This question came from a gentleman who works at a Christian school. Every Friday a 4-5 piece band has been leading the 6th through 12th graders in a time of “praise and worship.” However, most of the students aren’t Christians. The leadership is changing so he wrote in:
“This year the students have really got into creating motions akin to “Christian line dancing” in a very “worshiptainment” atmosphere. I don’t like it but have been powerless to change it. There has been a lot of disagreement over the years as to the proper focus of our Friday service. Do we try to have a worship focus or, because so many of our students are lost, do we have a Christian concert/evangelism approach, or is it possible to do both?”
Thanks for recognizing that the current situation hasn’t been glorifying to God, helping the students, or exercising good leadership. I’m grateful that you want to do something to bring change.
The role of your leaders is to exalt the glory of God in Christ in the minds and hearts of the students. At this point, they think the world is more satisfying than a relationship with the Savior. They’re more impressed with the newest IPOD than the word of God. They believe sin has no consequences. How do you reach them? I know this. If you simply provide an entertaining, fun, dare I say, mindless environment, that’s exactly what they’ll take away. “What you win them WITH is generally what you win them TO.”
You have an opportunity every week to persuade these students that God’s Word is relevant to their lives, and that God is more holy, righteous, and awesome than they could ever imagine. You also have a privilege of helping them understand that Jesus Christ is more glorious, amazing, and beautiful than they could ever imagine. Notice I didn’t say more “fun.” I haven’t found any Scripture that tells us we have to convince non-Christians that God is fun.
In one sense, I’ve had more fun as a Christian than I could ever possibly have as an unbeliever, but that’s because I’m more aware of how sin deceives, defiles, and destroys my life. The fun I experience now is largely different from what I used to know because I don’t have to fear any consequences! I know that my greatest problem has been solved and fun isn’t an escape from the truth. It also has a purpose – to serve others by bringing joy to their lives.
Christians should be the most joyful people on the planet. But it’s because of our relationship with the Savior – “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1Pet. 1:8). That’s what we want to introduce them to, through the power of God’s Spirit working through His Word and our lives.
How is that accomplished in your setting? Here are a few recommendations:
- Take time to explain to the students what your goals are for this time. Don’t beat around the bush. You don’t have to “trick” them into following Jesus. They’ll be more affected by our honesty than our not-so-subtle manipulation.
- Sing songs that clearly and plainly talk about what God has done for us in Christ, that extol God’s Word, works, and worthiness. Preach the Gospel in song. (In Christ Alone is one example.)
- Use short AND long songs. Using only short songs minimizes truth, while using only long songs may challenge their attention spans.
- Use both fast and slow songs. But let truth determine which ones you use, not tempo.
- Sing more songs that teach or proclaim objective truth than songs that only express our love for the Lord. There’s a place for using both, but don’t’ spend 30 minutes leading non-Christians in singing “Here I am to worship, here I am to bow down…” and “I love you, Lord.”
- Don’t be afraid to speak between songs, explaining what they mean. Illustrate from your own life how these truths have affected you.
- Keep the students standing in one place. If they don’t know the Savior, dancing is only a reflection of their desire to get up and move, not an overflow of the joy they’ve found in Christ.
- Don’t use a song the students know simply because it’s familiar. Truth outlasts tunes.
- When possible, have students share how God has changed them or used the truth in certain songs to affect them.
Above all, take time to pray individually and as a group that God, by His Spirit and the Gospel, would work through you during these times to open blinded eyes and restore lost sinners to Himself for His glory.
Thanks for putting what I have been feeling (and then some) into words. I love to hear the word of God (not just the Psalms) put to music.
Bob, thanks for a great post. I almost wonder if I know this person, as a school in our area has just this exact issue before them. I resonate entirely with your “new kind of fun” and “most joyful people” insights. It wast just this very thing, introduction to a youth group filled with public school kids who visibly and verbally loved the Lord and understood a type of fun and enjoyment that I as a professing believer had no knowledge of. It was absolutely magnetic, and I wanted it. God used those guys to change my life and eventually call me into pastoral ministry. Thanks for posting things such as this. It is a great link I hope to refer my two readers to!
Bob, it is great to know that we are not alone. Thank you for your God-centeredness.
Bob, there is some great discernment in this list. In the past, as a traveling musician, I would find myself in a similar situation. I found Christian schools to be one of the toughest enviroments to minister in. I recieved some horrid advice from fellow musicians as the best way to minister in those situations. The majority told me it was best to just make sure the kids have fun, and don’t worry about anything else.
I was young at the time (no excuse) and listened to them. I wish I had this list then. Especially No. 2 and No. 5.
one thing i might add to that list is to spend some time investing in the leadership of that group to explain to them what you are trying to do with worship. working with students can be hard because many of them expect entertainment. But often if you have the leaders of the group on board (and that could take time) you can begin to change the climate in your school/ youth ministry.
Thanks, Bob, for writing such a great article on keeping worship focussed on God, rather than on the desires of the “worshippers”, resulting in something that isn’t true worship at all. And, oh how we need the Gospel to be preached from the pulpit *and* the music group!
If I had one question, it would be about the concern behind point 5; or put another way, do you mean it to be closer to point 7 or point 2? You seem to suggest that getting non-Christians to sing (say) “Here I am to worship” is less preferable to getting them to sing (say) “See what a morning” (in like manner to point 7) but I have always been of the mind that non-Christians are as unlikely to believe in the Resurrection as to believe that they are here to worship. On the other hand, if your point 5 is more closely tied to point 2, then I will agree entirely.