Lately, I’ve been wrestling with what worship looks like, especially in student ministry. Our church has the standard youth worship team comprised of students who give time, prayer, and practice towards leading the group musically. Honestly, they are excellent. They even lead our adult services on a somewhat regular basis. We do a monthly worship night with our senior high students where we set aside two hours for times of contemplation, prayer, art, rest, listening, writing, confession, and scripture reading. They have historically been powerful times of us giving our attention and time to God as a gift. But what more is there?
In thinking about this, and praying through it, God’s really pushing on me with this whole idea. I thought I’d share where I’m at, lay out in a couple of pieces what’s going on and what I see coming, and then I’d love to get your feedback. Honestly, I really need your feedback to see how God is working in everyone else on this issue.
Ok, so here it is. I’ll start with the Biblical side and encourage you to add to or challenge what I’ve found. As I have been looking through the Bible at worship, it seems to be centered around the idea of responding to the good things God has done and who He is. But more than just responding. Immediate response seems to be a high value as well. You have Adam and Eve simply spending time with God, talking to Him, loving Him. But then after the fall, it continues. Moses worships at the burning bush, Jacob stops in his flight from men who want to kill him to build an alter and worship. Job worships every day, praying for his kids. David mourns until his child dies, then immediately cleans himself up and worships. Isaiah falls down at the sight of God and worships. Jesus worships His Father many, many times in the gospels. The disciples stop what they are doing to give thanks to the God who saves them. The angels fall in Revelation every time God speaks. There seems to be an immediacy, an urgency to worship. It isn’t always a planned event, but often is a response to God’s showing Himself. The timing is irregular, and spread all throughout the day. And, by the way, singing is a minority act.
Obviously there are many, many more examples from Scripture. But as we find them, we see in them a responsive quality. There are the days set aside for celebration in the community. The Jewish temple feasts were regular days on the calendar. But even those are in response to God moving in large, redemptive ways.
It seems to me that we have, or at least I have, shifted to more of a model that says we will show up and worship on our schedule, and we will worship in the ways we want to, focusing on what we wish. My faith community doesn’t seem to do much in direct response to what God is doing or revealing Himself to be.
I recently spoke with some students at a Christian college that I teach at. I asked them when they worshipped. “Chapel” was the unanimous answer. “What is done that is worship in chapel?” “We sing”, they replied. If you ask my youth group, they would say we sing. If you prod them, they will pull up the other pieces of communion, prayer, listening, meditation, scripture, etc. But singing dominates the landscape of our worship. Many of us have developed a stage based program where the shiny happy pretty people are on stage using their musical abilities, while the rest of us who aren’t as brave or talented face them and join in. Now, before anyone gets upset, I’m not saying we pitch student worship teams, or that we abandon singing. I am asking have we gotten lopsided in our approach, and what values are we communicating about people and worship through our approaches?
I look at how we put together a worship service. Typically it is comprised of songs we like to sing, because of the tune or the lyrics. They typically move in a direction in their styles. Either fast to slow, or fast to slow to fast again, etc. We arrange them, and sing them because they are true. As long as we are singing songs that are theologically true, then we are doing worship. I’m not convinced. Now obviously, we would include that the singer needs to be aware of the lyrics, and “mean” them “from their heart”. But even with that clarification, does that guarantee worship? I’m not sure.
So, we are looking at making a shift in our understanding. We are going to begin working on making worship more of a rhythm in our times together. We want to see our students respond to God on a daily basis in smaller, less programmed ways. Therefore, we’re going to work on giving them a time to respond to God at our weekly meetings. We’re just on the beginning side of this, and haven’t gotten far into it yet. But we want to have students wrestle with what God is doing in their lives, and then give them creative ways to respond to Him. We will probably still use some of the same tools we have (journaling, prayer, creative art, poetry, communion, etc.) But instead of keeping it to one night a month, we are going to work smaller pieces into each week. And then they will be very focused on what God is revealing to us right then.
The other piece is that our leaders, starting with me, are going to need to begin practicing this daily form of worship as an immediate response. If we don’t live it, then it won’t be passed on. It’s like teaching about the need to regularly fast, and then only fasting during the 30 Hour Famine. It rings hollow. (Not that I’ve ever done that!) I’m working on building into my daily rhythm small times to stop and worship God. Nothing big, but actually stopping what I’m doing to worship. It’s coming really slowly, unfortunately. I simply forget. And I think that’s the idea behind it. So we won’t forget.
My hope is that my life will be one of worship, and that student’s will catch a picture of what their lives could be like as they worship whenever and wherever they need to.
This is where I’m really need your ideas. What are you working on? Do you agree with the theological ideas, or are they off base? How is God challenging you, and what steps are you taking? Any help you can give will definitely be appreciated on my end.