How do we create a service that is engaging for students but also forms and shapes them into disciples of Jesus? What if, simply by the things we do and the way we do them, we can shape and form people into disciples of Jesus? We can! It’s called…baseball.

I’m a big sports fan, so I tend to find analogies in sports (those of you who are not sports fans, please forgive me). Last year I had the opportunity to take my then almost 4-year-old son to our first father-son baseball game—a Kansas City Royals game. As we prepared for the game, my son made sure we were both wearing our “baseball shirts,” baseball caps, and that we had our gloves. Throughout the game, I found myself teaching my son the “liturgy” (translation: work of the people) of the game. As the Royals scored a run, we began high-fiving strangers, clapping our hands at the prompting of the screens, swaying back and forth as we all sang the seventh inning stretch together, and on and on. My son also recognized that most of the people were wearing the same colors, proclaiming their solidarity with their team.

This proved to be a shaping experience for my son. The next day he created a replica stadium in our basement. We had umpires, bullpens, peanut vendors, and my wife and I were required to do the same cheers that my son and I had experienced the night before at the game. My son and I had participated in the liturgy, and he had been shaped.

Now let’s turn to something far more important than a baseball game: our worship. Think about this—our Christian liturgy is comprised of the practices that define who we are and shape who we will become. The “work of the people” that we do shapes us into the people we are. Think back to my son for a moment. He now understands what it means to go to a baseball game, cheer for his team, and proclaim his allegiance to a team through the songs he sings, the clothes he wears, and the way he cheers. The same is true of our worship. It is through our worship that we understand who God is and who we are in Christ. Our liturgy really matters! To further help us think about this, check out this definition I found online: “Liturgy is a communal response to, and participation in, the sacred through activity reflecting praise, thanksgiving, supplication, or repentance. It thus forms the basis for establishing a relationship with God, as well as with other participants in the liturgy.”

Let’s break it down and make sense of it. Liturgy:

– Is what we do together (like children’s worship, family worship, and so on)

– Is not simply something that happens but is something that we are involved in; we are engaged; we participate

– Is the sacred—the beautiful china that mom doesn’t let anyone touch until the family comes over for Thanksgiving dinner. Our worship of God together is something so sacred, so special and beautiful when we reflect: praise, thanksgiving, supplication, and repentance

– Forms the basis of establishing a relationship with God (when we praise him, reflect upon him, thank him, cry out to him, and repent to him)

– Forms the basis of establishing a relationship with other participants in the liturgy (we are bound together by God as the body of Christ)

The shaping and forming of Christian habits and behaviors doesn’t happen by accident. It needs to be an on purpose work of the people. I believe that transformation through participation is the key to a liturgy that is both engaging and shaping. Students need a role within the service. For some students this might mean running the computer or the sound system, acting as ushers, leading songs or actions, or a host of other things. We don’t want them to simply be busy; we want them to take ownership of this act of worship. Below I want to share different elements to a service and why I feel they are important. As we explore these, perhaps we could ask ourselves, “How can I engage students in this element? How can I help them take ownership so that they will be shaped by this practice?”

Before we look at these elements, let’s think about the worship space. The shaping of students can begin before the service even starts. In my church, we have a cross in our worship space, and we have placed a drape over the cross. Using the colors of the liturgical calendar (if you haven’t heard of the liturgical calendar, just Google it and you will see the colors and the dates for each one), we place the correct color drape over the cross. As students come into the worship space, they immediately know the “season” of the Christian calendar. I love seeing and hearing how excited students become when we change the color for the next season, but more importantly, I think it is important for us to order our time around God’s story rather than secular culture. As God’s people, God’s story defines who we are, the way we live, and the things we value.

Now, let’s explore some elements that can be used to engage and shape students.

1. Welcome/Call to Worship. As we welcome students, we can take a moment to share with them the significance of being together to worship. Essentially, we answer the question, “Why am I here, and what is this service designed to do?” We are here to worship God.

2. Prayer Families. In my context, students break into small groups and take a few moments to respond to, “What was your favorite part of the week? What was your least favorite part of the week?” These questions not only act as icebreakers, but they teach our students to care about what is happening in the lives of their sisters and brothers in Christ. They close their time together by asking, “How can I pray for you?” This is a great way to engage students in bringing each other to the feet of Jesus.

3. Christ Candle. By lighting the Christ Candle, students get the opportunity to remind us that God is with us…Emmanuel.

4. “The Lord Be with You.” There is a wonderful greeting the church has used for a long time. The pastor says, “The Lord be with you” and the congregation responds, “And also with you.” I use this as a classroom management tool as well as a practice that we do as the people of God. Instead of saying, “If you can hear my voice, clap your hands,” I say, “The Lord be with you,” and our students respond and then remain quiet to hear what it next.

5. Scripture Reading. After the passage has been read, the reader says, “This is the Word of God for the people of God.” Everyone else responds, “Thank you, God!”

6. “Lord, Hear Our Prayer.” This has also been around for a long time. One at a time, students say short prayers. When they are done, they say, “This is my prayer.” The whole room then says, “Lord, hear our prayer.” This is a great way to help students see that we are one We are in this together: we care for one another, we cry with one another, and we rejoice with one another.

7. Prayer Stations. This is another great way to usher students into a place of private communication with God.

8. Confession. Confession isn’t fun. However, being honest before God about how we have failed is both freeing and shaping. The key here is not to pass the microphone and make each student confess their sins to the whole room. Perhaps creating space for students to have a private conversation with God would be more beneficial. It is also very important to make sure we focus on God’s forgiveness as we confess.

9. Singing. There is a lot that can be said about the songs we choose. Perhaps some helpful starter questions are, “What is the purpose of our singing? Is it to glorify God? To make us feel good? To proclaim who God is? Is this song about God or us? Does this song teach us who God is? Does this song teach the students what I want to teach them about worship through song?”

10. Baptism. Can you think of a more engaging and shaping practice than getting dunked, proclaiming what God has done, and testifying that you are solely his? Neither can I.

11. Communion. Another beautiful, engaging, and shaping practice for students to participate in with the rest of the Body of Christ. Be sure to communicate with the whole pastoral team on how to best practice communion in your context.

12. Benediction/Blessing. This is a wonderful moment to proclaim God’s blessing, provision, and guidance in the life of each student. There are so many wonderful blessings throughout Scripture that could be used. A great starter is Numbers 6:24-26.

How do we create a service that is engaging for students but also forms and shapes them into disciples of Jesus? Transformation happens through participation in the liturgy—the work of the people.