Involving Youth In Traditional Worship Is About Durable Discipleship

The worship services I went to during my teenage years employed a rock band with a full drum kit, a massive gospel choir, and a preacher who literally would sprint from one side of the stage to the other waving a handheld microphone. He shouted. Worshipers shouted–and waved their arms and leapt up out of their seats at intervals. When prompted, dozens streamed down the aisles toward the front to be saved.

Compared to the staid, pipe organ-fueled affair I now bring teenagers to, the church of my youth would seem like heaven. Filled with energy and urgency, interactive, and deeply personal, that church should have hooked my adolescent soul, but it didn’t. All of its spontaneity felt contrived and predictable, and all the emotion felt offensively manipulative.

I wonder how my students experience the hymns and unison prayers of the church of their youth. When I ask them, some say it’s “fine,” others complain that it’s boring. I’m not bothered by the boring complaint, though, because the church is playing a longer spiritual game with them as disciples, one in which excitement is not the most important play and where the stamina to sit through a 15 minute sermon and to recite the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostle’s Creed is a critical component of a grownup faith.

Studying some of their faces during yesterday’s service, I found myself wondering not only how they are experiencing worship today, as teenagers, but also how this present experience of worship will affect them in their 20’s and in their 30’s. Because it should affect them after today. I want for them to receive something durable here in these readings and litanies, something deeper than the ephemeral emotional charge that did so little for me when I was their age.

I know it’s not an either/or, though.