Why do most teens not like hymns? Should we sing songs from a controversial band? What’s the point of repeating the bridge eight times in a row? How do we get our students to actually sing?
If you’ve spent any time in settings where teens, music, and church collide, these might be some questions you’ve asked yourself. But these are only symptomatic questions resulting from two core issues: The purpose of the music is not clear, and/or the method is not effective. If we want music to be a valuable part of our ministry (and we should), it is vital that we have a biblical, practical, consistent, and clearly communicated philosophy of why we include it. Working through the following two questions should help in this process.
What Is the Purpose of Having Music in Our Ministry?
Most ministry leaders would agree that the purpose of worship music is to worship. However, the understanding of that word has become greatly diluted. Is worship simply the act of singing? Is it a feeling? Does it happen only at Christian gatherings? As shepherds and mentors, it is imperative that we sift out the cultural definitions and explain and exemplify the biblical one.
Ultimately, biblical worship can be understood as giving God what He wants. So, what does God want?
- In Genesis 22:1–14, God wanted Abraham’s trust and obedience, even if it was going to cost him his son Isaac.
- In Isaiah 1:10–20, God did not want Israel’s fake worship (going through the motions with religious rituals). Instead, He wanted their repentance from sin and obedience to His commands.
- In Haggai 1:2–11, God wanted Israel to prioritize Him over their own comfort and luxury.
- In John 4:23, God wanted people who offered Him worship as a core part of their being, not as something to do on the side.
- In Matthew 15:8–9, God wanted the people’s hearts, not their lies.
These, and many other passages, reveal that God wants our attention, affection, repentance, obedience, and praise. If our songs are not inviting us to give Him those things, our songs are not inviting us to worship Him.
How Do We Effectively Accomplish This Purpose?
Now that we’ve explained the purpose of worship music, we arrive at the overwhelmingly controversial question of which music accomplishes that purpose.
The older generations might like hymns that are familiar to sing and theologically rich. The younger generations might like singing contemporary songs that are new, catchy, and don’t use Old English. Everyone in the middle likes Chris Tomlin. However, worshiping God has never been about what we like! It is heartbreaking to see the division we have allowed this topic to create within the body of Christ. Believers argue, churches split – and all the while, lost people either join our foolish debates or decide they want nothing to do with Christians (or Christ). God help us!
For God to get what He wants, we must stop thinking as consumers and start living as contributors.
- Can teens learn to worship God by singing truthful lyrics from a hymn, even if the music behind them is “boring”? Yes.
- Can the elderly learn to thank God for a group of teens who are singing their hearts out to Him, even if they are rowdy while doing it? Yes.
- Can a skeptic learn to recognize biblical truth in a song, even one written by an artist they disagree with theologically? Yes (although it is between that individual and God to decide whether to sing that song or not).
If you learn what God desires from our worship, you’ll know what He desires from our music. We need to adamantly avoid letting our opinions, preferences, and feelings dictate whether a song is worshipful or not. We should be ready to genuinely worship God with any song that is biblically accurate, honors Him, and challenges us to become more like Him.
A Benediction of Sorts
I am praying the Holy Spirit will convict and correct any of us who let our own desires get in the way of giving God what He desires. Maybe you are a youth leader who can help your students value lyrics that honor God more than the feelings they get from the music. Maybe your students need to see you get interested a modern worship artist before you can see them get interested Fanny Crosby (there is value to be found in both).
My life was radically impacted by youth leaders who patiently taught and modeled being worship contributors rather than worship consumers. Now, I aim to pass that on to every student and camper I have the privilege of serving. God only knows the impact you can have on your students. I pray you endure faithfully, knowing you will reap what you sow if you don’t give up (Galatians 6:9)! One day, we will see it is all worth it – and I pray those we serve will be right there with us.
Ryan Arnold is the music director at Word of Life Bible Institute and Word of Life Youth and Family Camps in Upstate New York. He has been a music educator for more than ten years and a worship music leader for close to twenty years. He is passionate about helping others grow in their artistic abilities, but his main goal is to teach and encourage people to live a life of genuine worship to God both on and off stage. Ryan is married to his sweet wife, Rachel, and God has blessed them with two kids: a two-going-on-twenty–year–old daughter named Reagan and a fresh–out–of–the–oven-six–week–old son named Rhett.
2 thoughts on “How to Find the Best Approach to Music in Your Ministry”
Thanks for this post! Music can be a tricky balance in youth ministry and this post is incredibly helpful. Thanks!
I loved that you mentioned that music is a huge part of youth ministry. My son loves attending church, and he’s thinking about becoming a youth minister for our group. I think that would be a lovely experience for him, so I hope he can find a good program to attend.