By David Wakerley
Last year I visited India with my 10-year-old son. We went to see my parents who run an orphanage in the Northwest of the country — but we started in Mumbai.
Talk about a culture shock. India is an incredibly different place to my home in Sydney, Australia. The people, the noise, the smell… “Holy Cow!” I said as we almost ran over one relaxing in the middle of the road. I was in a different world, with different rules and expectations. A different language and people. I was an immigrant in a new culture.
The most effective missionaries learn the language, the culture and build bridges. They don’t come in and impose their own values and ideas upon an unsuspecting people. That’s how I want you to see yourself as you take a quick dive into the world of kids — an immigrant, a missionary into an unknown culture.
A lot of art is created for an audience of peers. Bands will often explain during interviews that their goal was to record music they wanted to listen to themselves, and for obvious reasons. It’s a market they know really well. But there is huge opportunity and unexpected blessing in reaching out to create to another demographic, to a different group. Our Hillsong worship team recently released the songs ‘A Beautiful Name’ and ‘Oceans’ in Arabic and the response was surprising and such a blessing.
But this opportunity wasn’t blindly taken and there was thought and care taken to avoid the pitfalls of crossing cultural divides. But I truly believe that your Church, your ministry could see the most astounding and surprising testimonies come flooding in if you take steps to help the kids and families worship their King Jesus.
By investing in resources for children, the Church is declaring to the world they will be a voice for this generation. “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed.” (Proverbs 31:8-9 NLT).
Population experts suggest that the world has probably experienced ‘peak child’. That is, we have the largest global youth population in history, and this group will remain for several decades before beginning to shrink later this century. That’s right, the amount of children in the world today is the most there may ever be!
By my rough calculations next year about 2,000 worship albums will be created by churches and bands around the world, and maybe 100 for kids. But out there in the world reaching children is one of the most competitive and profitable market demographics. Disney seems to be doing quite well and the Wiggles (preschool entertainers) have been Australia’s highest paid entertainers many times in years past.
It’s a new day and there is a world hungry for a different kind of story for their children to hear. Don’t think that a simple message of hope and value won’t have an impact. It’s always artists who lead… always. As a missionary into the lives of children, you are not here to ‘bring Jesus’ to your group of kids. You are here to seek out and discover exactly what God is already doing in their lives and join WITH Him in ministry.
Songwriting for kids is not a huge leap of faith for those engaged in songwriting, but as I said earlier, approach it humbly as a missionary in a brand new world. We approached our forthcoming Hillsong Kids album from the perspective of a “what we believe” statement. What are the foundational truths we would love each child to have about their faith?
So each song hits on themes and topics like Salvation, The Bible, Heaven and even the Trinity. It’s not rocket science but it’s an approach that helps you avoid songs covering similar material. Creation, for example, is well covered in the world of kids worship, I’ve done it. Psalty did it, I think even Barney the Dinosaur did it.
I’m personally looking for phrases in songs that declare truth in a somewhat ‘childlike’ way. It’s hard to pin down exactly what that means but includes lyrics like these:
- “Your eyes search the world over kings and queens, looking for a child just like me” (Your Eyes – Superhero album)
- “My God watches over me… I feel like royalty” (Royalty – Super Strong God album)
- “I give you my Hallelujah, Hallelujah for all my days” (I Give You My Hallelujah – Can You Believe It!? album)
- “No bigger life than growing up in Your house, Where we discover who we can become” (We Came to Meet with You – Can You Believe It!? album)
It’s a turn of phrase you wouldn’t necessarily find in a ‘grown-up’ song, but it’s also not simplistic and condescending.
A very easy pitfall to end up in are topics focusing on the kids behavior, their virtues or their actions. (e.g., I’m gonna DO this or that FOR you God). It subtly tells our children that the Christian life is about what we do for God. It tells them that the things we could accomplish for Him are the most important.
When this is repeated over and over it can be exhausting for a kid, who, in almost every area of their life is ranked. We want Church to be an oasis in a life that is spent getting graded and lined up according to ability and worth.
Not everyone is called to be a missionary, and not all creatives are called to reach children, but we are all called to the harvest field which includes the youngest… and right now in history, that’s most of us.
Amanda Fergusson – Songs of Heaven http://hillsongstore.com.au/songs-of-heaven-second-edition-amanda-fergusson/
Darlene Zschech – Extravagant Worship http://darlenezschech.com/product/extravagant-worship-book/