This post is part of a series I’m doing on the elements of worship – why these liturgical elements are important and how they form us as the Body of Christ. After looking at the time of preparation for worship, we’ll move into a discussion of the call to worship.
The call to worship is important first because it reminds us of why we are here. This may seem elementary or even demeaning, to think that people would forget why they have come to church. But it’s remarkably easy to forget what it is we are doing. Perhaps we may start thinking our purpose in coming is to hear great music, or get an emotional high, or hear a great communicator. Or maybe we think we’ve come in order to punch the clock and "put in our time" to stay on God’s good side. Maybe we think we’re there to socialize, or "network", or find new friends or a future spouse.
All of these things may happen, but none of them are the reason we gather. We may find friends, we might indeed find a spouse, we may feel emotionally elated, the music might be excellent, the preacher may have communicated well, but if all of these things fail to happen, the church gathering will not necessarily have failed, because none of those things are the reason the church gathers. The call to worship reminds the worshipers that in the midst of all the wonderful or terrible things that may be going on, we have gathered to worship Jesus Christ. We have come to turn our attention to hearing the Word and responding in wholehearted worship. The call to worship reminds us of what is central in liturgy and life: God.
The call to worship is also always God calling us, not the other way around. God always initiates, we always respond. God invites us into his Presence to worship him; grace is always first. People do not welcome one another to worship, nor does the minister play the host to the congregation. God himself, in a sense, is the host, welcoming us into his presence. The call to worship is the first of a series of calls and responses that take place in worship, but we always worship as a response to God’s call. God is already present and calling us to worship; we do not call out to an absent God, begging him to accept our worship. We worship a God who is already there, a God who calls and invites us to worship. We respond to his call in worship, but the call always comes first.
So the greeting should never be something like "How are you this morning?" – a more appropriate greeting would be along the traditional lines of "The Lord be with you", with the congregational response, "And also with you." Our words perform actions, and we are joined together in the presence of the Lord to worship him. Then the call to worship can be an appropriate sentence from Scripture reminding the worshipers of why they are there: to be constituted as the church, as a "corporate body animated by the Spirit of Jesus Christ" (Chan), because "Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them" (Mt 18:20).