Thursday, November 19, 2020

Youth Empowered - Worship Empower Team


This week’s post is a continuation of our series that is exploring the digital side of student-led youth ministry, where we are releasing a new chapter of Youth Empowered for free, right here on Focusing on Jesus! Tune in each week to read a new portion of the chapter as we explore Empower Teams through a digital lens.

Worship Empower Team
In recent weeks, our nation has begun to witness an increase in Covid-19 cases, prompting communities to start returning to a fully virtual format. As our churches recalibrate and adjust, youth ministries will once again be tasked to find creative ways to lead worship within the digital realm. But what does it mean to have meaningful worship within a student-led youth ministry? Author Melva Wilson Costen explains in her book African American Christian Worship that “in order for corporate worship to be authentic and empowering, it must be psychologically relevant to worshipers and commensurate with their lived experiences.” While such a perspective is of course applicable within any discussion surrounding worship, it becomes even more pertinent within the context of a youth ministry that serves Gen Z’ers (a generation that inherently expects a high level of relevancy in order to participate and engage).

Through my years in youth ministry, I would oftentimes hear a student say that they were interested in learning how to deepen their relationship with Christ. Naturally, a youth pastor can encourage their students to pray and read more Scripture (which they should) while also encouraging their students to participate in corporate worship (which of course is an excellent suggestion). However, simply ticking these actions off of a checklist doesn’t always mean that the student is doing them with a worshiping heart. What is just as important (possibly even more important) is the ability to prepare our hearts so that we willingly receive Jesus in our lives. True, the Holy Spirit is already there in the room, even if we attend service online. But God being in the room doesn’t always mean that He’s actively working in our students’ hearts. If we don’t first ensure that our students understand how to invite Him in, then we may be promoting a less-than-ideal behavior that our teens may carry with them into college: confusing God’s spiritual proximity with God’s active presence.

In his book The Purpose Driven Life, Pastor Rick Warren says that “the heart of worship is surrender” and that the “three barriers that block our total surrender to God are fear, confusion, and pride.” It is here where a Worship Empower Team can assist in the facilitation of a level of surrender that directly addresses these three barriers. At its foundation, a Worship Empower Team is a group of students that are able to not only help their peers better understand the importance of worship, but also to lead the youth ministry in reverent praise of the Lord. The songs that the Worship Empower team leads everyone in can work towards accomplishing three key strategies: to trust in God, to choose to obey God, and to understand where one’s abilities end (and where God’s abilities begin). Extremely fitting for the year of 2020, these three strategies directly address the three aforementioned barriers that may be preventing someone from wholly surrendering.

Beyond the selection of songs can lay some additional tactics that the Worship Empower Team can put into practice. If your youth ministry meets while using an app that allows students to show their video feed, encourage them to turn it off during corporate worship so that attendees don’t have to think about the others who are watching them sing. If students are shy about letting others hear their perfect pitch singing voices, then suggest the use of the mute button (After all, our praise is meant for an audience of 1!). To minimize the number of possible distractions, perhaps the team can suggest for attendees to move to a quiet room in the house or to turn down the lights. In between songs, a testimony shared from a student on the Worship Empower Team can help amplify the importance of one of the three previously noted barrier breakers. In the end, to help sustain the required level of relevancy that Costen refers to in her book, a Worship Empower Team is called to help its youth ministry redirect its attention away from the fleshly desires of the self and more towards God. By empowering students to be the forefront leaders of this initiative, other students can see themselves in a similar light for their own faith journey, wholly surrendering themselves to God so that He might receive His due glory (even in the midst of a pandemic).

Friday, November 6, 2020

Youth Empowered - Welcome Empower Team

This week’s post is a continuation of our series that is exploring the digital side of student-led youth ministry, where we are releasing a new chapter of Youth Empowered for free, right here on Focusing on Jesus! Tune in each week to read a new portion of the chapter as we explore Empower Teams through a digital lens.

Welcome Empower Team 
While it may be too soon to begin to understand what impact the Covid-19 lockdowns have had on our students’ faith through the year 2020, the events surrounding the virus have been commonly referred to as an amplifier for the underlying challenges that were already present. Whether it be political tension, social justice awareness, mental health concerns, or even the dangers of addictions, it ends up feeling like the world’s problems have collectively placed a foot upon the gas pedal of hardship and accelerated everything to full speed. And while we know that Jesus still is the solution of the world’s turmoil, do our teenagers know this in their hearts, and do they understand how important this is for their friends as well?

If encouraging students to outright preach the gospel to their friends, it can feel awkward or forced if students are trying not to offend their peers or create unnecessary tension within their relationships. For a population of teenagers that are craving relational truth, interpersonal and testimonial-based evangelism may instead be an approach that is more preferred. Yet in the case where a student wants to share the gospel with their friend but is uncertain on how to approach them, then what can they do? Naturally, any youth worker would jump in and enthusiastically encourage the student to invite their friend to check out the next youth ministry event happening at their church. Yet such a move may be easier said than done.

As mentioned in Youth Empowered, the thing that students often guard more than their own thoughts and emotions is access to their friends list. In other words, students will not invite their friends until they have confidence that their church will care for their guests as much as (or more than) they can. After all, who would want to invite their best friend to a youth ministry service where the pastor makes the guest feel ashamed or where other students ignore them? If that guest is a non-believer, there’s a chance they may end up walking away from the event wondering why they were invited to begin with.

It is here where a Welcome Empower Team can be one of the most impactful Empower Teams for 2020’s relationally starved teens. Accessible, fun, and easy to connect with, members of the Welcome Empower Team have a natural desire to get to know others because they have a genuine love for people. Such individuals have a fascinating ability to disarm those with even the roughest of personalities, and they likely will exhibit similar qualities to the type of person that we referred to as a “person of peace” from the Leadership Empower Team. Their infectious enthusiasm and ability to take things in stride can make a guest feel like the most important individual in the room, an experience they won’t soon forget.

By quickly creating community within a digital environment, members of the Welcome Empower Team are some of the best individuals to make the church’s youth ministry into the type of environment that students will want to return to. If your youth ministry has a social media event, the Welcome Empower Team can banter with attendees before the event gets started by asking other students fun trivia questions within the chat. Party games like Jackbox or Among Us can create laughs and lasting memories for students who find enjoyment in video games. Or even a quick online icebreaker can help individuals to get to know one another better. By encouraging youth to actively welcome and engage their fellow peers, it can be a critical step in helping students to transition away from being mere consumers of ministry. As we navigate more towards being active partners with students, it is moments like these that can empower them to discover what the Holy Spirit might be doing among those that He has placed in their care, as well as how they can join in and contribute to the growth of their youth ministry.