In this series, I hope to highlight the benefits of certain worship practices that are sometimes missing from the free-worship traditions. I do not mean to patronize those already doing so; I hope to show how a wise use of these practices can only improve the worship we offer God.
A Call to Worship is often missing from the free worship tradition. Instead, worship in many such churches begins with a warm and friendly welcome, a comment or two about a sports game, the weather, and how happy and blessed the church is that everybody graced the church with their presence. From this chatty start, one is usually directed to a rousing ‘opening hymn’ – an anthem intended to spiritually caffeinate the still-yawning parishioners.
A Call to Worship is not a prescribed element of worship; it is one of the applications of a prescribed element of worship. The prescribed element of worship is the reading of Scripture (1 Timothy 4:13). A Call to Worship is a useful and wise use of the reading of Scripture to prepare the congregation for worship. There is nothing wrong with a warm greeting or welcome, and even a preliminary announcement or two. However, beginning corporate worship with Call to Worship achieves many things in one.
Firstly, it calls believers’ attention to their purpose in coming. Certainly, as David Peterson argues in Engaging With God, believers worship in all of life. However, I’m not convinced that every time we meet, the primary task is edification. There are many time when we meet for edification, instruction, fellowship and service of one another. However, I do think there are times when believers meet for the explicit purpose of hearing and responding to God’s Revelation in worship. This is why we are called a spiritual temple (1 Peter 2:5), and changing (or extending) the image, priests offering up praises to God (2:9). This is why Luke says that the church was worshipping in Acts 13:2. The point is, at these times, it is necessary to make it known that believers are together, in such a meeting, to worship. Edification, fellowship, instruction will all be part of that time, but worship is the primary reason for meeting.
Secondly, it sanctifies the time. The Call to Worship is like cordoning off a section of time. In doing it, we announce, “What happens here is no longer ordinary. Do not profane this time by treating it as ordinary or common. This time is specially set apart for knowing and magnifying God. Stop your normal way of thinking and acting and turn your entire attention to God.”
Thirdly, it arrests attention. The Call to Worship is analogous to the blowing of the shofar. At the blowing of the shofar, an assembly was being called, or an announcement was being made. When the words of Scripture call for worship, they simultaneously call for a halt to other activities (including chatting, sipping coffee, and texting). This stands in stark contrast to chatty transitions which are aimed at slowly ‘warming up’ disinterested believers. The Call to Worship breaks into the distracted state of how most enter a church service, and demands attention.
Fourthly, it demands a response. The Call to Worship is , in fact, a call. God has worship that is due to Him (Ps 29:1-2); the call to worship calls us all to joyfully pay our dues.
The Call to Worship could take more than one form. It could be a simple reading of a portion of Scripture that calls for worship, such as Psalm 95:1-2, 96:1-3, or 100:1-4. It could be a text that celebrates the privilege and joy of worship such as Psalm 84 or Psalm 122. It could be a responsive reading between leader and congregation, such as Psalm 118:1-4 or any other appropriate Scripture. A musical Call to Worship could involve the singing of a Scriptural call to worship God by choir or congregation. Because choir ‘numbers’ are often evaluated as performances, I would take special care to direct the congregation to the words being sung, so that it truly performs its function of calling the congregation to worship.
The key is, worship ought not to feel like a movie with several trailers before it really begins. We don’t need to transition people into worship with a chatty commentary. When corporate worship is about to begin, it should begin with the authoritative announcement of Scripture. When that is made, believers are now responsible to enter into the posture of corporate worship.