How about we skip over the bit that explains why getting young people into worship teams is important, and jump straight to a confession instead?
As an ex-worship musician, an ex-young person and an ex-member of a few churches, there’s a fair bit of history to look back on. Over the years I think I’ve played every part – the keen wannabe on the sidelines, the ultra committed member of the worship team, the old guy wondering how you help young people build a firm foundation as worship musicians and leaders.
So here, for what it’s worth, is an entirely subjective trawl back through the memory banks…
Church A – the rural parish
At first glance, there’s not a lot to say here. The church didn’t have a worship band (or a projector, or an effective heating system for that matter). It didn’t really have what many readers here would recognise as contemporary worship. But it did have a choir – yes, a choir. Not the pack-out-the-Albert-Hall-and-get-on-the-telly sort of choir. The other sort. The one where the singers dress in robes that make them look a bit like a cross between Senator Palpatine and a weird Robin Hood tribute act.
Weirdly, this choir played a part in getting young people involved in worship. One of the adult singers started a junior choir, and it turned into a bit of a success story.
The lady than ran the junior choir was both committed and aware of the fact that kids like rewards. Every Sunday after church she’d rehearse them for an hour, always ending with cake. Every few weeks they’d have a service or an event to sing at, and for many of the young people, junior choir was the only reason they came to church.
In our world of modern worship we get a little iffy when it comes to the idea of performing. But for these wannabe robe-wearers, it gave them a great opportunity to focus their work and measure their progress. And it was fun too.
Lesson 1: it’s OK to make it rewarding
Church B – the fresh expression
On paper, this one should have been the absolute best at getting young people involved. It was full of unchurched teens, thirty-something parents and their primary school kids. It had a great sense of family and a clear desire to throw out the rules and think again about what church could be like.
But getting young people involved in the worship was hard. Thirtysomethings are a funny bunch, and maybe we thought that we owned the space a little too much. We were a creative bunch, full of musos and arty types, and for a while those young people just couldn’t really get a look in.
As a church we needed to accept that while we were still young, it was time to let go. We needed to dismantle some of our assumptions about who and what the worship was for, and see the bigger picture.
When we started to get out of the way, things changed. The moment the young people were given space, the worship team grew up.
Lesson 2: it’s OK to let go
Church C – the nursery
These days, whenever I meet up with people who grew up in this church, we generally end up talking about how grateful we are for our time there. It was a privilege to learn what it means to be a Christian from such great leaders and congregation members.
I could go on about it, but here’s what a friend has to say about it:
“You never felt like you were being pushed to one side. We were often up front, being active and involved. I was well and truly thrown in the deep end; I was too young to shave but I was regularly leading worship in front of hundreds of adults. It was great: if it went well they were cool, and if it all went wrong they’d blame the youth leader. There were a few situations where I’d made a bad call, a musical mess up – too many up songs for the collection of old ladies – but it was always one of the adults who got the criticism. I’d just get the encouragement.”
We were taught so many things at that church, not least – as John Wimber said – that “everybody gets to play.” We were encouraged to take risks and trust that God would be there with us. It was exciting, a little dangerous, and the most powerful expression of servant leadership I’ve ever encountered.
Lesson 3: it’s OK to push (as long as you clear up the mess)
Of course, reflection can be helpful for a time, but it’s important to remember to work with the church team that you have, not pine for something you don’t – or try and change what you have into something it isn’t.
Remember, where you are is where God can use you today. His invitation to you is the same as it is to the young people you want to bring into worship: come and have relationship with Him. Go deeper. Play your part. Know your place.
And maybe this will help too: how we do the small things is how we do the big things. You want young people contributing to the vibrant worship life within your church? Great. Make your interactions with them God-honoring, loving and fueled by grace. Do the small things right – the rehearsals, the random conversations while you’re setting up and taking down – and the rest will follow.
So may you know your church, know your limitations and know your aspirations.
And may God use you fully as you pass the baton on.