The message in the music: New worship arts program to put Scripture before song
By Doug Carroll
GCU News Bureau
“David and the whole company of Israel were in the parade, singing at the top of their lungs and playing mandolins, harps, tambourines, castanets and cymbals.” — 2 Samuel 6:5 (Message translation)
Never mind his big victory over Goliath or his 30-year reign as Israel’s king. David was a worship leader with one rocking resumé.
As the Eric Clapton of his time, young David played the harp so beautifully that he chased away the blues of King Saul. He was a prolific lyricist, credited with writing approximately half of the 150 psalms in the Bible. His dance moves, displayed on one occasion while wearing a tight-fitting garment of questionable taste, disgusted his status-conscious wife, who then received a stinging rebuke from him: “In God’s presence I’ll dance all I want! I’ll become even more undignified than this!”
With such a rich heritage of making a joyful noise to the Lord, it’s no wonder that Christians place a king-size emphasis on worship. On Sundays in American churches, a sizable portion of most services is devoted to music, although the harpist/psalmist/mosher of old wouldn’t recognize today’s tools: electric guitars and amplifiers, wireless microphones, soundboards, computerized lighting, video screens, PowerPoint software, social media and more.
“A lot of it nowadays is very technical,” says Tim Rahman, 27, a worship pastor and percussionist at Christ’s Church of the Valley, a megachurch with four campuses in metro Phoenix and weekly attendance of about 22,000.
“As a worship pastor of any size of church, you need to know that — and how it all works together. More times than not, people getting hired can’t just play one instrument and sing.”
Grand Canyon University will plunge into this high-tech wonderland in the fall with the introduction of the Center for Worship Arts, designed to prepare undergraduate students for careers in worship ministry.
The program was rolled out recently with short video presentations at all 22 cities on the Roadshow, one of the biggest Christian music tours in the country. GCU has been a sponsor of the Roadshow, formerly known as the Rock & Worship Roadshow, for four years and has built strong ties in the music industry through Scott Fehrenbacher, the University’s senior vice president for faith-based marketing.
Bart Millard, lead singer for the band MercyMe, has been a consultant on the project. The Center for Worship Arts will be part of the College of Theology, although certain aspects will involve the College of Fine Arts and Production and the Ken Blanchard College of Business.
Other institutions with a similar program in place — such as Liberty University, Azusa Pacific University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary — normally assign it to their music school. GCU will require 48 credit hours of theology across four years of study.
“All students in the program will be trained for ministry,” says Dr. Jason Hiles, GCU’s theology dean, a former sculptor with a keen understanding of how the arts, culture and faith intersect. “This sort of training will develop the skills necessary for church-based ministry or service in Christian organizations.
“The public nature of the role of worship leader requires a depth of theological knowledge, for clarity in communicating the Gospel message.”
Worship leadership will be one of four degree emphases. The others are production, digital media and business management. According to Millard, 41, students will learn things that it took him years of trial and error to get a handle on.
“Bart gets who we are in a profound way,” Hiles says. “He understands we’re very much engaged in the culture, and he senses there’s an authenticity about us. He wants to ground students in the Word and teach them to communicate that through music.”
The program also will include a series of worship “summits” in areas such as songwriting, performance and marketing. These are expected to bring top industry talent to GCU and to utilize the nightclub-like Thunderground venue that opened on campus in 2012.
Guests might include Tai Anderson, bass player for Third Day, who completed his college degree online with GCU along with Mark Lee, the band’s lead guitarist. Anderson, 37, told a group of high school students before the recent Roadshow stop in Phoenix that he had to choose between a music career and his schooling in 1993 when he joined Third Day.
“How cool would it be, while already doing music ministry, to get the educational support behind it?” he said to the group.
Jeanette Plasencio, 22, who will graduate from GCU this spring with a major in Christian studies and a minor in music, says she heard about the possibility of a worship arts program before she even enrolled at the University. She is disappointed to have missed out.
“I’m graduating right before it happens,” says Plasencio, a worship leader at Catalyst Church in Phoenix who also has been a mainstay of GCU’s Chapel band. “This program will teach the tools you don’t know right away.”
Even so, Rahman says, there is no substitute for learning by doing. He says he hopes the program will provide an abundance of those practical opportunities.
“As much hands-on experience as you can give students at putting things together,” he says, “that’s extraordinarily important to their being hired.”
In other words, David, bring your head, heart and harp to class — and let’s see what you’ve got.
Contact Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or firstname.lastname@example.org.