Life Teen band leaders! How many of you have been approached after Mass by a teen with a guitar or a set of drums, harmonica, didgeridoo or flugelhorn, begging you to let them join the band?
And what was your response to this request? Did you welcome them with open ears, sound unheard? After all, if they want to use their gifts to serve God they should be encouraged, right? Or did you thank them, and then explain that the Life Teen music ministry is there to serve them – they don’t need to be distracted during Mass by sheet music and instrumental cues?
So what’s the right answer? While I’d love to be able to end the debate over the question of using teens in the Life Teen band once and for all, I know band leaders who have subscribed to each school of thought and have experienced successes and have had challenges with each approach. The best I can do here is to use the real life experiences of these seasoned leaders to offer some pros and cons in the hopes that their experiences will help you decide what’s right for your band, your teens, and your parish situation.
Why It’s a Great Idea to Use Teens in Your Music Ministry
- It shows them that you appreciate and value their gifts.
There are some wildly talented teens out there who want to be a part of their parish’s music ministry can really make a positive impact on the quality of worship. By allowing them to participate, you recognize their giftedness and give them a sense of contributing to the overall parish good.
- They’re using their gifts to serve God and others.
It’s catechesis, baby! They’re being taught in the best possible way, from loving adults who are doing it themselves, how to give glory to the giver of all good gifts.
- Teens will offer input into song selection and style that is relevant to teenagers.
They’ll let you know what songs speak to their hearts and can really give you valuable input on arrangements that resonate with the teen listener.
- Teens will add “edginess” to your band.
Sometimes an all adult band can sound well, pretty adult contemporary. Teen musicians can add that edgy sound that teens are used to hearing in secular music. Even if the song is a standard hymn selection, the teens in the congregation will hear that and appreciate that you’ve made the effort to make the music more relevant to them.
Why It’s Not a Good Idea to Use Teens in Your Music Ministry
- The turnover rate can be high.
After the initial novelty wears off and the rigors of commitment and practice take over, teens sometimes discover that being a part of the band isn’t as cool as they thought it would be and may leave.
- The time commitment of weekly practice and Mass can be too much for a teen’s busy schedule and reliability suffers.
To keep things fresh and the quality level high, commitment to weekly practice and participation at Mass is essential. Teens have a lot of things competing for their time and attention, and this level of commitment may be overwhelming.
- Egos have to be checked at the door and this can be difficult for teens.
Band leaders need to be especially sensitive to young musicians and need to be able to offer constructive criticism and direction without hurting feelings.
- Teens often need more time and direction from the band leader.
While many teens may have just as much if not more natural ability than many adults, they may not be experienced in playing with others, particularly in such a disciplined setting. This can result in a great deal of practice time spent working exclusively with the teens. Not to say they’re not worth the effort, just that it’s something to be aware of.
(Note: Every one of these “negatives” can be (and has been!) experienced with adult band members as well.)
Still not sure what to do? Another option, if you’re blessed with someone who could run their rehearsals, could be to have a teen group that practices that same songs as the regular Life Teen band and plays for Mass once a month or every other month or at an “Edge Mass” for the middle school youth.
As in most aspects of ministry with teens, there is no one “correct” way to approach this question. Assess your situation, your resources, and your teens. Above all, pray for them and love them. You can never go wrong with that decision.