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How to Engage Students in Worship

Worship is putting the spotlight on God. When engaging students in worship it’s important that your definition of worship communicates reverence. It’s also important to understand the fact that some teens may not know God and some of the ones that do may not grasp him yet. Everyone expresses themselves differently, so you cannot have unrealistic expectations on, say, a 14-year-old who is trying to figure out who God is. However, you can and should expect reverence and respect.

When I last spoke to a group of teens before I led worship, I had this little monologue. I said, “Some of you may not get what’s going on in here (i.e., you’ve been invited by a friend, non-believer, etc.) and you may not understand why we’re singing songs about blood and other things, but you can at the very least appreciate and respect that we are in love because we have been changed, and we want to exclaim it. Just as though you may go to a concert with a friend and they’re a fan of the group you’re all seeing, but you are not a fan. However, you want to hang with them, so you respect that and let them have a good time. You are almost obliged to them and are cool with it. Adversely, if you are in here and you ARE one of those people that has been through a change with God, you’re responsibility at the very least is to be sincere. In Isaiah 29:13 it says, ‘The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips,but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.”‘ So, if you do not feel like singing because of a bad day, or you have something going on that you need to pray about, or whatever, then it would be most honest to tell that to God—just like David did. He wasn’t always happy and raising his hands, etc. God is most honored when we are most real with him, because you cannot fool God or lie to him.”

Worship Him in Truth

Sometimes, I’ve heard worship pastors say, “Worship until you feel like it.” I wholeheartedly disagree with that statement, because what that encourages is empty emotional experiences instead, as well as burying issues rather than being honest. What if I were to come home from a rough day at work and was very down, but I looked at my wife and said, “You make me so happy, I’m completely satisfied in you, I love you.” While these things are true in essence, my wife knows me and can read all over my face that something else is going on in me. She wants to hear how I really feel and what’s happening in my heart. That’s love. After she listens, gives advice, prays with me, etc. I then can offer her praise from a very sincere and happy place.

It’s the same with God. He is more concerned with our inside being restored than with what we’re showing on the outside so that people won’t judge us for not “engaging.” Also, we’re supposed to bear on another’s burdens. If we need to go and settle something with a brother or sister before singing or living in a way that’s not sincere, then we should, because God wants us to and this is obedience, which may be the hardest but is the most satisfying worship we can offer God.

What Does Worship Mean?

Pastors, when you speak to your students about diving into worship, you must establish an active, working definition of worship. You can ask simple questions, like Pastor Tim Smith at Mars Hill always says: “Am I moved by the glory of God?” Also, let them know that when they honor God in any way, that’s worship, because it puts the spotlight on him and is another opportunity to exclaim who he is and how he saved us by grace. Then you can make it clear that when they are good students in school, when they honor their parents, when they treat people with love and mercy, when they hear and implement the word from you at church, and when they speak/sing the name of Jesus, that these are all ways to worship. Also, they need to know that they have in fact been worshipping during the week by doing these things, and that when we all gather to collectively sing songs, pray, fellowship, hear the word, etc at church or youth group, it is a culmination of many different lives and their stories praising God together at the same time, and it is beautiful.

Now I know that a big issue, especially with teenagers, is an apprehension to be open and demonstrative with their worship, because they are concerned with the people around them. That is settled when we begin to understand that we are not gathered for the people around us and therefore do not need their approval. God approves of us, and that’s all we need (Jer. 1:5). ( I know, easier said than done!) If we begin to worry about things such as what will people think, etc., we are putting our worship on ourselves or we are bowing at the idol of human opinion. That’s not what God intended at all.

When I say we are not here for the other people, I need to add that we are indeed not even there for ourselves. We need to approach worship and church-coming not to receive but to bring. When we go for God, we will be “fed” and we WILL “receive.” It is a by-product, a natural occurrence. This comes because God sees that we have a proper and scriptural understanding of how to worship him (John 4:24).

A Paradigm Shift

This whole idea is creating in your students an atmosphere and attitude of reverence and joy (which is opposite of most things in the world, which say to worship self.) Worship and the Christian life are not meant to be stressful and full of worry. In fact, they are to be the contrast of that. Jesus said we are a people of hope and joy. When we come into a situation of gathered worship times, it should be one of reverence, yes, but never one of confusion or worry. It should be free. And if any students don’t want to engage for any reason, they should know and continually know that they have access to you and your leaders to talk about why and figure it out so that they CAN worship freely.

I’ll leave you with an equation and a question. The equation for your students is when you add the realization of the Sovereignty of God to the realization of our self condition, it always equals unrelenting worship. Another way to say this is in a question form, but the question is not “How do I worship?” Rather, in light of the sovereignty of God, it becomes “How can I not worship?” Once your students grasp God’s sovereignty, it’s hard to do anything but worship Him.