For most of the 33 years I’ve been involved with Sovereign Grace churches we’ve had a fairly free and simple liturgy. Singing, welcome/announcements/offering, sermon, ministry time.
While simple liturgies have some advantages, there are good reasons to consider including liturgical elements that have been used in church gatherings for centuries. One of those is the call to worship.
I remember being less inclined to use a call to worship after reading Harold Best’s thoughts years ago in his insightful book Music Through the Eyes of Faith:
There can only be one call to worship, and this comes at conversion, when in complete repentance we admit to worshiping falsely, trapped by the inversion and enslaved to false gods before whom we have been dying sacrifices. This call to true worship comes but once, not every Sunday, in spite of the repeated calls to worship that begin most liturgies and orders of worship. These should not be labeled calls to worship but calls to continuation of worship. We do not go to church to worship, but, already at worship, we join our brothers and sisters in continuing those actions that should have been going on—privately, familially or even corporately—all week long (p. 147).
Yes, there is only one call to worship. But since we planted Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville nearly two years ago, we’ve begun each meeting with a call to worship. Why? Here’s the way we’ve thought through it as a pastoral team.
Every Beginning Says Something
There are different ways of letting people know the meeting is starting. Some churches run a countdown video. Others have the band kick in to the first song (our practice for decades). Some churches find it effective to have some kind of warm up song before the meeting actually starts. They may or may not invite the congregation to sing along. Some churches begin with a friendly welcome by a leader, and other churches open with announcements. But every beginning communicates meaning, sets an atmosphere and leads people to expect something.
The church is the ekklesia, the “called out ones.” When we gather as God’s people, we are being called away from other pursuits to worship God together in a specific place and time. We can worship God indirectly as we play soccer through good sportsmanship and serving others. But we worship him more directly on Sunday mornings as we gather to sing, pray, hear God’s Word preached and share the Lord’s Supper.
A call to worship tells us the meeting has begun, but it communicates much more than that. It emphasizes the primacy of God’s Word, who has called us together and what we’ve come to do.
The call to worship God can only come from God himself. Few things make that clearer than starting our meeting with Scripture. While we can certainly read it from our phone or iPad, it communicates something more focused and lasting when we read from a physical Bible we hold in our hands.
A call to worship reminds us that coming together isn’t our initiative. We didn’t think this up. God is the one who has called us out of the world to rehearse the gospel in His presence for His glory and our good through the power of His Spirit. That should encourage us to engage fully with God because we come by invitation, not presumption, through the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ.