Worship & Student Ministry – Defining Worship

duck rabbitEver seen this image before? Is it a duck? Is it a rabbit? which one did you see first? With this in mind, let’s imagine a scenario where there’s one image. On top of that, there’s a room filled with people, which happen to have very distinct interpretations of the same figure. Ambiguous images have an extreme polarizing effect on anyone that encounters them. Like the image here, there are pictures that achieve graphical similarities that in most cases confuse audiences into seeing vastly different scenes. Often, it is not until revealed by someone that can see the other side that one can begin to see the image from a different perspective.

Through the years, Youth Ministry has been a sensitive subject within the Church. This subject facing the body of Christ has resulted in polarizing views that bring to question: “is there is such a thing as a healthy Youth Ministry?” So many churches default to treating Student Ministry as with very little care. Moreover, the churches that do, end up wasting their resources on the “biggest, baddest, most numbers bringing events in the block.” Unfortunately, as Mark Devries writes, “Churches that have failed to build sustainable youth ministries typically spend all their resources on quick fixes”[1]

What church leaders teach the youth is imperative, for adolescents are the next generation of leaders.

Teenagers are the ones who will continue to carry the baton of faith for the years to come. “According to Lifeway Research, 70 percent of young people will drop out of church after high school, and only 35 percent will return to regular attendance.”[2] The numbers do not lie. 70%  is a giant number of young people. For that reason, how the American Church teaches the youth to worship God matters. There is a way to prevent this from continuing to happen; healthy teaching leads to a healthy future.

Youth Ministry should not be considered a stepping stone, nor a trial ministry for a future Senior Pastor. If local churches want to see the numbers shift dramatically (and believe me they do) then they must shift their practices. Our churches are not teaching the youth “why” and “how” to worship God. Instead, they are taught to that games, candy, pizza, and fun are king. If the majority of the time invested in youth is trying to be “relevant” we will continue to make the word of God “irrelevant”.  What I mean by this, is that, the less we help our teens fall in love with God’s word, grasp the Gospel, and teach them what it means to worship God in spirit and in truth, the numbers are going to continue to be the way they are and get worse.

Defining Worship

In order to differentiate between healthy and unhealthy worship in Youth Ministry, it is important to understand what worship is, and what it is not. “The English word worship is derived from the Anglo-Saxon weorthscipe—“worth” and “ship”—meaning one “worthy of reverence and honor.”[3] Bob Kauflin writes in his book regarding worship “It involves thinking about, magnifying, and responding to the glory and splendor of God.”[4] Moreover, the word worship in Greek literally means “to kiss the hand” like a dog kisses the hand of its master. Ever seen a dog come running to its owner and licking him or her all over? The dog is expressing its adoration towards the one he loves.

Therefore, worship is about God and who He is. It is not about how one feels. Certainly, God deserves worship for who He is, not for what He has done. Although, basking in the reality of his love through the Gospel can be transcending. However, that is not the reason for worshipping God. Instead, the Gospel is the origin of how one can worship God. If this is what is being taught in Youth Ministry, then it is being both healthy and successful. Sadly, somewhere along the lines of true worship and wanting to fill empty seats in the church building, this teaching may have suffered greatly over the years throughout all youth ministries in the United States of America.

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[1] Mark DeVries, Sustainable Youth Ministry: Why Most Youth Ministry Doesn’t Last and What Your Church Can Do About It (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Books, 2008), 11.

[2] Dave Wright, “A Brief History of Youth Ministry,” The Gospel Coalition, April 2, 2012, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/a-brief-history-of-youth-ministry/ (accessed February 16, 2018).

[3] Franklin M. Segler and C Randall Bradley, Christian Worship: Its Theology and Practice, 3rd ed. (Nashville, Tenn.: B & H Pub. Group, 2006), 3.

[4] Bob Kauflin, Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2008), 61.