Worship 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?
Some colleges and seminaries have already modified their educational and methodological systems in response to the changing churches and cultures while still respecting the foundational tenets 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 their 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 audio, video, technology and social media trends.
- 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 for music to do it all.
- Help them 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 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 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 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?