The study group that meets in our home is giving attention to Philemon for the next few weeks. (Yes, you read that right. A few weeks. For such a short letter? Yes. Scripture texts–and perhaps especially Pauline ones–manifest such elegance, such structural integrity, and they deserve such attention!)
We are also intentionally incorporating more worship into our times together during this season. It is my hope that worship will arise somewhat naturally as we begin, or as we consider this or that aspect of the text, or as we close for the night. But worship does not always arise naturally, so those of us who wish to worship sometimes need to intentionally, specifically say to those around us, “It’s time to worship now.” This frequent need leads me to think about the “Call to Worship” used in some churches.
The “Call to Worship” is an interesting entity that has already begun to lose its meaning though it has only been around—in non-liturgical churches, at least—for a few decades.
For some, the “call” is just that—a phrase spoken with enthusiasm just before worship is to begin. It might be something as simple as “Let’s all join hearts and voices as we sing a song of praise.” For others, the call to worship may have more advance thought put into it. It might be an oral reading, from Psalms or from another scripture passage, that emphasizes something about God or about our relationship to the Creator. Perhaps a devotional reading from a great writer, or a prayer or song of homage or adoration. Truth is, many things can serve to call the saints to attention (forgive the military imagery, but after all, we are soldiers in service of our King) as worship begins.
It amuses me (OK, sometimes it’s more annoying than amusing) when the “call to worship” occurs after the worshipping has begun. There is really no point when your church has sung “We Shall Assemble” (a sort of “call to worship” in itself) and “Holy, Holy, Holy” and then breaks the train of thought by having someone stand up to say “Good morning! What? I didn’t hear you out there. Now, we can do better than that. I said ‘Good morning!’ Ah, that’s better. Now … let’s all turn in our Bibles to this morning’s “call to worship” scripture: Psalm 8. . . .”
If you choose to use a “call to worship,” let it function as it is supposed to function—to unite the saints in worship-filled thought and feeling. A “call to worship” should be functional in terms of its content, i.e., not everything that fills the place of the “Call” on the printed order of worship may actually be a call. And please do not allow any throw-away songs or prayers that are inserted as ritual actions to get the restless natives calmed down. Each statement, each prayer, each scripture should be voiced with deliberate, conscious intent, and with spiritual meaning!