A call to worship is one of the first moments in a church's liturgical practice. Someone leads the congregation in marking off the boundaries between normal time (what happened before the service), and liturgical time. While there are many variations, a call to worship sets the tone for the worship service and can help orient the congregation toward a worship mindset and attitude.
Direct attention toward God. Metaphorically, calls to worship gather attention from the horizontal plan and direct it toward the vertical. Worship is a divine direction of the mind, heart and actions that ascribes worth to God intellectually, physically and emotionally. In free church traditions, this can take a more improvisational or extemporaneous tone. However the words are presented, they should be chosen carefully to direct the people's attention toward God.
Build anticipation and energy. A call to worship tilts the service in a certain direction. Poor calls to worship reflect backward on what happened before the service, lack energy and don't build anticipation. In other words, prepare to be bored. Good calls to worship are energetic without being aggressive, confident without being haughty, well crafted without feeling rehearsed, and point the worshiper toward what is coming next. Whether a scripture verse or an individually written set of comments, a call to worship should lean the congregation forward.
Introduce worship themes. The call to worship often introduces worship themes for the day. If Deuteronomy 6 is the service theme, for example, the call to worship might begin this way:
Welcome, lovers of God and those loved by God. We come today to give our hearts, minds, souls and all our energy in adoration to God. With the Psalmist our hearts cry out, our spirits pant, and we will not be silenced in our search for God. Let us search for God today in song, in word and in spirit. Come, people of God, let us worship.
A call to worship in a more free church tradition on Matthew 5 might read this way:
Welcome to Stone Crossing Church. None of us come to church today deserving of God's attention. We cannot earn a glance from God, nor can we force the hand of God. Instead, whether visitors, skeptics, atheists or long time believers, we have the same need: the loving mercy of God. We need the love of God that rains on the righteous and the unrighteous alike. So, today we are going to celebrate the rain of God's grace with joy and gratitude. Stand with us and join in this song, and know that the grace of God is near to you.
Greet the congregation with a smile and a confident movement toward worship rather than a bland 'Good morning.' The first words should be more than casual greetings...this is a worship service. Project your voice with breath support from the diaphragm and speak with a smile. Raise the arms and turn up the palms in a welcoming gesture during your last sentence of invitation to worship.
Calls to worship are not long affairs. Avoid the long winded introduction. If you are reading a call to worship avoid the reading voice with its downturned towns and predictable rhythms. Practice reading the call to worship well enough that it lives and breathes. Don't think you can avoid the call to worship. Whatever is spoken first (outside of song) in a service is the call to worship. So craft it well.
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