Worship and the Christian Tradition – Part 1

One of the most popular posts on this blog is one on middle school worship from 2007(!). In that post I share some of my concerns with a discussion that was taking place around the youth ministry blogosphere at the time. As memory serves, many youth ministry blogs were discussing middle school worship in terms of how many songs, what songs, style of songs, etc. My concern was that we were talking about worship only in terms of music and singing. There was very little space devoted to prayer, responsive readings, Scripture reading, confession, candles, incense, or the Eucharist.

I want to revisit this topic because I think it is an important one. Perhaps it is an effect of the segregation (at our own urging!) of youth ministry into its own ghetto, but rarely have I seen a youth ministry that integrates the great traditions of Christian worship into its own expression. As my own theology continues to develop over the years, this worries me more and more.

When we reduce worship to music and singing I fear we give students the impression that worship is about them and the feeling they get out of it. If they come away feeling good, or feeling somehow more connected to God, or whatever then it was worship “in spirit and truth.” I’m not saying that worship shouldn’t elicit an emotional reaction from us, I’m saying that worship is not centrally about our feelings. One of the guards against this me-centric idea of worship is the wonderful tradition of worship that has been handed down to us by those who have gone before.

Part 2 of this series will focus on why I think liturgy is important, and in part 3 I’ll share some of my own experiences with integrating liturgy into a youth ministry.

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4 thoughts on “Worship and the Christian Tradition – Part 1

  1. I must agree with you that there is a scary trend happening in student ministry. In my denomination, it is reported that an average of 80-85 percent of teens walk away from the church upon graduation! I feel this is directly linked to the fact that we begin separating kids from the church from the time we are born. Just a thought.

  2. Toby, the 80%-85% seems to be a ballpark figure across denominations. It really is somewhat of an epidemic in youth ministry, in many ways we are sadly failing in what we set out to do. Certainly part of the issue is likely the segregation of youth into their own space with little or no contact with anyone else in the church. But I would hesitate to argue that this segregation is the only cause, or even the single largest cause. Although I’m not in a position to do the research necessary to prove this thesis, I would imagine that it is the combination of a number of unique factors, one of them being the separation you’re talking about, another the lack of depth in many youth ministries, entertainment and attractional models which tend to rule the day in many youth ministries, as well as a couple other contributing factors.

    At the risk of sounding pedantic, it’s a complex and multifaceted issue.

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