Why We Need the Call to Worship

Zac HicksWorship & Mission, Worship Theology & Thought8 Comments

In our weekly printed bulletins, we have a sidebar column that acts as a commentary and explanation for what we do in our services. This “Worship Notes” section contains short paragraphs on the significance of various elements of our worship. We explain everything from the meaning and origin of the Doxology, to why we preach sermons, to the significance of the Lord’s Supper, to backgrounds on the songs we sing. Here are four worship notes on the Call to Worship–the beginning of the service where we hear God’s summons to gather and praise His name.

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Call to Worship. Worship is something we offer to God every day of our lives in everything that we do. If we are worshiping as we come in the church doors, why do we have a Call to Worship?  Implied in the phrase is the word “corporate.” When we hear the Call to (corporate) Worship, we are called by God as one community to worship Him together. What is unique about Sunday is not that we worship on that day and not others; it is that we worship together.

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Why the Call to Worship is so important.  First, we live in a society that teaches us to think highly of our own ability.  Americans are a fiercely independent, self-motivated people.  The Call to Worship puts us in our place.  We come to worship because God has a summons on our lives.  We come to worship because God initiates with us, not the other way around.  So the call to worship reminds us of God’s sovereign reign over us.

Second, the earliest word used to describe the Church in the Bible was ekklesia.  (It’s where we get our words “ecclesiastical” and “ecclesiology.”)  Its root is the Greek word kaleo, which means, “to call.”  The people of God, as the ekklesia, are “the called-out ones.”  When we hear the Call to Worship, we are being reminded of our identity as those called out and set apart by God for His holy purposes.  We are reminded that we are not our own.  We are reminded that we are “resident aliens” in this world.  We are reminded that we are treasured and loved by God.  So the call to worship reminds us of our identity in Christ.

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The Call to Worship: No Small Thing. When God is recognized as the central reality on Sunday morning, and when God, not the human being, is seen to be the central actor, to whom all must respond, then the elements of worship can be seen in a different and truer light. In the call to worship we realize that the meeting is no merely human meeting, planned and controlled by our human agendas, but a special meeting called by God, on his divine authority, for his purpose of meeting with his people. In the call to worship God himself is speaking through the human worship leader. We are called to lay aside our personal agendas, to realize where we are and what we are to be doing, to focus our attention on the unseen God, and to yield to him our full awareness and attention. (John Jefferson Davis, Worship and the Reality of God, 102-103)

Why We Need the Call to Worship.  All throughout the week, we find ourselves tossed about in the “sub-reality” of sin and brokenness.  In a sense, we can forget God.  We can forget His promises to us in Christ.  We can forget who we are.  We can forget that we’re designed for union and communion with our Maker.  And this forgetfulness allows us to worship lesser things—people, money, possessions, prestige, the “perfect life.”  The Call to Worship is a jolt back into reality.  It is a bucket of cold water on our world-induced trance.  In the Call to Worship, we once again remember, “Yes, this is who I am; this is what I’m called to do!  I am a son/daughter of God Most High, and in Christ, I am His holy temple, His servant, His worshiper, His friend, His Bride, His possession, His love.

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The Call to Worship and the Benediction.  The Call to Worship and the Benediction are important traditions in the history of Christian worship.  As the start and close of the service, they make an important point to us about worship: God gets the first and last word.  We understand the Call to Worship as God’s call to us.  If we are ever to have a relationship with God, it is God who must first initiate to us.  God alone can invite us and draw us in.  Likewise, in the Benediction, it is only by God’s blessing (which is what a “benediction” is) and power are we able to go out into the world, to surrender our lives in daily worship, and to live out God’s mission.

8 Comments on “Why We Need the Call to Worship”

  1. The issue of appropriate focus is not lost on me here. "Giving" God the first and final words in the corporate worship service is great. What are your thoughts on the middle of the service? I've been seeing many churches get lost in other things, even "good" things, but absent of God's manifest presence and the power we have available to us through His Holy Spirit in every element of the service. How do we do this EVERY MOMENT of every service?

    And I find myself choosing vastly different songs in this new season of leading, because I realize we weren't embracing all God had for us in those times by our limited scope of what corporate worship can accomplish. My current struggle is how to lead in those interstitial moments without become rote and trite. What used to be a large arsenal of leading moments has dwindled down to a few grasping ideas between songs. This has happened so I don't continually focus on US instead of HIM. Any help?

  2. Zac, I love that you guys work so hard to bring the liturgical elements to life in the church. May I borrow these explanations? With citations of course.

    Jeff, a danger we all face is the presumption that there is a formula that if followed correctly can summon the power of God on our behalf. While I am personally a proponent of regulated worship I believe it is easier for us to regulate God out of our services than to regulate Him in.

    I seek authenticity in worship. It takes the pressure off of leading. A great way to lead worship is to ensure that I am really worshipping. Is that too simple?

  3. Not too simple. But I have the tendency to get too far inside my own head and rely on the content of the songs to do the heavy lifting for me. Trying to speak words of encouragement towards deeper, authentic worship that don't become stale is my challenge, now more than ever.

    I love what you're saying about regulating God out more easily than in. I'm sure you're right. How do we leave "room" for and not forget to lead folks "to" God in the midst of Sunday worship?

  4. Jeff, one more response and then I'll let Zac have his blog back! When planning our worship I try to remember that everyone is on a different journey. Folks are at all different levels of discipleship. Not surprisingly, many worship leaders and team members are farther down the spiritual maturity spectrum. So, we often require deeper and more "heady" concepts in our worship to draw us in. We like the meat. But not everyone is there yet. Some are still on the milk. Our responsibility in leadership is to help them mature so they can handle the deeper things. Any math teacher will tell you that kids don't do well in algebra if they don't understand fractions. Hopefully, our folks are progressing spiritually and for sure they are progressing at different rates. Not everyone is in the gifted class! So, I don't think it is a compromise at all to provide some lighter fare in our worship. I contend that it can be quite responsible leadership when it is done with intention and discernment. Haven't we all had the experience where we get amazing feedback from services that WE didn't connect with much at all!? I try to provide touchpoints for folks at different points along the spectrum and trust God to work in their hearts as He so desires. My concern is not that I provide material that is biblical ENOUGH but that I don't provide something UNbiblical. So, while I don't find "How Great Is Our God" very meaty, it is certainly true. And it is simple enough for young believers to connect with.
    Jeff, reading between the lines, I sense that you have the responsibility of leadership in a system that you are frustrated with and are finding stale. As I type this I am praying for you and will continue to do so. May the peace of God rule your heart. No system, no church, no leader is perfect. Don't be quick to abandon your station. Find what ignites your spiritual passion and share it with someone. Your fire is only small spark away. Godspeed.

  5. "Don't be quick to abandon your station. Find what ignites your spiritual passion and share it with someone. Your fire is only one small spark away."

    Wow – what an encouragement. Because of course, Jesus is in the business of reigniting smoldering wicks!

  6. Jeff, thanks for your thoughts. And thanks, everyone, for the great dialogue here. One of the metaphors that has had a lasting impact on how I view worship is the metaphor of dialogue–specifically, God initiates, we respond, God initiates, we respond, repeat, repeat. So I tend to think less of the service as having a beginning, middle, and end (though it does have that), and I more think of it in terms of a back-and-forth between God and His people, with the Call to Worship being the first point of contact. If we are placing and prizing as God as the initiator (in our worship's call, in His initiation in grace/salvation, in His Word preached, in His invitation to the table), it seems to me that your concerns end up being addressed. I may not be hitting at what you're after.

    I'm not sure you're doing this, Jeff, so please don't think I'm assuming this about you. I know some who are looking to experience a certain type of perpetual "feeling" in a service and when that feeling's absent, they feel like they haven't really been engaged with God in the service. Over the years, I've learned that (a) my feelings are fleeting, and (b) I can still engage with God even in spite of feeling distant, alienated. Regarding (b) check out the vast majority of the psalms. The psalmists aren't "feeling" close to God. They feel far…see many of the opening Psalms and Psalms like 42. But they're encountering and engaging with God in their alienation. There's something to it that we worship-loving folks have a lot to learn from. Feelings are wonderful, and when they're in line and engaged positively, worship is euphoric. But when it's not there, I've moved beyond saying that, in that instance, "I haven't worshiped." I think God is pleased with even the meager attempts, ultimately because His pleasure is based on an "alien worship performance"–that of Christ Himself. Christ worshiped (and worships) perfectly, and we get to worship "in Christ" and "through Christ," which means that God is pleased even as we fumble about here on earth. What freedom! What a relief!

  7. Zach – does your church post your bulletins anywhere? I'm curious to see some more examples of your sidebars.

  8. Well its come time I have to sit down and come up with an idea to write a sermon for my church. I want to say thank you for taking time to answer all our questions and putting this cool page up. Thanks again!!!!

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