After entering Emmanuel Presbyterian Church in San Jose on a late Saturday afternoon, youth pastor Brian Hwang leads a prayer to start the weekly practice for the middle and high school musicians who are part of their church’s praise team, a group that performs worship music every Sunday during service. After prayer, they split into two groups. One group heads to a room to practice their set for the next week, while the other group stays in the auditorium to do run-throughs on stage for the service the next day. Senior Yoanna Lee and the praise team — comprised of two guitarists, a drummer, a keyboardist, a lead singer and two backup singers — rehearse their performance in the dimly lit auditorium.
Born to two pastors, Lee has been a part of Emmanuel Presbyterian Church since she was young. Lee joined the praise team when she was in eighth grade and became one of a few praise leaders in her sophomore year.
As a praise team leader, Lee helps with running weekend practices and updating their group chats with set lists or practices. Lee also learned how to play acoustic guitar to enhance the band’s musical performance. Over the past few years in the group, she has seen how praise is a way for her to express her feelings for her faith in God.
“Praise is literally just another type of worship of our God,” Lee said. “When there is a really pump song, people dance and people sing and that’s just kind of what it is. Us as praise leaders and team leaders [lead] people into that space, so they’re not singing to us— we’re all singing to God.”
Hwang preaches to the youth at his church and oversees the praise team. He assists the team’s leadership in how to improve, as well as informs them how much worship time they’ll have. However, Hwang says he leaves technicalities and musical expression to the students.
“[The praise team] leads us on a type of musical adoration, worship and expressions towards God [during] the time we commune with him through [the] singing of songs, music and expression,” Hwang said. “So [it’s] our energy towards God, through the medium of music.”
The praise team at Hwang’s church consists of 28 members, including its three praise leaders. The leaders take turns leading and choosing which members will perform during Sunday’s youth services. The members then learn the setlist, and they hold a final practice the Saturday before the services.
Senior Elvis Lang, while not on a praise team, values the impact of praise on his church community at River of Life Church.
“Worship is the one time where you’re singing [and] you can reflect on yourself as you do it,” Lang said. “I think [the worship team] goal is to create an environment where we can all focus on yourself spiritually. [It’s especially helpful] in the morning [when] we’re all kind of groggy [because] everyone starts singing and focusing on God.”
Outside of their Sunday services, Lee and Lang bring their Christianity and worship to the MVHS campus as officers for Christian Club. On Fridays during lunch, they hold meetings to connect through their religion, as well as the music Lee brings to the group.
This music has found a home in modern high schools through clubs like Christian Club. Christian music has modernized over time, incorporating Western genres like pop, rock n’roll and rap, as opposed to its traditional hymnals and church choirs.
“Nowadays, you listen to modern-day hip-hop or pop and you hear people praising beauty, praising women, praising men, praising love,” Hwang said. “And so, humans have always [written] history. We’ve sung stories. We’ve sung about people. We’ve sung about things that we find worth remembering, worth thinking about, worth praising.”
While the style of praise has changed, Hwang sees that music can “plant hope” in the individuals listening to it.
“God looks at young people and God sees a lot of potential — that’s planted hope,” Hwang said. “[Praise is] about activating young people in their gifts, so they can serve God and serve the world and to do it at a young age.”
Although Hwang feels that praise helps youth serve God, Lang believes music stands out as a medium of worship because of the sincerity involved. Lang feels that music is inherently emotional, enabling people to feel a greater level of connection with God.
“For a lot of people who are saved,” Lang said. “You can tell by the way that they worship that they actually praise God, that they mean every word that comes out of their mouths.”