A little more than a year ago a perceptive student asked me a simple question, “Why do you want us to sing during worship?” We were in between two songs at the beginning of worship. I both love and hate questions like these. I love them because I get to see how my students think. I hate them because it shows how much I assume about my students. I wanted to throw a question back, like, “Why do guys wear skinny jeans?”
But this student’s question got me thinking. There are any number of actions I take as a youth leader assuming that my students will respond or at least understand why we are doing it. I have been very intentional in my ministry designs and decisions for many years, but realized that I had not communicated to my students my intentionality. It was as if I expected them to get it without telling them. The questions ran through my head, “Why do we pray? Why do we play silly games? Why do we read scripture?” and on and on. This is about more than worship, but about giving a plain accounting to students about why for everything we do in our weekly gathering.
I created a list of everything we do at our weekly gathering (Wednesday Night Live), and tried to write an answer to the why question. When it was ready, I had a plain account of what we were doing and why. We shared this with the students by making one of our weeks an Instructed WNL. Leaders, students, and I split up the list and explained why for everything we did that night. It felt choppy at first, but the students seemed to lean in.
Every WNL following the Instructed WNL, I have one or two plain accounts shared, rotating until we go through them all again. Now, we do an Instructed WNL once a semester and each week we answer a why question.
6:00pm. WNL begins
Dinner: (As we gather to pray before we eat.) “Do you know why do we eat together? We eat together for lots of reasons, not just because we are hungry. For some people, sharing a meal is the best way to get to know each other. For some people, sharing a meal is like family. For some people, the most exciting or important things to say happen around food. It was certainly this way with Jesus. That guy never missed a chance to eat with friends. We are just trying to be like him, that’s why we have dinner together.”
6:20pm. Open Time
Open Recreation: (Inviting students into the gym, game room, etc.) I love hanging out with you at WNL! Why do we have open rec at WNL? Open rec time is your time. You can be list places they can be but some places are not for you to be, list these. We will have planned activities, crazy games, and free time, but you can choose what you want. We have leaders all over who want to hangout with you. Be with your friends, relax, shoot hoops, gaga, or play music on the couches. This is your open time.
6:45pm. Worship Time
Announcements: Announcements are huge for you and huge for us. We make announcements because we are excited about having more time with you and these are ways we can do that. Here is what you need to know…
Prayer: Why do we pray so much? And Why do we pray at the beginning of worship? We pray. A Lot. In different ways. We pray. We pray because we want to constantly be in relationship with God, both sharing with him and receiving from him. Prayer is an important way of doing that. We pray at the beginning of worship for two reasons: 1. To set our hearts and minds together for the task of worshiping God. The prayer is to change us from a group of people into a team. 2. To invite God’s Holy Spirit into this space as the one being worshiped, even though he already knows it. Let’s pray now, together…
Worship: (I have put this one all over, at the beginning, in the middle, at the end.) Why do we worship? We worship God because he is a good God. As Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, God is the only one worthy of worship. He created in power, loves with grace, and is present to unite us with him. We worship God because of who he is.
Games: (As the game is being set up OR cleaned up.) Why have games and stuff if we are so serious about God? We aren’t so much serous about God as we are excited about God. Our whole lives are called to be part of his will. And my life has some funny, gross and weird parts. So, why not practice inviting God into those parts?
Singing: (The best spot for us has been as the musician begins strumming.) Why do we sing? Singing has been part of worship since people started worshiping God. Singing takes all of our individual voices, honors them AND makes them part of what this team is doing. When we sing, we are still us, but part of something more. Just like being a Christian. When we know Jesus, we are still us, but part of something more.
Scripture: (At WNL we scream and cheer when scripture is read. You should totally try it! One of our students started this and it is one of the best parts of the night.) We love reading scripture here. Why do we cheer? Scripture is the story of God loving us, forgiving us and making us whole. That is something to cheer about.
Teaching: (Before or after the teaching.) Why is there a time a teaching every WNL? We teach as part of hearing the word of God. We teach scripture because it is like God’s story for us and of us. We teach not because it is hard to understand (though sometimes it is) but to continue to learn about the God who loves us, the Son who saves us and the Spirit who leads us.
Offering: (We do this before we collect an offering.) Why are we asking you to give some of your money? We receiving a financial offering as a sign that we are giving our whole selves to God. We give money to return to God what is his and to trust him to provide for us.
The Benediction: Do you know why we always have this awkward statement at the end of worship? Benediction means “Good Word.” We end worship with a good word of God’s presence with us, not only in worship, but also in life.
7:30. Small Group Time
Small Groups: (By way of dismissal. Leaders are then with them until 8:30, when WNL ends.) Why do we send you out in small groups? The relationships you have with your friends and adult leaders are the perfect places to understand how God is speaking to you tonight.
Try it. Write down five things you do during Sunday School, Youth Group, or Bible Study.
Then, answer why for each of them. Brief answers, enough that could answer a quick question in the middle of worship, and enough to have a longer conversation later if needed. Take your time to do this for your list. Does everything you’re doing match up with your disciple making hopes? Do you see that perhaps something is missing? Or did you discover that something seems to have the Spirit moving powerfully in it?