"For Those Who Are Passionate About Reaching The Younger Generation"

Youth Ministry Topics Developing Student Praise and Worship

How to Lead Students in Worship

Part I

Paul Guffey


I appreciate this opportunity to share my thoughts on student worship with you. I?ve spent over 20 years with students and leaders in almost every setting imaginable - everything from singing around a campfire to huge student conferences to following up a balloon war. Those experiences have enriched my understanding of student ministry and have fueled my passion to encourage students to grow as daily worshipers.

The challenge for me is to help transition students from simply being singers to becoming whole-hearted, daily worshipers of the Lord Jesus Christ.

This article focuses on how to lead students in worship and helping students get a better understanding of what God is looking for in a student worshiper. I do this by focusing on the heart, rather than external issues. The challenge is for students to grow as disciples of Christ, not just in their ability to sing well. I believe that if we can help students learn to passionately worship the Lord on a moment by moment basis, then they will grow into adults who are worshiping the Lord. These are the students that will fit in well in life and grow to maturity in Christ.

You might also be interested to know that I write a monthly column on-line at www.crosswalk.com that deals with the subject of student worship. Your comments and suggestions are very important to me. I'd love to hear from you. My e-mail address is Paul@worshiphim.com or you can always reach us through our web site at www.worshiphim.com. I value your input and look forward to hearing from you!

Before we get started, let?s make sure we?re all on the same page. I?d like to lead you in a prayer to open up our hearts before God and to ask for His blessing. I confess that there's not much I can tell you apart from God that's worth anything. So what we're going to talk about is really what the Scripture teaches about worship. In my 20 some years of experience I?ve found that the more I go back to Scripture, apply it to the lives of my students and encourage them to apply it to their own lives, that God will do the real work. His Word reveals to us that looking hip, sounding groovy, being cool, and all that external, impressions stuff has nothing to do with true worship. Zero.

So I want you to put you at total ease. We're not going to talk about how I can help you be a better rock star so your kids will love you at church. That's not what this is about. This is about learning. It's what I call The Wave of Worship. It's a wave that is really slowly moving around the world right now and I equate that wave to the Word. As students go deeper in their understanding of the Word, that wave grows and intensifies. It gets bigger; it gets deeper. It?s impact lasts much longer. That's why I want to be very careful and very open to you that I want God to bless this time. So let's just pray together.

Father, God, we do acknowledge that you are on the throne right now - that you are King. You are totally in charge of everything in this universe and we are under your command. Father we pray that in these next minutes that you would bring to mind thoughts and Scriptures that you would be pleased for us to learn and apply to our lives - not only personally, but corporately as we lead students. And Father, we pray that ultimately the end result and our end goal would be to always please you in everything we say and do. We want to please you as we apply these principles of worship to students? lives and even to our own lives. God I thank you for these readers and pray that you will bless them in a special way. In Christ' name we pray. Amen.

My Background

I live in Orlando, by way of Nashville, by way of my real home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I'm really a Cajun. So if you've never met a Cajun, I'm a real one. The only difference is that I don't have my hat and my fishing pole in my hand right now. But I can guarantee that I fish with the best of them in the marsh. And yes, I've played with alligators. So I grew up there, went to Louisiana State University and then lived in Nashville for about 13 years.

For about 17 years of my life I traveled, going from church to church and conference to conference. I made my living going from place to place and leading groups of students in worship. Sometimes I?d find myself at the most luxurious camps or ocean front facilities. Other times I?d sleep in the worst of cabins with no lights out in the woods, sharing the nights with mosquitoes and other critters that would crawl on me through the night.

So I've been there and done that and I've loved every minute of it because I have a genuine heart to love kids and I think that's really what this is about.

An Overriding Principle

If you want to learn to lead students in worship, you've got to fall in love with them.

This is an overriding, on-going principle in my own personal life ? I?ve got to love this kid into the kingdom. I cannot force a kid to learn to worship. But I can model worship for that student through my relationship that I build with him.

So it's crucial to build relationships and to love your students, just to love them, even the hardest kids. In Florida we have some really hard kids, some kids who out of one side of their mouth will say, "Yeah, I love God; I am a Christian." But out of the other side of their mouths they will speak the most filthy trash I've ever heard in my life. And I?m talking about at church! So I know what they do away from the church has got to be even worse. Why does this happen? They haven't caught the principle that God's really looking for a holy lifestyle rather than a momentary performance where someone says "Man that was a really great, great song. God blessed me with that."

See I believe this whole wave of worship is really about us helping kids to lead holy lives and those are the kids that God is using. We could spend all day talking about the wonderful movements that are breaking out all over the world - over in the United Kingdom and Australia, here in the States and in Canada, but it all comes down to a group of students who say, "You know what? I want to start living for Christ, not just singing for Christ." Keep that overriding principal in mind as we dive into this.

Biblical Principles of Worship

The primary thrust of this message is to talk about the biblical principles of worship. I'm not going to harp on the exterior. Instead, my years of experience have taught me to focus on shaping kid?s hearts. And I'll tell you about several of our kids that I've seen this happen to in my own youth group.

I lead worship in my own church in the Orlando area, so not only am I involved in student worship during the week, but I also lead our contemporary band on a Saturday night service. So I?m leading worship in both of those worlds and am very familiar with all the externals. But my main concern is to help them understand what godliness means and those principles are more of what I'm going to talk about today - the biblical principles of worship. Because I don't think God said anywhere in Scripture: "Hey, if you look really good and impress Me, I'm going to be pleased."

Some of the kids that look good and sound good on Sunday morning or Sunday night or during the youth meeting are living the worst type of lifestyle on Friday and Saturday nights. So how do we help them connect a holy, godly lifestyle with worship that is pleasing to God? I believe that the only way we?re going to do it is by teaching them Scriptural principles of worship. So here we go.

Principle #1

The first biblical principle principle of worship is that God is holy and he'll never bless sin. That's the greatest principle that I've been able to teach our kids. God is holy. We all know that. The Scripture says that we are holy because he is holy. It's not anything that we've done or deserved or earned. It's only because of grace and what the Lord Jesus has done on the cross that we are able to share in that.

These principles work from 6th grade on through College. I find that a lot of the work I do is in that range. And I love every bit of that whole dynamic of 6th grade, where they just kind of bop around. I also love that college senior or that grad student who's going, "I'm really serious about worship. What do I need to do to go further, to go deeper?" The principle for all students is this: God is holy. He'll never bless sin. It's just oil and water; they'll never mix. It's a scriptural, absolute principle that will never, never, ever change.

If we gently, repeatedly pitch that into the hearts of our students, at some point I guarantee you that they're going to go, "You know, okay, I kind of get it. You mean like, uh, if I like do stuff with my girlfriend on Friday night that God's not pleased with, He's not really pleased with my worship?" Then you?ll know they?re starting to get it.

Then I reinforce it by saying, "Yeah, what does Romans 12:1 talk about? It speaks of your spiritual service of worship - letting your life be worship. And that is not ever going to happen until we understand that first principle. God is a holy God. He's not going to bless our sin. He's just not going to do it. So if we want to become worshipers and teach our students how to worship, that's the first key.

Principle #2

Once my students grab onto the first principle, they say, "Yeah, Mr. Duffey, we're kind of getting that. What's the next one?" This is where I say, "Confess your sin as a preface to true worship." First John 1:9 talks about if we confess our sin He is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. What a great verse! God is about forgiveness. He's about restoration. So if I understand that God is holy and that He's not going to bless my sin, what's my response to that?

I need to confess my sin as a preface to worship. Isaiah 59:1-2 teaches that if there is iniquity in your heart He won?t even hear you. Boy, I'll tell you that hit me right between the eyes several years ago. An older man really challenged me with that. He said, "You know what? God is such a holy God that he's not even going to listen when we are in sin." And so this is a great principle with which you can challenge your students. You can go at them and say that Isaiah 59:1-2 teaches that if there's stuff going on in your life that God's not pleased with, how is he going to bless our little worship team that we're trying to get going? Maybe we need to deal again with the issue of the heart. Remember, that's the key to the whole overriding point that we're trying to hit today: issues of the heart.

So God is holy; he'll never bless sin. Our response to that is to confess our sin as a preface to true worship. Ok, once those two things are done, you really encourage your students. Since they are applying these two truths, they can begin to worship God with their lives. This is where I believe that God really takes on a sense of pleasure. He looks at our worship team and is pleased with us as we walk with him.

Principle #3

The third principle is to worship with your life. When we talk about worshiping with your life, what does that really mean? And how does that translate to students? That's a very hard concept for teens because most of them are very externally driven. They are Madison Fifth Avenue, Saks, and extremely image conscious. That's where they live. So how do you and how do I, as an adult who loves these kids, turn that little ship around and get them to start looking at what's in their hearts rather than what?s on their pants or sleeves?

The first thing that we can do is to model a worship lifestyle. My wonderful wife Angela does that for me. I brag on her all the time because I believe that the Lord has put her in my life to tell me what a godly person really looks like behind the scenes.

She's one of the godliest women I've ever known. I've seen her with our four children - two boys and two girls ages 9, 6, 3, 1-1/2. I?ve seen her in some of the most heart-aching, heart wrenching, situations and have watched her go through them with a gentle walk with the Lord that I don't understand. That?s what we must model for our students. That's the way we should encourage students to live day by day. Encourage them to please God over everything else. Our deepest desire ought to be to worship him with our lives.

Secondly, we can reinforce the "worship as a lifestyle" principle with scriptures. Romans 12:1 reads:

"Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God?s mercy, to offer yourselves as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God ? which is your spiritual worship." (NIV)

In other words, your worship can?t be separated from your lifestyle.

Jesus once asked, "Why do you call me, Lord, Lord, and do not do what I say?(Lk. 6:46).

He?s saying that your walk should equal your talk.

The Result

When a core of students catches onto these principles, how does it impact your group? Here?s how we see it working out in ours. We have a Wednesday night youth ministry called "Impact." About 250 students of all kinds show up each Wednesday night. Some come to look good, others to cause trouble. But after two years of working these principles into the lives of our kids, although I still see pockets of resistance, I?m seeing the impact of this little remnant of kids who are really catching onto these principles. For them, worship is more than they do with their mouths; it?s a celebration of what they?ve been experiencing so far during the week. They worship with their lives. It?s really wonderful to watch because this little remnant is growing and they're starting to influence all these other guys and all these other girls who just think they're too cool for school.

And so the greatest thing that's happening with our church is that God has proven that these principles are his principles. And the most important is the first overriding principle that I mentioned first: love your students. I know that you just want to whack them one because they don't get it and you're tired and they are just on your nerves. You've had it. Believe me, I know that feeling. But that's where the overriding sense of love and calling has to come in.

If you ever want to be an effective student worship leader you've got to have an overriding, just incredible sense and a passion that you're going to love this kid more than Satan hates him.

And I believe that's the principle that's driven me all these years. That?s why I continue to go out to these remote campsites and retreat sites, sometimes wondering if I?ll ever come back alive. If I love kids, which builds trusting relationships with them, then they can observe me worshiping with my life. That motivates them to do it. If you?re not worshipping with your life, why would they feel that they should do it?

To go to part two of this article, either CLICK HERE or click your back arrow to go back to the list of worship articles.


Paul Guffey is a nationally recognized Worship Leader and trainer in the area of student worship. His resource kit "The Student Worship Collection" is used all over the world to facilitate students and adults in worship. His work spans several denominations, hundreds of events, and thousands of adults and students. His practical insights on student worship will help you build a rock-solid foundation for your student worship ministry. He welcomes your friendship and comments. Contact him at Paul@finishwell.org or through the websites www.worshipHim.com and www.finishwell.org.


Used by permission of Paul Guffey.