Monday, October 22, 2012

Call to Worship, Prayers of Confession, and Awkward Applause: Youth Leading in Liturgy

While I consider myself much more comfortable within contemporary expressions and forms of worship, I continue to cling to the beauty of Christian liturgy and ordo. In that sense, I am a traditionalist. There is something about the sacred rhythm of worship services, sacramental praxis, and ecclesial seasons that allows individuals and communities alike to be reminded over and again of our identity and missional call in and for the world.

I love to write prayers. I am fond of carefully crafted calls to worship that draw us away from distraction and into the presence. Confession is something I depend upon each week, and each day, reassured that God can and will make me, and the world, right again. I anticipate the benediction, reminded that worship does not conclude with a period, rather extends like an ellipsis. We live out our discipleship in between sacred gatherings.

Baptism celebrates the claims God makes upon us and the related responses we make to God and one another as we receive infants and adults into fellowship. This is the sacred and sending water.

The Eucharist invites us to remember the center of our hope and the nature of our call. We give thanks for the body broken and the blood shed for the salvation of the whole world. This is the sacred and sending table which invites us and sustains us as we follow Jesus into contexts of brokenness.

Lent reminds us that God meets us in seasons of grief and sorrow, for 40 days holding in tension the tragedy of Good Friday with the wonder of Resurrection Sunday.

Advent is the annual entrance into the story of hope, when God's people waited for the coming of Immanuel. We then hold on this hope for Christ to come again and make all things new and right.

I could go on.

A few years ago I was grieved when I discovered a growing trend in churches and related youth ministries. It was becoming rare for congregants to gather for more than one hour on a Sunday morning. Instead, "worship" was where the parents and other adults spent their single designated hour. Sunday School was (and is) where we sent those in elementary through high school. Children and youth were missing out on the ordo and liturgy of the church.

Even more, worship at youth gatherings was all about how many songs we could pack into 45 minutes while leaving room for a 15 minute message with appropriate follow-up exercise.

Again, young people in our congregations were being robbed of the sacred rhythm that underscores the vocational identity of disciples young and old(er).

Fred Edie says it best:

"The ordo offers youth and congregations not only a pattern for worship and thus the hope of encountering the presence of God and discovering the identity of God but also a pattern for practicing and further discerning their vocations in community before God....the ordo shapes youth's capacities to imagine, understand, and receive the gift of Christian vocation as their own futures with God unfold" (22-23). [1]

That in mind, the Imago Dei Youth Ministry decided to reclaim the ordo within our youth worship service. We discovered the best way to teach youth about this sacred rhythm of the church was to invite them to participate in and creatively develop weekly liturgy.

We continue to be amazed at the results. Middle and high school youth have written some of the most profound, raw, honest, and beautiful liturgical elements that have framed our worship. Sometimes they preach better than anything we have to offer.

Sure, we typically read them minutes before they are to be projected on the screen. It is also not uncommon to notice youth either wrote the prayer of confession on a napkin or sent the call to worship via facebook message time stamped: 6:50 p.m. (worship begins at 7 p.m.). We also laugh as their participations in worship often begin and end with awkward applause from their peers (certainly not par for the course in morning services). Nonetheless, they are engaged in the creative experience of crafting a worship service and related liturgy.

Our hope is for these youth encounters with the ordo to serve as reminders over and again of their identity as disciples. We long for the same holy adventure adults of the church experience every Sunday morning to be available to youth every Sunday night and on the occasional retreat, to include gatherings around the font and table. Actually, we want them to help carve the Way with their own liturgical interpretations and expressions.

"Over time, youth formed through the ordo may come to imagine and interpret their lives in light of the manifold ways holy things speak Jesus Christ for them and for the world...If youth do not know who they are as Christians or what Christian life is, it may be because holy things are endangered species in many congregations' worship." (Edie 187)

We pray this indictment would never be true of our youth ministry, regardless of the day or hour youth show up to worship and encounter the holy. True, not all youth may prefer traditional worship (although many do). But amidst their adolescent chaos, all crave some semplance of rhythm. Thanks be to God for Christian ordo and flexible expressions of it.


Here are a few contributions to our youth worship, written by Imago Dei Youth [2]:

Call to Worship Based on Psalm 139

leader: You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.

people: search me, God, and know my heart

leader: You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways

people: search me, God, and know my heart

leader: Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely.

all: you have searched us, God, and you know us. Let us worship you, God.

Confession (based on Judges 2:16-23 and Isaiah 2:4 and our attempt to reframe God's judgment):

God, our deliverer, by your love and kindness you have given us a chance to turn away from our evil ways. We have turned away from the rules and regulations of our forefathers. We continue to live in a world where it is okay to have violence in our neighborhoods, country, and world. We come to you now with guilt and ask for forgiveness, to turn our weapons of destruction into tools for gardening, growing, and sharing new life. For you to awaken us into our judgment and the whole world’s salvation, and lead us out of our evil ways and become new kinds of judges as we lead others into your way of justice and peace. Amen.
Call to Worship (based on Genesis 2:18-25 and God making humans as col-laborers in the creation):

Leader: Holy God, let us listen.

All: So we may hear your word and know that it is good.

Leader: Father, open our minds.

All: So we may love one another and the earth which you gave us to cherish.

Leader: Lord, let us see.

All: That we are your children created in your image, and may we live by it. Let us worship you, God.

Call to Worship (Medium: napkin from youth group pancake dinner; Deut. 30:19-20)


[1] A great read, Book, Bath, Table, Time, by Fred. P. Edie. See also Contemplative Youth Ministry by Mark Yaconelli. We have used both of these books for training purposes as well as a means to help frame our youth ministry paradigm.

[2] What has also been great is the conversations we have around the theology within these contributions. Sometimes they are spot on with reformed language; other times we have to carefully navigate where there is consistency with Christian confession and where they are more reflective of alternative ideologies.