There is a fascinating interview with music legend Quincy Jones on the website Vulture. Quincy is turning 85 soon and, as I’ve witnessed older people do, he just lets loose on a variety of subjects.

Apart from him fluently using the phrase MF, Quincy shares some interesting insights on today’s music that, I think, are closely related to youth ministry. Here’s is a question and answer from that interview that sparked this post.

You’re talking about business not music, but, and I mean this respectfully, don’t some of your thoughts about music fall under the category of “back in my day”?

Musical principles exist, man. Musicians today can’t go all the way with the music because they haven’t done their homework with the left brain. Music is emotion and science. You don’t have to practice emotion because that comes naturally. Technique is different. If you can’t get your finger between three and four and seven and eight on a piano, you can’t play. You can only get so far without technique. People limit themselves musically, man. Do these musicians know tango? Macumba? Yoruba music? Samba? Bossa nova? Salsa? Cha-cha? – Quincy Jones

Music and Ministry

These two things have a lot in common. They are both emotional and they both require skill. As I pose in the title, I think we have leaned way further to the emotional side of youth ministry and forgotten some of the skill.

Most of the youth ministry shots you see on Instagram are meant to evoke emotion or show the emotion of a youth ministry. Maybe it’s the worship service, the altar time, the game time, and it they show you fun, laughter, tears and joy. None of this is wrong, but you don’t see “skill” shots on Instagram.

I don’t see youth ministry posts of kids reading their bible, sharing their faith, and other than summer missions trips, kids serving.  I’m guilty of this as well, although I try to show the big picture though my Facebook Live streams of the big picture. I show students leading, students praying, students doing ministry.

I get it, fun shots sell the youth ministry. Look! We’re fun! And teenagers need fun, and need fun, right brain creative youth workers, but they also need left brain skill builder who can build long term follower of Jesus through a systematic approach. All fun and no skill isn’t youth ministry, it’s a club.

Quincy says it right, “You can only get so far without technique.” Emotions will only go so far in a youth ministry, that’s why youth worker have to develop the skills and, yes, even techniques of making disciples. Techniques sounds like a word that could suck all the emotion out of the room, but there is a technique to good youth meetings, good small groups, and good one on one discipleship.

Emotions or emotionalism will only lead a kid so far in their relationship with Christ (camp anyone?). That’s why the technique of training a kid to have a consistent devotion time is critical to that kids sustained faith in Christ.

Let’s look to one more question from the interview with Quincy Jones

What would account for the songs being less good than they used to be?The mentality of the people making the music. Producers now are ignoring all the musical principles of the previous generations. It’s a joke. That’s not the way it works: You’re supposed to use everything from the past. If you know where you come from, it’s easier to get where you’re going. You need to understand music to touch people and become the soundtrack to their lives.

Look To The Past

Wow! Read this again, but think youth ministry not music and you get the picture. Is youth ministry less good than it used to be? That;s pretty subject. The older you get the past doesn’t look so bad.

I was once young and thought we needed to throw out the hymn book or anything that reeked of the “old” but, as Quincy says, “that’s not how it works”.

I am not favoring teaching hymns to our kids, but, no matter what age youth worker you are, you should look to the past because the new and the now is passing before your very eyes.

There are cycles, fads, and trends. What you think is the model for youth ministry today is morphing right under your nose.

When I say look to the past, I’m not talking about past youth ministry ideas, although some may work (flannel graphs for days, am I right?), I’m talking about biblical principles that never change. The Bible shows us the pattern or the technique of following Jesus and the discipleship of others,; and while the youth ministry landscape continues to change, the truth of God’s word remains the same.

This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ Jeremiah 6:16

Emotional youth ministries may be exciting and even growing, but without good disciple making skills and  technique, those youth ministries are a mile wide and an inch deep.

On the other hand, a youth ministry with all technique and no emotion robs kids of the value of expression and robs God from showing Himself strong within the students to cry out, leap for joy and dance for before their King.

Balance is the key, and I think that’s what Quincy was getting at. Music like ministry can be canned, one note, sugar coated, cheap rip offs of the real thing. Let’s make sure both milk and meat are at the table when students arrive to our youth groups and at least let them lean into what they need that night, but to have one and not the other is a spiritual dietary crime.

If you’re lookin for some discipleship resources that are filled with emotion and technique, feel free to check out my store. 

Remember, even Sponge Bob understands that there’s value in technique when blowing a bubble

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