Tuesday, April 05, 2011

10ST - 2nd Rate Worship Experiences

10ST will be an ongoing series digging into Geoff Surratt's Ten Stupid Things that Keep Churches from Growing and how those stupid things keep youth ministries from growing as well.
This chapter, the third, had 10 practical suggestions for "improving your weekend experience." While, Surratt's suggestions focus on the Sunday morning worship time, I think there is a lot to glean about the role worship plays in a growing student ministry. As a youth pastor, you may or may not have a whole lot of influence on what happens from one Sunday morning to the next, but applying a few of those suggestions where you do have influence could be critical to your ministry's health:
  • Ask the hard questions. What exactly are we trying to accomplish?
  • See the guest's perspective. What's it like for a new kid to walk in to your ministry?
  • Improve your music. (see below for more thoughts regarding this issue)
  • Update your technology. You don't have to rob a bank to get the latest and greatest, but if your sound system (or lighting, computers, projectors, etc.) limps along like the Frankenstein that it is... find a way to make improvements. Don't be stupid about spending, but don't just settle for the crappy old equipment that's no longer good enough for the adults to use anymore. Set your priorities, decide on a budget, and do what you can to sharpen your tech-tools.
  • Overhaul your preaching. Call it teaching, leading discussions, facilitating... whatever. The method you use to communicate the truth God reveals to you... get better at it. Always.
  • Get creative. As Surratt says, "Americans don't do boring." Enlist the help of a team of your students to creatively approach topics, passages, messages, etc. in your youth ministry. Why be lazy and just rinse & repeat?
  • Create an atmosphere. What can you do to make your place of meeting, a place where students want to be? (Ask them, they'll tell you...)
Within my first week of being full time on a church staff, I recognized a problem that I knew I'd have to address quickly: my students were not engaging in worship when the church met together on Sunday mornings. They were mostly quiet and polite, but they were enduring a service, not worshiping the Savior. Recognizing this problem was one thing, finding a solution was another.

I had quit piano lessons in second grade and read music about as fast as an average chimpanzee reads braille. I could sing, but how many middle school kids do you know that are just begging for some more a capella sing a longs? I had received a guitar for Christmas my senior year of college and had practiced enough that I could play along with any song that restricted itself to the 5 chords I actually could manage. (That guitar warped and was generously replaced by friends at the church we attended in Loveland, CO even though they knew we were leaving for my first ministry and had no responsibility or obligation to me or my guitar - an investment in the Kingdom for which I'll always be grateful!) But whenever I tried to sing and play at the same time - everything fell apart. 

This was a huge problem. I knew that I needed to lead my students to worship their Maker and genuinely engage with Him together. I also knew that music was going to be a big part of facilitating encounters between the two. But I couldn't lead music, and I didn't know anyone else well enough to know who might be able to engage our students and God musically, either. I have a decent internal metronome (I keep it next to my compass), but the coordination was just not there to control my vocal chords, my left hand, & my right hand all at the same time. So I quit.

I quit trying to control myself musically and asked my Father for another gift. I don't have a lot of supernatural provision type of stories in my life, but this is one. I remember putting down my guitar after a frustrating couple hours of trying to sing and play at the same time and telling God I was failing (He wasn't surprised). "I can't do this - would you coordinate my fingers and voice, or do I need to find another way?" After a few moments of depression at not being able to do what I was convinced needed to be done, I picked my guitar back up. I have no other explanation for what happened than that God fixed whatever was dysfunctional in my timing, I sang & played simultaneously to lead music for worship with my students, then I held on for an amazing ride in which God re-engaged the young people in that church to worship Him not only with a few songs each week, but with their lives.

The music wasn't always great, but it was better. When we bought a trap set (another great story for another day), it improved even more... When we stopped hiding the trap set, God provided a great drummer to take turns and spur on a proficient drummer... Then a few kids started coming who were really good lead guitar players... Then more... Someone wondered why the kids got all the cool music, "Those drums are up there, someone should play them on Sundays, too..."

My students happily (though sometimes cautiously and even fearfully) obliged. Not only were my students engaging in worship, they were using their gifts to help others engage as well. It was so awesome to be able to see God work the way He did. When it comes to worship, don't cut corners.

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