Youth Ministries: Building Young Believers Through Adoration
In this youth ministry equipping and training series we are exploring ways youth ministry workers and leaders may actively participate in Jesus’ disciplemaking ministry patterns—partnering with the Holy Spirit to seek the lost, nurture believers, equip workers and multiply and send shepherd-leaders.
In the previous article we began a series exploring ways to nurture believers using a set of powerful tools we refer to as CANS (community, adoration, nurture and serving). We started with community; in this article we explore adoration.
Nurturing believers through adoration
In a poignant moment in the movie classic Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye asks his wife, Golde, “Do you love me?” Golde is almost taken aback by the question. She responds by telling her husband about all the things that she does for him. “I wash your clothes, I cook your meals, I ….” “Yes, yes,” Tevye says, “but do you love me?”
Growing up in the church, my response to a question about whether I loved Jesus or God would have been similar to Golde’s. It would have almost given me the creeps to say, “I love Jesus.” I could have rattled off a dozen things that I did out of obligation for God, but to bring myself to say that I love him? A bit too mushy. Yet God, like Tevye, wants to know. Jesus indicated that loving God was the great commandment.
Do we create an environment within our families, youth groups and congregations in which expressing love and adoration for God is encouraged? My personal journey of moving toward adoration of my God—of open, unbridled expression of my passion for Jesus—has had its share of potholes.
Uncomfortable praising God
I remember being at a summer camp in Orr, Minnesota several years ago when the camp rose to express adoration to God in community through song. I had been singing hymns in church for 33 years. This part of the service was routine for me. But the songs we sang that summer were different. “I Love You Lord,” “Majesty—Worship His Majesty,” “The Heart of Worship.”
I hadn’t sung those songs before, and I wasn’t sure if I could. They were so blatant. They expressed open devotion and adoration for God! That was the hard part. I hadn’t ever told Jesus, “I love you.” I don’t remember ever having been in a church service where we openly told Jesus, “I love you.” Like Golde, I could respond to the question about whether I loved the Lord or not by saying: “Of course I love the Lord. I obey him!”
Another interesting phenomenon occurred that summer. As I uncomfortably mumbled these lyrics that expressed a deep, abiding love for my God, I couldn’t help but look around behind me and, with some level of dismay, see hundreds of teens who were not mumbling at all. They were singing with fervor! This was perplexing, partially because it was that kind of emotionally
charged worship that I had ridiculed earlier in my ministry.
But I have met hundreds of teens who not only sing about the Lord, but who do love the Lord. Their thoughts, their words, their actions, their expressions are congruent—they love Jesus and they want to express their love for him.
Part of the challenge for adults is seeing the emotional side of worship in adolescents. Traditionally, some have concluded that since music is the language of adolescents, and since they become emotionally stirred by music that speaks to their hearts, and since much of the more contemporary praise and worship music is written with them in mind, that they may not be sincere in their expressions of devotion and adoration to God. This may all be an emotional charade, the thinking goes. But what of it?
Heart of teens
Paul said he would do all he could to win the lost. What if the gospel actually entered into a teen’s heart first? What if they hadn’t sorted out all the theology, but they were moved by expressions of adoration to God? And what if the substance followed the form of that love? Praise God!
So how do we ensure that we have adoration toward God in our families, youth groups and congregations that will resonate with our children, teens and young adults? One way is to understand what this adoration is about. It is a profound expression of wonder, awe, trust and love toward our awesome, Triune God. Music is a powerful conduit for an adolescent, so in the family, we might keep the radio tuned to a Christian music station, or have a playlist of worship songs. In our family, we began a band. While we were having band practice, we were worshiping God!
Another way to worship within the family is to talk around the dinner table about how wonderful God is. Conversation within the family can be a form of worship and adoration if the focus is on how awesome God is.
It seems that it is easier to worship God when you get out into his creation. For this reason, the family might schedule a trip to the mountains, a beach or park. Getting away from the city and coming face-to-face with the handiwork of God facilitates conversations about how we adore him.
God speaks to us
Parents can lead discussions and prayers of praise by being tuned in to moments where God’s power seems to speak to us. I often find myself talking about the incredible creativity of God to my family when we go outside on a clear, moonlit evening. The sound of thunder also makes me mindful of God’s awesome power, and one can use such a moment to thank, praise and exalt God.
For youth groups, it doesn’t take much to praise God in worshipful song. A mobile device or a guitar may be all that is necessary. We have found that teens feel connected to God through these powerful worship songs. Prayer is also a way to explicitly express our adoration. In your youth group, you may want to consider having a time of praise through prayer after a time of praise through song. This experience is tremendously unifying. The music tends to soften the heart. Lowering the volume of the music during prayer can be helpful.
Allowing teens to share how great God is in their lives not only exalts him, but allows others to see what God is doing in the lives of peers. Another possibility is allowing teens to share their musical gifts and asking them to focus on adoration of God. Whether the music is contemporary, rap, alternative or country, you may be surprised at what adolescents come up with to express worship to God.
For preteens it is also important to provide time for adoration. “Jesus Loves Me” is a hymn that many children know that helps them understand his love for them. You can follow that with a discussion for children as young as 6 or 7 years old to learn how they would best want to show their love for Jesus.
Adoration in congregations
What elicits a feeling of awe and adoration will likely be different for each person. One of my favorite hymns is “How Great Thou Art.” A blended worship service that allows for some of the great traditional hymns will help adolescents and children to see how worship music is handled in the congregational setting. It can be powerful to follow this with a time of congregational prayer.
Perhaps your congregation can allow teens to lead worship from time to time. While the music may be different from what you are accustomed to, it is likely that the lyrics will be expressions of relentless adoration.
Another way to express worship within a congregational setting is the weekly offering. An offering can be a way of saying, “You are so glorious and wonderful that I want to give you what I have in the form of this offering.” What a great thing to encourage children and teens to do.
How well does your congregation facilitate expressions of adoration from the heart for all ages? No doubt, many congregations have an intellectual focus on God. We want to know him. We want to study about him. We want to defend our faith. Those are all good things. But we also find in the Bible that David played a musical instrument and danced before the Lord. The New Testament church praised God (Acts 2:47). These expressions of adoration reflect the emotional side of our relationship with God.
Just before his death, Jesus and his disciples were in the home of Simon the leper. A woman approached him with a vial of perfume that cost, according to some commentaries, as much as a year’s wages. The woman anointed Jesus’ head with this perfume. Some of the disciples were upset with what they considered ridiculous extravagance. Jesus, on the other hand, appreciated the heart of adoration in which this worshipful act was presented. This woman showed her adoration for Jesus by personally serving him with an enormous gift.
Do we love Jesus? Do we tell him that we love him? Do we show this openly and expressively? Do our families focus on this love for the Lord? Do our youth groups? Congregations? An essential element of a maturing Christian’s development is the ability to have time to focus exclusively on thoughts and expressions of adoration to our awesome God.
Author: Jeb Egbert