This service is adapted from the forthcoming Volume 2 of Ten Service Plans for Contemporary Worship (2006, Faith Alive Christian Resources). The original Ten Service Plans (2002) is also published by Faith Alive. Available at www.faithaliveresources.org.
The success of Rick Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Life is evidence of the deep desire people have to discern God’s will for their lives. We sometimes speak of this as discovering our vocation or hearing God’s call. These concerns are lifelong, but are especially sharp for young people trying to choose the way in which they can minister to the world in Christ’s name, and in which they can flourish and grow into all God intends them to be. A group of such students at Fuller Seminary, tired from a year’s worth of academic work and anxious about their futures, did the initial planning for this service, centered on the theme of discerning and responding to God’s call.
These wise students recognized that when we think of hearing and responding to God’s call to us, without realizing it, we often reduce that call to an individual’s process of discerning and implementing God’s will for his or her area of employment. The comprehensive, corporate, all-of-life call of Jesus— “Follow me”—is reduced to “What career path shall I pursue?”
To combat this tendency, this service acknowledges the importance of our work in the world, but subtly and not-so-subtly reminds us that Jesus’ call includes other activities that image God and bear witness to the new creation to come, namely, resting and feasting.
The service begins a good ten minutes before the actual beginning of the service. An atmosphere of moderate chaos reigns as musicians warm up, dancers rehearse, worship furniture is moved into place and slowly made more tidy; meanwhile, people mill about talking amongst themselves or engaging in other decidedly un-churchy activities. If your church has PowerPoint capability, you might display a slightly out-of-focus video depicting wandering through a crowd in first-person camera perspective.
As people enter the sanctuary, greeters smile warmly and hand each person a sheet of paper with just enough information about the unusual start of the service so that they are not frightened away. A full bulletin is fine, but even a simple statement on a small sheet would work: “God calls to us out of the chaos of our lives.”
About three minutes after the usual start time of the service, one musician begins to play, quietly but insistently, “Be Still and Know” (Songs for Praise and Worship 49). Key of C. One vocalist—unamplified—joins. Gradually the other instrumentalists join in until they are all playing and singing this simple call to worship. As the music gains focus, other distracting activities (chatting, tidying) gradually cease. When the music resolves to the first song, the PowerPoint video can be replaced by the one line of the refrain: “Be still and know that I am God.”
When the congregation is fully attentive, the music leader invites them to sing along with a hand gesture (if they are already not doing so). The musicians gradually diminish in volume until there is only the collective voice singing.
Then the liturgist speaks these words, slowly and invitingly: “All who are weary and heavy-laden, says Jesus, come! All who are hungry and thirsty, come! All who yearn for abundant life, come!”
The liturgist continues, “Through Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit has washed over us, calling us and commissioning us, blessing us and beckoning us now to worship our great and Holy God.” During this, one of the dancers (or any other member of the congregation) comes forward with a pitcher of water and pours it into the baptismal font to remind us of our baptisms, our names, our identities in Christ.
Immediately after the words “great and Holy God,” over a musical transition (see Musical Notes below), the liturgist can simply say: “Let us pray together in adoration. . . .”
The acoustic guitar begins plucking or strumming to introduce “Our Great God” (City on a Hill—Sing Alleluia Songbook 5), key of C (one half-step down from written music). Use just a few instruments (guitar, synth, minimal percussion) at first, and build this rich contemporary hymn of adoration through the first stanza until the whole band joins in on the enthusiastic chorus.
Liturgist offers a prayer of confession, focusing on the ways in which we are distracted from God’s call to us. Silence is fine during this prayer, or an ambient wash on the synth in A-minor would be a fitting backdrop.
Liturgist says words of assurance from Isaiah 1:18ff., and then declares our sins “washed away” by Christ’s blood.
Underneath the words of assurance, the piano alone plays one time through the chorus of “Nothing but the Blood of Jesus” (Hymns for Praise and Worship 29), key of C. Then the congregation sings the first stanza, rather slowly (no faster than 72bpm). Ritard at the end and transition to the next song (Am-D7-G).
At roughly the same tempo, the musicians (full band) introduce “Speak to Me, Lord” (Wait for Me: The Best from Rebecca St. James 14), key of G. Sing the first stanza and chorus, and then have the entire group drop in volume while the liturgist reads Psalm 131 in preparation for the proclamation of the Word. Then return to the first stanza, but change the lyrics from the first person singular to plural voice (“speak to us, Lord”). Sing the chorus twice to conclude.
Some piquant texts related to the notion of “call” are Isaiah 55 (Come to the waters); Matthew 11:28ff. (Come to me and rest); or one of the call narratives (Matt. 4, Come and follow me). Another possibility would be a sermon on servanthood and being in relationship with Jesus (John 12:21-26).
Follow the proclamation with “Will You Come and Follow Me” (SNC 267), key of F.
Liturgist leads in the prayers of the people. Divide the congregation into three or four separate groups, and give each section a prayer “assignment” (the community, the world at large, the church in the world). Each section then breaks up into small groups of two to four, and they offer prayers (out loud). One could even divide the time into a time first of thanksgiving and then of intercession, with a musical cue (a chime, for example) directing folks to move from one area to another. Conclude with the Lord’s Prayer.
Musicians may wish to gently play something underneath this time of prayer. The ambient noise may make some shy congregants feel less inhibited about speaking aloud. One possibility is a song that may have resonances with prayer, such as “Lord, Listen to Your Children Praying” (PsH 625), “O Lord, Hear My Prayer” (SNC 203), “Mayenziwe/Your Will Be Done” (SNC 198), or “Hallowed,” (City on a Hill 10). You may also wish for the congregation together to sing any of these songs after the group prayer time is complete.
Liturgist offers a prayer of dedication and invites the offering.
For our service the communion table was set after the offering, beautifully and bountifully. During the communion service there is opportunity to sing several songs.
Liturgist offers a closing prayer something like this: “Will you pray with me? ‘Gracious God, we bless you for this time together—for this moment, these people, for the presence of Jesus. We pray now for the strength and wisdom of the Holy Spirit as we go from here. Unfold for us the lives you call us to lead. In all we do, may you be glorified and your name be made holy. Amen.’”
During the final prayer, have the electric guitar quietly give the opening guitar riff for “You Are Holy/Prince of Peace” (More Songs for Praise and Worship 3 129), key of E. Sing antiphonally: women and men, or one side of the congregation and then the other. With great joy, let this song collect and direct the congregation’s energy toward God. When you return to the chorus the second time, drop all the instruments and let the congregation sing a cappella until “Prince of Peace,” then slow down just a bit into the song’s conclusion.
Liturgist says, “Now, dear people, hear this final word as we leave: May the blessing of God, the giver of every good and perfect gift; and of Christ, who summons us to service; and of the Holy Spirit, who comforts and inspires us, be with us all. Go in peace to love and serve the Lord. Amen.”
As the congregation leaves, the musicians can reprise the last song (“You Are Holy/Prince of Peace”) or play an appropriate sending song (“Thuma Mina,” SNC 280, or “Take, O Take Me as I Am,” SNC 215).