This month (February 2020) marks a 13th-anniversary event for me. It is the Baylor Festival of Youth Choirs sponsored by YouthCUE! I could not be more excited about it! You may ask yourself, “so what Billy, a youth choir big deal! Youth choir ministry is unimportant!” If I were honest, I would have agreed with you 14 years ago. My viewpoint radically changed in February of 2008.
The First Time
While I was in seminary, I served Tyler Street United Methodist Church in Dallas. That church was and is such a wonderful congregation! It has a rich heritage of excellent choral and instrumental music. The adult choir could sing masterfully and the students were wonderful singers too! It was such an incredible experience to serve as the Director of Music and Fine Arts from 2007- 2009. In many ways, I miss TSUMC terribly!
One of the annual events that TSUMC participated in was an annual youth choir festival each February. I had heard of YouthCUE previously through my church music education courses at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. A book by Randy Edwards (founder and president of YouthCUE) was assigned to me as a textbook. I went through the motions of my seminary class nodding to the notion that youth choirs were important but not really believing it.
Since Tyler Street had a history of participating in the youth choir festival, and the students REALLY wanted to go back, I said, “sure, let’s do it.” We made the preparations and I took my very first youth choir to the Baylor Festival. The first night of the festival changed my entire perspective on youth ministry and the direction of my overall ministry forever.
Our group arrived on the campus of Baylor University in February 2008. I entered Jones Hall and the many different church groups were assembling in the large auditorium. The students were instructed to come to the stage and fill the risers. When they began singing I was in complete awe that 6th through 12th graders could sound so good, sing quality literature from memory, and could present a unique and powerful worship experience through music. The experience changed me.
The Lessons I Learned
I learned many lessons at that first festival.
I learned youth choir students are capable of so much more musically than what I had previously thought. More importantly, the students want the challenge.
I learned that with proper leadership, parental support, an enthusiastic church, and proper motivation the students can commit to weekly rehearsals, learn difficult music, stick with it, and the overall experience can be a critical part of their adolescent lives.
I learned the students that participate in the Youth Choir are the best of all the students in the life of a congregation.
I learned that students are not just the church of tomorrow, but they are the church of today if we will only stop long enough to listen to them. Many of them have outstanding leadership potential in need of grooming.
I learned many students desperately need a positive peer group and adults who will care for and encourage them.
I learned other students need to be ministered to and need what a youth choir can provide.
I learned the students need biblical truth in their lives and Jesus modeled for them.
Finally, I learned something that has powerfully impacted my own devotional life. As I study God’s Holy Word daily, I find myself singing a YouthCUE choral anthem as I encounter scriptures in which an anthem is based. It literally happens 4 or 5 times a week! Thirteen years of anthems is a lot of music! The greatest personal joy of YouthCUE is the thought that as those students who study the Bible (years after the festival is over) are also singing those same anthems. The Word of God has been deeply implanted in my heart through music and the ministry of YouthCUE.
Over the years, I have done many trips with youth choirs. It is always an incredible experience. No matter how demoralized I get sometimes; I always return to YouthCUE’s festivals. There is no better church music experience for students in the country. I am so excited to have attended all of these years.
As I was going through my files the other day, I was surprised as I counted the number of students that have gone through my small youth choir ministry. Over 13 years, I have exposed four churches and over 220 students to YouthCUE. Yes, my choirs have always been small with an average group size of 16; but more than 220 students’ lives have been impacted by the ministry of YouthCUE. Those experiences will be a part of their lives forever. It has been an incredible journey for me personally.
I pray this year (YouthCUE’s 30 anniversary) will be as rewarding! I personally invite you to support the Youth Choir this coming weekend.