Home Youth Leaders Youth Leaders Blogs Katy Perry and Student Worship: A Few Thoughts

Katy Perry and Student Worship: A Few Thoughts

Yesterday I spent time with outstanding student pastors at First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Georgia. This includes my former student and a Timothy of mine, Matt Lawson. Matt serves as high school pastor at FBCW with Rick Young, a blessing himself who leads middle school ministry.

I sat in on a roundtable session with about 75 student pastors. They asked some vital questions that I hear a lot as well. One has to do with the vital place of corporate worship through music in student worship services. This question matters — the Millennial generation values music greatly, perhaps more than any other to date.

Providing subpar music to students can actually be counterproductive. Remember when you watched a children’s choir of 5 and 6 year olds sing in a service? They were not on key, one little girl kept lifting her dress, and a little boy picked his nose to his parents’ horror. But when finished everyone clapped, because after all, they were only kids. But that won’t fly for students.

Katy Perry has become a phenomenon in pop music, easily one of the most popular artists today. Did you know her first CD, done as a youth under her legal name of Katy Hudson, was a Christian record?  Raised in a Christian family, her talent became obvious early on. She was forbidden to listen to any secular music (which caused her only to be more interested in it). She went with her youth group to protest outside a Marilyn Manson concert. At that concert her student pastor snuck her into the concert, where she commented: “My youth pastor and I wanted to see what it was all about—I was blown away. Everybody was in this kind of head-bopping trance—it was almost otherworldy.”1  The concert seemed to enthrall her with a sense of wonder.  I wonder whether or not her trajectory would have been different had she been exposed to excellence in music through her church. Perhaps it would have made no difference.

I am not justifying Katy Perry’s shift nor am I encouraged by her student pastor’s role in her life. But it does serve to illustrate in one life the hunger of a generation for music that has both passion and talent. So how does a typical church help students to worship corporately?  The reason I take a band with me is because I have worked with bands, and I want to work with capable musicians who also deeply love Jesus. I personally value the role of leaders in worship through music.

The specific question in the roundtable had to do with those who lead worship who in fact do not have much ability. What do you do when you have limited musical ability and yet want to involve students in corporate worship?  Here are a few of my thoughts in no particular order.

  1. Get heart and ability, not one only of these. Some student worship bands have pretty talented musicians, but they do not get what it means to lead worship. They become entertainers and are pretty good at it, but I do not think that is the point. Others have a real hunger to lead people to lift up Jesus, but their good hearts do not translate into musical ability. Both musical ability and passion for God matter.
  1. If you don’t have capable musicians among your students, find someone a little older, a college student or young adult, who can help to both teach and lead in worship.  I believe in using students in ministry as much as possible, but only when they can rise to a level you would expect of older adults as well. Do not condescend to them and treat them like kids by “giving them a chance” when they honestly stink. If you do not have capable leaders, then I suggest you do as little corporate singing as possible until you develop leaders.  When you do sing, go unplugged. Go simple, acoustic, and focus on the lyrics and melodic songs. The more simple the more the focus can be on  the God we worship.
  1. If you have them, use leaders in rest of church who connect with students who aren’t “youth people” only. In our church the guys who lead worship in two of our four Sunday AM services (including our son as drummer) also lead our college/young pros worship on Wednesday and our youth worship time Sunday nights. Since making this change to use these leaders our attendance and spirit on Sunday nights has increased. This also helps to connect your “youth service” to rest of church as some of the same people lead in each place. Otherwise your student worship time can be a functioning parachurch ministry (which makes it that much harder to involve students in the life of the church). I am not a big fan of overly segregating students anyway, so the more you can focus on the whole church and not their little corner of it, the better for long term discipleship.
  1. Look long term. Maybe you do not have good leaders now, but perhaps you can find someone – a music teacher, an adult with musical ability, who can over time build a group.  You exercise patience with students in other ways, why rush just to fill the need of a worship band? Maybe you can use a developing group on occasion for a song or two until they are ready to lead fully.
  1. Teach what worship is.  This is actually the most important. Stop treating students like kids. Teach them a theology of worship. Do you have one yourself? The last several books I have written have a chapter on corporate worship, including music, because I know it is vital, but I also know if we do not know why we do what we do we will never accomplish what we desire. The reason I want excellence in musical ability is not because I want to compete with the world, but because our God is excellent, He created a beautiful, excellent world, and we should present to Him our very best. But teach students worship has less to do with music and more to do with the gospel, less to do with style and more to do with the Spirit, less about them and more about Jesus.
  1. If you can find someone in the community, perhaps from another church. Pay that leader if you can.
  1. Finally, it is much better to do things well in every aspect of ministry than to do things shoddily. But when we consider that the point of corporate worship is to sing songs of praise to GOD, we should give particular focus on excellence there. This is why I take a band with me. I expect outstanding ability and fervent hearts in those who will stand before students. You should expect no less either.

1 Stephanie Trong, “Just Kind of Doing My Own Thing,” Delta Sky Magazine  (May 2010), p. 69.

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Alvin L. Reid (born 1959) serves as Professor of Evangelism and Student Ministry at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, where he has been since 1995. He is also the founding Bailey Smith Chair of Evangelism. Alvin and his wife Michelle have two children: Joshua, a senior at The College at Southeastern, and Hannah, a senior at Wake Forest Rolesville High School. Recently he became more focused at ministry in his local church by being named Young Professionals Director at Richland Creek Community Church. Alvin holds the M.Div and the Ph.D with a major in evangelism from Southwestern Seminary, and the B.A. from Samford University. He has spoken at a variety of conferences in almost every state and continent, and in over 2000 churches, colleges, conferences and events across the United States.