What adjectives would your teens use to describe the worship experience at your church? If they use anything but "exciting, awesome, meaningful, cool," etc., Ms article was written for you.
Parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles—practically the whole church community—were assembled at the local high school to hear young people report about their recent youth convention experience. An athletic-looking young man stood before them and hundreds of his peers. "I learned one thing while I was there," he said with a smile. "Worship is cool! Worshiping the Lord is really fun!"
He was not alone. While the huge group of adults listened, teen after teen described how they had felt drawn to the Lord and energized for service as they worshiped. At a youth convention with their peers, they had experienced worship in ways they never had imagined in their home church.
As many thoughtful adults who attended that meeting concluded, those excited Christian teens had an important message for church leaders: Teens long for meaningful worship, and many local churches are not fulfilling that need. If young people are to become the church of tomorrow, they must be recognized as the church of today!
What that means is that we need to find ways of engaging young people in significant and meaningful participation in our weekly worship. Based on surveys of youth and my own involvement with them, IVe identified three key ways of doing that: involving youth regularly (not just in an occasional youth service), introducing a broader range of music styles in worship, and cultivating an openness to self-expression.
The driving force behind all worship is the biblical presupposition that the Lord has commanded us to worship him. The entire exodus from Egypt had one purpose—"Let my people go so that they may worship me." Worship is the primary activity of believers. But for many young people, worship has become ineffective.
When I'm with a group of teens, I occasionally ask, "What's the first word that comes to your mind when I say 'worship?'" The majority respond the same way—"Boring."
Teens' letters to me spell out their frustration. One young person wrote,
There are many things that make it hard for me to stay strong spiritually. One of them is that I go to (name omitted) Church, which really puts a damper on my special day with God.
Another correspondent lamented,
The time we all had together last weekend was fantastic. I loved singing to the Lord and worshiping him. Now I'm back in my home church, and it's so boring! But I suppose when I get older, I'll get used to it.
This small sampling reveals a major challenge that every local worshiping body faces continually. How can we design worship that is biblically based, God-centered, helpful to God's people, and useful in drawing the world— young people, in particular—to the "mountain of the Lord?"
Ways to Worship—Together
Many churches respond to that question by involving their teens in an occasional "youth service." On "Youth Sunday" teens greet, usher, read Scripture, lead in prayers, perform drama, share their musical talents, and choose more of "their songs" for the congregation to sing.
I encourage youth services. However, I fear that by having a special "youth service," churches sometimes make the dangerous mistake of ignoring the worship needs of teens during the rest of the year. Recently, one youth leader showed me some of the songs the teens wanted to include in a youth service. One of the songs was extremely energetic and had a bit of a "rock" feel. When I expressed some doubt about using this song in their congregation, the leader replied, "There are 104 services every year. We think the teens ought to have at least one that they will enjoy."
It's true that the teens will be more involved at this service, but what about the other 103?
Probably a better approach to involving youth in worship is to use their talents every week. Young people are not problems we must solve; they are solutions with much to contribute. Churches who are aware of their young people's abilities will discover a whole shelf of gifts waiting to be opened.
How do we go about getting teens involved? An effective way to pique their interest is to ask them to help make the worship happen every Sunday. Consider the following ideas:
- Recruit at least two teens to serve on the worship committee.
- Use teens in the greeting /ushering ministries.
- Have teens offer public prayers.
- Let teens help the deacons take the offerings.
- If you have a "children's message," let the young people lead it from time to time.
- Use the instrumental and vocal talents of young people in the music ministry of the church.
- Involve teens in drama and skits.
- Encourage youth to design posters, banners, and bulletin covers.
- Invite teens to help write the sermon. Also ask them to suggest topics/texts for the pastor to incorporate into sermon planning.
In general, look to your young people for creative ideas. Expect of them what you would expect of anyone else. Listen to them as you would anyone else. Affirm them. Let them know they are appreciated.
When I was in seminary I heard someone describe the music ministry of the local church as the War Department. Music in worship does bring out strong feelings in people—probably because music is so closely tied to our souls and minds. It is a powerful tool that can be used for good or evil—particularly with teens.
If we want youth to worship from their souls, we need to permit a range of music that moves their souls. Supplement pew hymnals with a wide variety of excellent praise choruses, contemporary hymns, Scripture songs, and other songs of testimony that will enrich the worship experience for everyone. Also plan to accompany congregational singing with a variety of musical instruments: keyboard, guitars (acoustic, bass, electric), drums, and various members of the brass family are some of the more common instruments that can and are being used in worship.
When you begin to incorporate these instruments into your worship, you should also take a critical look at your sound system. It's foolish for a church to invest thousands of dollars in its facility and then skimp on its sound system. A worship facility with a poor sound system is like a new car with a flat tire. Updating your system will help it serve as a bridge rather than a barrier to worship.
Ways to Praise
No one could legitimately accuse us in the Reformed tradition of encouraging too much emotion in worship. In contrast, we have tended to focus on the mind: worship with solid intellectual roots has long been one of our strengths. We want to know what we're doing and why. We want biblical precedent. We want to explore the theological braces of a structure before we trust it to hold us up. We want to keep our emotions under the watchful eye of the mind.
This is all well and good, but somewhere along the way we have overlooked the obvious. The great commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. In worship this command calls us to include more than our minds. We must include our hearts. We must include our souls. We must include our strength. Certainly our Lord is worthy of a this kind of total "sacrifice of praise."
At the Young Calvinist Federation's Fort Collins convention in 1992, Pastor Dave Beelen and George Davis Jr., from Madison Square Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, led the conventioneers in what The Banner (the weekly publication of the Christian Reformed Church) called an Old Testament-style worship service. Using Old Testament passages, the pair instructed the teens in the "Seven Ways to Praise."
That one hour was overwhelmed by the presence of the Lord as young people and adults knelt together before God. They lifted their hands to the Lord, clapped their hands in praise to the Lord, and even formed a "praise chain" that circled around the congregation, using their bodies—their strength—to worship. They received instruction and permission to do what God has commanded the church to do. And they loved it!
We must understand, as our young people seem to, that the Lord truly desires outward expressions of worship from his people. What would you think, for example, of the husband who told his wife, "I love you," gave her an affectionate hug and kiss, and then never again expressed his love? Doesn't marriage teach us that love needs to be expressed repeatedly? Doesn't Scripture teach us we are Christ's bride?
The Lord wants our love for him to show. And because we are a body, we need to show that love in each other's presence. Young people need to hear the testimonies of adults. They need to see others kneeling before the Lord. They need to know that lifting our hands in the sanctuary glorifies the Lord. We need to restore the biblical practice in worship of presenting our bodies as living sacrifices.
Balance in the Body
If this kind of worship is foreign to a congregation, changing worship practices will first require instruction. The pastor and elders must agree not to base their leading on the traditions of people. Our Reformed tradition urges us to allow Scripture to guide us. The congregation needs to be nurtured into biblical expressiveness in a climate of acceptance and love. Those who lead worship must model the worship practices they encourage.
Above all, nurture sincerity. Worship arises from the heart. Young people are keen spiritual Geiger counters; they can spot phoniness instantly. They are drawn to people who are humbly honest. And they will worship the Lord with all their might.
While this article focuses on youth, I believe the benefits of these suggestions reach far beyond the young people in our pews. Change won't always be easy. Some adults will have to bite their tongues and exercise extra patience and tolerance—especially with the music that their teens select. But haven't youth been doing more than their fair share of showing tolerance for our "adult" worship patterns for years?
We have to find more balance in our worship between expressions that speak to the young and the old. When this balance is present, everyone benefits. Unity, love, and zeal arise from the worship of God's people to the very throne room of heaven.
If i were to have my own church, i would have o youth_run church mostly. If we don't get the youth involved now, what are we going to do when they are adults, and all the older people have passed away?
-Joseph Bell (Grand Rapids, MI)
WORSHIP RESOURCES FOR YOUTH MINISTRY
The Praise Book. A worship guide for youth groups.Dale Dieleman,editor.Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1985. 92 pages. $5.95 US, $6.95 CDN.
Overhead Transparency Service
For churches that belong to Christian Copyright Licensing, Inc. (CCLI), YCF will provide transparency masters for $1.00 per page, complete with your CCLI license number. More than 100 songs that young people are singing and enjoying are available. For information on CCLI, call (800) 234-2446 or (503) 257-2230.
Young Calvinist Federation
1333 Alger SE
P.O. Box 7259
Grand Rapids, MI 49501
Sunday Youth Packets. Reformed Church Press. Available for $3.00 plus shipping and handling. This packet assists youth and youth workers in planning and leading worship. Included are a variety of Youth Sunday orders of worship on the theme "The Year of the Youth: The Future Is Now."
Creative Worship in Youth Ministry. Dennis C. Benson. Group Publishing. $11.95. A practical collection of creative ideas to actively involve your youth in worship.
Youth Plan Worship. Betty Jane and J. Martin Bailey. The Pilgrim Press, $10.95. This resource contains six study sessions on worship; helpful information on how to plan worship using art, music, and dance; and a collection of poems, prayers, and readings for use in worship.
RCA Distribution Center
4500 60th SE
Grand Rapids, MI 49512