Worship in Student Ministry Essentials: Beyond the "Bow Tie"

October 3, 2012     Jeff Simpson    

I grew up in the church. I went to youth group. I played guitar. I sang. So, of course, at some point I became the “worship leader” for youth group.

I’m not saying it was wrong or right for my Youth Pastor to ask me to fill such a role, but now looking back on it, Im not sure if he had any idea what he was asking me to do because He certainly didn’t give me much instruction on what “worship” or “worship leader” even meant. Thankfully, he was a great YP, and he invested in my life in so many other important ways. God used him to grow my faith in big ways in my High School years. After High School I, by God’s grace, was able to attend Trinity College of FL where I studied Worship Theology. I went to Trinity expecting to take the normal Systematic Theology classes and then take a bunch of easy Worship classes, I mean, I’d been “leading worship” for like 6 years by then, I was pretty much an expert, right?…Thats not quite how it went…

During my time at Trinity I was introduced to a bunch of great worship Theologians, and my Worship classes were anything but easy. In every class I was asked to visit 3 Worship services of Churches that were inside one of the three main branches of Christendom, but totally outside of my tradition. I visited a ton of different kinds of Churches in both High, and Low Church traditions. I visited Eastern Orthodox, Episcopal, Roman Catholic, and I visited Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Baptist, and everything in between (well, almost…Gods Children are diverse!). When I would come back from these visits in my classes, we would talk about what “Worship” meant and what the differences between that particular church visit and my tradition. We also talked about the similarities, and we talked about the stuff that made us think “man! that was so cool!!”, and the stuff that made us want to tear our shirt and throw ashes on ourselves. This was WAY more intense, and Theological that any “worship” discussion I’d had with anyone in my church, even the Worship Pastor.

This brings me back to the “bow-tie”. Up until this point in my “Worship Leading” life, the most thoughtful idea I had been given about how to plan a worship set was to do the “bow tie”…you know…big opener, bring it down in the middle so there are tears and raised hands, and then close with another big song. Now, the bow-tie is fine, there is nothing sinful or wrong about it. However, if thats the most thought your young worship leader puts into your corporate worship, the problem will be that you will have placed a style issue at the top, and you wont have done much work on content.

For me, the following is the system by which we plan and critique our corporate worship in my Student Ministry: Content, Structure, Style.

Content: This is the most vital part of the equation. Content is non-negotiable. It needs to be Christo-centric, Trinitarian, and it should tell God’s Story (He existed in perfect holiness, He created, we fell and need Him, He redeems, He calls us into His family as Sons, and Daughters) It doesn’t matter what tradition you come from, you can tell God’s Story through your songs and preaching every week, no matter the series or passage you might be in. This part of this equation was the one thing that I noticed remained basically the same across most of the Church visits I did in Bible College. Though the way the story was told definitely changed, for the most part, this was the story that I found.

Structure: Structure is semi-negotiable: want to do communion as a way to communicate that the community we feel when we partake of communion is a picture of the way God exists in perfect community in the Trinity? Cool! Want to use an “alter call” as a way to communicate that we need God and that He wants to redeem us? Do it! This is of secondary importance, and this is where you get to be faithful to your tradition.  You will need to be a bit cautious though because there can be times when the structure of your gathering can change the Story you tell, like if you never sing songs about how we are sinful and need God, the story seems a bit inconsistent…

Style: This is of even more secondary importance and this is where you can begin to have your students take over some of the responsibility of things like song choice. Style is a great doorway to conversations about content with your musicians. The style should fit your students, not necessarily you or your sponsors, so having students be in on the decisions of song choice is a great way to make sure the style is agreeable to them, and its a great way to start a conversation like “Ok, great we all like this song! What part of Gods story is this song telling? Where should we put it in the set?” etc…

Honestly, if you want to teach your young musicians theology in a way that will stick with  them, talk about Worship with them. Get them to start defining what they actually mean when they say that word. Get them to study the ancient words that we got “Worship” from. There is nothing worse that a young Worship Leader who speaks with way more “authority” than they have maturity and humility, and many times, this pride spreads to the other students. Lovingly, continually showing your young Worship Leader that they don’t know everything, and that there is a lot more to Leading Worship than stage presence and the ability to talk in that weird, overly dramatic, “worship leader” voice from the stage, will help them to become more pastoral and humble in their approach to Worship Leading. Help them to understand that their role in your Youth Group is vitally important and that what you are asking them to help you with is of high, high importance. Talk through the set lists they choose and ask them why they chose those songs and why in that order, and don’t let them slide by with easy answers! This may mean that you need to do some study and reading yourself, but believe me, it is worth it! A great place to start reading is any of the “Ancient-Future” books by Robert Webber, but particularly “Ancient-Future Worship”.

 

I promise, if you invest the time it takes to develop good, thoughtful Worship Leaders among your students, you will begin to see a deepening in their faith that you haven’t seen before, and this will begin to spread throughout the other students, and probably even your adult leaders.

Categories: Coaching, FeaturedSlider
Comments

0 thoughts on “Worship in Student Ministry Essentials: Beyond the "Bow Tie"”

  1. Keith Parker

    Great article, Ben. It’s important to encourage students to lead while reminding them that they are not “celebrities” because they picked up a guitar. And kudos on hitting the nail on the head by pointing out that CONTENT is the most important thing. Too often, I think we lead songs because they are popular, sound good, or they are “cool to play.” Keeping the Main Thing the main thing is key – well done.

    1. Ben Read

      Thanks Keith, it was actually Jeff that wrote the article, I forgot to change the author. Completely agree, we focused with our students on not just picking songs that were fun to play but had good theology.

    2. Dissapointed

      Firstly I’m glad Jim made someone feel welcome, my experience was different, and I praise God for it, or my life would be drastically different today.

      Two things disappoint, firstly the “bow tie” sounds much like emotional manipulation… Perhaps I do not understand it, but as described, I don’t like it.

      Secondly, when involved in a youth ministry, or any ministry, I’m of the opinion that the Gospel is THE single most important part. Not a secondary component. Our hyper-calvinistic experience at the church we both attended seems to have affected us both differently. While I gravitate towards churches where the Gospel is central, you seem to have gone a different way. Glad to hear you are involved in ministry however.

      (joking) Maybe one day God will bring you around to my point of view.

  2. Keith Parker

    Great article, Ben. It’s important to encourage students to lead while reminding them that they are not “celebrities” because they picked up a guitar. And kudos on hitting the nail on the head by pointing out that CONTENT is the most important thing. Too often, I think we lead songs because they are popular, sound good, or they are “cool to play.” Keeping the Main Thing the main thing is key – well done.

    1. Ben Read

      Thanks Keith, it was actually Jeff that wrote the article, I forgot to change the author. Completely agree, we focused with our students on not just picking songs that were fun to play but had good theology.

    2. Dissapointed

      Firstly I’m glad Jim made someone feel welcome, my experience was different, and I praise God for it, or my life would be drastically different today.

      Two things disappoint, firstly the “bow tie” sounds much like emotional manipulation… Perhaps I do not understand it, but as described, I don’t like it.

      Secondly, when involved in a youth ministry, or any ministry, I’m of the opinion that the Gospel is THE single most important part. Not a secondary component. Our hyper-calvinistic experience at the church we both attended seems to have affected us both differently. While I gravitate towards churches where the Gospel is central, you seem to have gone a different way. Glad to hear you are involved in ministry however.

      (joking) Maybe one day God will bring you around to my point of view.

  3. Brian

    I really like this. Love that you are really pushing theology and depth in worship.

    But I think this can get too rigid. (In our current culture, I realize that this article represents the other side of the pendulum swing compared to most popular worship music – especially among the youth.) In the Psalms, not every song had super deep theology. Some were simply “help!” or “WOW!”.

    I think there is a place for both “here is the Gospel in three verses and a chorus” and “Jesus, I love you”. There is a time for depth, but there is also space for a moment of wordless encounter fueled by music and an experience outside of lyrical wonder. A groaning of the soul set to music, if you will.

    I love to blend styles with that in mind, bring back an older hymn (or a modern song with that level of depth) as a supplement to the lighter song that might engage the soul in a different way.

    Michael Gungor talks about their music (Gungor) as being liturgical post-rock. They consider the musical interludes to be as worshipful and honoring to God as the insanely deep lyrics they write. I agree.

    As a singer/guitarist/bassist, I can say that I worship just as deeply while playing bass and not singing. It is not the words, but the soul that worships.

    As I said before, this is a great article, and a needed perspective. But, as with most pendulum effects, I think there is a great place somewhere in the middle.

  4. Brian

    I really like this. Love that you are really pushing theology and depth in worship.

    But I think this can get too rigid. (In our current culture, I realize that this article represents the other side of the pendulum swing compared to most popular worship music – especially among the youth.) In the Psalms, not every song had super deep theology. Some were simply “help!” or “WOW!”.

    I think there is a place for both “here is the Gospel in three verses and a chorus” and “Jesus, I love you”. There is a time for depth, but there is also space for a moment of wordless encounter fueled by music and an experience outside of lyrical wonder. A groaning of the soul set to music, if you will.

    I love to blend styles with that in mind, bring back an older hymn (or a modern song with that level of depth) as a supplement to the lighter song that might engage the soul in a different way.

    Michael Gungor talks about their music (Gungor) as being liturgical post-rock. They consider the musical interludes to be as worshipful and honoring to God as the insanely deep lyrics they write. I agree.

    As a singer/guitarist/bassist, I can say that I worship just as deeply while playing bass and not singing. It is not the words, but the soul that worships.

    As I said before, this is a great article, and a needed perspective. But, as with most pendulum effects, I think there is a great place somewhere in the middle.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Rating*