How do we instill culture?
I think of culture as the unspoken truths apparent in our lives, but often never talked about. Most families don’t have a code of conduct that is typed up and signed with a blood covenant. Yet, values are instilled and regularly reinforced and communicated. When I was growing up, my dad instilled a culture of honor for my mother by never allowing me to disrespect or talk back to her. He was willing to discipline me or hold me accountable which reinforced the idea that my mom was valuable and worthy of respect.
How do we build culture in our youth groups? I believe we cannot lead where we have not been. Being intentional about establishing culture requires the leader to have an “ALL in” mentality. Things that I value and hold dear are communicated louder through non-verbal actions than the words that I speak. Also, if I am not willing to have fierce conversations and hold people accountable then I am not modeling the importance of that particular value.
As a youth leader, I wanted to instill a high value for worship with our youth. We had a mixed group of middle schoolers and high schoolers. Some youth wanted to sing and worship and others were at a starting point of no understanding of personal intimate worship. We spent weeks talking about many things including barriers to worship such as social pressure, lack of skill set, and lack of familiarity with the worship songs. We studied worship in the Bible to understand and to answer the question, “Why do we worship?” Finally, we offered a variety of ways to engage in worship.
How did I hold kids accountable to worship as a high value? We celebrated all kinds and styles of worship affirming engagement not formulaic stereotypes. Some kids danced, did art, journaled, or listened with headphones. The goal was not everybody standing and raising their hands. The goal was participation and engagement outside of church and youth group. What did worship look like at home? How do you prepare your hearts to be intimate with the Father? If we gathered and kids were not engaged I would gently stop what we were doing and remind them that the Father was waiting for us to return to Him. Stopping, pressing in, and not being afraid of the awkward helped them to see I was serious about worship because I was serious about who we were worshiping.
Ultimately, my youth watched my relationship with God and how I actively engage into a lifestyle of worship. They see me take every opportunity to worship. They expect me to hold them accountable. They see my heart in action (caught not taught). It’s now been two years since we have “taught” on worship, but the culture of worship in our group means “engagement” for the One we worship is so worthy of our praise.