Let’s face it, dealing with a young choir can be very challenging. Sometimes it seems like they’d rather be anywhere, doing anything but this. Helping them past this stage often means stepping back from your own frustration with it and seeking to understand them where they are a little better.
To illustrate that, let me ask you something. Have you ever rented a car and then spent a couple of hours detailing it inside and out? Putting Armor-All on the tires? Filling the car with gas before you brought it back? Of course not. Nobody does. Why? Because it’s not yours. You have no emotional bond or connection with it. It’s someone else’s thing, you’re just “in it”.
There’s a certain pride that comes with ownership. It makes you see a thing differently. It changes your attitude towards a thing. I feel that same sense of ownership about the church band I play in as well as the sancuary choir. I don’t “own” the choir, but ask me about them and I’ll refer to them as “my choir”.
This sense of ownership is often missing in young people when it comes to how they feel about the choir they’re participating in. That’s true because of several different reasons that would make this blog way too long to discuss in detail. Suffice it to say though-and excuse me for stating the obvious here- young people are young.
Many of them, even though they may want to be there, are simply very shy or very turned off by the thought of being in front of people singing and clapping and jumping around and being excited for Jesus.
But a lack of enthusiasm can also stem from a lack of pride or ownership. A lack of connection with the ministry as their own. So when I first started working with our youth department that’s one of the first things I sought to begin instilling in them.
Aside from constant dialog and verbal reinforcement with them, simply telling them that this is their choir; their ministry, and something they can and should be proud of and dedicated to. Something they should want to be as good as it can be; we seek to reinforce that sense of pride and personal ownership by asking and encouraging even the youngest of members to step forward and take on leadership roles.
That may be directing, playing an instrument or taking lead vocals on a song. Our young people were instrumental in choosing the songs for this year’s musical, which I think is extremely important. Because the act of doing so makes this year’s selections “their” songs, rather than songs they were given and forced to sing.
If there’s one thing young people care about it’s their image. What’s cool and what isn’t. They don’t want to look bad and they certainly don’t want to sound bad in front of people. This, for me, is often a powerful motivator to get them to go the extra step to learn parts, or loosen up and move.
But when it comes to moving and displaying energy, having fun and being themselves, young people have to be absolutely certain it’s ok. Not only that it’s ok, but it’s actually what the audience wants; and more importantly, what God wants. Even with all that in place though, they will hesitate to do it if the environment they’re in isn’t one that makes such behavior “the norm”. The cool thing. If they feel it’s something that’s being forced on them they’ll certainly resist it.
But again, without a deeper connection to the ministry itself, young people will often lack the kind of passion and excitement teens start to display as they get older. What do we, the adults do in the meantime? We continue to coach, teach, encourage, and stay positive in front of them. And more importantly, to be what we’re asking them to be.
Be energetic, be positive, have fun. But DON’T scold and fuss at them. I’ve been guilty of this, and if you want to completely shut a group of young people down, that’s the way to do it. We must be examples of what we’re asking them to be. And we must keep reinforcing the fact that it’s ok to have fun and smile and laugh and be their natural energetic selves while they sing for God. Not only is it ok, but God LOVES it and so does the audience.
I think though, the most important thing to remember when working with a youth choir is (again stating the obvious here) it’s a youth choir. Depending on the ages you’re dealing with, many of them have to be brought to rehearsal by their parents. So we can’t really be upset when they aren’t there; Not with them, not with their parents. We must keep in mind everything that parents have to do already.
Secondly, even with a group of kids who want to be there and want to be a part of the choir, it takes time for them to start to “get it”. And as my friend and I discussed the other day, it’s just not something you can rush. You just have to continue to encourage, teach, foster an environment of fun, make it ok for them to be themselves, and nurture that sense of ownership. Ownership brings about pride. Personal connection. A different level of belonging and caring. And trust me, as a few start to get it, they will strongly encourage their peers to “get it”. And nothing we adults can ever say will be more powerful than that.
Just ask Markus, age 16. Markus would barely make a sound, ever. That is, until his buddy told him at the last rehearsal “why you singing all weak like that? You need to come on with it!” After that the two of them proceeded to blow everything out of the water for the rest of the night. And that started a chain reaction that made everybody else step up their game too. Now both of them have a whole new sense of pride in being great, strong tenors that can handle their section.
So if we’re summarizing this whole thing down to a few bullet points, let’s call it:
- Be what you’re asking them to be
- Be patient and encouraging
- Don’t fuss or scold at them. Teach and educate
- Create a sense of ownership and pride by giving them assignments, leadership roles and involving them in decision-making
Young people have to get to a point where they “get it” on their own. Often that simply won’t happen until they’re ready. We can aid in getting them to that point by offering wisdom, guidance, encouragement and patience, while being more of a partner in the process rather than adopting the “drill-sergeant” approach. Or worse yet, giving up on them entirely.