This week I've been sitting in an auditorium by kids with their hands raised to the ceiling, singing in worship. The lights are dim, the smoke machine is out and pumping, I can't hear myself even when I try to sing along.
I'm uncomfortable in this context... immediately so. Partially because I'm not raising my hands in worship, partially because if I did I would feel like it wasn't authentic either. I'm not sure what the right move in this situation really is. Truly in contexts like these, I feel lost.
Yet again, I'm put in the space of feeling like my action or representation is failing the people around me. That in order to be a part of this space, I need to perform my Christianity for them. But, in doing that I feel like I'm failing the youth I serve. Showing them an unauthentic version of who I am as their leader.
I grew up in a very Protestant, fairly progressive church. It wasn't there that I learned this shame of who I was as a Christian. It was from the culture, time, and reality in which I was raised that I began to feel like my faith wasn't good enough. That I was falling short in my relationship with God. I remember vividly the first time I visited a church that was nondenominational, the music, the emotion, the tears... it was all so moving to me as a young middle school student. But I felt like I had to participate to be a part of it, even if it meant doing things I was uncomfortable doing or saying things I didn't really believe. It was at this time that I went back to my youth group and asked if I could be re-baptized because I felt like my infant baptism wasn't good enough, because I needed to be "saved" in order for my relationship with Christ to be fulfilled.
So, when I come to conferences, events, and worship services that use those same experiences to bring students into a space of vulnerability and questioning, not only am I concerned about my own emotions and triggers. I'm concerned about the youth I bring with me. Are they asking these questions? Are they feeling these things? Are they lost in the midst of a context new to them too?
How do we as youth leaders give students impactful worship moments without emotionally manipulating them or expecting them to do as others do?
I love worship, don't get me wrong. I think it can lead to amazing God moments. But, I want to make sure we're doing it right, that we're not hurting the youth we care so deeply about in the process. I'm sure so much of it has to do with intention, and I know not everyone with flashy worship experiences hope to make students emotional or cry. They probably want the best for them most of the time, but we have to be honest about what is actually happening in their heads.
We have to do better for this next generation. It doesn't take much to look and see people are leaving the church, they want authentic experiences and opportunities, not hyper-processed, overdone, cookie-cutter worship. I want better, we need better. Let's do better.