Remembering what “praise” is.
About 15 years ago, I had a parent come up to me after one of our Sunday worship services with a concern. She explained to me that the service isn’t “doing anything” for her and her daughter anymore. I responded (confused) by asking her what she thinks a service needs and she said, “I just wanna praise. I don’t feel like we praise.” I was curious because praise, by definition, is when we express respect and gratitude toward God. Singing hymns, hearing scripture, paying attention to a homily, the sacraments, and passing the peace are all forms of sharing gratitude and if they aren’t, I don’t know what is! After asking her questions to help unpack what she meant, I finally realized that she just wanted to “feel good.” She wanted that mountain top experience at worship each week and felt that we were either doing something wrong or missing some miraculous liturgical practice because she didn’t “praise.”
I then shared with her what I share with youth; in worship, the audience is God – it’s never us. We are participants even when we are sitting in the pews. When the choir sings, they are leading the congregation, not entertaining them. When the homily is said, we are to actively listen in order to be open to the possibility of the word becoming a tool in our ministry, and when we participate in the Eucharist, we are actively living into our Baptismal covenant and recognizing God’s Grace. Notice I used the word ‘active’ a few times. The congregation is never the audience – God is. Now I know that many churches have moved away from this liturgical ethos and even us the language of auditorium rather than nave or sanctuary or audience rather than congregation. This way of thinking leaves the space of where God is empty.
Friends, we should not walk out of worship not asking the question, “how do I feel” but rather “how does God feel?” Did we give out best collectively to give gratitude for what God has done?
We must look at worship as giving rather than receiving because it is a response to the grace that we have already received. I’m not saying that we can never experience a feeling from the Spirit while we worship, but when we assume that worship is the purpose for this, then liturgy is reduced to an emotional drug rather than the integral work that we have been called to do as disciples.
My name is Nick and I am an Episcopal Priest, a youth minister for 20 years, and, more importantly, a good friend to Deacon Lauren! I hope to use this page for critical thinking when it comes to youth ministry.
The truth is, youth ministry has not evolved much in the past 15 years because we have not challenged ourselves to evaluate what we doing assuming that changes negate all the good work that had been done before. The world and it’s youth change and, due to modernity, it changes faster than before. Did you know generations not longer change every 25 years but rather 5-7?
We must also understand that institutional youth ministry is still in its infancy. This is not to say that there hasn’t been youth ministry before the 20th century (after all, Paul’s relationship with Timothy could be seen as the first Christian youth ministry!), but it has recently been looked at as a sub profession of ministry for only a short period of time. We are still learning, and we must have the humility to recognize this.
In truth, I think we are at a “post modern”/ watershed moment in youth ministry. In other words, we have tried it all, we have been offensively counter cultural, we have leaned into culture, we have focused on fellowship, used buzz words like “praise.” (Ok, this isn’t a buzz word, but it has turn into one and this is a completely different post!). The church as a whole has tried this throughout it’s history and time and time again, we go back to it’s antiquity when people gathered, shared who they were, had a meal, and created a community where people can feel comfortable to be who God made them to be. Sounds simple right? Well on paper, it may be, but when the world expects the opposite, youth ministry or church in general conducted with integrity is not just simply following a format but creating a space where we need to be rewired; to shed ourselves of the facade we subconsciously place on ourselves, to welcome the stranger, to break bread, to be vulnerable. So lets’ take a journey shall we?!