WHAT I FOUND ON MY VISITS TO OUR SEMINARIES
Remember when you were in grade school and began a new school year with a report assignment that included the exciting topic, “What I Did on My Summer Vacation?” OK, perhaps it was not so exciting, but it was an easy topic to address because as the reporter we were simply talking about something we had experienced in person. The challenge was to articulate the experience.
Well, I want to offer a little report on what I found on my trips to our SBC seminaries, and I feel a bit the same way about that. Don’t worry, this is not old Music School break lounge stories from the early 80’s when I attended Southern. I will spare you those. Rather, I wanted you to know a bit about recent opportunities I have had to be on the campus of three of our six SBC seminaries. I have been addressing classes primarily sharing from my book, first at SBTS in Louisville last May, then at NOBTS in New Orleans in late August, and I just returned last week from SWBTS in Ft. Worth. On all three campuses I spoke with doctoral classes, and also with Masters students at NOBTS. I wanted you to know that I am convinced we have good reason to be proud and hopeful about what is happening at our seminaries in worship and music ministry studies. My optimism stems from the high expertise and convictional commitment of faculties and students. Those at the doctoral level are offering keen interest in providing research to assist worship ministry for a future that remains adventurous in an unknown cultural context before us. We will certainly need this focus as we forge ahead.
In my trips to our seminaries I have been struck with a realization that they each have strong similarities in their commitment to aspects of Baptist distinctives, and in their understanding of who we have been historically as a musical people. I have also been struck that each of our seminaries readily recognizes and grapples with the current state of artistic expression in church worship, and how best to address needs as they educate upcoming worship music leaders, academicians, and pastoral musicians. While the seminary programs have these similarities they also retain some very clear differences in approach and emphasis. I find the differences to offer healthy educational alternatives, both for worship music leaders and for churches searching for leadership.
It seems to me that in recent years many of our pastors and churches have placed lesser value on securing their worship ministry staff leadership from our SBC seminaries than in previous periods. When I started serving on the TBC staff in 2000, it was quite common for Music Minister Job Descriptions to include a preference statement that candidates would have graduated from an SBC seminary or have equivalent experience. There are numerous factors regarding this shift, which well deserves address in an article all its own at a future date. For now, I want to simply affirm what I have seen and experienced at SBTS, NOBTS, and SWBTS.
There is surely nothing frivolous about the academic atmosphere of any of these settings. Nor are they engaged in a sort of trade school approach to their work. Each is calling for a very high level of thinking, deep level of serious commitment to the Church, and a candid assessment of the state of worship and music ministry in general – theologically, musically, and developmentally.
I know we have a good number of alumni from each of these seminaries. I want to encourage our support. Rumors and events over the years have proven harmful to relationships in some cases. A lot of changes have come down the pike over the years. I believe there is still very good reason to build healthy relationships and support our colleges and seminaries in SBC life, and to encourage prospective students under our influence to seriously consider the advantages of furthering education at SBC institutions of higher learning.