by Dr. Will Whittaker
Whitney Houston was on to something when she sang, “I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.” If we’re going to a church of all ages, we will have to invest in our students and children. The old adage is true: if you want future music teams filled with capable musicians, you must invest in them beginning at an early age. I don’t think anyone would doubt the veracity of this, but often church leaders prefer to teach our next generations in silos rather than give them the opportunity to interact regularly with older generations. To be clear, I’m all for age-stratified training that’s developmentally appropriate, but finding balance is key. Be a leader that allows students and children the space to not only get age-appropriate instruction, but the opportunity to serve alongside older generations simultaneously.
With the advent of increased awareness of the need for intergenerational worship in our churches, many arrangers and publishers of music for choirs and instrumental ensembles have created songs that are decidedly for various generations to present together. In these songs are portions for children, students, and adults to have the chance to lead together. Often, these songs will feature soloists and narrators from each generation as well as allow the different choirs to sing alone and together. Many worship leaders I’ve spoken with will plan entire services, often called a “Multigenerational Sunday,” where they intentionally utilize all generations in their church in one service. The visual of all generations on the platform alone is a reminder that we are the church united. Wouldn’t it be great if every Sunday could be like this? I believe it could be.
Multigenerational Sundays are great, but only a first step. To be truly intentionally intergenerational, there needs to be relationships formed between the various ages in your groups. Leading together doesn’t simply mean sharing the platform space with various generations. Leading together means serving in consistent ministry. Create an environment where your students and children are able to be discipled by older, wiser music ministry participants. May your older generations seek to come alongside the next generations and invest in the future of the church.
In their book, Sticky Faith: Everyday Ideas to Build Lasting Faith in Your Kids[i], Powell and Clark found that older students crave affirmation and relationships with adults in their community of faith. It makes them feel valued. They want to get connected to the church, to serve, to invest in others themselves. Powell and Clark go on to say that older students who invest in younger kids are more likely to be connected and committed to their local church. Students want to feel valued and appreciated for what they can bring to the community of faith and it impacts their spiritual development as well.
You must seek creative ways to use your students and children every chance you can because if they don’t get connected early in life, it’s likely they’ll never get plugged in as an adult. They crave relationships with adults who value what talents and ideas they bring to the table. They need validation and affirmation along the way. They are the future of the church and we must find ways for them to learn, grow, serve, and invest in others themselves.
Here a just a few ways you as a leader can invest and allow students and children the opportunity to grow and serve in the intergenerational church:
- Develop student accompanists
- Allow students and children to sing in the main Sunday morning choir
- Use students and children on praise teams or to sing solos
- Allow students and children to play their instruments in an instrumental ensemble
- Train and equip students for audio/visual ministry
- Allow students and children to have a voice in worship ministry planning
Younger generations must have the opportunity to develop their skills as they learn what it means to lead in worship. You never know who God is calling to not only vocational ministry, but who He’s calling to serve the church after you are gone. Truthfully, isn’t it worth it to invest in even a few students if someone gets plugged in for life? If not, the church of tomorrow will be severely lacking musicians.
No matter what size church you have or what your style of musical worship is, find many outlets for your students and children to serve. It just makes sense to provide opportunities for the greatest number of kids to participate. Certainly, extremely talented musicians should have greater responsibility as needed, but don’t forget the moderate-level musician in your church. We need all kinds in the body of Christ, and that extends also to music ministry. We must foster an environment that seeks to honor the giftedness of all and provides avenues for them to serve.
I get it; the pressure, worship leader, is undoubtedly high in your church to produce a quality worship experience each week. Taking a “training” approach to music ministry takes guts and a solid plan. The beginning product might not be awesome, but keep plugging away, training, investing, and praying for God to move and the quality will continue to rise if you raise the bar high and encourage along the way.
I tell people often I’ve had key people in my life that invested in me from an early age. They saw something in me that needed to be utilized for the building of the Kingdom. I think of them often and remind them of their specific encouragement and risk they took letting me accompany or sing when I didn’t even think I was ready. Because of their investment in me, I’m able to invest in the next generations. Who are you investing in?
[i] Kara Powell and Chap Clark, Sticky Faith: Everyday Ideas to Build Lasting Faith in Your Kids. (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2011), 98-99.
This article first appeared on DrWillWhittaker.org