Youth Among the Prophets

“After that you will go to Gibeah of God, where there is a Philistine outpost. As you approach the town, you will meet a procession of prophets coming down from the high place with lyres, tambourines, flutes and harps being played before them, and they will be prophesying. The Spirit of the LORD will come upon you in power, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person.”

As Saul turned to leave Samuel, God changed Saul’s heart, and all these signs were fulfilled that day. When they arrived at Gibeah, a procession of prophets met him; the Spirit of God came upon him in power, and he joined in their prophesying. When all those who had formerly known him saw him prophesying with the prophets, they asked each other, “What is this that has happened to the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?”

As a preaching musician who became a musical preacher, I sometimes wonder whether music per se has gained unworthy supremacy among the elements of worship. Formality and production values look very similar from the pews, and that look has something in common with silk flowers and faux finishes.

I remember the days when I would play opening and closing hymns, then go outside for a smoke during the sermon. Musicians, I note, are sometimes held to a far lower standard of behavior because they are so vital to the church. And the impact on churches of losing a worship leader can be as devastating as the loss of a beloved pastor.

But for some reason, these verses from 1 Samuel 10 came to mind just before tonight’s weekly youth gathering. Maybe it was that pile of bongos and ukuleles in my office. There’s a lot of musical talent in our youth group, but some of our youth are reluctant to share that talent in a worship setting.

So I gathered up the bongos, tambourines, ukuleles, song flutes and the like and spread them out. I prepared communion and read how Saul went from a good son seeking donkeys to the first king over Israel after a worship experience. He became a different person.

Our youth group often prays, certainly studies a lot of lessons, but rarely worships. For too many years, Sunday morning youth group has been their escape from worship services that fail to inspire them.

So tonight, I told them that worship was historically a way to communicate with God, just like prayer and meditation. I encouraged them to grab a drum, uke or flute and simply worship, freestyle and without regard for quality of sound. As they worshipped, they were to listen for inspiration from God, however they might perceive it. Upon gaining said inspiration, they were to each take communion and return to the worship circle.

The results were amazing. After five minutes of what settled into a nice rhythmic melody, they took communion one by one and returned to the circle. The music faded and I invited each one to share what God had told them.

One habitually bored youth noted that he was energized, and it showed. Another with chronic gothic depression noted how happy it made her feel. The shy one confidently shared the sense of unity and potential she felt in the circle.

I was envious of how God spoke to them. One teen was inspired to feed the poor, then spent several minutes challenging and testing the idea before deciding it was truly God’s message and not his imagination. Two related expansive visions, one of our worship parade passing the sick and depressed, inspiring them to turn tools, weapons and crutches into their own instruments of worship; the other of this circle of makeshift musicians drawing crowds to hear the word of God.

I urged them to hold on to these visions and use them to shape a worship experience that would be inviting to their unchurched friends. I told them my visions of a recurring drum circle of youth, and a “third service” tapping something beyond the traditional/contemporary divide.

Sometimes I think the noninstrumental Church of Christ is on to something — musically, not theologically. But on this night, I am reminded of the power of music to capture and tap imagination. I remember how I felt when worship music was inclusive and encouraging, and I long for those days again.

I don’t know if there has been a permanent change in our youth group, but I know that I have a revived appreciation of the power of worship to connect us to God. I pray we can find ways to strip the elitism that has turned worship into a show, and restore the sacred jam session that makes each of us a different person, one who dares to dance among the prophets.

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