It saddens me greatly to see so few students leading worship in churches. As churches have turned to hiring professional musicians or designed systems with rigorous auditions to make their worship ministry more and more exclusive, many willing and capable volunteers and especially students are being left out and left behind. While a handful of "superstars," hog platforms across the country, others are marginalized and ignored. As choirs have dissolved in churches, so has the place of service and ministry for many good people. And even before that happened, few students were given the opportunity to lead together with more mature believers.
As a music teacher, my goal is to help each student reach their fullest potential and to provide them with a safe place develop, express and display their talent while growing as people. There is great joy to be found in walking alongside the next generation to train them up and in worshipping together. I've been a learning jazz performer for nearly 30 years and a jazz teacher for 18 years and the most foundational aspect of what we do is that we pass down what we know. How much more should we do this in the church?Here are 5 reasons to include students in your worship ministry:
1. Passion. If there is one thing that defines this generation of students, from middle school through millennials, it is passion. They are passionate about what they believe in. Guide them. Give them something to be passionate about. Let their passion revitalize, re-invigorate and re-ignite your times of corporate worship.
2 & 3. Connection and Retention. The fastest way to make a student feel unwanted is to separate them and leave them out. The silo the church has built called "youth ministry," is really just a stronghold, a wall separating students from the rest of the church. And no matter how much a kid may act like they don't want adults around, the truth is, when you separate and ignore them, it makes them feel bad and when you pay attention to them and show them you care, it makes them feel special, needed and loved. One of the biggest issues facing the church today is that students leave the church after high school. Students need meaningful friendships and mentors in the church who care about them, miss them when they are gone, and value their gifts and input. And here's a secret from this veteran teacher, they WANT those types of quality, respect-filled relationships. For all of the Oscar-the-Grouch-ing that "grown-ups," do about the problem with millennials, stop and think about it. They are telling you that they want to be valued, appreciated and make a difference. Instead of whining about them when they reach their 20's and 30's, why not include them in their teens. And here's one more tip. If there is one thing that church members, and especially older folks, love, it is being around young people. It brings back good memories and makes them feel young. Just watch them light up when they see young people serving the Lord.
4. Legacy: Preparing For The Future. Including students in worship helps them to be a valuable part of the church that makes a contribution, NOW. If I hear one more celebrity "Christian" personality lecture the young generation on waiting to use their gifts, or waiting to serve the Lord, or waiting to receive permission, recognition or affirmation from some spiritual "leader" I'm going to puke. That attitude is so selfish, so self-serving and so Un-Biblical. Recognize the important gifts and contribution students have to offer and set them on a path of lifelong vibrant church membership by including them now. Do it for the well-being of the individual. Do it for the future of the church.
5. The Gospel. Ok, I'm going to be a little bit raw here about something lots of churches are doing nowadays. Which is more touching to the heart of a parent; Hired pros playing along with Nashville recorded enhancement tracks, or watching young people serve God? I would a thousand times rather here mistakes than listen to something fake. The learning process is beautiful. Flawless fake performances are boring and meaningless. Children learning how to worship the Lord and be part of the community of believers is precious, beautiful and my favorite thing in the world to watch. No one cares how perfect your church production is, or at least they shouldn't. The whole point of what we do musically in church is about learning how to become the family of God, growing and learning together and praising Him. I believe in musical excellence. But True Excellence is when everyone gives the very best that they have as an offering to our King. I don't think anyone is really impressed with pretentiousness, but that unbelieving parent who comes to see their child sing or play in church, just might find their hardened heart melted enough to let the good news of Jesus sink in. And you know that being included, fitting in and being a part of something special, will have a lasting impact on the life of that student.
Our musical gifts are meant to share the good news of Jesus, celebrate what He has done in our lives, lead us to repentance, help us to enter into God's presence through worship, offer thanks to Him and express corporate praise as a family. If students use their gifts to seek glory and honor for themselves, that gift can harm them. We need to teach them the right way to use those gifts, talents and abilities and we need to respect the Image of God in them enough to WANT to see them develop those gifts to the highest possible level and to use them for maximum impact in the Kingdom of God.
Read the other posts in my series on Worship Ministry: