Mission Over Preference In Leading Students To Worship
Understanding can come in different ways. Sometimes understanding comes through experiences that change our worldview. Other times, understanding requires great sacrifice or comes at a great personal cost. Fortunately, my specific moment of understanding only required me to lay down my ego. Sounds easy, right?
One of my epiphanies with understanding came while I was leading a group of sixth through eighth-graders in worship during a regular mid-week service. The energy and smell in the room were typical of what happens when you have hundreds of 11 to 14-year-olds in a room at one time— pure chaos with a mix of smelly shoes and body spray.
I was leading one of my all-time favorite songs. The basic lyrics to this song are all about how there is no one like God; there never has never been, and never will be. And right there, in the middle of the song, it hit me. Their blank expressions staring back at me spoke volumes. And I knew right then they were missing it, all of it!
I could tell they wanted to be involved. Something was holding them back. As I wrapped up leading
worship, I was perplexed. Later that evening, as I spent time debriefing the night, I kept coming back to my thoughts on the reason for the lack of engagement. I knew almost immediately what the problem had been. I had picked a song I really liked, but I had not considered if it would connect with them. Honestly, I just assumed the song would connect with students because it connected so much with me.
That’s when it hit me; I realized that I had put my preference ahead of those I was supposed to be serving.
Fun fact: Worship leaders tend to operate out of our musical style preference. But this isn’t only true for a worship leader; it’s true for all of us. Worship leader or worshipper, our musical style preference is the reason why we like the music we like. As worship leaders, it’s why we like to lead
the songs we like to lead. As a worshipper, it’s why you like or don’t like the songs that are sung. Whether we like certain songs because of the melody, the vocals, the song's arrangement, the guitars' tone, how the pad or synth sits in the mix, or any other reason, we all have a preference and we all think our preference is best.
We may not consciously think about why we like a song. If you ask the average person, they will most likely say they listen to a song because they like how it sounds. For the worship leader, the question then becomes: How do we lead or program music, especially music as deeply personal as worship music, that we aren’t passionate about? How do we shift how we operate from “preference” to “mission”?
We must figure out how to step outside of our musical style preference. This is step one. You may find that your musical tastes don’t mirror those of an 11 to 14-year-old. This is a good thing. Obviously (or hopefully), your tastes have matured with time.
Now that we have identified our preference may be a hindrance to our ability to lead and engage, what do we do about it? We own it. We don’t hide it or excuse it. And we certainly don’t blame the students for not being as spiritual as we are. We must admit that there is a really good chance we were, at some point, very much the same as the 11 to 14-year-old students we currently lead. Think back to that time in your life—what type of music were you into? I’m going to guess that it’s vastly different from what your Spotify playlists look like today.
We then humbly sacrifice our musical style preference for the sake of the gospel. Practically speaking, it’s as simple as listening. Listen to your students and listen to new music. Ask your students what they are listening to and then listen to that music. Then do your best to reflect that sound as you plan out your worship set. You don’t have to spend hours pouring over every trend and artist. However, you do need to understand that there could very well be a different style of music that connects your students in worship. Maybe the boldest and most God-honoring move you could make is to honestly consider if you have put your worship preference ahead of those you are supposed to be serving. It may not require great sacrifice or come at a great personal cost, but it will require you to lay down your ego. But that’s easy, right?
I believe in you, and I’m praying that God will give you grace, understanding, and will reveal Himself to you in new ways as you seek to lead your students to engage the Lord in worship.
Share your thoughts with others in our YM360 community:
- Are you currently struggling to connect with your students in worship? Have you considered a change in musical styles?
- If you have recently changed styles what has been the result?
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