Worship leaders carefully select songs, prayers, and confessions that complement the service’s sermon. But do you think about how a service begins and ends? Do you typically turn to a psalm for a call to worship, pray extemporaneously for your invocation, or rely on a small rotation of benedictions? Do you use calls to worship, invocations, or benedictions at all?
If you’ll consider the history and design of these worship elements and select related passages from the entire Bible, you’ll bring greater unity to your services and more effectively turn the congregation’s hearts and minds toward God.
Beginning and Ending Worship
Many Protestant worship services begin when a minister summons the assembly to worship God. In liturgical traditions, this moment is labeled the call to worship. Though other traditions may not label it formally, worship leaders often start services by inviting the people to lift their voices in song. The Westminster Directory for the Publick Worship of God, published in 1644, references “the minister’s solemn call for the people to worship God” and is the primary influence on traditions that feature this element.
Some churches also begin their services with an invocation, a prayer that requests God’s presence, assistance, and blessing in worship. Though prayers for God’s presence in worship date back to the third century, their location near the beginning of worship services became more prevalent after the Reformation.
Worship leaders carefully select songs, prayers, and confessions. But do you think about how a service begins and ends?
Often Protestant services will end with a pastoral benediction—a pronouncement of God’s blessing on his people. This practice has Old Testament roots, and it gained liturgical regularity and prominence in the late medieval and post-Reformation church.
Each of these elements has a function: a summons to worship God, a petition for God’s presence, and a pronouncement of God’s blessing.
Rooted in Scripture, True to Function
The Bible includes passages that are appropriate for calls to worship (like Pss. 98:4–6; 150:1–2) and benedictions (like Num. 6:24–26; 2 Cor. 13:14). Worship leaders often turn to these passages because they don’t require adaptation.
But God’s entire Word offers richness for these elements, so pastors and worship leaders should consider crafting calls, invocations, and benedictions around more than the popular passages.
To craft new calls to worship, consider adapting passages addressed to the congregation, or about the church, by adding summoning language:
Call to worship incorporating Psalm 40:9–10: Tell the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; speak of the Lord’s faithfulness and salvation; declare his steadfast love and faithfulness in the great congregation.
Call to worship incorporating Ephesians 3:10–12: Through the church, the manifold wisdom of God has been made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. Because of the eternal purposes realized in Christ Jesus your Lord, come and approach him boldly, with confidence through your faith in him.
A minister might adapt passages about God’s presence and guiding care into invocations like this:
Invocation incorporating Exodus 15:13: O Lord, you have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed; you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode. Lead them today to your presence, that they may worship your holiness. Amen.
Invocation incorporating Psalm 27:7–9: Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud; be gracious to me and answer me! You have said, “Seek my face.” The hearts of your people say to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek.” Immanuel, be near us today that we might adore you. Amen.
Similarly, a minister might pronounce a benediction by drawing on passages that declare his benefits:
Benediction incorporating Psalm 23: May the Lord shepherd you and make you lie down in green pastures; may he restore your soul and lead you in paths of righteousness; may he be with you and comfort you; may he anoint your head with oil and bestow his goodness and mercy on you all the days of your life.
Benediction incorporating James 3:17–18: May the Lord grant you wisdom that comes down from above, that is pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere, and may he bring forth in you a harvest of righteousness.
Some argue that using extra-biblical language in a call to worship, invocation, or benediction is inappropriate. But when Christ said, “Pray then like this” in Matthew 6:9, he didn’t prescribe worship language but rather demonstrated the structure, posture, content, and manner of biblical prayer.
Pastors and worship leaders should consider crafting calls, invocations, and benedictions around more than the popular passages.
We ought not bind churches with restrictions that are tighter than God demands. A minister is no more offering “strange fire” when he adapts a Scripture passage to say in his own words, “Let us worship God,” than when he says, “Let us pray.”
As a pastor or worship leader, you are vested with the authority to lead the people in their worship of God. Consider afresh how you begin and end worship, how you can bring the richness of the entire Scriptures into these elements, and how you can rightly exercise the rhetorical latitude vested in your ministry office.