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9 mins

Back-to-school Worship Service: “New Beginnings”

 A back-to-school worship service that marks an important milestone for teenagers and points them toward a year of hope and possibility.
by Steve Case
Back-to-school time spurs raucous celebration among parents and blowout sales at retail stores. It’s also a time of rapid and volcanic change for your teenagers. Some of them may be so bored with summer that they can’t wait to get back. Others have been dreading it since the last day of school.
This youth-led worship service will help them celebrate this marker moment in their lives and will point them toward hope.
The service includes “A Ceremony of Beginnings” that offers two optional activities.
The Service
Begin the service with music. Choose a song that has a “something-is-about-to-happen” feel to it. I’ve used “Make a Joyful” by the David Crowder Band (from the album All I Can Say) and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” by U2 (from the album The Joshua Tree).
Responsive Reading
(It’s best if you don’t have to print out this reading for your kids. Part of the idea is that they already know what the responses are supposed to be, so they can respond without having to read it.)
Leader: The Lord be with you.
People: And also with you.
Leader: The Lord is my shepherd.
People: I shall not want.
Leader: God is great.
People: God is good.
Leader: Love is patient.
People: Love is kind.
Leader: Now I lay me down to sleep.
People: I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
Leader: Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
People: Praise him all creatures here below.
You can add well-known refrains/responses that are unique to your church, but use only their first lines. Then say something like: “This school year is not just another school year. You’re not headed back to the same old school to see the same old teachers and eat in the same old cafeteria. That’s not going to happen. This school year is the beginning of something new—the same way that a second child is not born into the same family as the first child. A first child is born into a family that has no children. A second child is born into a family that has experience. You’re beginning a new year. Everything is brand-new…as long as you choose to see it that way.”
Say: Jesus did not say, “I come so that all things can be…uh…pretty much the same as they always have been.” Jesus said, “I come so that all things can be new.” We’re about to read some Scripture passages—as we do, think about the “beginnings” represented by each one. Like the first day of school, new beginnings require only that you keep going.
Scripture Reading
If your adult volunteers are leading this service for your group members, have them stand in a circle around the young people. Have them read the verses one at a time without pauses between them—the transitions between readers should be quick and seamless. (Option: If you have a drummer in your group, practice reading the verses with a beat in the background. A wastebasket will work if you don’t have a drum.)
Reader: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
Reader: So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
Reader: So the Lord said, “I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth—men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air—for I am grieved that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.
Reader: Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
Reader: The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation.”
Reader: Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made a richly ornamented robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.
Reader: Then Pharaoh’s daughter saw the basket among the reeds and sent her slave girl to get it. She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. “This is one of the Hebrew babies,” she said.
Reader: But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.”
Reader: Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why do you come out and line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose a man and have him come down to me.”
Reader: Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”
Reader: There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
Reader: A time to be born and a time to die,
Reader: A time to plant and a time to uproot,
Reader: A time to kill and a time to heal,
Reader: A time to tear down and a time to build,
Reader: A time to weep and a time to laugh,
Reader: A time to mourn and a time to dance,
Reader: A time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
Reader: A time to embrace and a time to refrain,
Reader: A time to search and a time to give up,
Reader: A time to keep and a time to throw away,
Reader: A time to tear and a time to mend,
Reader: A time to be silent and a time to speak,
Reader: A time to love and a time to hate,
Reader: A time for war and a time for peace.
Reader: Then Daniel went to Arioch, whom the king had appointed to execute the wise men of Babylon, and said to him, “Do not execute the wise men of Babylon. Take me to the king, and I will interpret his dream for him.”
Reader: “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.
Reader: This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.
Reader: John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Reader: The Word was first, the Word present to God, God present to the Word. The Word was God, in readiness for God from day one.
Reader: Everything was created through him; nothing—not one thing!—came into being without him. What came into existence was life, and the life was light to live by.
Reader: The life-light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out.
Reader: The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.
Reader: Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow.”
Reader: Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him 10,000 talents was brought to him.
Reader: For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
Reader: The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.
Reader: Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey.
Reader: In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half-dead.”
Reader: Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the 99 in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?”
Reader: Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.”
Reader: Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood.”
Reader: Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means teacher).
Reader: Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
Reader: And Jesus said, “Behold, I am with you… always.”
Reader: And Jesus said, “Behold, I am with you… always.”
All voices: (Stagger these voices so they sound like an echo.) “I am with you always.”
A Ceremony of Beginnings
Option 1: Build a Wall
Before the service, use newsprint or butcher paper to build a wall in the center of your youth room. Use strong tape to secure sheets of paper to the ceiling, adding paper until you’ve secured it to the floor. Continue this process until you’ve literally “walled off” half of the room. (It may be easier to measure the room first and build the wall on the floor, then secure it to the floor and ceiling.) During the Ceremony of Beginnings, you’ll need a utility knife to cut a door into the wall.
Say something *like: This is a chance. This is a new beginning. Right now you can choose to look at this new school year with all the potential that God sees in you. You can look at this school year as an opportunity. Look at this wall and think of all of the things that are keeping you back. Think of all the things that are separating you from what you want to be. I’m going to cut a door in this wall, then each of you are going to step through. As you do, I want you to say the words: “God makes all things new.”
At this point take the utility knife and cut a door in the wall that you have created. Do not cut all the way down to the floor. Open the door and invite your teenagers to step through one at a time.
Option 2: Helium Balloons
Buy one helium balloon for each of your teenagers. If possible, get only one color of balloon. All white or all black makes a nice visual when they take off. Hold the service outside in a clear area. (Nothing will kill the analogy faster than a balloon getting caught in a tree.)
Give kids each a helium balloon. Then say something *like: This is a chance. This is a new beginning. Right now you can choose to look at this new school year with all the potential that God sees in you. You can look at this school year as an opportunity. Look at your balloon. In your imagination, write on the balloon all of the things that are keeping you from moving forward. You can use your finger if you want. Write all of the things that are holding you down. Think of all the things that are separating you from what you want to be. I’m going to count to three. When I say “release” I want you to let go of the balloon. When you do, I want you to let go of all the fears and stresses that you don’t need as you begin this new school year. As you let go I want you to say the words: “God makes all things new.”
Close with a piece of music that has a “can’t-keep-a-good-person-down” feel. I’ve used “Change in My Life” by John Pagano (from the Leap of Faith soundtrack album) and “Lions” by Lost and Found (from the This CD album).
Close with the following prayer, or come up with one of your own.
*Say: Pray with me. Creator God, you’ve given us so much potential. Forgive us when we waste it. Open the doors, show us the light. Help us to begin again. Help us to see every day as a gift. Help us to use all that you have given us. Help us to hear your voice and see your face. Help us to go from this place as new creations. Amen.
Steve Case is a veteran youth minister in Florida and a contributing editor for group Magazine.

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Back-to-school Worship Service: ̶...

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