We conclude not only our month on worship, but also another year of the blog here at YMC. It has been a great year, and could not have happened without so many of you sharing your words and thoughts. Thank you so much for making this possible. Today let us explore…….
“How do you teach worship to your youth?”
Andy is the Minister to Students at Vestavia Hills Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL.
1. We ask youth to do stuff on Sunday mornings.
It’s not a staggering insight that teenagers (and almost every other age group represented in the congregation, for that matter) can and should lead in “big church” worship services – and not just once or twice a year. It’s common sense: we learn by doing.
In our context, we often plug youth into template slots. Most often, that means doing one of the scripture readings. A few times a year, a student will offer a testimony, usually related to a youth trip they attended. Occasionally, youth lead a musical call to worship. Two Sundays a month, two teenagers serve as ushers, alongside six adults, and about once a month, youth are in the sound technology rotation, running the board during the service. On Youth Sunday, youth typically fill ALL the slots.
This model has been well-supported and a positive step in the right direction toward full integration of youth into the life of the church. That said, I want to be cautious about using youth in the service (just to send a message or just because you’re supposed to) and need to be more vigilant in helping youth frame these experiences and in taking advantage of teaching moments.
What’s been more memorable than the plug-and-play experiences for our youth are the few times they got to actually plan or create something for worship. It’s not without benefit for them to “stand in” as an equal demographic in the church, but it’s quite another thing to let them use their own voices.
2. We talk about worship.
We rotate Mission Nights, Game Nights, and Worship Nights for our Sunday evening programming. On Worship Nights, the idea is to have some sort of youth-planned and youth-led worship experience – or, we do guided reflection about worship.
Our Children’s Minister leads a “worship skills” workshop for 1st graders every year to help them have some idea of what’s going on in our services and to give them realistic ways to participate. We’ve adopted that approach and have “worship skills” conversations and practice with youth, who have often been dislodged from a basic comprehension of what’s going on in services and are disoriented about what they’re supposed to be doing, if anything.
Finally, this means we are constantly reminding ourselves that our whole lives are worship. Semantically, we try to differentiate between “worship,” “worship services,” and “worship style.”
3. We go to Animate.
A small group of “leaders” in our group have attended this conference the past two summers, and it’s hard to quantify the amount and level of worship education they’ve received.
Through it all, we remain convinced that youth are learning about worship the most, perhaps, from parents – in car-ride and lunch-table conversations, for example, but also from the example set day in, day out, Sunday in, Sunday out. Our Minister of Music, Pastor, and entire staff take initiative with youth, as well, which is essential, and in general, we see our whole congregation as youth ministers and worship teachers.
Rev. Jessica Tidwell-Weinzierl serves as Minister of Youth and Outreach at First Baptist in Rutherfordton, NC. Besides youth and outreach, one of her passions is fostering dogs with the help of her partner and their current furever pups. She is a graduate of McAfee School of Theology.
“Worship” sometimes seems like a worn down word – like a once beautiful concept that has been squeezed into those specially recognized hours that might be on a Sunday at 8am or 11am; perhaps the 5pm hour on Sunday evening; or, if a church is really reaching outside of the box, on Friday at 6pm.** I don’t think I realized exactly how true this was until the first time I ever talked to my own youth about what “worship” is. Almost all of them associated the word with those specified hours of a “Worship Service.”Now, I almost wonder if we do a disservice to ourselves as the Church by calling those hours together “Worship Services,” because it seems like the unintended implication is that worship happens in those times and the rest of our church life is fellowship and mission work.
My goal with the youth is to teach them about worship in a larger sense. To find “worship” in spaces they encounter every single day.
To teach my students about worship that can happen in any space, anytime, my first step is to incorporate the worship practice of contemplative silence and prayer almost every time the youth gather. While of course not all worship requires silence and meditation, this is an easy way to help transition my frazzled and busy students into a more focused state of mind. Before any lesson or discussion or game, we take three to four minutes to have silence, intentional breathing exercises, and prayer. Sometimes it takes a minute to get started – we don’t “officially” begin the prayer time until everyone has momentarily calmed down and agreed to the moment of silence. I might give them a some transition time by asking for prayer requests or celebrations from the week. Once we start the time of silence and prayer, I make sure that it is not long enough to tempt anyone into taking a nap, but that it is long enough to bring down any crazy energy levels enough for everyone to settle into the practice.
Other times, I might choose to devote the discussion of the day to learning about an unusual worship practice. For this, I take a fairly simple approach. We simply take time to do the worship practices. I have a very important rule for this, too: the more contemplative the practice, the more active a game I plan to have immediately after the worship time!
On days when I teach worship practices, I follow these steps:
1) Have a “ENTERING WORSHIP” station set by the entrance of the youth space. This could include a safe technology box, where students can be asked to leave their electronic devices. One could also consider creating a sign that asks for students to enter quietly and take a seat without speaking to await further instructions.
2) Supplies for the worship practice – colouring mandalas, prayer rugs, stations for prayer, music, whatever else.
3) I usually have written on the board the name of the worship practice, with written instructions underneath: “Find a place to sit comfortably, be still, and know that God is God. We will get started in a moment.”
4) I lead them through the worship practice, being very careful to tell them what they are about to do, what they are doing, and what signal they should look for to know when to move on. For example, “We are moving into a time of silent prayer. Think of what you have struggled with today, and offer that to God. Focus your mind on this task until I give the next instruction.”
5) We debrief. I ask them what they liked about the practice, what they disliked, what was the hardest/easiest part, why do they think this is a Christian worship practice? If they are interested, I offer a bit of history as to the development of the practice, and I always always encourage them to take that practice home sometime.
Some days, worship together goes well. Some days, it stays a little unfocused and crazy…but that’s true for all of us, even adults. My hope is that long term exposure to regular intervals of worship will give them an array of options that, even if they don’t use them at home now, they will be able to call upon later in moments of joy and moments of crisis.
**I do recognize that I am speaking from a Western Protestant perspective, and I know that non-Protestant traditions do not necessarily follow these trends.