Development & Discipleship: Empowering Youth for Worship Leadership

June 13, 2024 |

I remember the first time I led worship for a group of people. It was pretty spontaneous, actually. We were all sitting out on a beach outside of Panama City––twenty or so high school students on the last day of a summer youth camp. We all went to the same school and over the course of the week, the Spirit had done a significant work in stirring up our desire to know and follow Jesus alongside our peers. Somebody had brought a guitar, and somebody else knew that I played, so they asked me to lead a few songs so we could sing together. I think I played “How Great Is Our God” and “Great Are You Lord”. Offbeat and out of tune, we worshipped together, and God’s presence was clearly with us and in our worship. 


I’ll never forget that moment because it ignited something in me. I realized, for the first time, that my love for music and art could be combined with my desire to love and follow Jesus––that God had given me talents and skills for His glory, and not my own. 


After that trip, I went back to my youth ministry and started leading worship on Wednesday nights. I was bad. However, my youth pastor saw my desire and potential, and he gave me the opportunity to lead and learn. 


Ask almost any worship pastor you know. It’s not 100% of the time, but I’d be willing to bet that they started leading worship sometime in their youth. Growing up in a youth group or being musically inclined in a small church, somewhere along the way, someone gave them the opportunity to play music and lead others in worship. As I prepared to write this blog and film the accompanying Developing Youth series for The Worship Initiative, every worship leader I talked to told me as much. They started out small, in a youth group somewhere. They made mistakes, but somebody helped them along. Somebody gave them a guitar, or voice lessons, or an opportunity, or encouragement. And if they hadn’t, we may not have many of the talented worship leaders we have today. 

Today’s Youth Are Tomorrow’s Church Leaders

I’m sharing all of this to say that developing the young students in our churches to lead worship isn’t just a way to fill band positions or meet program needs. It’s an opportunity to empower and disciple our younger brothers and sisters in Christ––to pass on our faith (Deuteronomy 6:6), encourage them to live into the gifts God has given them, and raise up the next generation of leaders in the Church (Matthew 28:19-20). We have a responsibility to disciple and develop the next generation of the Church. If we don’t, we may look up years down the road to find a severe drought when it comes to suitable worship pastors. At The Worship Initiative, we often talk with churches and pastors searching to fill a worship position on their staff, and we can tell you that this is already happening. The solution to this growing problem is action today. 


Worship Development is More Than Music––It’s Discipleship.

When I was in college, the worship leader at my church took me under his wing. He spent time with me during the week, teaching me better chord structures, showing me how to operate Multitrack rigs, how to use in-ear monitors, and play to a click. He gave me the opportunity to lead alongside him, but in doing so, I didn’t just get better at playing music. I watched him lead our team, pray for our congregation, and thoughtfully weave scripture into our services. As I took on more leadership, I began to do the same. He didn’t just give me practical skills. By walking and working alongside him, my heart for ministry was shaped and encouraged. 


Developing students to lead worship in your church is an opportunity for a type of apprenticeship. You aren’t just teaching them how to play an instrument or lead worship. You aren’t just teaching them the Bible or how to live life according to God’s instruction. You have a unique opportunity to do both! When you have someone who is interested in learning to do what you do, you also have an opportunity to teach them to live how you live. So, as you consider developing students to lead worship, remember the unique opportunity you have for discipleship and spiritual development, too. 


Practical Steps for Developing Students


1.        Make The Opportunity Known: If your church has a youth group, consider making an announcement that there is an opportunity for them to begin serving in the worship ministry. Let parents know that you want to develop students to serve. Hold open auditions to see who good candidates might be. 


2.        Establish Some Kind of Development Pipeline: It doesn’t have to be elaborate! Give students something to practice. If they need to learn chords, teach them some and have them go work on them. If they need to improve their timing, have them practice playing with a click. If they want to learn more about theology or worship, read through a book with them. You’ll know best what they need in your local context, and you’ll quickly see who’s really invested and who isn’t. 


3.        Point them to the Worship Initiative: The Worship Initiative exists to raise up and encourage new worship leaders. On, we have all the training resources you need to get a beginner growing in their musicianship! Instrument lessons, vocal lessons, audio training, Bible studies, chord charts, and discipleship resources are all available through our website. Many churches are using our resources to equip their students, and it’s proven to be an incredibly helpful tool! 


4.        Include Them in The Current Ministry: And I don’t mean by having them play on a Sunday morning––at least not immediately. I just mean to invite interested students to participate in the things the worship ministry is already doing. If they want to learn more about worship ministry, invite them to shadow you on a Sunday. Have them sit in on rehearsals to see what it’s like to be on the team. If it’s summertime or they’re available, invite them to your worship planning meeting! There are things you’re already doing that take zero effort to invite a student to join, but they may end up learning a lot.


5.        Create Opportunities to Actually Lead: The best way for someone to grow as a worship leader is to actually lead worship! Find areas in your church that give students opportunities to lead. That could be by leading their peers in a small youth gathering or leading songs in the children’s ministry on Sunday morning. Get creative and find areas for beginner worship leaders to serve. With time, they’ll get better and better. 


6.        Give Feedback: It may be challenging to do this if a student is serving on a weeknight or during Sunday services; you can’t be everywhere at once! But finding a way to give constructive, helpful feedback is imperative. Also, ask them for feedback on your services! Give them the opportunity to voice their thoughts and learn about how you shape your worship services. 


7.        Pray: Pray with your students, pray for your students, pray that their hearts would be inclined toward worship, and pray that they would develop their skills. Set an example for them in your prayerfulness and your spiritual devotion. Remember, developing students for worship leadership isn’t just about growing them as musicians. It’s an opportunity for spiritual formation and discipleship. Teach them how to play their instrument but show them how to live their life. 


 This list is just a starting place to get your thoughts flowing. We’re not trying to be completely prescriptive, as every church is different, and you know your context best! What we do want to drive home is the fact that this really matters. All of us have been called to make disciples. So, whether you have a single musician under the age of 18 in your church or a vibrant youth ministry, you have an opportunity to empower young believers to glorify God with their gifts and grow as musicians and followers of Jesus. 

Travis Warren

Travis Warren is the VP of  Content here at The Worship Initiative, where he spends his time overseeing live productions, album recordings, and all visual content. Having previously served as a worship leader at Watermark Community Church in Dallas, Texas, and as the Production Director at Harris Creek Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, Travis' greatest passion is using visual arts and music to glorify God and encourage Christ's Church to worship Him with their whole lives.