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

Youth Ministry Topics Developing Student Praise and Worship

How to Lead Students in Worship 2

Part II

Paul Guffey

Principle #4

Teach them how to welcome the Lord. Encourage them to pray and sing to him. One way I do this is to use songs with lyrics that speak personally, directly to God. Sometimes I’ll take a song that speaks about God and personalize the lyrics so that students sing to God. The word "He" becomes "You." I like to use songs that are more vertical (directed up to God) rather than horizontal (directed to one another)

That simple shift changes the whole focus –

"O God, you are my God" (Psalm 63:1)

That's a wonderful, wonderful scripture. Sing right to Him. That's part of welcoming him into your presence.

Singing from the heart is a great way to release students from having to sound good. I can guarantee you that 99.9% of students are very conscious about the way they sound and they will be very timid and shy about opening their mouths if they think they're being judged or graded in any way. That's a hard, hard concept for a kid to learn - it's okay to sing out; let it rip! If you can teach them how to sing from the heart then all that happens from the mouth doesn't matter any more.

I'll give you an illustration. A guy taught me this principle and boy did he ever bang it into my head in a major way! About 3 summers ago I was on the Chattahoochie River with a group of kids somewhere in Tennessee. I don't know where we were, but we were way out with mosquitoes. And they were thick. We had to use tons of Skin-So-Soft for insect repellant. But one of the greatest things that happened that week is that God put me face to face with a little boy named Brian. Brian was about 17 years old and totally deaf. You could bang right in front of him and he could feel the pressure of the sound but hear nothing at all. But he had this great smile that I will never forget.

When the music began, he would walk over to the corner of the room, place his ear right up next to the speaker and give it all he had. He was trying to worship like the rest of the kids. Fortunately, I used to work at the Louisiana School for the Deaf in Baton Rouge, so I can still sign pretty well and I got into a good dialogue with him.

I told him that I loved the way he worshipped. He replied, "Well, I'm not really worshipping." He said, "I just really like the music. God no love me because I can't sing." And I thought, "Oh no, Brian." So I signed him back in case I had misunderstood. But he said again, "God no love me because I can't sing." Then he would kind of point to the other kids. I tell you that just broke my heart. Because he was over there singing his best next to the speaker. He was so into it, I thought he was into worship; but he was just into the music and he was trying with everything he had to love and enjoy the music. So I just prayed, "Lord, you're going to have to communicate, because my fingers are not going to be able to communicate in sign language what needs to be a movement of your Spirit."

And so Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday - all those four days - I kept encouraging this guy. I said, "Brian, God loves you. He is not listening to your voice. Whatever you think, he's not listening to your voice. He wants to hear from your heart. And if your heart is in tune with him, if you're walking with him in a relationship that pleases him, if your lifestyle pleases him, (we talked about that holy lifestyle being pleasing to God, that is your spiritual service to worship) then you are the student that God is going to show favor on and he will bless you. But he just could not get it through his head.

So it was Thursday night, the last night of the camp. And to make matters worse, we worshiped in an open-air pavilion with all the mosquitoes. It was just as nasty as it could be, one of the worst conditions I'd ever been in. All week I had been literally on my knees for this kid, praying, spending time with him. I hung out with him, ate lunch with him, had supper with him, loved on him, loved on him, and I was just loved out. I felt I had nothing left to give. I had so desperately tried to help him understand worship and to understand that God is pleased with his worship. But by Thursday night I realized that I couldn't do it. I gave up.

Later that night I was sitting there with my guitar and the mosquitoes everywhere and it was as nasty as can be and suddenly something just started happening. You know those times - where the Lord says "I am here. Get out of my way and let me do what I've come here to do." I didn't quite understand it; but I just knew that I was supposed to keep playing the guitar. And I kept playing the guitar and wasn't even singing. And this is what's really unique about this: I was just playing the guitar and the whole room just quieted down. (I'm not embellishing this one bit; I'm not into that kind of story telling. This is exactly what happened.)

I'm sitting there. Stuff’s dripping off of me. I could barely keep my fingers on my guitar with all that "Skin So Soft" that I’d caked on myself to repel the mosquitoes. They were so thick that it was just like being in Africa, something right out of one of those National Geographic specials. But then the neatest thing happened. A hush fell over the room; the mosquitoes cleared (and that would have been enough of a miracle for me), and I just started hearing this mumble, kind of like "Mah Mooo…. I'm just playing the guitar and Brian was signing the words "Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to him belong; they are weak, but he is strong. Yes, Jesus loves me…." And at that moment I realized that God communicated to him in a way that I never could. That kid was singing from the heart. Brian was singing with everything he had. And that night he led 250 students in worship.

I’ve have never been so impacted in all my life. The Lord taught me this principle –

If we'll teach our students how to sing from the heart so that they don’t care what happens to them as a result, they are set free to worship.

I don't care what you sound like. Is your heart in tune? If your heart's not in tune, deal with it. Students are great at faking it and sometimes you, as the leader, must be on your toes to discern if they're really leading in worship from their hearts.

Always think about Brian. If you have a student say to you, "I can't sing," tell her about Bryan. It changed my life when I learned this principle. Now I know that God listens to the heart. Since there are a lot of deaf students, how could he not? How could He create creatures like us and not give us a way to express our worship to Him? He's too loving for that.

We were created to worship him. That's the whole bottom line of what we're trying to help students understand. Our job, our purpose is to worship him, and that's the most wonderful thing I've ever learned. Isn't it just incredible how God works? That sweet kid Brian learned how to worship and he actually led the other kids in worship. It was amazing.

And what followed was just as amazing. All the kids that had been laughing at him for a long time gathered around Brian. Nobody said a thing. Their youth pastor was just wailing like a baby. All the adult chaperones were wailing like babies. I'm up there crying. God I'll be a youth minister forever. God is wonderful.

Principle #5

The last biblical principle is to teach them to be true worshippers. John 4:23-24 talks about what God is looking for:

"Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth."

God’s looking for true worshipers. I used to struggle with that. What does it mean to worship Him in both truth and spirit? I think I've broken it down in my finite mind and is I think this is a good way to explain it to students.

Worshiping "in Spirit"

Explain to them that to worship in spirit means that you must have the Holy Spirit in you. In other words, you must be a Christian. Instead of worshiping some football team or another object of worship, this type of worship is in Spirit. It happens in the Spiritual realm that we can't really explain. It happens from deep within a place that only the Lord and the Holy Spirit dwell, a place where the Holy Spirit will communicate to God for us in a way that's almost miraculous.

So that's the first thing. They must be believers. They may think that they are Christians and they may sing like angels. But I want to ask, "Tell me about your relationship with the Lord. What type of walk do you have with Him?" Are they walking with God or just hanging with the crowd and showing up on Wednesday nights? If the latter is true, God's not going to bless you. You're not his child. You're still walking a rebellious path away from him. And he's not going to make himself known to you.

Why would I bless my children if they constantly do things that are out of my best judgement? Rather, I'd withhold my blessing until they’re willing to follow their daddy’s instructions. This is the way God relates to his children. We must be his children, living in submission to his will if we are to truly worship "in spirit."

Worshiping "in Truth"

Worshiping in truth goes back to the 1 John 1:9 principle. As I lead worship I'm constantly asking myself, am I ready for worship? Am I being truthful about my own personal sin? Is Paul Guffey clean before God right now? This is incredibly important because we have a great way of nodding our heads and saying, "Yeah, I'm okay with God. But deep down we are not.

Here’s a great verse for that: Isaiah 66:1-2.

This is what the LORD says: "Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be?

Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?" declares the LORD. "This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word."

Picture it for a minute. God is saying that heaven is his throne and earth is his footstool. Isn't that an awesome picture? God is just kicking back with his feet stretching across the universe. What a picture of God! Who does that incredible God esteem?

"The one who is humble and contrite in spirit, and who trembles at my word."

If you can teach your students those verses so that they begin to live that way, you’ll experience one of the most overpowering waves of worship you've ever seen in your life. I'm looking for a student who's humble and contrite in spirit. That means he's broken in spirit. There's a sense, there's a aroma, a feeling of brokenness to this child's life. And I know those students are there. They're everywhere. They're just waiting for us as adults to cultivate them and pull them in. And that's you're little worship leader.

Whether they can sing or not, I'd be putting them up in front. I'll tell you about one of our leaders. He is one of the college students at our church and he can't sing worth a lick. But he has such a heart for worship that I can't help but bring him up front because his face reveals an overwhelming desire to worship God. We have to turn his mike down a little bit, but it’s worth it. About half of our college students look dead when they sing. And I just say, "Please get into the coffin. You're about there anyway." There will be some dead people in every ministry, but once you get about 3/4ths of the crowd really pushing to worship, you experience in incredible rush across the entire crowd. There's something about a place where there's good worship; but expect Satan to work equally as hard to distract.

But this one college student is so broken in spirit and contrite in heart that I know God will bless him and his ministry.

"Hear me now, believe me later - find that one kid, cultivate him or her, and you’re on your way to a powerful worship experience."

I have another kid who's a 10th grader named Brian. He's got that hair that sticks up and gets colored. He's doing all this external stuff to look cool, but you know what? God's really put him on my heart. He's becoming my little worship leader.

I'm discipling him every Wednesday at 4:30. I’m starting to teach him to play piano in my office. I see the same longing in Brian that I had at his age – a desire to be taught how to lead in worship. Once I got past Brian’s exterior, I realized that he had a heart for God and loved God. So I started working on Brian, loving on him, working with him, teaching him, praying for him and training him.

He has been so much fun to watch because he is now our worship leader. Each week he’s influencing the entire group. This is a big change for me. Whereas for the first two decades of my ministry I simply led youth in worship, now I’m increasingly training other key adults and students to be successful in their ministries. I challenge you to find a kid like Brian and pour your life into him. There’s at least one in your group, maybe more. He may be a 6th grader. She may be a 7th grader; but they're there. God is cultivating them. You've just got to be faithful to pray, ask the Lord to show you who they are and start growing them. They’ll grow if you simply start watering them. Put some food on them and they're going to come up. Teach him the principles that I’ve shared with you and he’ll become a true worshiper.

What About the Exterior Stuff of Worship?

When you have those principles in line, all the external stuff will fall into place. I’m referring to all those practical questions such as: What songs do we sing? What instruments do we use? Do we use as sound system or go unplugged? Do we need to get lights and fog and smoke and lasers?

The truth is, everybody has a unique setting. And you're setting is not about some of this external stuff. It's about getting the internal right first. And that's the key to leading students in worship; it really is. I've talked to people all the time who say, "Man, I thought you were going to teach us how to be better guitar players, what the latest fad or trend is, etc. I taught that for a long time. I taught the latest and greatest chorus – "It's a guaranteed winner. You'll just knock them down every time."

However, the Lord started tapping my heart and discouraged me from doing that. He told me, "You know what, Paul? My scriptures are very clear. If you'll just gently help people and remind them and help them to follow that, then I will be pleased." You see, that's what it's all about in helping students learn to worship. It's that he will be pleased. So constantly go back through that with your students. Sure, this is kind of a cool sound, but do you think God is in it?

Kids will come up with all kinds of wacky stuff. The new keyboard player wants to go this direction. The drummer wants to go this way but the others aren’t into that sound. The singers are over there getting mad because they have to wait around for the instrumentalists to get their act together. These are the dynamics you deal with in developing student bands I'll go more into that in the article on "Training Students to Lead Worship."

The present article helps you to build a strong foundation. Believe me, I wish I could give you the names and addresses of the youth pastors and college ministers who've implemented these principles. One after another, through e-mails, faxes and phone calls they tell me, "Paul, you just won’t believe what is going on here." Build the foundation and authentic worship will grow.

I'll give you one case in point. In one extremely pagan town in Louisiana, the youth minister had some students that loved God. I went in for just a 3-hour period, worked with his student band and got their focus off of their instruments. I asked, "How do you define worship?" They had all kinds of answers. Eventually, we came full circle back to the questions, "Who is the object of our worship? Is our worship pleasing to the Lord?"

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


Paul Guffey has led large and small groups of youth in worship for over two decades in every setting imaginable. This message was transcribed and edited from a teaching tape by Paul Guffey that was originally recorded in July 1999 at a Music Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The cassette (entitled "How to Lead Students in Worship") and other resources are available from Paul’s web site at http://ww.worshiphim.com .


Used by permission of Paul Guffey.