Most of the time when we talk about worship for kids or youth ministry its most often in the context of practical tips. What songs are hot right now? Where can I get videos for this song? Most recently can I use worship songs that have copyright for our online services during COVID-19? What we fail to ask is why we worship and are we worshiping God in the way he desires to be worshiped.
This question of how we should worship is not new. For centuries the church has referred to this question as “the regulative principle it is simply the assertion that we must worship God in the way that he has revealed himself and the way he has commanded us to worship Him in His word. We need to worship God according to Scripture. Our worship needs to be directed by Scripture. The form and the content of our worship needs to be in accord with the Bible, informed by the Bible, and warranted by the Bible. It needs to be founded in the Scriptures. That is an emphasis that is so important today.” (via RTS.org)
It seems today the questions that we ask in the arena of worship are more around production value than around the Biblical basis for the songs we sing. We need to think deeper about how our songs are forming our kids. We need to think about how our songs are painting a picture of who God is and what he has done.
Yancy, recently released a new worship album aimed at pre-school and early elementary it’s called Ready, Set, Go! It’s fantastic. Yancy’s passion for the local church and for worship is so evident in everything she does. I love that her focus is always faithful over famous. I sat down with Yancy Richmond to talk about three things in kids’ ministry worship that need to change.
Engagement Not Just Aerobics
The first thing that needs to change in kids is we have to engage kids and not just lead them in aerobics. It seems in the last six or seven years that actions in kids ministry worship have gone from something helpful to being almost the totality of the worship experience. We seem to no longer judge our worship by transformed hearts but by how many people are moving at the same time. We are all guilty of this one because it’s easier to measure how many kids are jumping, it’s much more difficult to measure how many hearts are being transformed.
I think it gives kidmin leaders a false sense of participation. To be able to step inside the room and see it bouncing up and down and think “Yeah we are winning at worship.” Motions have a time and place but somewhere along the way, we started to shove motions in every part of every single song that we do instead of when it actually makes sense and when it actually enhances that song.
We rightly want our kids to engage but what I’ve found is that when kids do dance moves they don’t sing. When kids don’t sing they don’t memorize the words of the song that when written well will be truths from God’s word that will be forever lodged in Kids Hearts. It seems that we have lost the art of teaching our kids to sing a heart song in exchange for Tik Tock.
When I was a kids pastor at the ripe age of 21 I did then what I find unthinkable now. I wouldn’t sing Christmas songs in kids church and never would sing hymns. As I think back I can’t even remember why I felt that way. I think I felt that kids wanted to have fun and Hymns were above their pay grade. I think I thought Christmas Carols were things you heard in stores not songs of praise sung in church. What changed my perspective was being in the same church for 20 years. Seeing the kids grow up that I had taught in preschool I realized that I had made a couple of mistakes.
One mistake was thinking that fun mattered more than substance. If I made it crazy enough they would come back. I’m all for fun but not at the price of substance. The other mistake I made is I thought I was helping kids with the faith that they need today rather than preparing them for the faith they are going to need. As kids pastors, we have to give them a faith for today but we also have to prepare them for the faith they are going to need.
We must give our kids a faith that is big enough they can grow into. Kids also need to be connected to the history of our faith. The need to know that God loves them, yes, but many people have lived a life of uncompromising faith they can to by God’s grace.
As a pastor one of the concerns I have surrounds what songs we sing in church and why we sing those songs in our churches. Most of the things we say about the songs we sing are founded in style. The songs we like or dislike is most often an issue of personal style. The problem with this way of approaching the songs we sing is we make the wrong things the major things. The songs we sing in church and in kids church can to often be based on the style preferences of the Sr. Pastor or Worship Pastor. There is nothing wrong with style but if what we sing and why we sing doesn’t transcend our own personal sense of style we limit the very purpose singing songs in church is intended to have.
I would like to offer this disclaimer. I have written very few worship songs. I do however pastor at a local church. I have been in the same church for 20 years and have seen the results of people and movements who based their lives on preference over substance. Given that here are my 4 questions that every worship song needs to answer.
1. Is it God directed – This is not a preference thing for me. If the song you are sing is more about you than the God who made you it’s not worship. It’s something else but not worship. The songs we need sing need to be filled with wording about who God is and what he has done. Is there songs of lament and petition in the bible? Yes. Those songs are based on an understanding of that everything begins and ends with God. It’s about what he’s doing more than how I’m feeling.
A while back I did a blog post on the 6 things I tell every worship leader. I thought I would do one for every story teller. Our church is blessed to have story tellers who have done what they do for years, but what I have found is the things that make good story tellers great story tellers is they are constant learners.
Here are some practical tips I give our story tellers no matter how long they have been at it.
1. Internalize the script – I don’t tell them to memorize the script because I have found there is something so powerful and profound when people take the script internalize it and express it through their own experience and in their own style. I have one story teller that makes every week a production with actors props and scenery to boot, and the kids love it. Another finds incredible personal illustrations to highlight their point and still another uses props and vocal intonations to captivate the kids. Take the truth, leave it unchanged and add the uniqueness of you.
2. Maintain eye contact ALWAYS – Any time you look down at a paper in your hand you place an impenetrable wall between you and those you are ministering to.
3. Be over animated – you always come across more subdued that you really are.
4. Bring your Bible up with you – Put the sheet with the bible verse in your bible and read from that if you must but preaching from the Bible reinforces in the mind of the kids you are speaking to that these are more than stories.
5. Use peaks and valley’s – Few things create tension for a story then proper use of vocal inflection. Most people are comfortable with one particular vocal range. The problem is kids get used to your “normal” voice. If you want kids to be on their edge of their seats speak softly and then build to get much louder.
6. Elevate Christ – Elevate Christ make sure that every story points the kids to a place where they can see the greatness of God. Where they realize and recognize their need for a savior. When it comes to the application portion think of practical illustrations for young kids, and older kids, making sure that not only reference Christ but you help kids understand that Jesus is everything.
If I could speak to adult worship leaders or youth worship leaders most of the items on this list wouldn’t change. I actually have a theory that leading worship for kids is the most raw and most under realized way to develop future worship leaders. If you can’t lead worship for kids chances are you won’t be as engaging and successful with adults. Leading worship for kids strips away the showmanship than can creep into the practice of even the most accomplished worship leaders out there. Here are a few practical tips I constantly remind every worship leader in our kids ministry.
1. Smile – You don’t want to convey worship is painful (actually I have heard of kids pastors who have used worship as a form of punishment. “If you don’t stop talking we are going to worship for 5 more minutes.” I kid you not.)
2. Sing – Even if your voice isn’t that stellar having a vocal focal point helps kids enter in.
3. Make eye contact – When you are leading kids in small group, worship, or large group eye contact is huge. Eye contact is the time out chair of the soul. When kids are messing around eye contact does wonders believe me. If you don’t believe me ask a mother.
4. Make it personal – Share a scripture or something God is speaking to you this week – Kids learn by example be an example
5. Teach kids – Having kids in a kids ministry setting is a huge advantage. We can break down what we do and why we do it, something that will never happen in “Big Church” We need to take advantage of this opportunity to teach them the heart of worship.
6. Be a worshiper yourself – The best way to teach kids to worship is to show them how to worship with your life.