This year’s theme is “The Story/The Stories.” Each week our blog will focus on a story from a youth minister. We hope these stories help inspire you in the great work you are doing, as well as let you know you aren’t alone in the crazy, sweet, often hard to fathom world of youth ministry. This week we are hearing……

The Story Music Tells Our Youth

Daniel Potter

Originally from Chapel Hill, NC, Daniel Potter serves as the Minister of Youth at First Baptist Church in Columbus, GA. He is a recent grad of the Wake Forest University School of Divinity. When not doing youth ministry, Daniel enjoys good music, laughter, spending time with his wife Rachel, and cheering on his beloved Tar Heels.

Every time I hear the opening notes of “Tom’s Diner,” the haunting hook remains caught in my ears for the rest of the foreseeable future. Sometimes, the notes come up out of nowhere, bubbling into my brain and capturing my inner jukebox. I’m not particularly fond of the song itself, but I can guarantee that if it comes to mind, I’ll hum it all day. Isn’t it crazy how music captures our minds? I think it’s especially interesting that music can create powerful memories or associations. Think about it. Which song takes you back to the glory days of high school? Which one did you share with that significant you’ve moved on from? Which one echoes alongside the image of a beloved parent, grandparent, or mentor? Or, which song reminds you of the first steps of your faith journey? Despite not having performed Eric Whitacre’s “Water Night” since high school, I can still recall the bass line whenever I hear it. Music is powerful in that way. It can captivate us, luring us into a melodic trance. And, once captured by music, we can create powerful memories deep within. Those memories can form the basis of our identity or remind us of the person we long to be.
At First Baptist Church, Columbus, GA, we have a weekly worship service for youth called Wednesday Night Live. A collection of young adults and I lead music for it. As the youth minister, I’m responsible for planning the service, so I try to think deeply about the messages presented by our music. On one level, it’s important for the message of a particular service to resonate through the music. Doing so permits the weaving of a theological thread throughout a given service. If the thread is carried well, youth can draw on different parts of the service to recall the lessons taught within. That way, youth might be impacted by a particular hymn or praise song as much as by the sermon or devotion. This simultaneously creates worship that engages youth in many different ways, catering to learning styles, and that intentionally communicates the theological message of a service.
On another level, the music tells its own story. I once heard the story behind the hymn “Come Thou Fount” which cemented it as one of my favorite hymns. Each hymn carries a story of someone’s faith journey that led to it being written. Those stories may be communicated in the text itself, or may be external. Either way, the music brings a story. Somewhere between the story of the music and the Jesus story, youth locate themselves or their current identity. As youth ministers, we must ensure that the stories presented in music match the theological convictions we hope to pass on to our youth. Music will present itself in various youth groups as the tenor of a particular ministry allows. Some youth ministries thrive in the arts. Others may be struggling to keep interest afloat. In either circumstance, music inevitably seeps into the work a church does with its youth. When it does, we must be ready to tend the messages conveyed by music.
Whatever theological convictions you or your church may hold, I hope that you will give some thought to how they are being communicated to your youth through music. The images presented through aural, artistic mediums may remain longer than words spoken in a sermon or written in a morning devotion. As youth work to locate their own story in the larger narrative of our world, they need the meaningful support music can provide. So, what are the theme songs of your youth ministry? Is there a Tom’s Diner type song, that gets stuck in everyone’s heads long after time together has elapsed? Listen closely to the messages presented in those songs. Carefully craft the joyful noises your group raises to God. Work to ensure that it resonates with the melody God gifted to creation.

Tom’s Diner –

Water Night –