“Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Many of us learned these lyrics when we were young and now have them hidden deep within our hearts and minds.
We likely memorized these lyrics at a young age, before the realities of life seemed heavy and at times unbearable. These lyrics, however, are no less true today. It is songs like these that remind us that time doesn’t change truth; it is solidified over time. With this in mind, youth workers must know the important strategy of catechizing our students through song.
Catechism is an ancient practice where memorization is utilized to teach children a certain truth. Catechesis often begins before children totally understand what they are memorizing. For instance, the Westminster shorter catechism begins with one of life’s fundamental questions: “What is the chief end of man?” The answer? “To glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” When a child is catechized, they are taught the language of Christian doctrine. This proves to be of great benefit when the child trusts Christ as their Savior, for they can now articulate this truth based on the information that was already planted within them from previous catechesis.
Solid and biblically rich songs are an important way to catechize students as it helps them memorize biblical truth set to music. Allow me to offer three suggestions for catechizing students through song:
First, only sing songs in youth group that teach biblical themes and ideas. Sure, there are plenty of Christian worship songs that may seem harmless, but with only a select few songs that can be memorized, it makes sense to only sing those that align with what Scripture says. For instance, we should run songs through a filter making sure they are God-centered instead of human- centered. Youth workers are to be like the Bereans in Acts 17 who took Paul’s teachings and tested them to make sure they lined up against the Word.
Second, remember that repetition is the friend of memorization. This doesn’t mean you have to sing the same songs every single week. It does mean that less is more and quality is better than quantity. Instead of singing twenty songs a month, what would happen if you sing ten songs and were thus able to focus more on the lyrics by singing them multiple times? Songs have a unique gift of setting truth to music, so in the months and years ahead students might hear a tune which might remind them of a song they sung in youth group. When they do so, they can instantly be reminded of God’s truth.
Finally, incorporate songs into your teaching. Don’t be afraid to mention a song lyric when teaching students on a verse or topic that a song captures well. For instance, if you are teaching a series on the attributes of God, find songs that include these attributes to show students how even song lyrics can teach us about awesomeness of our God. This helps reinforce your message and also helps the students understand that the songs you sing in youth group may have more biblical application than the songs they hear on the radio or sing with their friends. Another strategy to use songs during teaching is to describe and define words in songs before you sing them. Thousands of students have sung “Here I raise my Ebenezer” while having no idea what an Ebenezer is. Taking time to explain words and meanings gives more meaning to the lyrics and helps the students better connect the songs to the lesson and their lives.
Ultimately, we want students to know the good news of the gospel: that God sent his son into the world to save sinners. Songs are a trojan horse of teaching students theology and must be utilized by youth workers to teach and train students how to navigate our culture with a biblical perspective.