I have always loved playing basketball. From the driveway as a little squirt to Little Dribblers to a few victory-less intramural teams in college and every season in between, I have always loved playing basketball.
In middle school, we were split into A-team and B-team. It was the first time a clear distinction was made based on skill level and talent. You may remember being placed on one of those teams. I sure do. And guess who was on A-team. This guy.
Then in high school, of course, there was an all-freshman team, junior varsity, and then varsity, the big leagues. The JV team was this weird middle ground where there were talented freshman who moved up, sophomores, and juniors who played down because they weren’t ready for varsity level. Now, in the small town I grew up in it was the norm for juniors to play on varsity. In fact, if you got placed on JV as a junior, you were a scrub. And guess who was on JV his junior year. This scrub.
Juniors who played on JV always thought they should be on varsity and I was no exception. I was embarrassed and hated that I played on JV. I thought I should have been in the big leagues. I certainly saw JV as a lesser team, the B-team. My feelings of thinking I deserved more and that JV was a lesser option had two very real consequences:
Crippling apathy and resulting laziness.
I stopped caring about basketball at all. Because I didn’t care, I stopped working hard. While the rest of the team was staying late to shoot or workout, I did the bare minimum. I simply showed up.
If we as pastors are not careful, we can easily have this view toward leading worship for students. Viewing student ministry as b-team will inevitably lead to apathy and laziness, the opposite of pastoral care and excellence. Students is not B-team. It’s not JV. We can’t see it that way.
In fact, the main Sunday morning service, or “big church,” is not varsity or the big leagues and we cannot view it that way.
If we look at them side by side, the things we want for our main service congregation are not different than the things we want for our students. As we exhort our people to sing the truths of God, our hope is that the Holy Spirit would transform their lives for the glory of God.
For all of us, the calling is the same no matter the age of the congregation we are standing in front of.
To put compelling truth and moving melody on the lips of our people, rich in theology, mission, and expression
To tirelessly beat the battle drum and shout boldly the war songs of victory in Jesus and our desperate need of His help
To stand as herald-sons proclaiming the excellencies of the King of Kings
The call of leading is weighty. This is not B-team. There is no JV or Varsity. We cannot see it that way. We are one church. No division. No segregation. One unified body.
Contextualizing Worship Culture to Students
Because we are one unified body, our approach to leading students in worship should resemble the worship culture of the entire church. The aim is to contextualize your church’s worship culture, values, and goals to the culture of your students. This is exactly what we do with Students at The Austin Stone. We take the five foundational elements that make up our worship culture and contextualize them to Students.
A Culture of the Word
The Word of God is our foundation. We lead from the Word and want students to love the Word.
How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. -Psalms 119.9
A Culture of Engagement
We learn the intricacies of student culture by engaging it. We aim to be students of students. We engage them with the gospel as a response to Jesus seeking us out and engaging us with the gospel.
We engage students as a tight-knit community. We exemplify familial togetherness with our band guys and other leaders and even with the students themselves.
Stirring one another up towards love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, encouraging one another… -Ephesians 10.23-25
A Culture of Development
Students is a greenhouse for budding leaders. It is a safe place where worship leaders and musicians will grow. Our aim is to develop students into better worship leaders and musicians than we are, and music has training and discipleship built into it.
What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. -2 Timothy 2.2
A Culture of Excellence
While student ministry is a place of development for worship leaders and musicians, it is also a place where excellence is of high value. The same preparation should go into a Sunday at students as a Sunday anywhere else.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me— practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. -Phil. 4.8-9
This is not prescriptive, of course, but simply a glimpse of how we contextualize the Austin Stone Worship culture to our own students.
For those of you who may not have an overall worship culture to contextualize, fear not. A good friend of mine recently reminded me that student ministry can actually ignite a revival in worship culture in a very broad sense and cited Hillsong United and Jesus Culture as examples. Maybe God is calling you to cast your own vision for worship culture. It might be the student worship culture that actually filters upward to affect the rest of your church.
Ultimately, we are leading the next generation of business executives, teachers, pastors and missionaries. God has entrusted us with shepherding the future of the church and has graciously empowered us with His Holy Spirit. Student culture is foreign to many of us, but with Christ at the helm, it will be a force to be reckoned with for the advancement of the Kingdom of God. I urge you, brothers and sisters, press on and lead well. There is no B-team. There is no varsity.