Benefits of A Call to Worship
The first pitch, puck drop, kickoff, and firing of the starting pistol. The school bell ringing, the title sequence and theme song, and the presiding officer’s gavel banging.
Sporting events, school days, feature films and TV shows, and legislative sessions all have well-established events that serve to define their starts.
So, too, do the corporate worship services of many historic Christian traditions, most of which fall into the “high church” category, often called the “liturgical traditions.” The exact mechanism varies from a processional song or chant, to a recitation of a verse or two from the psalms, or an invocatory prayer – and sometimes one of these follows chimes – but in all cases, it clearly and specifically calls the gathered to worship. Many “low church” counterparts, however, seem to have lost the call to worship in their liturgies, or at best treat it as an afterthought, assuming the congregation will get the point when the worship leader begins strumming.
This loss is unfortunate, as a formal call to worship does not need to be overly burdensome to prepare and there are at least three immediate benefits.
1. It defines the starting point to the worship service
A corporate worship service should not be like an open-mic night at a coffee shop, where people come and go throughout the evening. Rather, the expectation and culture should be for worshippers to be there at the beginning and not leave until the end. This is not to be legalistic, of course: situations arise that might require someone to sneak in to the back row late or discreetly exit early. But a worship service should be a total event, and a call to worship indicates that it has officially begun. As I noted above, if even sporting events have well-defined beginnings (where there is no custom demanding the fans be there at the start), why not corporate worship services?
2. It gathers the scattered members of the congregation
At my church, a previous version of our worship guide had this explanation printed above the title of the first song: “In ‘The Calling,’ the scattered members of the body assemble as one.” I do not know the geographic constitution of your church, but even for the smallest churches, it is unlikely that the whole congregation sees each other on a daily basis. Thus, Sunday morning is the first time in a week when a given church family gathers, after six days of work, study, travel, hobbies, and much more. All coming from different places, we are expected to join with one voice to offer praise and thanksgiving to God and then hear what He has to say to us as a local body of believers. A call to worship reminds us of that truth, that we are gathering as a unit for corporate (a word that derives from the Latin word for “body”) worship.
3. It is helpful to visitors
Even a church that does not observe the call to worship will invariably take time during the announcements to specifically welcome visitors, as every guidebook from both the business and ministry worlds will tell you. And someone visiting a church is likely to arrive on time. When the announced start time comes, it can make a great impression on those visitors if the worship leader or another minister gives a call to worship – even if the visitors do not understand that concept, they will appreciate even the indirect guidance to the service’s structure. “Good morning, would you stand and join in singing,” can be immensely comforting to a visitor who, out of place, is understandably unsure of the local customs.
What makes for a good call to worship? Simple and to the point is best. Using a couple verses from the psalms is always a good choice. If it is a special occasion in the liturgical calendar, it can be worth mentioning it. I should note that the call is not the best place for making announcements, or even specifically welcoming the visitors, because that separates the people based on the relevance of an announcement to them, rather than uniting them as one body for worship – so save those items for a bit later. Above all, welcome the previously scattered worshippers and direct their attention to the task of worship.
Does your church use a call to worship? What is your usual means? Share your thoughts below.Comment on Facebook Comment on Twitter
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