by Matt Barnes
The following story is provided by our INCM/CPC Partner David C. Cook.
Like many of you, I grew up going to church and thinking that worship was something you did at an appointed time, place and in a particular way. Usually, the place was church and the time was at the beginning of the service before announcements and the sermon. (Sometimes, we would worship as the offering plates were passed, but this time was usually saved for what was called “special music.”) Then, there was the method of worship. Worship was always singing with a worship band and was usually led by five or six well-dressed singers with amazing voices singing in harmony. (Occasionally, they’d let the guy with the country voice lead to reach another demographic. I was not in that demographic.) Does any of this sound familiar to you?
The problem for me was not the “how” of worship. Of course you can worship with six singers, or even a country singer. The “why” of worship was never compelling. Yes, we worship because God is worthy of our worship, but why before the announcements? Why with three “praise” songs followed by one “worship” song? Why did worship always involve singing? It felt like I worshipped because somebody else decided it was time. There had to be more.
A few months ago, my friend and I were working on our Tru curriculum. (My friend Kit happens to be our Children’s Pastor.) As I tried to find the right words to explain our philosophy of transformational learning, Kit gave me a great word picture. Traditional Christian education is like collecting. It’s as though kids are given a bag and throughout their lives they collect information to put into their bag. The bag, however, is something that they can hold at a distance or even leave behind at some point. It isn’t a part of them. It doesn’t change them. Sometimes it weighs them down. In contrast, transformational learning uses the same information to change the person, but instead of holding the info in a bag it becomes part of who they are. Transformational learning focuses on allowing a person to encounter God.
Needless to say, I love his description. The picture he painted flawlessly describes our own Christian education goal. As a child I memorized stories and verses. I knew that the ark was built out of gopher wood, although I’m still not sure what gopher wood is. I can list the books of the Bible, the Ten Commandments, and the twelve Apostles. But did any of this transform me? When I was in college, I took an internship at a local church. This is where my transformation began. God began to reveal His character to me. As He did, I began recognizing my true identity in Him. When God revealed something new, I wanted to respond. Actually, I needed to respond. Apparently, I was in good company. Throughout Scripture, we find examples of people responding to God’s goodness.
In Exodus 15, when God led the Israelites out of captivity in Egypt and across the dry ground of the Red Sea, His people responded by singing songs to Him. In 1 Samuel 7 when God faithfully delivered His people in battle, Samuel stopped to respond by setting up the Ebenezer Stone. Look at the people in Acts who witnessed the day of Pentecost. After the Spirit descended on them, they responded by giving up everything they had for the cause of Christ. In Romans 12:1, Paul wrote that our response to God’s wisdom, knowledge and glory should be to give our lives to Him. He says that this response is our spiritual act of worship.
Worship is our response to God’s power and glory. It’s our response to who He is. In college, my classmates and I worshipped after the message. Worship was a response to God’s revelation. Some people sang, some danced and others prayed, tithed, or took communion. Some stayed for a while and others lingered. Sometimes we would sing a few songs. Other times we worshiped for hours into the night. We choose to respond to God by sacrificing our time, our money, our energy, our voices, and anything else we could. For the first time, I got the “why” behind worship.
This lifestyle of worship has fueled much of the work I’m doing today. At ROCKHARBOR church, we provide the opportunity for response after experiencing God. For years we have provided worship response options for adults that flow out of the message. A year ago, we began facilitating the same opportunities for our kids. I’ve never seen anything like it. Kids as young as three and four years old choose how they will respond to God in worship. They are experiencing something I did not discover until I was 20.
This is what I want for the next generation. I don’t particularly care if they know about gopher wood, but I do care that they know God. I want them to know His character. I want their identity to be found and formed in Him and who He has created them to be. I want life transformation that elicits responses. I want to see kids who have been impacted and changed by the very Spirit of God and are compelled to worship Him.
As people called to minister to children, we are also called to replicate our faith. If we can help kids experience God and allow them the freedom to respond in worship, they’ll see a world impacted and changed by Christ.
Editorial comment: The beauty of transformational learning is that as kids desire to worship God they will also want to hear and read the stories of God’s power throughout the ages.
After graduating from Pepperdine University with a BA in English (2001) and an MA in Education (2004), teaching high school for three years, working in a variety of ministry areas and earning an MA in Organizational Leadership from Azusa Pacific University (2008), Matt Barnes joined the staff of ROCKHARBOR church as the Director of Families Development. Matt oversees the development of all large group teachers in family ministries, the ROCKHARBOR families intern developÂ¬ment, and leads families staff leadership development. All of this is done with the goal of supporting parents in their role as the primary nurturers of their children’s faith.
Most recently, Matt has joined David C. Cook Publishing as the Product Developer of Tru a collaborative project between Cook and ROCKHARBOR families. This project is set to introduce a groundbreaking curriculum for churches to inspire, equip and support their families toward spiritual growth.
Matt lives in Irvine, CA, and speaks regularly at schools, camps, conferences and retreats on topics related to family ministries, leadership development, and educational philosophy.