A call to worship, often a short passage from the Bible, is God's invitation to his people to respond to who he is in worship and praise. In the gospel pattern of our services noted in the first liturgy blog post (praise, renewal, proclamation, response), the call to worship is in the praise cycle.
As the opening of a worship service, a call to worship reminds us why we have come to church. John Witvliet has said this element "establishes the unique purpose of the worship service and reinforces the 'vertical dimension' of worship—an encounter between God and the gathered congregation" (Worship Sourcebook, 48). Entering the church with various distractions and disoriented by our sinful hearts and minds, the call rightly orients our thoughts and affections toward God and the glory of Christ.
Many of us may be tempted to treat a church service as another social gathering with a religious aspect (if only subtly in our hearts). While it is good to encourage people, and guests in particular, to feel comfortable, a call to worship reminds us that this 90 minutes is going to be different than the rest of the week. Bryan Chappel has noted that "God does not simply invite us to a party of friends, or a lecture on religion, or a concert of sacred music – he invites us into the presence of the King of the Universe before whom all creation will bow and for whom all heaven now sings.”
The call the worship reminds us of our identity as the church: we are literally the "called-out ones" (from ekklesia, the Greek work for church) whose most fundamental vocation is to worship God. We are a "chosen race, a royal priesthood, a people for His own possession" (1 Peter 2:5).
Having a call to worship at the beginning of our service also establishes the primacy of God and his Word to us in Christ. In this "dialogical" meeting, God's call always comes before our response, as he graciously initiates and move towards us fallen creatures. He is primary agent in worship. We then respond with the praise and thanksgiving that is due him.
Psalms are often used a calls to worship, as they clearly and succinctly point us to who God is and the appropriate response:
But we can also use rich content shaped by Scripture to accomplish a similar purpose which we can contextualize based on the particular situation of the church or a particular sermon text. For example:
Whether it is Scripture itself or a text shaped by Scripture, a truth-filled call to worship helps the church to then respond in songs of praise to God's invitation.
This post has hopefully made it clearer why we use a call to worship at UCC, and will hopefully make it more meaningful!