Lesson 1: Should we sing or do worship in youth group?
Should we do worship or sing at youth group?
— Marcus Hong
First things first. The word “worship” can mean many things. Let’s address at least two.
- “Worship” can be a verb that means showing love or respect toward something or someone. In this sense, should we “do worship” at youth group? Yes! Hopefully we worship God all the time! Hopefully “whatever [we] do, in word or deed” is done “in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the father through him.” (Colossians 3:17) Hopefully we live grateful for what God has done, crying out to God with confident hope that God will continue to act, and lamenting situations in which God seems absent.
- Worship can also be a noun that refers to a Sunday morning gathering, where we might sing, pray, listen to a reading, hear someone speak, share a special meal, or witness someone dunked in or sprinkled with water. We have names for all of these things, of course, but I’m making them mundane to highlight that simple actions, when done with others and understood by those gathered as important, become quite meaningful. For followers of Christ these simple acts are meaningful because of the one we worship, the Triune God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We worship someone made known in the birth, life, death and resurrection of a young first-century Jewish man. In fact, we worship in response to what God has done in and through this man Jesus Christ. The first action done in worship is God’s not ours. Worship of God would not exist without what God has done.
Thus, worship involves not just demonstrating love broadly, but also through particular actions done in community in response to God. But, should we do these worshipful actions at youth group? Well, it depends.
In the first place, yes. Yes, I love seeing young people engaging in worship. Someone might encounter worship of God for the first time with your youth. This is important. God calls us all to worship together. This worship is a form of witness to who God is, what God has done and is still doing. Public communal worship of God is at its best a strange and maybe even countercultural act that celebrates what God has done in a way that invites all to participate. In a society in which people are mocked on national television for their inability to sing, it is counter cultural to invite everyone to sing praises and to sing them to God and to call that beautiful, important, and meaningful.
At the same time, I would caution us to consider at least two questions when deciding to do worship at youth group.
- Are we worshipping because of God? If you worship with your youth only or primarily because you believe it will draw more people or because people need music or silence or tactile engagement, I beg you to look deeper. We are bodily creatures and we should do things together that highlight our embodiment, but this cannot be the only reason to worship together. Worship is a response to God. We can have other reasons for doing specific worshipful things together, but divorced from God, worshipful actions become meaningless.
Similarly, please reconsider worshipping because it is what has always been done. People know when something is done “just because” and easily conclude that this activity has no meaning and is not worth their time. It’s not bad to do something routinely. Musicians and athletes may go through the motions when they play scales and do drills, but they do so because of a driving passion — the upcoming game or concert or the pleasure of getting better at something they love. We should worship first of all because we as a community love God and know the importance of demonstrating that love in community. Of course, there are times when it may be difficult for us to worship. Sometimes it will be good to push through and worship anyway; other times it may be healthy to step away for a time. What I’m saying here is that our reason for doing worship as a community should be because we strongly desire to worship God. This brings me to my next question.
- Are we connecting young people to a worshipping community in a way that will sustain a life of worship? Notice those italicized plurals in the last sentence. We are people in relationship — to God and to others. Because of this, I am convinced that we cannot live life in response to God alone. I can pray by myself. I can sing a song to God alone. I can read scripture in the privacy of my bedroom. But worship is most sustainable when it is done in community and some things, like communion, can only really be done with others.
Several young people I know, after graduating from high school and moving to college, have had a difficult time worshipping in their new situation because it’s not like things were at youth group. They had grown used to comparing their youth group experience to what is done elsewhere and finding that elsewhere lacking. Now, it is true that we may need to find ways to make Sunday mornings resonate more with what happens on Sunday evenings, Wednesday nights, weekend retreats or summer trips. I hope this happens. Yet, I am also convinced that youth need to engage in worship not only with each other and a few trusted adults and in a way that they are comfortable, but also with elderly people and toddlers in ways that are not always comfortable. In fact, we all need to find ways to do worship with people who are not like our “group.” If we worship at youth group because either the youth or the adult leaders cannot worship with the larger body then our worship has become problematic. If we regularly compare what we do in youth group to what happens with the larger church and find a growing chasm between the two, we should wonder in what ways we might be setting up an unsustainable community that fails to draw our young people into the larger community of God’s people. If you are considering doing worship with your young people, please also invite them to worship with the larger body. If some people cannot come on Sunday mornings, because of work or a sports team or a family situation, strongly consider encouraging them to ask for work off or to find a different team. At the same time, consider encouraging your larger worshipping body to do worship at another time so that many people of all ages and walks of life can be involved.
I hope that you do worship with your young people. I hope that you sing and pray and read scripture together. I hope that you find the time to break bread and remember Christ’s life, death and resurrection. But I also hope that you do so in response to God, with true passion and love for God, and in a way that connects young people to a community that can sustain their worship for life.
Marcus Hong is a child of God and a cultivator of worship, a writer, learner, teacher, musician, and PhD student in Christian Education and Formation at Princeton Theological Seminary. Born in the foothills of the rugged Rocky Mountains, Marc now lives in New Jersey with his wife Sarah and their precocious children.
Gathering and Opening Prayer (5 minutes)
Logistics and Organizational Topics (5-10 minutes)
Training Time (20 minutes)
- Watch Video together
- What do you think of performance-‐driven culture and its effect on worship?
- How do we resist the temptation to over-‐perform?
- How can we create spaces of vulnerability for worship?
- Have you ever experienced a space where you felt vulnerable in worship?
- Talk about the best worship experiences you’ve How do those relate to Marcus’ thoughts on meaningful worship?
- In light of all this, should you start singing at youth group? What else could worship look like?
Take aways (10 minutes)
- How will this impact our church, our youth, or our team?
- Hand out essay for further reading
Close in Prayer (5 minutes)