From 2010 until the end of 2013, I was a bi-vocational youth pastor. While being the lead youth pastor, I worked 40 hours a week, finished my bachelor’s degree, worked a part time job, and tried to hold together a youth ministry. Thankfully, in winter of 2013 I moved into being a full time youth pastor.
Has it been perfect? No. I don’t think I know all the answers, but here is a little bit about how our worship team began and how you can use the same principles to start your own youth worship team.
From 2010 to 2012, services were thrown together between Monday and Wednesday nights. I am not musically inclined, so this meant worship was the last thing I thought about. I focused on the scripture and the messages and throwing something together for an activity. I was trying to do it all myself – and not utilizing volunteers. So, Wednesday at 6:30, I rushed around to select songs to use and just chose people from the audience to sing with me. The lyrics were thrown into the computer and we didn’t really get anywhere spiritually.
In 2012, more of the teens wanted to get involved with worship. This caused me to plan ahead. So, on Tuesday nights, I’d send a Facebook message to those who were going to sing Wednesday and give them the songs. Wednesday we’d practice, if I wasn’t late from work, and we’d do the best we could.
To some of the youth, they were excited to serve, but let me tell you, it was frustrating to others. By 2013, I was a little more organized, but I still didn’t have time to plan worship and plan a message.
Resources: We didn’t have a lot of musical resources available on Sundays, so having extra for our youth services wasn’t possible. From 2010, we used CD’s weekly to do worship. It’s not ideal, but it gave the students the ability to have a time of worship. Did we grow while using CDs? Yes, spiritually the youth grew and attendance rose. We had lyrics on screen and two or three singers every week.
In the summer of 2013, one of our youth, Taylor, spoke to me one day about fixing the youth worship. She wanted to help organize, schedule, communicate, and plan the worship portion of service. We still used CD’s for six months, while she began organizing everything: the singing rotation and the song order. She scheduled monthly practices, where we went over the songs and gave out the schedules, and we met on a regular basis.
Developing student leaders isn’t easy, and can be quite controversial, but I’ve realized that our role as youth pastors isn’t just to preach, teach, and maintain the kids of church members; our goal is to create leaders who can do ministry within the church when they leave our ministry.
Here are a few things I have learned while developing our student worship leader.
- Connect. Connection is the first key. Connect them with what the Word says about worship. Connect them with other leaders, your friends, worship articles, your church’s worship leader, and a vocal coach. Connect them to your youth ministry team; even though it may be student leader, connect them to the adult leaders, so they have extra support. Connect them to your heart for youth ministry. Connect with them on a personal level; don’t just treat them like “one of the youth” anymore, they need discipleship, accountability, and one on one conversation, so invest—remember, student leadership is basically you investing in leaders, so they can do what you do one day.
- Don’t wait. There are people in your ministry that are probably capable of you investing a little bit of time in, so they can do what God is stirring in their heart. Taylor had felt God calling her to lead worship for a while. I didn’t do anything about it but let her sing and be unorganized while trying to teach her. If you have someone in your ministry, no matter their age, spend time with them one on one and give them the opportunity to learn. Don’t wait for them to come to you, because most of the time they probably won’t.
- Ease into it. We didn’t approach this guns a blazing; that would have created conflict in many areas: A) The other students would not have appreciated this switch in authority. B) Overloading a young person to handle ministry can be nerve racking, even I get scared at age 26; easing into the new things will help the young person have greater control and allow them to take ownership.
- Facilitate. In order to help her begin, we facilitated everything, so she would not be alone to make decisions and set guidelines. We didn’t have instruments, we only used CDs, but I guided her through the organization. I gave her a blank schedule for songs and a blank schedule for singers that she could fill in. I showed her how to access CCLI (an online subscription resource for lead sheets, chord charts, and song lyrics) Youtube, how to develop a worship set, and how to choose songs based on the different singers vocal ranges. No matter what, I am there for her in every meeting, practice, and one on one conversation.
- Give them influence. I gave Taylor the authority to lead. This is sometimes a tricky one because, as adults, we don’t want to give up pieces of the ministry. My husband, or I, would still lead the practices, but gave her final say. We give Taylor the authority to make decisions regarding worship.
- Hang loose. Creating a student led ministry isn’t easy. Things mess up like technology, sound, and sometimes other teens in your group may not show up on time; be flexible. Work with your students when they mess up. Ask them how they would do it differently next time. Ask them to evaluate themselves, the team, and you – it will be hard to hear sometimes but worth it. Be flexible.
- Instill. Give them vision. Let them know they are valued and can do things for God. We are still young in ministry, and have so much to learn, but why not let others learn while you learn? You don’t have to know it all to lead, but you have to be willing to learn.
Since February, our worship team has been doing live worship with some adult leaders playing instruments and students singing and playing. We have been through some tough practices where every song is in a different key or no one has learned the words to their song. We’ve had to implement guidelines that you can find here to hold members of the worship team accountable for their actions.
Practice. We meet for practice once every three weeks. After church, we serve lunch, have a time of praise and prayer, go over the schedule and any housekeeping, and practice the songs. At this time, it’s all led by our worship leader. My husband or I are there to facilitate and keep an eye on things, but everything is done by the student worship leader. On Wednesdays, they rehearse and sound check an hour before service.
- Recently, we transformed our worship format where we start with a little activity for our core groups, then worship with three fast to medium paced songs, followed by the message, and two slow songs for altar and extra worship time at the end of service. All this takes place within an hour, but we are aware of the Holy Spirit’s moving in the service.
Starting a worship team within your youth group can be very difficult, but it can be an awesome time to learn. Hopefully, these few tips will help you start a worship team of your own, whether you are new to youth ministry, or have been a part of youth ministry for a while.
Keisha Gordon is the youth pastor of MYChurch in Mustang, Ok. She and her husband, Arthur, have been in ministry since April 2010. Keisha graduated from Southwestern Christian University with a degree in Biblical Leadership and currently serves the IPHC as the Teen Girls Advisor for the Girls Ministry Board.