NEVER GIVE UP ON YOUTH MUSIC MINISTRY
Making music with teenagers that encourages their worship of God in Christ is a critical part of the ministry of the Worship Music Minister or Worship Pastor, and I believe an important responsibility for the church itself. Whether through youth choir ministry, or through development of worship bands, orchestral or instrumental ensembles, or some other means of music-making, the thoughtful Worship Pastor will understand these opportunities as building blocks for making disciples, developing worship leaders, and fostering Christian community and service. What’s more, providing music-making activities with teenagers places them in a position to experience firsthand ways that the art of music touches the spirit and speaks to the soul. Making music together stirs connections that can implant notions of Christian community that bear fruit for years to come. Try as we might to articulate what it is like for music-making to touch the depth of your soul, adequately communicating such is surely impossible. All the more reason it is crucial to give students an opportunity to actually make music designed for worship expression. Surely we should pray they will sense the spiritual depth as part of their own experience and their own spiritual encounter during music-making. In the midst of it, often the Lord speaks His truth to a group, and/or to an individual soul.
As students and leaders from more than twenty churches gathered at Union University’s Grant Center on Friday night and at West Jackson Baptist Church on Saturday for Youth Project 2015, they came with some expectation that they would sing and learn some choir songs, have some fun, hear some others sing and share about music-making, and enjoy the time with other teenagers. The songs selected for this year’s event, directed by Dennis Allen, carried an overarching theme and message of resting our trust in the Lord. A triumphant tone underscored the musical expressions as well as the lyrics. Assurance secured in the strength of the Lord resonated through the sanctuary of West Jackson Baptist Church on Saturday as the students proclaimed psalm texts, declared their living “By Faith” and harmonized beautifully in expressing to the Lord thanksgiving for, “Your Awesome Love for Me.”
As the strains of 200 students singing in four-part harmony touched my own spirit, confirming a deep commitment to continue these kinds of opportunities despite all the distracting obstacles that come our way, I whispered a prayer for the words and music to find fertile soil in the hearts of these young people. With the exception of a handful of students that I knew a little about personally, the life situations of all the rest singing up there in the loft were a mystery. Certainly, their future life scenarios are unknown to all of us leaders. Nevertheless, the universal truths of scripture and biblical truth expressed through poetic song lyrics have eternal significance when the Spirit breathes them into the soul of the believing singer.
As I made my way around to several leaders, I heard of individual students who had special need for a message of assurance to be rooted in their spirit. One had recently experienced the death of a close friend, one had gone through the challenge of parents ending their marriage, and another who had been deeply disappointed by discovering a family member with substance abuse issues. On the one hand, these situations break my heart. As a dad and granddad it disturbs me when adults’ problems effect youth and children. Then again, thanks be to God for adult leaders who offer their time and energy to provide for students to be involved in things like Youth Choir and Youth Project, where strains of phrases like “He cannot be shaken,” and psalms like “I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my strength, my refuge, my fortress.” Thank the Lord for hearing Dennis Allen try to describe being sheltered under the wing of the Most High God. What a sound of the formed community of worshiping students singing in biblical order the revelation of creation, prophets, the Messiah, and the church and to respond resolutely with the refrain, “We will stand as children of the promise; we will fix our eyes on Him, our soul’s reward, ‘til the race is finished and the work is done. We’ll walk by faith and not by sight!”
It takes concentrated time and effort to develop and maintain a ministry through music with youth, but I am deeply convinced it is part and parcel of what it means to make disciples, and especially to “raise up a generation of praise.” (Youth Project’s permanent theme and intention) Far too often worship music ministry leaders get caught up striving to have “a great Sunday” to the exclusion of ongoing ministry through music with children and youth. Stringing together a bunch of “great Sundays” may seem like an appropriate strategy for positive ministry, but I believe it can, in fact, be very misleading and certainly shortsighted. I say misleading in that we could easily receive thunderous applause and enthusiastic kudos for cliché songs wrought with weak theology and pseudo spirituality, and still feel that we have had “a great Sunday.” Of course, I am not saying such would be the intention of anyone, but fixing our gaze on weekly experiences for attraction, is likely to lead us toward those things. I say shortsighted because when the applause dies down, the need goes on. It takes a broader view and a longer vision to build music and music-making into the lives of children and teens. Some years the youth choir looks more like an ensemble. Sometimes the only ones who can work it out to go to outside music events like Youth Project are a handful of teens.
I believe it is worth it, music minister! How I appreciate and affirm the efforts of those who help children and students make music, even at the most elementary level, so that they continue to grow toward ministry and mission using their gifts and talents. What a powerful community is being raised up, guided by loving hands of leaders who see past the big anthem or song of Sunday to weeks and years to come when children and youth become adults and leaders. Let us all sing along with these students with great enthusiasm and full meaning and intention, “We’ll walk by faith and not by sight!”