Picking The Right Worship Songs for Your Student Ministry

hands-lifted-in-worshipMost student ministries have some element of musical worship in their program. It may be an adult leading worship with their acoustic guitar or a group of students in a band leading their peers. However you do it in your student ministry, the fact remains that we need to strive to pick good songs. Don’t just sing every new worship song that comes out in an effort to be trendy (by the way, most of our students don’t listen to worship music outside of church so singing the latest and greatest worship hit is not that big of deal to them). However, we need to be intentional and pick songs that effectively help our students connect with Jesus through music. How do we pick songs that do that? Let me suggest three things that should guide us when we are picking worship songs for our student ministry.

Theologically Sound and Rich. Music teaches. Even if we don’t realize it or not, the words we sing during worship are shaping our view of God. Music has a powerful way of pushing truths deep down into our hearts. This is a great thing, but when we sing songs that are not Biblically accurate than we are in trouble. It’s important to make sure the songs we pick for our students to sing are theologically sound. That they line up with what Scripture teaches about God. Don’t settle for singing songs that have poor theology. Pick songs that teach our students accurate theological truths about God. An important thing to mention in regards to this is the importance of Gospel-centered worship music. Everything we do should be Gospel-centered, but we need to pick songs that focus on what God has done for us through Jesus. Too many worship songs make us (the singer) the center when in reality Jesus (the Savior) should be the center. In their book The Deliberate Church, Mark Dever and Paul Alexander sums up this point very well: “We want to sing songs that raise our view of God, that present Him in all His glory and grace. We want to sing songs that put the details of Christ’s person and work front and center. We want to sing theologically textured songs that make us think about the depths of God’s character, the contours of His grace, and the implications of His Gospel; that teach us about the Biblical doctrine that saves and transforms” (page 118).

Easy to Sing. Getting teenagers to sing is not easy. Especially when they are in a room full of their peers and they desperately want to look cool and not do anything stupid. But some students do sing and one of the most exciting things in student ministry to see is students who abandon the idea of what their peers think and they worship God freely. No matter how foolish they may look or how bad they may actually song, they are singing out in worship to their Savior. That is awesome! However, sometimes I believe students are not singing because the songs we pick are just not easy to sing. We need to make sure we pick songs that are easy for our students to sing. It may be a good song, but if it’s hard for the average student to sing than it may not be worth doing. We want to make it easy for our students to sing and connect with Jesus.

Balance between student ministry songs and the songs the church does on weekends. Let me explain what I mean here. I think it is healthy to sing some of the songs your church may sing during weekend worship in your student ministry as well. At the same time, I think your student ministry needs to do songs that your church may not do during weekend services. For example, our student ministry does a lot of songs from the band Citizens. The style and feel of their songs fit well with our students. However, Citizens may not fit well during our weekend worship service. The style is a little different from what our worship band normally plays on Sundays. However, many of the songs the band does on Sundays we do in our student ministry as well. The whole idea is to create a balance so students don’t feel like it’s the student ministry worship vs. the weekend adult worship. We are one local body of believers and the student ministry is part of the larger local church. It’s finding unity, but also creating different environments for the different groups.

Those are just a few thoughts on picking worship songs for your student ministry. I love watching my students worship Jesus through music and it’s a privilege to partner with my student ministry worship leader to pick songs that help our students do just that. When you go about picking songs, make sure they are theologically rich, easy to sing, and there is a balance between your student ministry and the weekend worship.

Sermon-Centric Worship

In his book, Gospel Wakefulness, Jared Wilson says this about the importance of preaching:

Are we tempted to think that the preaching in a worship gathering is of equal importance to or even less importance than music or other creative elements because for too long we have fed our churches a steady stream of good advice?

Everything in the worship service should be centered around the sermon. Nothing should be more important than the sermon. The sermon is where the Holy Spirit convicts, challenges, and changes the hearts of the listeners through God’s inspired Word.

In Gospel Wakefulness, Jared Wilson shares four reasons why preaching is the most important part of our worship services:

1. Preaching has ancient precedent. 

From the days of Moses delivering the Law through the prophetic era to the days of Jesus Christ and the apostles, the mode of bringing the Gospel to the gathering has been proclamational preaching. This is a direct approach, a reverent monologue, and it has been the way God’s message has been delivered to believers and non believers alike since the beginning of God’s community.

2. God’s Word is weightier than our words. This is why expository preaching is necessary in the church today. I think topical preaching has its place in the church, but expository preaching allows the Scripture to speak and drive the sermon rather than the preacher doing so. God’s Word is sufficient and has enough authority for the preacher to simply explain and share the text for God to work. Yes we need to use illustrations and applications, but God’s Word is powerful! In his book, 9 Marks of a Healthy Church, Mark Dever explains that the number one mark of a healthy church is expository preaching. If you go to my preaching page here on my blog you will see I do preach topical sermons sometimes, but I preach expository sermons the majority of the time. When we give more importance to music and creative elements in the church service than we do to preaching we show that we believe that stuff is more important than God’s Word.

3. Preaching is the designated means of Gospel communication. I firmly believe every Christian should share the Gospel verbally in their day-to-day life, but the Gospel is primarily shared through proclamation of God’s Word . That is why the Gospel should be in every sermon a preacher preaches. Romans 10:14 says:

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?

4. Sermon-Centric worship best reflects God-centeredness. When we come to worship God we offer Him our work, our voices, and our efforts. When we hear preaching from God’s Word we hear God speaking to us. We give God ourselves for His glory and He reveals Himself to us through preaching of the Word for His own glory as well.

I fear that many churches are putting more emphasis on other parts, and may I say good parts, of the worship service other than preaching. God has given me a huge desire to preach and I believe preaching is something we need to restore in many of our churches. Matt Chandler once said, “The pulpit drives the church.” I fear that many churches are being driven by emotion, creative worship services, music, and so much more other than preaching. This starts with the pastors. I urge you pastors, spend most of your time in the week studying God’s Word and preparing the message God has given you. Lead the way pastors, preach God’s Word faithfully and keep it central in your worship services.

I would highly recommend Jared Wilson’s book Gospel Wakefulness. It’s a book that will reignite a passion in your for the Gospel and will help you understand what it means to be fully awakened to the Gospel. Jared Wilson is a pastor and is known for his passion for Gospel-centered writing. Click here to buy a copy from Amazon for a great price!

Simple Church

Simple Church defines a “simple church” as a congregation designed around a straightforward and strategic process that moves people through the stages of spiritual growth. That is what this book is about. How to design a church that is truly simple that makes it easy to move people through a discipleship process. Simplicity is the key to a successful organization. Simple Church contains stories of popular companies such as Google, Apple, Southwest Airlines, and Papa John’s that know this truth; simplicity works. Not only do these companies know this, but also growing, vibrant churches do to! Simple Church tells us about two churches. One is simple and one is complex. One would assume the complex churches would be the growing vibrant church, but that is not so. The simple church is the one that is actually growing and is vibrant. The complex church is struggling and not seeing growth. In Simple Church the writers give four things that are essential to a simple church. Those four things are clarity, movement, alignment, and focus.

Clarity

Movement

Alignment

Focus

Instead of defining each of those and describing how they make up a “simple church” I will let you read the book and find out for yourself. One might be wondering if this “simple church” model actually works. The writers answer that question by providing three churches that are “simple” as examples that the simple church model actually does work. These three churches are Immanuel Baptist Church, Christ Fellowship, and Northpoint Community Church. These three churches are truly “simple churches” and are proof that a simple church model is both possible and effective.

I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone in church leadership, especially pastors. In the last chapter, the writers gives a call for churches to “change or die.” Too many church are dying because they are complex, busy, and not simple. Simple churches are not dying. It may be hard, but we need ti simplify our churches so we can see more spiritual growth.

Another great church ministry I just read is 9 Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever. You can read my review of that book here. Next book on my list is Humility: True Greatness by C.J Mahaney. After I read it I will post a review here on my blog.

9 Marks of a Healthy Church

Part of my pastoral internship is to read 600 pages of collateral reading from various pastoral ministry books. The first book I choose to read was 9 Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever. I have read and studied many of the “marks” in classes at PBC, but have never got to read the entire book until now.

In this book, Dever explains that there are nine marks that make a church a healthy church. He does not argue that these are the only marks of a healthy church, but these nine things are important, Biblical marks that should be present in every church. The following are the nine marks of a healthy church:

Expository Preaching

Biblical Theology

The Gospel

A Biblical Understanding of Conversion

A Biblical Understanding of Evangelism

A Biblical Understanding of Church Membership

Biblical Church Discipline

A Concern for Discipleship and Growth

Biblical Church Leadership

The “highlight” chapters for me was the chapter on expository preaching, church membership, church discipline, and leadership. I enjoyed the chapter on expository preaching because I believe expository preaching is the best way to preach God’s Word and Dever does a great job at explaining why a healthy church will have expository preaching. Believer grow and learn best when hearing systematic, expository preaching. The chapters on church membership and church discipline reminded me how important being part of a local church really is and once a member of the local church, the responsibility we have to live right and to make sure everyone in the church is living in a way that honors God and if not, church discipline needs to happen. In the last chapter on Biblical leadership, Dever explains the importance and quality of leaders the church needs. Also, Dever does a great job at explaining, from the Bible, why having plurality of elders is important. I know that there is a lot of debate between elder rule and having one pastor leading the church, but Dever does a great job at explaining what an elder is, why there should be plurality, and also the role of deacons.

I would suggest this book to anyone who is part of a local church. The health of the church is not just important to the leaders, but should be important to the believers that are a part of the church. Dever says, “the health of the church should be the concern of all Christians because it does involve the spiritual life of everyone who is a Christian and a member of a church.” I would highly recommend this book to anyone in church leadership, pastors, elder, deacons, student pastors, etc. Overall this was one of the best, not if the best, book I have read about church ministry.

Recommended resources on this subject: The official 9 Marks website, What is a Healthy Church Member by Thabiti M. Anyabwile

Kiddie Pool Christianity

If you look around the Christian world today you will notice one thing, there are far too many shallow Christians. Before we point our fingers at others, if we are all honest with ourselves we would have to admit that we ourselves are shallow, kiddie pool Christians. This is a problem I struggle with more than I would like to admit and I see it as a huge problem in our Christian world today. I was reminded about this problem both in my life and the life of others the past few days as I was reading a chapter in the book What is a Healthy Church Member by Thabiti Anyabwile. In this book, the author talks about characteristics of a healthy church member. This book goes a long with Nine Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever. One of the last chapters in What is a Healthy Church Member the author talks about a healthy church member, or better yet a healthy Christian, is a growing Christian. We become shallow, kiddie pool Christians when we stop growing. We need to understand that God is clear in His Word that Christians are supposed to be growing individuals in their walk with Him (Hebrews 5:11-13; 6:1; Philippians 3:12-14). Thabiti Anyabwile says, “it is normal for Christians to grow, to work for growth, and to expect increasing spiritual maturity.” He also goes on to say that our spiritual growth is not really accomplished by us, it is God working through the Holy Spirit in us, but we have the privilege to strive and pursue spiritual growth as God works in us. Christians who are growing are normal and expected by God, but Christians who are not growing are becoming more and more popular in our Christian world. As I have been thinking about this, three main things have stood out that as Christians we must see properly in order to see spiritual growth in our lives. There are numerous things that we as Christians can do to promote growth in our lives, but these three things are just some major themes I have seen in my life and the lives of Christians around me. These three things can get us out of the kiddie pool and into the deep waters of spiritual growth and maturity.

See Church as a community. Far too many Christians see church as a building and a place. No where in the Bible does it talk about church being a place or a building. What the Bible does say is church is a community. Does that community meet a specific times and maybe at a specific place? YES! But that does not mean the church is the place or building, it means that the church is the people. I have met so many Christians who define their Christianity by what they do on Sundays. Your Christianity is more defined by what you do Monday thru Saturday. Why do Christians see church as just a building or where we go on Sundays? I would suggest it is because we have sectioned God off to a specific time and place of our lives and also because our culture is now so man centered the church is just another “activity” or “place to be.” The atmosphere of our churches is becoming so man-centered and entertainment-oriented that the saints now must be amused and not amazed,” says Donald Llewellyn Roberts. We need to get back to what the early church in Acts saw, the church is not a place, but a community. We were saved and put into a community, the body of Christ, and we have the privilege to take part in the local communities of believers around us. When we see church as a weekly event and not a constant community we are in danger of being in the kiddie pool of Christianity.

See prayer as a constant part of our lives. In our culture, it is rare to see someone without a cell phone. Most of us carry our cell phones everywhere and if they are not in our hands and we are texting or they are to our ear and we are talking they might be in our pocket or purse where we can get to them within an arms reach. Prayer should be like that. Prayer should be a constant companion for all of us as Christians. The Bible is clear that prayer needs to be a constant part of our lives (Romans 12:12; Colossians 4:2, 12). When we do not see prayer as a constant part of our lives we are in danger of being in the kiddie pool of Christianity.

See the Christian life as an intentional pursuit. Many of us go through life and just “profess” to be Christians, but that profession never really shows in our life. We look exactly like the unsaved people around us and the only different about is we call ourselves “Christians.” The Christian life is a pursuit, not a label. Yes, as we pursue Christ and His Kingdom we will carry the label as Christians, but our Christianity is found in the pursuit not the label. I talked about this same idea in an earlier post called Intentional Christian Living so check it out and get a better understanding of this last idea. When we see our Christianity as a label and not a pursuit we are in danger of being in the kiddie pool of Christianity.

Recommended reading on this subject: What is a Healthy Church Member by Thabiti Anyabwile, Radical by David Platt, Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges, and Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper.