We thought it would be cool to journey with a worship leader as they try and implement more of Worship For Everyone in their local church. So, we got in touch with our friend Ed Corke, Worship Pastor at Holy Trinity Cambridge, UK. Here is the first installement as Ed tries to implement some of the vision and values of Worship For Everyone, and realises it needs to start in his own heart…
My Church, My Story: Part 1
First, a confession: the words “all-age worship” have struck, and in some ways continue to strike, fear into my bones.
There are good reasons for this. I grew up in a thriving youth group where contemporary worship was bread and butter; continued learning throughout a Christian gap year, at a few large summer camps and at university in a flourishing city church full of students and wonderful Christian musicians who pushed me to become a more and more proficient worship leader. But never, in any of the hundreds of times I had led worship, had anyone expected me to lead worship for children as well as youth and adults. It simply was not part of the rather cool culture that, whether we like it or not, is associated with contemporary worship in our churches.
In my first week in my job as worship pastor back in 2009, I was told that I would need to lead an ‘action song’, Never having done this before, I decided to play it safe and knew exactly which song to turn to. Now, if you’ve ever tried to lead “Great Big God” as quickly as possible while retaining your dignity you’ll know that you, like me, have broken the first commandment of all-age worship: “Thou shalt not do anything halfheartedly, for it will undoubtedly bomb”. I never knew it was possible to miss child and adult with an action song, but I managed it that day!
Needless to say, a team member took me aside the next week and after buttering me up with bacon sandwiches, unleashed an arrow of brutal and necessary honesty:“Ed, I need to talk to you about your action song the other day”“Oh really? What about it?”“Well…it was just awful.” Not the gentlest way of saying it perhaps, but something that needed to be said nonetheless: that sticking within my comfort zone, leaving creativity for the “real” worship, wouldn’t cut it. That ignoring my otherwise important worship values because children were involved didn’t make sense. That I was called to lead everyone in my local church in worship, not to choose the parts of the congregation that I was more passionate about.
That day and the next few months I had to ask the question: “Why am I finding this so hard?”
In this first instalment, I wanted to share four of the difficulties I’ve experienced with all-age worship in the hope you realise that you’re not alone, and that a church can move past these things and see fruit in making worship for everyone:
1. My Heart. “I’m not good with kids” or, honestly translated, “I didn’t sign up for this!”…
My experiences of all-age worship began from the same place as many other worship leaders – one of apathy, a little fear and a sense of duty. When I first began as a worship pastor I had led worship hundreds of times but no one had ever asked me to lead for children as well as adults, and if they had I probably would have said no! I thought worship leading was cool?! In any case, it’s a pretty specific skill to facilitate worship that allows toddlers to pensioners to engage, and if you’re like me you’re not naturally gifted in acting like a Saturday morning kids TV presenter. Looking back, I’ve come to realise that before any practical changes of new songs or leaders could enrich our services, this heart in me had to change, and I had to decide to embrace worship for everyone in my local church, not just worship that I was used to or comfortable with.
2. Comparison. “I’ve just been to…”
Some church or staff members have just been to *insert conference or church name here* and now want me to act like *insert worship leader here*. But how does a gathering of 200 children having a praise party translate into my local church, where sometimes only 5 turn up? Of course, there is the painful suggestion that, just maybe, I could make some improvements in the way I lead worship (surely not!). But equally, I wouldn’t try and perfectly imitate Matt Redman so shouldn’t my church’s all-age worship be original too?
3. Responsibility. Too many cooks…
All-age worship is often caught between departments: different staff members (children’s worker, head of pastoral ministries, vicar, and I) might have different ideas and experiences about what could work. Who decides what we will do week to week, and how do we tie all these preferences together as a team?
4. Coordinating all the factors together.
There are many practical and spiritual ingredients to get right for the perfect all-age worship cocktail. For example: imagine if you finally ditch your pride and write an all-age song. You pray, fire up the team for the vision, look a bit stupid, actually somewhat enjoy yourself, but people aren’t engaging because the actions you designed (in a moment of madness) are ludicrously overcomplicated/gymnastic actions (in a church full of pews). There’s nothing more frustrating than seeing your vision scuppered by the one factor you forgot about. As well as actions this could be lack of kids due to school holidays, unengaged band, the wrong choice of song.
What’s YOUR list?
Maybe you felt solidarity with me while reading that list. No doubt whether you’re a pastor, children’s worker, worship pastor or lay church member, you have a list of your own. This was our starting point of all-age worship in my first week back in 2009 – action songs that missed young and old, and a worship pastor who didn’t know the next step. But after I realised that, as so often, the most important battle is won and lost in the leader’s heart, I determined to at least try to make worship for everyone, not just for one slice of my congregation. Since then we’ve seen many things to be thankful for and learnt so much together.
Over To YOU:
- How’s your heart attitude to children and adults worshipping together?
- What’s on your church’s list: what makes Worship For Everyone hard to do well in your church?
- What do you need to do to overcome any of those challenges?
- What is UNIQUE about your setting and your people? What will help YOUR people sing?