The Battle Between The Take-Your-Medicine And The Relevance Camps In The War Over Youth in Worship

Yesterday all of our 6th-12th graders joined in the worship service instead of holding their regularly-scheduled youth group programs during that hour. We committed to doing this on the first Sunday of each month from September to May, because we believe our youth need to experience corporate Lord’s Day worship, and if our youth gatherings happen at the same time as worship, well, you see the problem (we tried youth-only worship services once a month for awhile, but that proved both theologically fraught and programatically unsatisfying to everyone–youth, leaders, and staff).

We still did our unstructured social gathering time for all youth prior to the worship service yesterday. As they left it for the sanctuary, some students slipped out of sight. Others complained about having to go to worship, which is “boring.” Still others simply stated their intention to leave.

There are two camps fighting it out in my head over this. One is the Take-Your-Medicine camp, which plants its flag on the importance of youth participating in the grown up church community, doing the things their parents do, including participating in–and leading–weekly worship. Two youth were among the worship leaders.

The Take-Your-Medicine camp insists on the formative force of the prayer of confession, the Scripture read and preached, the benediction, and all the rest of it. Our worship is proudly traditional, but vibrant and engaging. The music consists of hymns and classical anthems, but you won’t experience those things with the force they have here. And the preaching? It seems a sin for a teenager to spend 30 or so Sundays a year for seven years in our congregation and not hear the kind of preaching that goes on. That would be deprivation, pure and simple.

So the Take-Your-Mediciners shout to grumpy teens, “Worship is good for you!”

The camp that answers back is the Relevance camp. It wants more than anything for teenagers to experience church as critical and life-giving RIGHT NOW, and it is most certain that sitting them in a pew for the one hour a week we have them is a terrible waste of opportunity. Instead, the Relevance camp wants youth interacting with their peers and adult leaders, forming the kind of nourishing relationships that uniquely grow at church. It wants them discussing the Bible and contemporary events, not just listening to someone read it and tell them what it means and how it applies.

The Relevance camp is willing to permit youth in worship for special occasions like Confirmation and Youth Sunday services where students lead the entire thing. Otherwise, it hollers for sweeping substantive changes to the liturgy (“liturgy?!”) to make it more interactive and appealing to young people.

The battle rages on. The Take-Your-Medicine camp takes a hill when the 9th grader reading Scripture kills it and I can see the congregation totally keyed in. The Relevance camp retakes the hill as I watch three students giggle and whisper through the sermon.

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