Are Christian Colleges and Seminaries Preparing Worship Leaders For A Church That No Longer Exists?


futureWorship change is inevitable as congregations consider the fluidity of their surrounding cultures and contexts.  It would stand to reason, then, that the leaders who facilitate worship in those ever changing congregations must also learn how to develop, cultivate, and lead change by listening to the voice of their community and congregation.

How will those leaders be prepared to recognize and respond to cultural shifts if the educational institutions that train them for ministry aren’t also embracing a comparable attitude of acceptance and adaptation?

Several colleges and seminaries have already modified their educational and methodological systems in response to the changing churches and cultures while still respecting the foundations of the past.  Their commitment to considering the pulse of the present and flexibility for the future has resulted in renewed enthusiasm and substantial enrollment growth.

Other institutions have been hesitant to embrace those needed changes and as a result have experienced waning interest and enrollment decline.  Their curriculum seems to be preparing the students they have left for a church that no longer exists.  If this is your educational institution, maybe some of the following suggestions could serve as a starting point to begin some new conversations:

  • Help students discover that music and worship are not exclusively synonymous.  If music is the only driver during their educational preparation it will inevitably surface as the primary point of contention during their congregational implementation.
  • Don’t compromise preparation for congregational acclimation in the name of institutional accreditation.
  • Open their eyes to the foundational tenets of worship based on history, theology, Scripture, prayer, and communion before immersing them in the music.
  • In addition to traditional musical analysis, teach them to be conversant in the language and praxis of chord charts, capos, and kick drums.
  • Educate them in the various and fluid dynamics of worship teams and praise bands as well as choirs and orchestras.
  • Keep them abreast of the current trends in audio and video media and technology.
  • Expand their awareness of the arts to include other genres and media expressions beyond music.   Help them understand that embracing the arts as both verbal and visual relieves the pressure of music as the primary driver and culprit.
  • Help them to understand that leading music doesn’t necessarily equate to leading people.
  • Spend multiple semesters preparing them for staff and congregational relationships.  Most worship ministry failures and forced terminations are as a result of leadership and relational conflict and rarely occur as a result of musical deficiencies.
  • Help them to better understand and appreciate the relational dynamics of multigenerations before ever considering the musical dynamics of those generations.
  • Train them to be curious and open but also judicious students of the culture.
  • Provide resources and principles to help them weather the changes that will inevitably occur in the future.  Model healthy change that values conviction, collaboration, and patience.
  • Encourage the students to read ecumenically and study worship through the eyes of various denominations, faiths, cultures, and generations.
  • Remind them constantly that their college or seminary training is not the end but the beginning of their worship education.  A terminal degree should not signify the death of learning.
  • Require institutional administrators and faculty to attend worship conferences, concerts, classes, and workshops outside of their areas of expertise, stylistic preferences, contexts, cultures, and even comfort.  How can they teach new worship and media languages if they don’t speak them?

9 Responses to “Are Christian Colleges and Seminaries Preparing Worship Leaders For A Church That No Longer Exists?”

  • Kimberle Moon Says:

    This is fabulous insight! Thank you!

  • Alden Schoeneberg (@alden_t910) Says:

    David, this is tremendously important if we are to return to a biblical call to spirit and truth worship. Our churches are literally dying to be lead and taught what it means to really worship, but so many universities and seminaries are teaching leaders how to maintain the museum of church music tradition.

    When I studied at SBU, most of the church music department professors, it seemed, dismissed new music trends as a passing trend that probably wouldn’t be relevant after I graduated. I felt like my church music classes were lessons in church history rather than courses to help me lead and educate a congregation about worship.

    Andy, I’ve not attended Southern, but am very familiar with Joe Crider. I got to know him a little at Southwest Baptist University and later, he taught an online seminary course on worship, I took through Rockbridge seminary. He is a great man and was very excited when I heard he took the position at Southern. I pray that God will train up a new and great generation of worship leaders as Dr. Crider leads the program at Southern Seminary.

  • David Manner Says:

    Andy, I am glad you are considering starting your advanced degree again. There are some outstanding programs available and the two you mentioned fit into that category. Vernon Whaley has taken that program at Liberty to new levels and now Lavon Gray has joined the leadership there. It is an outstanding program. Joe Crider is now head of the program at Southern. It is a newer program but is doing very well and I believe will continue to grow. Blessings as you determine which direction to go.

  • Andy Titus Says:

    David- RIGHT ON!
    Years ago I started a seminary degree and subsequently quit. Besides just not having the time and money as a young father and husband I just felt that the institution was out of touch with the church. The emphasis was on “theory” and book learning instead of practical applicable subjects like Eric & Neil suggested. I would have loved if the pastors that I served with would have had as much respect for what I was doing as I had for them, but also if someone would have stressed to me the importance of the things in your post.

    Recently I have begun to look at starting my Masters degree again. I again looked to Seminary first but found that most seminaries were still teaching the same old thing. Some have changed but very few. I have been most impressed with Liberty University’s program. Their approach is very practical and includes Tech., music, leadership, and Theology in a progressive, change accepting way. I’ve also heard that Southern Seminary has just started a program that is similar to Liberty’s. Both of these Institutions are increasing in enrollment! That should be a large indicator of the validity of their approach.

    Thanks for writing this, it brings a bit of peace to my mind about where I’m heading!

  • David Manner Says:

    Yes! Eric. You are exactly correct. We silo ministry training and then expect those silos to disappear when they get to a local church. Somehow we have to get them all to the table at the same time educationally and practically. I also agree on your suggestions on healthy change. We often get in a hurry.

  • Eric Benoy Says:

    Thanks for the thoughtfulness, David — I might add, too, the following :

    (1) add to the training of pastors and other staff members to respect the expertise and knowledge of the music/worship leader. Speaking from both sides as an experienced senior pastor and worship leader, just as we need/want to train our music/worship leaders to be good staff members, we need to make sure each respects the others’ calling and position. We all may have some knowledge of music and worship and feel we have the right to give our “unsolicited input” but would bristle at the “music guy” giving such input to our task. We have to make sure there is mutual respect and openness to dialogue so that team cohesiveness can be built
    (2) to elaborate a little more on the issue of change — educate them on managing change and understanding their church’s worship DNA — that is, change is something that has to be managed thoughtfully, prayerfully, and carefully and can take some time. In some churches it will be longer than others and it will manifest itself in different ways. Like any living organism, forced changed in a short span leads to unhealthy organisms — and not all change produces desired or advantageous results —

  • David Manner Says:

    Spot-on commentary, Neil. The national statistics show that 80% of the churches average 100 or less in worship. The pool, therefore, is not very deep for full-time positions. The singular focus of worship leadership often leaves those worship leaders with no other skills beyond that. Institutions could help them discover other areas of giftedness so they can develop those gifts.

  • Neil Brown Says:

    May I also suggest that students (and institutions) need to consider that full-time church music MAY be a dying breed. Students need to be prepared for, and willing to work in, dual careers. How institutions can facilitate that potential reality is going to need to be addressed!

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