I was recently talking to a friend who is planning an upcoming youth retreat. She mentioned to me some frustrations around the “praise & worship” portion of the retreat that she was trying to revamp this year. She talked about how “the kids just don’t like it and don’t engage, BUT if I can get a strong engaging leader, I think it’s valuable”. It’s a struggle you see, when we take students on retreat, we want to build an experience where our students can have an opportunity to encounter God. Maybe they see part of their life in a new light, or maybe they find comfort in the messages. But, during the music portion where we are leading them in song during the praise & worship part, maybe ¼ of the students will participate.
So what’s the deal? We could try to re-engineer these worship bands. Add more lights, add more musicians, maybe a full drum kit, maybe a gong and I am sure it would be awesome, but we would we be addressing the most important aspect: the prayer lives of our students? After the lights and music has subsided, what’s left? Are we teaching our students how to recognize God at work around them, through them?
I think that is our mission when working with students at its core: seeing God in their lives and how He is guiding them, and then being able to pray and worship in gratitude. I think that over the years, youth workers have tried adding all this extra stuff to try and get kids interested in Church, but it’s not really doing the trick.
It’s the simpler moments that gather our students at Church and where they can explore their burgeoning prayer life. On Pilgrimage, we start the mornings with quiet reflective prayer. During youth group we do contemplative things like lectio divina or just a praying of the rosary. It’s these quiet moments where students have an opportunity to encounter God in peace, and among friends that teaches them to recognize that God is there.
During Sunday School we ask the little kids who they would like to pray for, and amidst all the “I want candy!” or “I pray for a Pokémon to appear” there are a few “I pray for my brother, because he’s not feeling well”.
We are all teachers to our students and we model what this looks like to praise God for how he heals every single day. It’s a big responsibility, but this is how our kids learn, so we must be extra vigilante to turn around, run back and lay at the feet of Jesus.