How should a Worship Service Begin? Does it really matter?
Every Church has to begin the corporate Sunday worship service in some way. Some churches simply start worship by playing a song, others begin with a welcome, greeting, and prayer, and the list goes on. At Redeemer, we have chosen to begin service with a formal Call to Worship. The pastor, speaking on God’s behalf, calls the congregation to worship by reading a passage from Scripture (typically a Psalm) that contains a clear call to God’s people to offer up praise and worship to God. This week, for example, our call to worship is from Psalm 113: "Praise the Lord! Praise, O servants of the Lord, Praise the name of the Lord!”
At this point, someone may wonder if the way a service begins is really that important. Is one way better than another, or are we just splitting hairs? After all, there is no order of worship given in Scripture that churches are required to follow. While this is certainly true, I think we would all agree, however, that there are some ways of starting a worship service that are clearly better than others. For example, I don't think you will find many Christian who would advocate for beginning a service with communion or the sermon. Using a call to worship to start a worship service may not be commanded by Scripture, but it has the weight of church history behind it, is eminently Biblical, and adds significant meaning to our worship in several ways.
First, a call to worship gives God the first word in the service. Certainly this is how it should be in our worship! God is Lord, He is King, and in his grace he always takes the initiative towards us in every aspect of our Christian life. It is never the other way around. We love because he first loved us. We believe and trust in him because he, by the power of the Holy Spirit, brought about the new birth in our lives (1 John 5:1). So also in worship, we do not gather together and then call upon God to enter our presence, nor can we presume to barge into his presence. Rather we recognize that as sinners, we can enter God's presence by invitation only, and only through the work of Jesus Christ.
Second, a call to worship reminds us of our identity as those "called out" from the world. The Greek new testament word for church, ekklesia, means "the called out ones." As Christians our identity is one who has been called by God out of darkness and into light. However, we easily forget our true identities. We are very quickly conformed to the patterns and thinking of this world, and we lose sight of our identities in Christ. God's call to worship reminds us of who we really are. We are those whom God has brought forth from death to life, so that we now live not for ourselves, but for him. As Bob Kauflin states so well: "After a week when we’ve been tempted to worship money, relationships, control, sensuality, and ourselves, a call to worship God wakes us up to the fact that we are sojourners and exiles in this world (1 Peter 2:11), that there is one true God, that he deserves to be exalted in our minds, hearts and wills."
Third, it reminds us that what we are about to engage in is no ordinary meeting. A clear call to worship reminds us that we are not gathered together to be entertained, hear a lecture, or to plan any social activities, as legitimate as those are in other contexts. No, God himself has called this assembly, He is present in this assembly, and has assigned the purpose for the Assembly: Worship Him and receive his good gifts which flow down to us in abundance.