Some very interesting conversation going on recently about Middle School worship. You can read up on it here and here. I have one concern with what I’m seeing in the conversations. Basically, as I commented on Kurt’s blog, I think worship is a lot more than singing. I sometimes think that singing is actually an incredibly small subset of “worship” and we’ve simply mistaken the part for the whole. This is partially due to the fact that I can’t sing. Not just “can’t sing” – I can’t carry a tune. I’m tone deaf. Ask my wife, I really, honestly can’t sing. It’s not that I can’t sing well, I can’t sing. I don’t think that exempts me from singing in praise of God. But I think it does give me a unique perspective on worship. For me worship simply must be more than singing if it is to be a meaningful part of my life.
With that bit of background out of the way, I want to elaborate a little on my concern. Some of the people taking part in this conversation have a lot more experience in youth ministry (and life) than I do. But still, the fact that we are discussing “middle school worship” and we’re actually talking about how many songs to sing, what songs to sing, what genre those songs should be, etc, worries me. It’s not that I don’t think we should sing in our youth ministries. But, as one or two people have sort of pointed out in the various comments, singing is not what worship is all about. I’m not saying it’s bad to discuss songs and singing when we talk about worship. My concern is that songs and singing dominate our discussions about worship. Where is the conversation on teaching Junior highers to pray? Where is the conversation about helping middle schoolers to read the Bible devotionally? Where is the conversation about helping young teens to be silent and listen to God’s voice? Where is the conversation about taking Holy Communion with junior highers? I think I could make a Biblical argument that Holy Communion is one of the most vital aspects of worship (though others would disagree with me, certainly), and yet it is no where present in our current conversation about middle school worship.
In my thinking, if we are to help students get connected to the Body of Christ in such a way that 7 in 10 do not leave the church when they leave high school (per Lifeway’s recent research) then it must start in Middle School. I think one of the things that has to start in Middle School is that we as youth ministers, pastors and leaders must rethink what we mean by worship. Rather than seeking to lead young teens into a time of excited singing, or even reflective singing (both of which are important!) we must seek to lead them into a worship of God that includes all the senses and makes the point clearly that there is more to worship than singing. We must, in my opinion, include ways of worshiping God that are different from singing and connects with those who do not sing. Ultimately we must help students to realize that worship is more than a sing-a-long.