My first legit job teaching worship as a for-credit-course took place in Tianjin, China; a city of 10 million near Beijing. The student body of the Tianjin International School was comprised primarily of Korean expat children following their fathers who worked for companies like LG and Samsung, pulling down six figure salaries. A much smaller component was made up the children of the missionary teachers receiving cost of living ‘stipends’.
Regardless of their background, I realized right out of the gate that not one of my students could verbalize what worship is. They had all experienced meaningful worship, but they couldn’t tell me what worship was, beyond describing it as a feeling of being close to God. Maybe that’s enough to begin with.
As I looked back on my own worship journey, I realized I had experienced meaningful worship as a child and teenager, but I never had worship taught to me until seminary. Dr. Bruce Leafblad (my seminary professor, otherwise known as “Thor, God of Worship” because of his Nordic heritage and imposing persona) taught me that worship is communion with God, in which believers by grace, center their mind’s attention and their heart’s affection on the Lord, humbly glorifying God in response to his greatness and his word.
What I have learned about teaching worship to teenagers is that we must be able to verbalize a complete definition of worship before we can take the experience of worship beyond the feeling of being close to God. So, I expose my students to the widest variety of worship styles from around the world including worship at the Taize Community in France; San Diego Screamo Heavy Metal worship; Snake Handling worship in the Appalachian hills, and we even explore what the Mormons are up to in Utah (and Broadway). In this process, teenagers learn that a core understanding of worship has to be in tact for us to be able to recognize what is Truth and what is Not.
What I have learned about teaching worship is that if I expect students to be malleable I must be malleable before them. I am old enough to know I don’t have all the answers. Students need to know that’s okay and healthy. So, I title my class ‘Worship Leadership’. There is no audition for the class, but I interview those who are interested. I accept those that express a desire to learn about worship, and how to help others have communion with God; not those who only want to perform.
What I have learned about teaching worship is that teenagers around the world have similar desires. They want to experience meaningful worship. They want to express worship in their own unique way even though they are bombarded by media that generally shows a narrow performance driven worship model.
I want them to know there is much, much more.