Last week I had the privilege of leading worship for almost 300 students at our high school summer camp in sunny California. If you’ve ever been a camp leader or a camper yourself, you know how explosively energetic and electrifying things can get in a packed auditorium. This retreat was no exception. Complete with flash mobs at Downtown Disney and Huntington Beach, these students came ready to play hard. They also came ready to grow deeper in their relationships with Jesus.
I revel in the opportunity to lead students in worship. I myself started leading worship in my youth group under the mentorship of my high school youth pastor. There’s something unique about teenagers that radiates a passionate and curious spirit; and, with a little direction, that spirit can grow into something that can potentially shape their lives in profound ways. Throughout our week together, I made it my personal goal to challenge and stretch these students in their understanding and participation in worship. I wanted them to know that worshipping God encompassed so much beyond singing a few songs during service. I wanted them to know that worship is a lifestyle; that it is vulnerable and awkward sometimes; that it is a sacrifice of oneself; and that it reminds us of who we are and Who we live for.
On the final day of camp, we gathered together in the auditorium for one last session before celebrating the baptisms of almost 15 students. Throughout the week I saw the students transform as they grew in relationships with each other in their small groups, wrestled with teachings from Cal and their youth pastors, and engaged in singing together whole-heartedly. I was finishing the last song of the morning’s set, when I felt a sense that God was still up to something in the room. After a few moments of waiting, I challenged the students to participate in one last act of worship together before the teaching. I asked them, “If you feel that God is stirring something in your heart – it can sometimes be a phrase or one word – I want you say it loudly and boldly for everyone else to hear.” It took only moments before I started hearing words being shouted all across the room. Words like, “God is strong!”; “God is Holy!”; “God is forgiveness!”; “God restored my family!” For a full minute, all anyone could hear were shouts of praise and truth and hope. It was as if God pulled away some invisible cover and allowed us to see a glimpse of His undeniable presence in each of our lives. It’s moments like these that remind me why I love leading worship.
I share this particular story not to show how awesome of a worship leader I think I am but to challenge the rest of us in our own worship. Many times I’ve overheard people say things like, “I’m not much of a singer, so I’d just rather watch during service” or “I want to worship, but I just can’t do it when the music is too loud, quiet, new, old, fast, slow, etc.” Those high school students at camp reminded me of something simple yet insanely profound. They reminded me that what should matter more to us is not how we worship but rather Who we worship. We sing, we pray, we take communion, we learn from the Bible together not simply because it’s tradition or something we happen to enjoy. We do all these things together because we believe and rejoice in Jesus, and we long to glorify Him above everything else in our lives.
My challenge to us this week – both students and adults alike – is that we pursue Christ whole-heartedly in our worship. Regardless of styles, methods, and preferences, may we remember that the Savior and King over our lives is worthy of our fullest praise.
How have you experienced God in worship before?