Ten Questions Youth Leaders Ask About Worship


At Biola University, a fifty-minute chapel is offered every day, Monday through Friday, but is required three times a week (M, W, F). Students have also initiated their own, student-led, worship services (mostly praise) on Wednesday and Sunday evenings. Two to three hundred students attend these guitar-based events.

Here are some changes I've witnessed in the last five years:

  • Definitely more student initiative. The trend I've seen in the past five years toward regular student-initiated worship services wasn't evident during the two previous decades that I taught at Biola. I have observed the same phenomenon and the same enthusiasm for worship at Trinity Western University in Langley, B.C., another evangelical university.

    These student-led services are guitar-based, with mostly Vineyard, Hill Song, and Maranatha choruses. I would like to see more balance (i.e., hymns), but 1 am very impressed with the desire of our students to worship—and it's sincere. Many of the songs deal with brokermess (of some sort) and the need for inner healing, and they are sung with a lot of plaintive emotion.
  • More excitement in worship.
  • Our students know fewer hymns, Biola's students have, for the most part, grown up in conservative, evangelical churches in Southern California all their lives, churches that emphasize teaching and evangelism. In my Introduction to Music class (for non-music majors), I asked seventy-three students how many hymns they knew. First I explained what a hymn was (gave some examples) and told them they just had to be familiar with the hymn—enough to be able to sing the melody. Then I asked them to write down the number of hymns they knew.

    The results: 10 percent of the students know five or less hymns, 25 percent know less than ten hymns, 50 percent know less than twenty, and 75 percent know less than forty. Only 6 percent of the group knew more than a hundred hymns.

    I see this as a massive, significant change. In the cutting-edge megachurches it's not at all unusual to find no hymns sung on a given Sunday morning. Maybe one a month. The result? Many of our students are ignorant of hymnody today.
  • More guitar-based worship. I think a major weakness today is that hymnals (by and large) do not contain guitar symbols or chord changes for guitarists. This needs correction pronto.
  • Less corporate reading of Scripture and less extended prayer. In our student-led worship services, I don't see the practice of reading Scripture corporately. Prayer is very limited—no extended or bidding prayers. A major weakness (I find the same thing in our churches.).
  • Rise of niche churches of a nongenemtional type. A number of our students attend churches where the average age is twenty-seven (size: 300-1,000). I personally see a real problem here.
  • Worship is much more physical. A very important trademark of contemporary worship is the use of the body—clapping to the beat, tapping feet, raising hands, waving hands, kneeling, jumping, and swaying.

—Barry Liesch, professor of music, Biola University, LaMirada, California; barry_liesch@peter.biola.edu;

www.worshipinfo.com—Barry's LA Worship Guide.


It's 9:15 a.m. on a Sunday. While the surrounding neighborhood snoozes on, inside the Campus Chapel signs of life are evident; the smell of coffee percolating, the sound of instruments being tuned, and the sight of five students gathered for prayer and pre-worship warm-up. The hard work of planning the service has been completed by a team of students and the campus minister during the week. Now, the waiting game begins. Who will show up? Carol mentions that some of her friends from her biology lab might come this morning-sophomores who have been searching for spiritual sustenance from a variety of religious offerings on campus. This week they will try out Christianity. John's next-door neighbor--a junior whose idea of Sabbath is sleeping off the hangover from the night before-is planning to come. Students from various Christian traditions will show up-looking for a place to worship on Sunday morning. And a number of Christian Reformed students who are looking for something familiar and comfortable in the strange world of the secular university campus will attend too. Somehow, God gathers all these students from different religious traditions and from the different places in their knowledge and conviction of the Christian faith to worship and glorify him as one body.

Our worship reflects the rich diversity of the community gathered. While maintaining a basic structure for our services (gathering for worship, proclaiming the Word, responding to the Word, going out to serve) and upholding the Reformed emphasis on the Trinitarian character of worship, the students feel free to explore new ways to remember and celebrate the mighty acts of God. What has become apparent is that students are not committed to any one style of worship; as one student said, "I like the diversity."

Our worship includes an eclectic mix of music-contemporary praise songs, hymns, Taize pieces, and music from around the world-led by students playing piano, acoustic guitar, bass, flute, and occasionally violin or cello. Skits, monologues, and dialogues (often written by students) may be used to open the service, introduce the Scripture reading, or respond to the message. Visual actions (i.e., lighting the Christ candle, setting the communion table, pouring the baptismal water) are often used throughout the service to correspond to the spoken words. Video presentations may be projected on the wall during a song or the reading of a poem to cast thought-provoking images. Prayers may be spontaneous one-line sentences offered by the gathered community, or written prayers punctuated by "Kyrie Eleison"-Lord, have mercy. And communion, a tangible manifestation of God's grace, has become an important and meaningful part of Chapel life. Every other week, the community gathers around the table of the Lord, passing the bread and wine to each other and saying, "The body/blood of Christ for you." Each week presents a new opportunity to explore the rich and creative ways God has given us to worship him.

The worship team meets on Saturday to evaluate the service: Did it glorify God? Did the service fit together well? Was it culturally relevant? Were participants challenged to grow in their faith? Were participants ushered into the presence of God? From these times of evaluation, we are developing a deeper understanding of what it means to worship our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. And while we have much to learn about worship, what is certain is that next Sunday will come quickly with a new group of students gathered and abundant ways to usher them into the presence of God. Soli Deo Gloria.

—Amanda BenckhLiysen, campus pastor; Kiro Sieplinga, student intern, Campus Chapel, Ann Arbor, Michigan; abenck@umiclt.edu; www.campuschapel.org.



"Good morning everyone, and welcome to 'Heart of this Week' at King's, an hour of time graciously carved out by the will of God (and with permission of the registrar!) for a joyful reaffirmation of our identity as students, faculty, and staff called to serve God as a community of learning in the name of Jesus the King."

With those words, or others very nearly like them, another Wednesday morning campus worship service begins at The King's University College. The words of welcome are deliberate: central to our conviction is the claim that everything we do at the college Is intended to be service to God and thus qualifies as worship. And so the role of the worship service is not to add a dimension of faith to an otherwise faithless schedule, but rather to affirm, celebrate, and inform what happens in the classrooms and labs.

Worship plays a big role in campus ministry and happens in several different ways throughout the week: an intimate morning prayer circle; Three Cross Caelidh, a weekly evening prayer and praise gathering in the residence; Mayenziwe, a student-led Sunday evening service named after the Xhosa theme song that means, "Your will be done." But the primary worship service for the whole campus community is the Wednesday morning "Heart of the Week" service. Attendance at worship is voluntary at King's, so it is especially gratifying when the atrium is packed with worshipers, as it has been consistently this fall. More students than ever before are making it a weekly habit to sing, clap, dance, and pray their heart's deepest convictions. Each year seems to bring a larger crop of new students who are gifted worship leaders. Without a doubt, students are taking worship more and more seriously, and they are deeply influenced by an ever-growing Christian pop-praise culture.

Worship at King's is quite eclectic, reflecting the diverse needs, gifts, and experiences of the student body as well as our campus ministry commitment to including an educational and experimental element to all our worship. Songs come from a multitude of sources, from Deliriou5? to Vineyard to the Hill Song People, from the lona Community (John Bell spent a week at King's last semester) and Taize communities, from various hymnbooks and even the occasional homegrown composition. We've been known to begin a service with a full band in the atrium, shouting out, "We Wanna See Jesus Lifted High," and then march across the hall to continue worshiping in the performance theater with great hymns of the tradition accompanied by pipe organ and trumpet. Many of our services include liturgical dance; nearly all include preaching and community prayers; and three or four times a year we celebrate communion. During Advent and Lent we follow readings from the Revised Common Lectionary.

Some of the highlights of the past year in worship as recalled by students include the following:

  • We had a service that focused on Jeremiah 18 and the image of God the Potter. In full view of the gathering students a local artist began working on a potter's wheel before the service began and just kept throwing and kneading right through the singing and praying and the message and on past the dismissal. Her actions at the wheel corresponded beautifully with the words of the message, even though they had not been choreographed.
  • At our Passion week service we read through Walter Wan-gerin's "Cry of the Whole Congregation," which powerfully involves the congregation in the Passion narrative. While we were reading, Paul Wood, a sculptor and member of the King's community, sculpted the head of Christ from a formless lump of clay. As the reading progressed, the sculptor shaped the face, sometimes softly, sometimes with blows, finally adding a crown of thorns, so that the face took on different expressions of sadness and pain. At the Cry of Dereliction, the eyes were closed and there was silence. The next week, at our Easter service, the head reappeared, crowned in glory and laughing.
  • Every semester we have a "Green" chapel, observing our commitment to the environment, singing "earth" songs ("AH God's Critters Got a Place in the Choir" is a favorite), weaving various readings, slides, dance, and drama together with confession and prayers for renewal.
  • Every semester we also have a "Blues" chapel. After a short introduction to legitimate the blues as popular lament, we listen as various artists perform original songs and poems or give renditions of others' compositions (Bob Dylan shows up a lot, as does U2).
  • Last year we listened as a professional Christian actor dramatically recited the entire (almost) book of Ecclesiastes.

We have had footwashing ceremonies, observed a Passover feast led by a Messianic Jewish friend of the college, danced through the halls calling students to worship, and stuck "Holy to the Lord" stickers on our guitars, computers, and foreheads in response to a message on Zechariah 14:20. We have lit candles in memory of abused women and children, wept through the terminal illness of our head librarian, Simona Maaskant, and gathered to hear the stories of members of the L'Arche community who join us once a year.

Worship at King's requires lots of work, planning, practicing, begging, negotiating, and pleading, but when the congregation is assembled and the music begins, this week at King's finds its heart.

We welcome the exchange of worship ideas from other campus ministries!

—Roy Berkenbosch, Dean of Students and Campus Minister,
The King's University College, Edmonton, Alberta;
rberkenbosch@kingsu.ab.ca; www.kingsu.ab.ca



After high school many of our young people move away, often leaving home for the first time. This is such a major life event that we thought it should be acknowledged in the church. We planned a commissioning sendee based on 1 Corinthians 12. As part ofthe sendee we called the young people forward, read the words of this responsive reading together, laid hands on litem, and gave them a copy, written in calligraphy, of the blessing we had chosen for them.

There are varieties of gifts,

but the same Spirit.

There are varieties of services

but the some Lord,

There are varieties of activities

but the same God activates all of them in everyone.

To each is given a gift by the Spirit.

Though we have different gifts,
together we arc called to be the church
wherever the Spirit leads us,
to do God's ministry in the world,
led by the Risen Christ.

[The youth are invited to come forward. Tlie minister addresses them as follows:]

As a congregation, we have remembered our baptism vows to you. We have prayed for you. Directed by the Spirit, we have instructed you in our most precious faith. Despite our human failings, God, our refuge and strength, has led many of you to profess your faith before him and us all.

You have been equipped to go where God leads you.

We encourage you now, wherever you go, to seek Christian fellowship, find a church home, and grow in your faith. Leave here with the assurance that our prayers and blessing go with you.

[Each young person kneels and receives a blessing from the miuisleras elders also lay hands on them.]

Note: We chose a different scriptural blessing for each of the young people. For example,

Eric, the Lord bless you and keep you... (Num. 6:24-26).
Jody may the God of Hope fill you with all joy and peace (Rom. 15:13).
Andrea, may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ... (2 Cor. 13:14).
Paul, may the God of Peace... (Heb. 13:20-21).
Matthew, may our Lord Jesus Christ... ( 2Thess. 2:16).
Jennifer, rejoice in the Lord always... (Phil. 4:4-7).

—Richard VanderVaart, pastor of Wallaceburg Christian Reformed Church, Wallaceburg, Ontario


Sally Morgenthaler has been active in worship ministry for many years. Founder of Worship Evangelism Concepts, she functions as on-site worship consultant for Denver Seminary and Pathways Church--an urban Denver congregation committed to reaching the unchurched under 35. Her book Worship Evangelism: Inviting Unbelievers into the Presence of God was reviewed in RW 39.


Robert Webber (rwebber@northern.seminary.edu) was the Myers Professor of Ministry at Northern Seminary in Lombard, Illinois, and president of the Institute for Worship Studies, a distance education school in Jacksonville, Florida. He is author of many books, including the Ancient-Future series (Baker), Younger Evangelicals (Baker), and editor of the eight-volume Complete Library of Christian Worship. These resources and a monthly "Ancient-Future Talk" newsletter are available at www.ancientfutureworship.com. Dr. Webber passed away in April 2007. 


Reformed Worship 55 © March 2000, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.