Can't Stop The Feeling! Let the dance party help shape your student ministry!

Have you ever noticed that high school students that joking and laughing seem to come pretty easy? In fact, if you really look, most of their interaction is light hearted joking with one another. When my friends and I get together, this just isn’t the case. Our conversations are really deep and important. I wonder why that is? But why it is, is not the topic of this post. The fact that it is, is what I would like to explore.

As youth workers, we are called to connect with students, and to be cross cultural missionaries. We are to enter their world and find places where we can share the love of Christ, to bring the abundant life to them, in their context, on their level. What if one of those thing places was actually good ‘ol fashioned fun. Fun in the form of music and dancing might actually be a powerful tool to accomplish this challenging task.

Why do you think we suck so much at having fun? It might just be because we are old. Somewhere along the way we have gotten caught up with all the heaviness of life and our calling. We have taken our jobs seriously as youth workers, and we are pretty good at it. We can teach the spiritual disciplines, help manage sin, provide spiritually moving experiences, all while genuinely providing space to help students grow in their faith. It seems the rule is that the more serious you take your calling to student ministry, the less fun you should have.

What if part of our job was expanded from just creating spiritual experiences for our students to helping them live an integrated life? What if we could help the develop a theology that works for their entire lives, not just their very limited time at youth group? What if we could help them see that being deep and having fun are not mutually exclusive, that being spiritual is bringing Jesus into every activity, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Solomon, author of Ecclesiastes, was on to something when he writes,

“For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.

A time to be born, a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest.

A time to kill and a time to heal. A time to tar down and a time to build up.

A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance.”

Ecc 3:1-4

Most youth workers I know are amazing at providing space for students to grow, to grieve, and cry. But maybe we could add a little balance to our youth ministries by creating space for our students to laugh, and even dance.

Even though students have experienced deep pain and brokenness, and often more than their years can comprehend. At the same time they are still kids and they need space to be kids. They need space to celebrate, to laugh, to dance. What better way to facilitate this than by incorporating the most ancient of rituals into our student ministries: DANCE PARTY!!

Dance Parties provide our students with 3 very important realities:

  1. Dance Party allows students to actually have fun. Music has such power in the lives of our students. When you start cranking the music, you can see their entire countenance change. This is most noticeable when some kid changes the ipod in the youth room from Hawk Nelson and turns on Taio Cruz. Even the most sheltered home schooler starts to sing along, and before you know it, the entire room is filled with kids jumping around, singing and laughing. We have an opportunity to harness this reality and create a safe place for kids to cut loose, express joy, and have fun.
  2. Dance Party allows students to experience an integrated life. You see, for 98% of their life, students live outside the walls of the church. And in the bulk of their life they long to laugh and have fun. They love music that has strong beets and that they can sing along too. If this is their desire, it is a crime to make church and youth group be the one place that shuts down fun and shuts down dancing. When we bust out the dance party, we celebrate, not shut down the God given longing of their souls for fun and laughter. The church becomes the place where all parts of life get to be experienced and celebrated, not just the “deep” and “spiritual” parts, but the abundant life the Jesus talks about in John 10:10.
  3. Dance Party allows us to re shape their musical memories. Have you ever had the experience of hearing a song from your past and immediately you are reminded of a particular time and place, a love interest, or a break up? Music has this amazing power to shape and hold memories. And all the good music that is shaping our students memories right now is secular music. But instead of weeping and gnashing our teeth about it, what if we actually co-opted the power of music to create memories. Most students hear certain songs on the radio all the time and they become the soundtrack of their lives. If we can incorporate their natural soundtrack into our student ministry, especially in the form of Dance Party, the songs themselves actually carry memory associations. A song they hear on the radio every day becomes associated with youth group, with community, with fun, and joy. And without our students even realizing it, their songs help remind them of their true community.

As we strive to find new and effective ways to connect with our students. We might realize that connecting with them is easier than it seems. It just involves us getting to know our students and the songs that are shaping the soundtrack of their lives. Then we have the opportunity to take that soundtrack and redeem it, to re-create it. We do this because we recognize that as deep and spiritual as our kids are becoming, they are still kids. And because of this fact, they need space to laugh, sing, and yes, even dance!

So, next week, when youth group is all over and you have done an amazing job at building community, creating rich opportunities for students to connect to Jesus, try a little experiment. Crank up the volume on your stereo, hit play of your ipod, and watch the dance party begin! For there really is a time for every activity under heaven.