Summer tour: SBTS music dean seeks to learn from prominent SBC churches

Communications Staff — September 28, 2005

LOUISVILLE, Ky.—After visiting 20 churches in seven states this summer, Thomas Bolton has some fresh ideas for training Southern Baptist Theological Seminary students to serve effectively in local church music ministries.

Bolton, dean of the school of church music and worship at Southern, spent 11 Sundays visiting some of the Southern Baptist Convention’s most prominent churches.

Visiting congregations such as First Baptist Church, Daytona Beach, Fla.; First Baptist Church, Orlando, Fla.; and First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Ga., Bolton built relationships with music ministers and learned what skills students need to serve in thriving worship ministries.

“I wanted to visit churches that eventually maybe some of our graduates would go to,” he said. “The whole idea behind it though was to make our curriculum relevant to ministry in Southern Baptist Churches.”

In preparation for each visit Bolton researched the church and sent the minister of music a five-page survey inquiring about the church’s worship. Visits included a tour of the church’s facilities, including the worship center, choir room, instrumental rehearsal room, sound and recording studios and music offices. After each visit, he met with the church’s worship leader.

Though the worship styles differed between churches, Bolton drew several conclusions regarding music ministry and the education of seminary students:

Training worship ministers in the use of worship technology is crucial for music ministry in the 21st century.

“I was in churches where the media center looked like a flight control center in an airport with all the screens,” he said. “They had so many boards and monitors. And many of these churches have recording studios and TV studios. The technology is unbelievable, and usually it’s the person who leads worship who is in charge of that.”

Southern already offers courses dealing with technology in worship, and the seminary may spend even more time training students to be conversant with the most common technologies used in churches, Bolton said.

“I feel like our students need at least a working knowledge of what’s out there—what’s found in these large churches and even some medium-sized churches,” Bolton said.

Churches can benefit greatly from Southern’s commitment to train worship leaders as ministers as well as musicians.

Southern teaches musicianship at the highest levels, but musicianship is merely a means to communicate theology and inspire devotion to Christ, Bolton said.

“Our primary mission is to produce ministers,” he said. “… What we study in applied music and in theory is not unlike a theology student taking Greek and Hebrew and tools they’re going to use. They’re not going to preach in Greek and Hebrew, but they’re going to use that in their sermon. It’s going to be a tool that they use. So we’re teaching a lot of tools, but we’re also stressing ministry more and more.”

In an effort both to acquaint music ministers with Southern’s music school and to help students learn from successful worship leaders, Bolton will attempt to bring working music ministers to campus for workshops and lectures, he said.

Most of these prominent churches have graded choir programs to teach children about worship and music.

Many of the churches also had youth choirs in which students can continue their education in worship.

All of the churches Bolton visited had an instrumental ministry.

The instrumental ministries included such features as orchestras, ensembles and some fulltime instrumental music associates on staff.

Music ministers were grateful that a seminary professor sought to learn from them.

Many times the conversation between Bolton and a church’s minister of music lasted more than two hours, he said. In those conversations the ministers shared that they desired to continue their educations and Bolton shared how Southern is in a position to help.

“At the end of several of these conversations the music minister would say something like, ‘I didn’t go to Southern, but it sounds like you’ve got a good program. And if I have a chance to recommend a seminary to someone, I‘ll certainly recommend Southern.’”

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