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Teens, Worship, and Faith Formation

Sharon Veltema on how worship plays a formative role in the faith development of teens.

Worship plays a formative role in the faith development of young people. In the book, Shaped By God, Robbie Castleman writes, “Life is liturgy. Life has patterns that shape us more and for a lot longer than we ever realize. It is no wonder that liturgy— the pattern of corporate worship— shapes our faith formation more than we ever realize.” (Keeley, Robert. Shaped By God. Faith Alive Christian Resources, 2010: 72.) Nowhere is this more evident than in the life of a teen. Yet many church leaders, youth group leaders, and Christian school chapel coordinators struggle to find effective ways to involve young people in worship.

Churches, youth ministries, and high school chapel teams need to collaborate in exploring and clarifying some key issues. What impact does worship have on the life of a teen, and do churches, youth groups, and Christian schools have a vision regarding the role of corporate worship in the life of a young person? What are the implications of having teenagers involved in leading worship and what is the time commitment involved? Is it worth the time and the effort?

Allowing and encouraging teens to participate in leadership roles during worship services engages young people in a way that can be transformative. In the article “Youth, Worship, and Faith Formation: Findings From a National Study,” the following is stated:

“The most consistent predictor of youth’s religiousity was their experience leading worship by doing any of the following: singing or playing an instrument; participating in drama or pageants; leading the congregation in prayer or reading; serving as an acolyte or altar boy/girl; teaching a lesson or meditation or sermon; giving testimony; and serving as usher or greeter or collecting offerings. Youth who reported having done several of these activities also reported higher rates of church attendance, personal prayer, scripture reading, and volunteer work. In addition, they reported a greater influence of religious teachings on their “big decisions,” a stronger commitment to their faith tradition, a stronger commitment to marry within their tradition, and a greater desire for others to know about their faith commitment.”

(quoted by Gunnoe, Marjorie and Claudia Beversluis in Reformed Worship, March 2009: 18.)

In exploring and clarifying these issues together, it will be important to carefully evaluate the methods adopted. It may be easiest to associate youth involvement in worship with a praise band (playing the piano, guitar, or drums). While this may be an excellent way to involve young people in worship, it does not allow them to actively participate in all aspects of worship. Furthermore, this method excludes young people who are not gifted musically. 

When choosing meaningful roles for youth consider the entire corporate worship experience in a church. When God’s people gather together in worship, they hear a call to worship, they sing songs of praise and adoration, they engage in a time of confession and listen to God’s assurance of forgiveness. The worshipers listen to the Word of the Lord spoken and respond to that Word. Finally, congregants receive God’s blessing at the conclusion of worship. Teens can be involved in many, if not all of these aspects of worship. Allowing teens to be involved in every area of worship, whether in corporate worship with the entire church or in a youth group setting, promotes faith formation in young people. Allowing teens to take on leadership responsibilities prepares them to be active and healthy members of churches in their adult years.

In a time when many churches question whether young people will continue to be active members in their adult years, involving teens in our worshiping communities takes on new significance. “There is no more important community gathering than the Sunday liturgy which telescopes the understandings of life and the preferred ways of life of those who celebrate together. To cease worshiping is to lose faith. To transmit faith to the next generation is to include them as participants in all the community’s rituals.” (Westerhoff, John H. III.  Will Our Children Have Faith? HarperSanFrancisco, 1976: 56.)

In order to enable young people to be successful in these leadership roles, efforts are needed to qualify them to serve well and meaningfully. Teens need to learn about worship – why we worship, how we worship, and the purpose of worship. Meeting with young people to study and plan worship is an important mentoring opportunity for adults and youth alike. 

But they should also be led in learning how to lead worship. Teens should be mentored in leading their peers and others in a call to worship, an opening and closing prayer, a time of confession, an assurance of pardon, and the spoken Word. Teens should be encouraged to script out the aspects of worship in which they will be involved.  When young people learn to lead each other in worship in a youth group setting or in chapel, a sense of belonging and community is established and students build confidence in the language of faith. 

But in the broadest possible sense, they need to learn “articulacy.” In the book, Soul Searching, the authors state:

“It seems to us that religious educators need to work much harder on articulation.  It was also astonishing how many Christian teens, for example, were comfortable talking generally about God but not specifically about Jesus.  Philosophers like Charles Taylor argue that inarticulacy undermines the possibilities of reality.  So for instance, religious faith, practice, and commitment can be no more than vaguely real when people cannot talk much about them.  Articulacy fosters reality.  A major challenge for religious educators of youth, therefore, seems to us to be fostering articulation, helping teens to practice talking about their faith, providing practice at using vocabularies, grammars, stories, and key messages of faith.  Our observation is that religious education in the United States is currently failing with youth when it comes to the articulation of faith.” 

(Smith, Christian and Melinda Denton, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. Oxford University Press, 2005:267-268.) 

The process of involving teens in various aspects of worship leadership is time consuming and requires commitment from youth leaders and mentors. Teens that are given these opportunities often develop a sense of excitement about their churches and worship. The experience is spiritually nurturing by allowing teens to articulate their faith and have a deeper understanding and connection to their faith. When teens engage in leading each other in a prayer of adoration, a time of confession, reading scripture, or reading a blessing, they are learning the language of faith, and by doing so, they gain confidence in what they say they believe.

With mentoring and preparation, young people who never thought they would be able to stand in front of their peers or a congregation can learn to articulate their faith either by reading, sharing a personal testimony, being involved in a drama, or in music, or participating in some other way. The experience often brings joy and affirmation of faith. Often, young people who are given an opportunity to be involved in worship have a deep desire to be involved in future worship services and in other areas of the church.

Teens who lead each other in worship, either in a youth group or similar setting, build community with God and community with each other. Through these experiences, youth leaders can empower young people to live for Christ, preparing leaders to advance God’s Kingdom in the world. Enabling teens to become Spiritual leaders by taking on worship leadership roles, giving young people the opportunity to articulate their faith through worship, and mentoring youth to plan and lead in worship is a critical step in the faith formation of a teen.  It also provides a tremendous blessing to the community of believers. 

In Summary:

  1. Worship plays a formative role in the faith development of teens.
  2. Teens that are given the opportunity to articulate their faith deepen their faith beliefs.
  3. Mentors play an important role in the involvement of teens in worship.
  4. Teen involvement in worship should reach beyond involvement in a praise band.
  5. Learning about worship— how and why we worship — provides good insights for teens involved in worship.

Related Publications:

Reformed Worship, (Issue #91) March 2009.  Marjorie Gunnoe and Claudia Beversluis.
Shaped By God: Twelve Essentials for Nurturing Faith in Children, Youth, and Adults  (Faith Alive Christian Resources, 2010)  Robert Keeley,
Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (Oxford University Press, 2005)  Christian Smith with Melinda Lundquist Denton
Will Our Children Have Faith? (HarperSanFrancisco, 1976)  John H. Westerhoff III

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