into prayer-prep? in my tradition prayer was spontaneous. Hmmm, maybe that is where all those “just give us world peace, just fix our woes” and “Father God, we pray Father God, that you, Father God would be with us, Father God..”, prayers came from. I am sure the God who searches the heart was not as sarcastic about it as I, but I have been knocked out of the prayer zone by mindless repetition, even though we did not believe in it.

      • Amen to that. Too many of our services revolve around the pastor and music leader only. Some of it may be attributed to a lack of creativity, but more often than not it is likely good old fashioned laziness.

      • I would agree with you that the particular form of words is not that important, so long as you have a clear notion in your mind of what the invocation is about.

        Of course, this is a small thing to say, but it could turn out to mean getting straight in your head of what is the purpose of this whole gathering: praise, worship, thanksgiving, intercession, or to have a good, uplifting time with the music rocking the rafters? to serve the congregation already gathered, or to coax in the non-churched?

        You could get in trouble, asking people to think about what they’re doing! 😉

  2. Could you please, please, please, pretty, pretty please–just go back to saying: “In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit” ? I am begging you!

    There is nothing, nothing, nothing–, that will lift the heart so much as coming in the name of the God in whose name you are baptized and live and breathe and have your being.

    Sometimes, I go to a Lutheran church that is trying to be “contemporary” vs. liturgical and leaves out a lot of liturgy. I can cope with most of the music, etc. But when you leave out the plain invocation, I feel completely robbed. Please, just say it. Sometimes, I will end up in a different evangelical church and I know and love a lot of people for being fellow Christians in my town or my friends, I just feel so wrong about it not beginning “In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Just leave it there. It is the powerful name of the one triune God. PLEASE.

    (The spell checker does not know “triune” and has “no suggestions”. There you go.)

  3. I became an Evangelical Christian when I was 16, in late 1971. During my formative years in the movement Austrian Evangelicals of all stripes found their identity in two things: a conversion experience and “not being Catholic.” For a good part of the movement this is still true today.

    Part of that identity is the elevation of spontaneous and ex tempore prayer to the status of a core value (as being alive and Spirit-led) and an abhorrence of any pre-thought-out liturgy as “dead letter”.

    Consequently while I have since then acqired a deep appreciation of liturgy I am still very self-conscious and aware of potentially critical reactions whenever I lead worship with prepared words (even if they are my own words written down) a
    and find myself re-phrasing on the fly into the “spontaneous-sounding” “Lord, just do this and that, we just love you, and we just pray…” pattern.

    Btw, most Evangelicals here in Austria, as well as most Lutherans, would be appalled by that LCMS Lutheran church video you posted a day or two ago. “Much too Catholic!” and “Dead Ritual!” and “Mindless repetition, babbling like the heathen!” — I can hear the reactions in my head.

    • There’s plenty of that here, believe me. I am surrounded by it. But others of us are drowning in the sea of triviality and man-centeredness.

    • Wolf Paul

      I find it amazing that you and I are seperated by a great vast distance yet we face the same situations.

      For example,

      I have a good friend who pastors a large baptist church. He came and preached for me once. This man is by all means very spirited and very strong in his presentation. However, he has always almost written out his sermons word for word. They are quite good. And if you are not looking it is hard to tell they are written down. But one time my folks cought on that he had “too many notes” in the pulpit. They basically tuned him out. Since it was prepared before hand, it couldn’t be spirit led.

      they have gotten better, I use a brief outline to keep my place, but i know exactly what you are talking about

  4. As an evangelical I have never heard a formal invocation used in a church service to my knowledge. There was an “opening prayer” but it was by no means what was described above. Very much a “just prayer” full of “Father God”‘s. Three questions for anybody who can help me out on this one:

    1. What would be the equivalent of this in the Anglican liturgy?

    2. Are there any good resources that can give me either a number of these that can be read, or at least some good examples and instructions on how to write one? Are some of the prayers in the Book of Common Prayer or others like the Lutheran Service Book, Liturgy of the Hours, or Book of Common Worship appropriate for this function?

    3. Where in the service would this typically be placed? Ok OK i’m not that dumb I understand it would not be after the sermon, but I’m sure it is after the prelude…. Pre or post call to worship? Before all singing?

    • I think the invocation is more common among the “non-scripted” moderately liturgical Protestants. What I call “downtown First Baptist” type Protestants. It’s after the Call to worship ideally.

    • SearchingAnglican says:

      Is this perhaps what we Anglicans would call the “Collect”, which takes place after the Gloria and before the OT reading? It’s not very long and, of course, highly scripted. However, the collect IS rich in the “theology of God” and seems to take place at about the same time as an invocation. Of course, I know we’re talking about evangelical litergy, so we’re not comparing apples to apples, but that’s what I think of.

      Last Sunday’s collect was:
      Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

  5. joel hunter says:

    Miguel,

    Re: 1.

    Our Invocation goes like this–
    Celebrant Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
    People And blessed be his kingdom, now and for ever. Amen.

    IIRC, there is some variation which is dependent on the season of the (church) year.

    • Hi, all! In TEC the given invocation is used during Ordinary Time, or during most of the church year. During Lent, we use:

      Celebrant: Bless the Lord who forgives all our sins.
      People: His mercy endures forever.

      Between Easter and Pentecost (my favorite!),

      Celebrant: Alleluia. Christ is risen.
      People: The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.

      Special invocations are used during Holy Week. Just in case anyone’s curious…

  6. Christiane says:

    I’m not getting the concept of ‘worship leader’.
    Is it someone who leads a choir or someone who leads the congregation in singing only?

  7. The Guy from Knoxville says:

    Christine,

    Worship Leader in most protestants churches is, essentially, the Music Director who leads both the congregation and the choir. Unfortunately in most protestant churches (esp the contemporary ones) the Worship Leader is there to be seen and heard and the congregation and choir (and any other musician, lay leader etc) are secondary and there to “back” him/her up – in other words
    it’s all about that person and as a church musician I’ve seen this far, far too much in the churches I’ve
    been involved with in recent years. I quite agree with Monk on his statement above regarding limiting
    the amount of time that musicians are given in the worship service just for the reasons that I mentioned
    as most of them are there to be seen and heard, many times, the exclusion of just about everything else and anyone else.

    Sorry to have such a long response and some of it is hard to write as a musician but the truth does hurt a bit. I’m an organist and we tend to have that “want to be out in front” attitude as well and over the 20+ years of playing I’ve realized that, many times, less is better. None of this is to say that music isn’t important, it is – very much so, however, it’s taken to much of a front and center place in the worship service – a place it is not ment to be for the most part.

    Well enough – sure that’s more than you wanted/expected.

    • Steve Newell says:

      Do you think that a music director would act any different in they were in the balcony o f the church? The tradition Lutheran church design places the choir and musicians in the balcony. When a person is heard but not seen does this change how they act?

      • The Guy from Knoxville says:

        Steve,

        The guys I’ve worked with would be completely out of their minds if they were in the back – it would definately change their attitudes – probably have withdrawls in some cases. You have to understand that this is the way they are taught in terms of “doing” music in churches and the influence of other worship leaders in other well known church organizations (Hillsong…. etc) have a great influence as well. I think if some of these guys really had an understanding of the place of music in church worship there would be an entirely different attitude whether they were in the back or front of the sanctuary. I do think that situations where the music is done from the back keeps things in perspective – there seems, at least to me, to be a better focus on God and better participation of the congregaton in singing.

        I used to watch services from the Marble Collegic Church in New York and their choir and organ were in the back and there always seemed to be better participation of the congregation in singing during the worship service and the music was well balanced with other parts of the service.

        At any rate I’ll leave this for now since this is primarly a post and responses to the Invocation. – said too much already.

        • I have observed and been involved in many contamporary services at different churches where the musicians and singers led from the rear of the congregation, and the congretation faced forward and read off books or screens. VERY effective. Some of the most blessed worship services I have ever been a part of both as musician and worshiper. What bothers me is that more people do not consider doing this. Even with a band. I really think that it just works great.

        • The Hillsong thing in addition to the CCM/commercial music industry as a whole has had a profound impact on church music, not for the better IMO. Taking the music team to the back may help in removing their dominance in worship services. I know it sounds harsh but many ev. churches have become so out of balance in this matter that we definitely need a “correction” of sorts.

        • On our recent visit to Mars Hill (Grand Rapids) the worship team was at the front, but essentially had their backs to the congregation facing the same screen we were singing from and facing the cross at the front. Most effective symbolism.

    • Christiane says:

      Thank you, Guy From Knoxville

      That is very clear and understandable. And much appreciate you taking the time to type it.

  8. The Guy from Knoxville says:

    A thought on the Invocation, since I got off track a bit in the previous post – I think there is a benefit to having a formal invoking of or invitation to God for his presence but it does need to stay specific in terms of what it’s purpose is. I had a former pastor who was anti-invocation since God was present via the
    Holy Spirit in all christians present in the assembly. There is truth to that and I find it funny that many times the opening prayer (with all men in the assembly at the front kneeling) essentially invoked/invited the presence of God despite his being against invocations.

    I don’t see the harm in it and many times I think it helps to bring the focus of the congregation to the fact of needing God and his presence for the worship service to be what it’s intended to be. Folks, we’ve discarded to many things in our worship services and we need to recover and use them.

  9. We just did a bit of a revamp on our liturgy and tonight will be the first time it’s used in the congregatiopn… and I’m the liturgy dude for the night. One of the things we’ve done is to make the contents of the invocation and benidiction up to the liturgy dude for the week, within certain guidelines, of course. So, this will be my first time doing an extemporanious yet intentional invocation (and benidiction).

    Borrowing a bit from Webber, we’ve decided that the invocation should have three elements: 1) to invite the congregation into God’s presence. 2) to have a brief aspect of corporate humility and general confession . 3) to offer words of forgiveness and acceptance as we come before God.

    • Hmmm I should say that the *specific* contents (i.e. specific wording,etc) will be up to the liturgy dude. The three elements are general guidelines we’ve adoptend.

  10. At my church, we sing our “invocation” as a congregational response to God’s calling us into his presence in the Call to Worship. I’ve never quite gotten my head around the idea that God calls us and then we invoke his presence. The traditional Invocation seems backwards to me: as if we are the ones conjuring up God out of the mists, when in fact we are the sheep who have heard the shepherd’s voice and been drawn near to respond to him in prayer and praise.

    • Exactly. Or to be rather trite about it, why should we invoke his presence if it’s his house? Or a little less trite, why should we invoke his presence if he said he would never leave us nor forsake us? No, it’s got to be about creating in the congregation a heightened awareness of a presence that already exists.

  11. david eaton says:

    I’m in charge of planning one of our services and I include an invocation-type prayer between the first two songs. It is written out and spoken by one of the members of our worship team. There are always some common elements…thanking God for calling us his own and giving us the opportunity and the reason to worship…a desire to meet with and hear from God during the service, and to leave more like HIm because we have been in his presence…our desire to be used by God as he does his work in our city…they typically end with “it is in your name we pray and for your glory we live.” It’s usually about 6-8 sentences written out and I try to incorporate themes from the music that day and the message for that day when possible.

  12. For those of you who use the Revised Common Lectionary, Vanderbilt University maintains a great lectionary site that has a listing of prayers that go with the lectionary readings for that week and also some art if you are looking for something for your insert.

    http://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/prayers.php?id=218

  13. I’m with Brigitte here. It is always confusing to me that when I am among evangelicals they will have an “invocation” and all but invoke no one! Often there is a long babbling prayer, which may or may not mention the name of Jesus. I have even seen some intentionally skirt the name of Jesus, just saying in your holy name. In whose holy name?
    The common invocation amongst liturgical circles uses The Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. It is simple, and short but it invokes the Triune God, with the name God gave us to be baptized with. It reminds us that we become members of the church through baptism, and that it is by virtue of our baptism that has washed our sins away that we sinners dare invoke God, and enter his presence. It also reminds us that where two or three are gathered in his name he is there among us.

  14. Steve Newell says:

    The use of an Invocation is biblical. In Matthew 18:20, Christ tells us that when two or three are gathered together in His name, he is with them. The invocation is to bring us together in the name of the Triune God, not a generic “god” that could be confused with the god of Mormons and the god of Islam.

  15. Christiane says:

    Is the Baptist form of communion (the Lord’s Supper) preceded by an epiclesis similar to formal versions used in Protestant churches like the Anglican, the Lutheran, and the Methodist ?

    If not, what is the purpose of the invocation in the Baptist liturgy?

  16. Our church uses the Great Invocation, which I think is very beautiful:

    From the point of Light within the Mind of God
    Let light stream forth into the minds of men.
    Let Light descend on Earth.

    From the point of Love within the Heart of God
    Let love stream forth into the hearts of men.
    May Christ return to Earth.

    From the centre where the Will of God is known
    Let purpose guide the little wills of men –
    The purpose which the Masters know and serve.

    From the centre which we call the race of men
    Let the Plan of Love and Light work out
    And may it seal the door where evil dwells.

    Let Light and Love and Power restore the Plan on Earth.

    • That’s wonderful! If you don’t mind, I’m going to save and use it for a blessing via email and fb that I send out weekly. I love to launch God’s love into cyberspace because it always seems to end up in a place where it does good.

      • Fine with me! I think it’s in the public domain. You can also get little signs (don’t know what else to call them, you stick them in the ground) that say “May Peace Prevail On Earth.”

  17. Every Orthodox Divine Liturgy begins with “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, unto ages of ages,” and the people respond “Amen.”

  18. I started an online devotional almost three years ago (and so I am about to complete all three cycles!) for my youth and other people in “our tribe” since I feel many of us lacked the full, deep and rich blessing(s) of Iiturgy and the idea of reading the same passages as millions of others around the world during the same Sunday and week; as well as getting an idea of the difference between invocation, prayers of praise, pastoral prayer, etc.

    I am part of the Canadian Baptists of Western canada and we are a weird lot, as in all over the map. I see the younger generations craving liturgy and tradition (I think perhaps many reject what their parents held too, or they are tired of “surfacy stuff”); the worship times I have with youth are much more liturgical and steeped in tradition than those who claim they want our morning service back to the traditional one they once had (which is actually habitual and not traditional). The prayers of invocation given by the young people are amazing and real.
    Anyway, I was blessed by Job and Shawchuck’s “A Gudie to Prayer” books and also “Pray As You Go” (free podcast found on iTunes), so I created a simple and similar format online. http://www.straypunks.com it is very basic, but just wanted ya to know there are some protestants, even evangelicals up here that seek, bless and are blessed through liturgy, follow the lectionary and take invocation seriously. I even have icons in the office and use a prayer bracelet. Thanks for bringing this one to discussion.