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

Youth Ministry Topics Developing Student Praise and Worship

Training Students to Lead in Worship 2

Paul Guffey

The Object of our Worship

When you set up your students to become student worship leaders it is so critical that they understand exactly what they are worshiping. If you have four or five kids trying to lead other kids in worship, and the object of their worship is themselves, you've just destroyed what you’ve tried to develop with a lot of time and effort. Because it's really easy for kids to draw attention to themselves, especially when they’re doing that big song where they get all goofy and crazy. Now I’m all for fun and crazy time. After all, this is youth ministry. Right? I want the first 10-15 minutes of every meeting we do to be so much fun that they can’t stand it! Whether it's videos, a pie in the face or crazy skits, I want them to know that they're going to have a great, enjoyable time.

But I never want to confuse direction of worship as being anything less than totally looking to the Lord. And we've got to develop that in our leaders. Developing students that understand that concept is so critical because many of our adults were taught that worship is singing a lively, funny song like "Pharoah, Pharoah," then mellow out for "Pass it On," and then you leave. And I grew up saying, "Yeah, but I want more than that. It doesn't fill my cup." This principle is crucial, because if they miss it, things get out of hand very quickly.

Once they become worshipers on stage, it comes out in different ways. I encourage my kids to respond to the Holy Spirit in whatever way that is. For some of them that's to bow, for some of them it's to stop singing for a minute and perhaps close their eyes. I've seen some just walk off the stage, kneel down at the altar and start praying. Talk about a revolution! When those things start happening, it’s truly amazing. I never drive that. I just give them the freedom to respond to the Holy Spirit. I simply ask, "What is the Holy Spirit telling you to do?" I don't know. It may look different for each kid. And you're in a good position because you don't really have to worry. It's just our job to say, "You have freedom in Christ to listen to the Lord. You have freedom in Christ to obey the Lord." Just teach students to make sure they're listening to the Lord and they're not getting kind of wild and wacky on you.

Understanding Holiness

So the object of our worship is the Lord. He alone is worthy of our worship and worthy to be praised. I believe that. The Scripture is very clear on this point. We have a holy God. If we teach students about his holiness then they start to understand that they need to direct their worship towards Him. And that will start to shake the whole youth group.

Understanding his holiness is a concept that's very difficult for students. They think holiness is coming into the church building, getting quiet, getting a goose bump here or there and then leaving. Actually, holiness to walk in holiness is really to be a child that God esteems. Isaiah 66:1-2 talks about heaven being God’s throne and earth being His footstool. Then God continues,

"Where then is the house you could build for Me? And where is a place that I may rest? For My hand made all these things, thus all these things came into being," declares the LORD. But to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word."

That's one of the first scriptures I teach our student leaders. Because I ask them all the time, what does it mean to be the one that God esteems? And their answers are all across the board in the beginning. They'll say, "to be cool," "to be a good neighbor," "be a good friend," all these surface answers. But now they know better. When I ask them now what does it mean to be one that God esteems, they always say "Mr. Duffey, I understand now it's to be humble, to be contrite, or broken in spirit, and be someone that understands that I need a healthy fear of the Lord. And to tremble at his word. I know there is a consequence to my actions."

And so that changes things because they stand up here and in their mind they're not thinking, "I'm going to impress, impress, impress. It's more about God. Will you work through me? Will you lead worship through me?"

I strongly encourage you to teach them that verse, because holiness is connected with that. We are to live a life of holiness. The Bible says that we are holy because he is holy. There are some great translations of Isaiah 66:1-2 and I'd look at all of them - NIV, NASB, The Message has a pretty cool one, too.

That scripture changed my life. It still changes my life every day. My wife could testify to that. A godly man asked me a few years ago, "Paul, what do you think God is looking for in a man?" I came up with all these answers and he said, "Who is it that he esteems?" I don't understand that concept of esteem - God looking down and placing favor on you. That really changed my life. So I would encourage you as leaders to memorize that scripture and ask the Lord to let you understand what it means to you. That's going to hit us all a little different. For me it humbled me. I understood that I needed to be about being broken before the Lord.

So I transferred that into teaching the students that I'm teaching to be leaders. Brian is a little kid I disciple every Wednesday at 4:30. I'm teaching him that it's about being broken before God. If he learns that, he will be so way ahead of the game as a high schooler. And God is using this young guy. He's having an amazing impact on our youth group. It's really, really exciting.

So we understand his holiness. That's so important. Because we worship a holy God and it's not just about singing songs that give us a "gooey, gooey in my gut feeling." When I am broken in my spirit for my for my students and I long to be a holy and godly man, God does something. He connects me with the kids on a deeper level. So when I'm not walking in a godly fashion, I don't get that connection. There's something about that that I'm still working through in my own life. I'm still trying to figure it out. That's a personal challenge.

Sin is the greatest obstacle to students leading worship.

They can lead worship and appear to be fairly successful, but if there’s hidden sin there won’t be a great pouring out on your youth ministry until they deal with the sin. So I encourage them to apply 1 John 1:9 and deal with their sin before they lead worship.

I was shocked once by a young girl that I brought onto my leadership team. I thought she was qualified for leadership, but I could tell that students weren’t respecting her leadership. In fact, students began to snicker at her and it was having a detrimental effect on the youth group. When she would get up to lead, I would see a few of the other girls sit down. They didn't want to worship with her.

I found out that she was having sex at the church with her boyfriend on Wednesday nights after worship. It broke my heart.

Now I’m not into condemning kids. I believe we need to build them up. There is no condemnation in Christ Jesus and we need to love them with the grace of Jesus Christ because he loves us. If he loves Paul Guffey, I'm telling you He's got a lot of love.

I had to pull her off the team and we talked about it. Over the last year she's had some really tough struggles, including attempting suicide a couple times and psychiatric treatment. She just got out about 2 months ago and kept saying, "Mr. Guffey, can I get back on the team?" And I said, "Well, Alexis, it's just not right yet, but I'll tell you what you can do. Let's just give it a couple of months and then you can start coming to practice. I wanted to see if she would be faithful to come to practices only for about six months.

I don’t think that the next step would involve some confession to the group. But I feel that there needs to be some demonstration of contrition with her. She really let down a lot of her friends. That’s why people weren’t responding to her leadership. So although this is an extreme case, it's real important to deal with this issue of sin.

In developing students to lead worship, one of your most successful tools will be to encourage them to pray. Eventually they will be able to do it on their own, but even then you need to oversee it so that it doesn’t just become, "God bless us. Amen."

With true worship, it's about worshiping in truth and in spirit and you've got to be truthful about what's going on in your heart or you're not going to be able to worship with a sense of being transparent and having an intimate moment with God. That's what I want. I want more of that. When I get into that kind of worship, I just want to stay there. And it's not like a surface goose bumpy thing that doesn't last. I want the type of worship that's going to help this girl know that she doesn't have to live in that sin any more. There's a much deeper love that will cover her and embrace her and that's what true worship is about. There's nothing that we can do externally that's going to ever fill us on the inside. So matters of the heart, sin, and the object of true worship are primary.

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://www.worshiphim.com.


Used by permission of Paul Guffey.