Many times, the first venue for a new worship leader is at a youth gathering. What’s next? How do you best invite these students to join you in worship? I’ve had this conversation with many youth pastors, bands, and worship leaders. We all agree, students are not the easiest to lead in worship. Let’s be honest there is a lot to compete with in the lives of the average student today.
If you’ve ever felt discouraged after leading a youth gathering, you are not alone. So how do we best direct their attention away from so many competing interests and guide them towards fixing their eyes on Jesus? Here are a few things to keep in mind next time you step in front of a youth group to lead worship.
1) Meet them where they are and be in that moment with them.
I remember a week last fall on a Wednesday night the students looked worn out. It turned out that most of them had just finished a long day of standardized testing. I knew that there was going to be no way to get them going and energized. They needed rest. It was a great opportunity to lead them to a place of rest in the presence of God. Then there are the nights where the students have all seemingly consumed two 12oz Red Bulls and are bouncing off of the walls. You may not have any chance of knowing where they are at until twenty minutes before things start. So plan for this. If you’ve planned and rehearsed for an energetic start to the night, but notice they need some rest, be willing to change your planned direction to best meet the students where they are.
2) Give them direction.
Some worship leaders like to think that if they just get up there and sing through the song, God will do the rest. There is both truth and myth at work in this philosophy. While you have to allow the Spirit to break through and guide the hearts and minds of students into worship, consider that it is through you that the Holy Spirit is doing that work. Be prayerful about the worship set. Find ways to give guidance in the spaces between songs. Use transitions to guide the student’s hearts and minds in worship. This can be as simple as guiding them to repeat a small phrase of scripture with you, or it can be a devotional thought, or it can be a simple scripture reading. Remember that you are taking a part in raising up the next generation of worshippers. Teach them how to unleash their spirit to worship God. Talk about why we sometimes raise our hands in worship. Talk about why we bow down. Talk about why we worship. Aaron Keyes has some great thoughts on the Hebrew words for worship and praise. Share some of these thoughts with the students. I have found them to be incredibly helpful and think you will as well.
3) Don’t treat them like children.
This seems self-explanatory but the fastest way to lose a group of students is to treat them like they are kids. You would be surprised by how the phrase, “Hey kids!” causes them to immediately disconnect. Respect them by not treating them as children and they will be more willing to follow you where you lead them.
4) Know why they may feel uncomfortable singing.
In a room of students ranging from 6th graders to seniors in high school, honestly, you are going to have some who are very uncomfortable singing. I’ve found this to be especially true with middle school boys. Their voices are changing and some are embarrassed to sing. We need to be careful not to lead them to think that loud singing equals worship. That misses the mark. Instead of encouraging them to sing louder, try encouraging them to find words in the song that are really speaking to them. Give them direction to worship silently if they wish. The singing will come as their heart grows in worship for God.
5) Invest in the lives of the students you are leading.
Be more to them than the guy or gal up there on the stage singing songs. Be their friend. Recognize that you are in a position of influence and use that influence to point them to Christ.
6) Be Yourself
Students today see right through the façade. Authentically worship God as you lead. Do not be afraid to be vulnerable. You are not Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, or Hillsong – don’t try to be. Be yourself and allow God to use you to lead the students in worship.
7) Lead Familiar Songs
They want to sing songs they know and are more likely to engage in worship when they feel they know the songs. Sometimes it takes singing something over and over to really allow the words to be written on our hearts. Help them embody the songs through leading songs they are familiar with. Find two or three songs that the students really enjoy singing and try to sing one of them every week.
These are just a few thoughts to keep in mind when leading students in worship. I would love to continue the conversation and learn from your experiences as well.