Tuesday, July 29, 2008


I've led worship, now, for several youth events. One day events, week-long camps, weekly youth group, and lots of stuff in between. Youthy people are complex creatures, and I'll be the first to say that it can be incredibly frustrating to "lead" them in musical worship. I have had a few great experiences, but most of the time, most youth just come across as disengaged and almost completely uninterested.

This week, our Contagious Youth are participating a four-day mission event called Impact Outerbanx. The MilePost13 Band was invited to lead worship each morning, as several youth groups in our area gather together for worship at our church building before dispersing into our community to serve. I'm actually fairly impressed with how many kids are participating in this event (about 80 by my guesstimate), and it seems most of them are, at least, somewhat interested in being involved in the worship.

But, one of my biggest youth-worship pet peeves took place on day one...and is has nothing to do with the kids.

It drives me crazy when the youth leaders think it's OK to stand/sit separate from the youth during music worship, which is what happened on Monday. Actually, this happens at nearly every youth event I've ever led worship for, and I just can't figure out why. And the worst thing about it is, often the adults aren't just hanging with the youth, they're spending the time talking and doing just about anything else than engaging in the worship (I understand that, sometimes, there are important things to be done during the worship, but most of the time...).

Here's why this bugs me so much...

It sets a poor example by saying to the youth (even if the leaders don't mean to):

> I have more important things to do than worshiping God.
> I don't want to spend this time with you.
> I don't have to worship God the same way you're being asked to worship God.
> I don't have to be engaged in what's going on.
> I can stand off to the side and hope that nobody hears my voice or sees me worshipping.
> I don't like this kind of "youth" music.

I've actually, when I've had the opportunity to, spent the time to gather youth leaders together before an even begins to encourage them to hang with their youth during the entire even (unless there's a specific reason not to). Up on the stage, you can see the difference it makes when both the youth and adults are worshipping together in one space.

And, it's not that the kids need some chaperoning and guidance. As I said, the youth that are coming this week seem to be engaged, and, if nothing else, they're not sitting on their butts and talking and texting and disrupting (we turn the music up too loud to make that much of an option anyway). It's simply that, when one commits to being a "youth leader" (whether full-time vocational or pert-time volunteer), they've already acknowledged the fact that they're going to be an example for these kids, through their words and actions, of what a true worshipper can look like. It makes perfect sense to me that being an example is just as important during a worship gathering as any other time.

And, having said that, it's not, either, that these kids need somebody to show them how to sing loud, and clap their hands, and close their eyes at the right time...that might be the last thing they need.

What they need is for their leaders to say (through their worship):

> I'm here to worship God.
> I'm here to worship with you.
> We're equals before the throne of God.
> I'm serious about all of that God stuff that comes out of my mouth when I talk to you.
> I don't care how I sound or look as long as God is pleased with my worship.
> I don't care what the music sounds like, what the worship leader looks like, what the room feels like...I just want to worship.

More than likely, most youth aren't going to notice when their leaders are standing off to the side, appearing to be disengaged with the worship. But, I guarantee, they do notice when their leaders are engaged. Lead by example...all of the time. You'll make my job as "worship leader" so much easier.



jackie said...

Great post, Nate! I couldn't agree more.

Rick Lawrenson said...

Thirty years ago when I was a young, wet behind the ears youth pastor I made it clear to our adult volunteers that when we gathered as a youth group they weren't there to gather as adults.

It was something they had to be taught. In the church there was, and apparently still is this idea of being a chaperone rather than a minister investing in lives.

marie/nhc said...

Thanks Nate for your comments. I never thought about it from your perspective as a worship leader. Andy has always encouraged us to interact with the kids during youth group and not with other adults and I admit I do fall short at times.
In regard to musical worship, I've always felt like I might be intruding on the kids "connection" with each other while they are singing. (Like, it's their time to be together) Okay, maybe that sounds like a cop-out, because I do feel a bit timid with kids I don't know like this week. Ya know, out of my comfort zone?
Anyhow, I will take your comments to heart and not sit on the fringes like I did this morning--you won't have to call this youth worker out tomorrow!
By the way, Milepost 13 has been fantastic! What a great way to get started in the morning. Lots of energy!!! Thanks for what you and the band do!

Kimberly said...

Excellent insight. I have a young man that I take to church with me. The first time he went to church was at age 9. He was saved at age 10. I was so blessed to be the person he was sitting next to and trusting to help him through asking for his salvation. I so prayed it would be 1 of his parents, but that didn't work out.

The first time we went to church together, having never been and being a seriously curious soul, he had 1001 questions. He was absolutely fascinated and afraid of the idea of praise and worship. I went through a thorough explanation of what was going to happen, how he was expected to behave in church (meaning not screaming in the aisles, running around or disrupting anyone else - he's a bit hyper), and what the praise and worship time meant to me personally.

He looked at me with those gorgeous baby blues and said, "you sing, out loud, where everyone else can hear you?" I answered yes. He said, "can you sing?" I answered truthfully, not worth a darn - couldn't carry a decent tune if my life depended on it, and then explained to him that all worship, in tune or out, is like the sweetest music to God's ear, and He doesn't expect you to be able to make it through the try outs for American Idol - He just expects you to raise a joyful noise.

After the service was over and he returned from children's church, I asked him to please introduce himself to the pastor and thank him for the service. The pastor asked him, "well, what did you think of church?" His response, as only a child can be, was completely guileless - "well, 1 thing I know for sure, my aunt kimmie isn't going to hell for lying - she sure can't sing worth a toot." I thought the pastor was going to die on the spot right there trying not to fall out laughing!

You are so right. It does make a difference to children/teenagers to see us exuberantly expressing our worship time with them. If I'm "disconnected" mentally during worship, he tends to disconnect too. If I'm plugged in and just worshipping wide open, he sees that and gets buoyed up by it too.

Andy Lawrenson said...

Mucho Excellente!

You wonder when you encourage (tell) youth workers to mix with the students why they don't?

Perhaps in my own experience I haven't done a good job explaining why. Youth ministry that makes a lasting impact and difference is one where the adult youth leader connects with the student.

I'm not a chaperone, I'm a shepherd! Every youth worker needs to take that approach. Lead, guide, set the example. Hang with them. Even as I type this I see many adults standing on the fringes. Apparently they didn't read the blog. :)