Every year, my church holds Youth Sunday. One of the challenges of Youth Sunday is helping both students and parishioners alike to recognize it as worship, not a performance.
To help students understand Youth Sunday as worship, we intentionally spend two months preparing for it. As we do, we emphasize the process rather than the results. We talk of how our ultimate goal is honoring God, not necessarily attaining perfection. (And contrary to what society often suggests, these two things are not always one and the same). We also frequently discuss the privilege and responsibility that inherently comes with leading worship.
Since Youth Sunday isn't about perfection, it gives students permission to try new things and to use their gifts in a variety of ways. As they do, they discover how they can serve and honor God, both now and in the future.
Giving students permission to try new things also means that oftentimes, even though the teens sitting behind the piano are experienced, trained pianists, they've never before played with a musical ensemble or accompanied singers. As a result, when they first play a hymn with our band, they're consumed with perfection – as though they're mastering a piece for a recital. When they make a mistake, they stop, correct it, drill it, and start over. The problem is, this throws everyone else in the band off.
Eventually, students learn that when you're playing with other people, no matter how badly you mess up, you just have to keep going. The catch is that for students to keep going, they usually have to be released from the pursuit of perfection again. Often, this requires one of our adult leaders to say directly to them, “You don't have to be perfect here to play this piece.”
After hearing this, almost always, the physical postures of students change. They relax. Their scowl of concentration changes to a hesitant smile. They begin to believe that maybe, just maybe, they really are “God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works”. In the process, they discover the joy that comes not from having perfected something, but rather from having used their imperfect gifts to worship and glorify God.
As a youth worker, I've had the privilege of witnessing the moment when students realize this on a handful of occasions, most recently on Youth Sunday. It's a moment I wouldn't trade for anything – not perfection nor all the accolades in the world.
You see, moments like these have not only changed my students, but me as well. Through these moments, I've begun to grasp what it means for God to delight in us. I've come to better understand grace. Perhaps most importantly, I've come to more fully comprehend the larger Christian story.
Thankfully, the larger Christian story is one in which God constantly calls and uses imperfect people like my students and I to be part of his kingdom work. It's one in which God's power is “made perfect in our weakness”. Ultimately, it's one in which the perfecter matters far more than our perfection.