I have to admit that I like praise and worship music and use it in class often. I was very involved in my youth group as a teenager and the music that is played at Steubenville Youth Conferences has stuck with me for years and still holds a special place in my heart.
A major challenge we have as religion teachers and catechists is to connect our students emotionally to what we teach. They need to learn about Jesus, but they also need to learn how to love Jesus.
Music has a special way of doing this.
The praise and worship music, which is very popular at youth conferences, often does this better than the music we hear most at Mass.
Finding Praise and Worship Music
Here are four places where you can go to find praise and worship music:
1. YouTube: YouTube has a large library of praise and worship music as well as music videos from popular singers like Matt Maher and Popple. If you have access to YouTube, do some searching and find the songs you like. Show the videos to the students as a form of guided meditation or play the music with no screen.
2. Pandora: Pandora has a Praise and Worship Genre station that will play the music and show the lyrics. The songs are random, but allows you to discover some new songs in the process. Consider turning the station on as students walk into the room each day before class starts.
3. Catholic Music Network: Although I have never used this service, the Catholic Music Network does a nice job of showcasing the most popular praise and worship songs among Catholics. MP3s are just $0.99 like the Apple iTunes store.
4. WOW Worship: This series of CDs and MP3 albums are the classic source of praise and worship songs. I’ve used them to make my own CD mixes for class (does that show my age?). It is a classic series.
Integrating Praise and Worship Music into the Classroom
I recognize the apparent downside of introducing praise and worship music to young people. It is almost inevitable that you will get students asking why we don’t have more of this type of music at their masses.
Nevertheless, I just can’t deny the fruits of the music in my life and the lives of the students I have taught.
Here are some tips for using praise and worship music in the classroom:
1. Sing with the Hand Motions
I still remember how funny I thought people looked at my first Steubenville Retreat. I sang with hand motions to make fun of other people…at first. Then I got into it. I liked it. It was fun and soon I was truly praising God.
You’ll be amazed that people of all ages will do this. I have seen elementary classrooms learn the motions (and learn their faith!) to the praise and worship songs. I have seen middle school students laugh and enjoy the motions despite hating every (other) minute of being in class. I have seen high school students close their eyes and pray to God a personal prayer that they just didn’t do that often in other class prayer.
2. Discuss the Lyrics
Print off copies of the lyrics to the songs you sing. Talk about what the song is about. Ask the students to expand on the message and apply it to what they are learning right now. This is a crucial part of integrating praise and worship music. If they can sign and dance but not think about the words, what is the point?
3. Discuss the Hand Motions
Most the songs have hand motions that help teach the lyrics. Talk about the lyrics. What aspects of the faith do they remember? What parts of Jesus’ life do they recall?
4. Journal about the Music
Play a song and give students some time to journal about how God is touching their heart today. Give them the opportunity to write about whatever is on their hearts if the song doesn’t connect with them that day.
5. Meditate on an Image
Project or bring in an image of Jesus, an icon of a saint, or an image of a scene from Scripture. Play a slow praise and worship song that helps students get in the mood of meditation. Help them to focus on the image and journal about it if they can.
7. Include it as Part of a Prayer Service
Try integrating it into the beginning or end of a prayer service. Find songs that fit the theme or have students suggest songs that would work well.
Do you have any experience using praise and worship music in your class? Share your tips or thoughts below in the comments section.