by Royce Wilder, Associate Pastor of Music and Worship
A few years ago I attended a leadership conference where a noted Minister of Music from one of America’s largest churches shared. I was curious to hear the wisdom this famed leader would impart. Speaking to a group primarily composed of seasoned Ministers of Music, he told us that the biggest success of his church’s extensive children’s music ministry was not in how it had grown qualified musicians for his adult choir or notably raised his ministry’s skill level. (Although, I’m sure both of these things did happen, given his ministry’s reputation.) Rather, this respected Minister of Music felt that his children’s music ministry’s greatest achievement was that his kids had learned to worship. He shared that when he first arrived on his church field, he noticed that his congregation was not very inclined to actively participate in corporate worship. The prevailing worship philosophy seemed to be to merely watch the “show” happening on the platform. Years later, as he looked out over his large congregation, he could see scores of kids who had come through his ministry, many now with children of their own, wholeheartedly engaging in worship. Amazing! I wanted this to become my ministry testimony, but how?
Some time later, God forced my hand in a very obvious manner. Through a series of changes to our kid’s ministry schedule, our once large children’s choir program was reduced to a group of less than ten kids. It was a very challenging period for our ministry, but God used this experience to teach me several important things.
First, He made it clear that He was calling me to become directly involved in the process of leading our kids in worship arts. Total delegation of this area was no longer an option, no matter how qualified my children’s music leadership team. I was to personally take to lead. In all honesty, this was not a strength of mine, but God has continually shown Himself faithful and "equips the called." My job was to be obedient. Fortunately, I was not alone. God had blessed me with a wonderful group of talented leaders who also shared a passion for seeing this ministry develop.
Second, He wanted our children’s choir ministry to shift from a primarily performance-based ministry to one that was more process oriented. The "journey" was to become more important than the "destination." In other words, what happened in our rehearsals each week was to be more important than the final performance at the end of the semester. Growth, spiritual and/or artistic, was to be a deliberate process that would take time.
Third, and closely related to number two, our primary calling was to be teaching our kids to become worshipping artists. With our priorities aligned correctly, creative use of music and the arts would become a vehicle to teach our kids to learn to become authentic worshippers. There are several wonderful opportunities in this community for our kids to develop their musical and artistic skills, and I've always felt that our church should be chief among these. However, God was calling us to not stop there. We were being tasked with helping our kids utilize their artistic skills to become more effective as worshippers and worship leaders. This, too, would be a journey.
Finally, we needed to strategically develop our kid’s musical and artistic abilities, but options needed to be provided to allow the older children, especially, to explore their own unique artistic interests. It is easy for older kids to start to view choir as something that is only for younger kids. Their lack-luster attendance patterns often reflected this, even though they rarely said it out loud. By providing choices that spoke to their unique artistic interests, we hoped to keep the older kids motivated to continue to support our ministry. It also gave the younger kids something for which to look forward. With these four items as a starting point, Kids Worship Arts was born.
It is still a giant work in progress, but it is very exciting to see what God is doing. Our basic concept is pretty simple: Each week, a small army of dedicated leaders passionately pour their lives into a diverse group of kids to help them become life-long worship artists. Our kids still sing quite a bit, but we now spend an equal amount of time teaching musical/artistic fundamentals using various creative methods such as handbells, ukuleles, drama, or large garbage cans and drum sticks. However, the most important thing we do is try to them about about the importance of worship.
There are several musical/artistic goals for this ministry - including the desire to see every kid be able to confidently read music by the time they graduate into the youth group. However, my biggest desire for the kids is for worship renewal. I want to be able to look out over our congregation twenty years from now and see our former ministry kids, now grown and possibly with children of their own, wholeheartedly engaging in congregational worship. This is my passion and calling. This is Kids Worship Arts.