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

Youth Ministry Topics Developing Student Praise and Worship

How to Lead Students in Worship 3

Part 3

Paul Guffey

Defining Worship

Here’s my definition of worship:

Worship is setting my mind's attention and my heart's affection on God.

This is a great definition that’s succinct enough for all of your students to learn. If you repeat it long enough until they begin to internalize it, your students will make the transition from being singers to being worshipers. And I’m also thinking of those cool kids who just show up and hang out, even some of my hardest kids, the kind whose lives are in a mess but you can’t get near them without hearing how great they think they are. Some are Christian kids who haven't kind of figured out that God's not pleased with all that.

But I gently encouraged them that worship is setting our mind's attention and our heart's affection on God. And when I ask some of my hardest kids to tell me what worship is, they sometimes surprise me by getting it right! That proves to me that this definition is not too hard for kids to digest.

Use it to help them move in little baby steps toward pleasing God. I don't think every student is going to quickly come full swing into a life that's sold out 100%. I saw students do that 20-25 years ago. But today I find them wanting to investigate this thing before they jump into it. So this definition is a great bridge, a transition towards helping a student realize that to God my heart's affection, not just my singing, can flow over every area of my life.

Our Goals

One goal in worship is to be transparent before God. If you can get a group of kids to be transparent about their sin, about where they're really at and learn how to really minister to one another in a time of worship and ministry together, then you’ve arrived.

Sometimes that's hard to do because a lot of kids don't open up easily. They're kind of tough, hard eggs to crack. Just keep building that foundation and encouraging them to be transparent. Teach them that true worship is a response to understanding who God is and how we can glorify him. That's really what true worship is. It's not really about the latest, greatest fad. Don't be afraid of taking students deeper into worship.

Another goal is to move students from being simply singers to being worshipers of God. I was taught to be a singer. I thought worship was just standing up straight and singing my guts out. And then I felt free to go do whatever I wanted to do for the rest of the week. It took awhile before I made the connection in my head that I was pursuing great singing, which could become worship. It could become something that’s pleasing, exalting and glorifying to the Lord. But if my life was not in proper tune, like in Isaiah 59, he was not even listening. Don’t be afraid to challenge your students to move beyond great singing to heart-felt worship.

A Tension You May Face

You may encounter the problem, as I have in our church, where one little group of kids really wants to worship and another group wants to make trouble, producing tension between the two groups. How do you get past that? What we've done is to set up special times for the motivated worshipers to worship. I'll just announce, "If any of you guys want to come worship, I'll meet you this time in this place." Maybe 10-15 will show up; sometimes 30-40 show up; sometimes 3-4. That's okay. Always provide deeper worship opportunities for your motivated group of kids. Don’t stifle their enthusiasm or let them get discouraged by other’s lack of interest. That's very important. Because they're the ones that are going to keep setting the pace for those other students and they'll model that lifestyle.

Developing Student Led Worship

Presently you or another adult may be leading your students in worship. I want to challenge you to consider developing students to lead worship. What an awesome thing it is to see a 6th grader, 10th grader or college student leading worship. They're popping up everywhere around the world. They have a desire and an appetite to lead worship. And it's our job as worship leaders to give them the tools, give them the equipment they need, give them the training they need, and most of all, give them the encouragement that they need to lead worship. Here are some practical ideas to help you move toward student led worship:

First, use as many students as possible to lead your weekly meetings. Our weekly youth meeting is completely student led. It took about 2 years to develop that. But several things happen once you transfer adult led to student led. They absolutely love it! Their response is greater. Incredible things happen when they take ownership and know that it’s their service. They really love you and they love leading worship. Also, they are more impacted as they see the respect they get from you and others. I've seen it happen over and over again.

And the neat thing about it is that their peers will love it and they'll surprise you with their real ability to move the crowd. I've seen it happen in our own church. We have worship leaders who are 10th or 12th graders, and some younger than that. We've put them in leadership positions and their friends love it. It's amazing to me how much more they respond to their friends than they do to us adults.

Second, strategically cultivate and pour your time into developing students who have the talent and the heart for becoming worship leaders. In time they'll take over and they'll direct the whole service for you. You won't have to do anything. Work with them more as leaders rather than as students.

Third, get them into the Word.

The backbone of everything you're teaching is to help them learn the scriptures that teach about worship.

The more you can get them into the Word and into learning what God says worship is, that's going to make them better, more effective leaders. In the end they'll become life-long worshipers because they've learned at an early age what God's looking for in a worshiper.

Using a Student Band

When using a student band I wouldn't be too focused on how good or bad they sound. Sometimes they are actually pretty bad. Just keep encouraging them and offering support and assistance, and at some point they'll graduate up the musical ranks and they'll sound pretty good and they'll start to fly on their own.

Get them involved. That's the bottom line. I'd make sure also that the band and the worship team arrive early and are always prepared. Give them a sense of urgency about being prepared, about doing some homework in a sense. Because they are going before their youth group and they need to know that this is an elevated position of leadership.

I'd really be careful about the attitudes and keep them in check. Because this is the one area in which Satan really likes to work. He will vent himself and he will circumvent your work in the egos and attitudes of the worship team and band members. So you’ve got to remember that holiness is a key when you're teaching students how to become worship leaders.

Planning a Student Led Worship Service

I always welcome the students to the meeting with some upbeat, energetic music playing, perhaps a video in the background. Remember that this is a techno-generation and they're really into that. And I think it just sets the mood. It relaxes the students and it helps them to know that they're not coming in to be beat up or preached to.

I try to be creative and sometimes unpredictable in the flow of the entire meeting. I keep them out of the rut with a mixture of upbeat, high-energy praise songs, and then more heart-felt worship songs - songs that help us focus more on the heartbeat of God. I do everything I can to keep students involved - solos, student led dramas, prayers, instrumentals, pictures, congregational readings, skits.

Have trained and sensitive counselors available when needed.

Keep the order of worship simple. If you put too many things in the order of worship it will cause you to get stressed out. So keep it simple. The object of our worship is to lead people to Jesus Christ and help them learn to become followers of him in daily worship. The simplicity brings more momentum and you can do it again and again until you've got a tidal wave.

If possible I like to select music that flows with whatever the message or bible study is that night. I encourage our team to start on time but I always show the grace to be flexible if we need to start a little later than normal.

Technical Considerations

If you're using an overhead make sure it's ready and in good working order. Always keep an extra bulb for the projector.

Make it a priority, if at all possible, to buy a good sound system and make sure it's in good working order. These students are driven by what they hear and what they see. We sometimes ask them to come to our meetings and then give them the cheesiest sounding stuff and it immediately turns them off. So pray that God will raise up some funds to give you a good sound system.

Don't get too bogged down with details. They have a tendency to be distracting. And if we distract students from the simplicity of worship - having a transparent, intimate moment with God - then Satan wins. So keep the order simple. Keep the technical details at a minimum. Keep students focused on the heartbeat of worship, which is spending time with the Lord. One of the most wonderful things you'll ever see is keeping it simple, teaching them to be still before the Lord and not letting the silence intimidate them. Let them struggle with and feel uncomfortable with the silence. The room will settle down as you gently point the kids toward Christ.

Minimize distractions by closing windows and doors to cut out noise. Do anything you can do to minimize distractions.

Three Final Ideas

First, enlist parents who have a heart for student ministry to pray on a regular basis for this meeting time. Encourage them to assemble in a room close to yours without the students knowing it to support the students by praying, almost invisibly in the background. One of the most important things you could ever do is to have other people praying for you while worship is going on.

Second, try to establish a designated student room or meeting area where students can decorate it with either their contemporary Christian music posters or Scripture. I would give them a place that's safe for them. I've seen the most wonderful worship take place in a room where a student feels safe to open his heart. They'll be transparent, open about their true sin, open about the true nature of what's going on inside of them. Flush all that out of them and give them a true moment of worship.

Occasionally invite your pastor and other staff members to your student worship meetings. Sometimes it's easier said than done. But by allowing your pastor to be a lead worshiper at the youth meeting, you will set the pace for the type worship the Lord would be pleased with. And I believe your students need to see your pastor and staff worshiping away from a Sunday morning coat and tie church setting. In the end it creates much more momentum in worship that you will not even be able to contain.


I helped produce and create "The Student Worship Collection" by Word Music. It contains a multitude of resources. You can get it through our website.

"Extreme" is a great product that's out. "Passion" is another. Louie Giglio is behind Passion and has some significant things to say about worship. He has greatly encouraged me and taught me many things. Look at his website at www.passionnow.org . Get everything that Louie has ever done and just live on it, drink it, eat it and you will be greatly blessed by his ministry and in his understanding of worship, especially with what he’s doing in the area of college students in worship. It's tremendous.


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.