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GGBTS program seeks to bring worship leadership to life in local churches

MILL VALLEY, Calif. (BP)–The newest degree program at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary has a simple goal: to bring “worship leadership to life” in local congregations, said Gary McCoy, director of the seminary’s Bill and Pat Dixon School of Church Music.

“We simply want to train worship leaders for churches,” McCoy said of the seminary’s master of arts in worship leadership. “We want to emphasize the seminary’s focus to be church-related, and the position of worship leader is one of the newer elements out there that churches need and want.”

The seminary started the MAWL degree in the fall of 1998 and is the fastest growing degree program in the music school, comprising nearly half the music students at Golden Gate Seminary.

While not as musically intensive as the other music degrees, it does features a greater battery of courses on the theology and implementation of worship and a greater concentration of biblical studies and general ministry courses.

During seminary commencement ceremonies in May, Sung Woo Park, music minister at the 1,100-member New Community Baptist Church in Mountain View, Calif., became the first graduate of the MAWL degree.

“I realized this is a good chance for me to study both styles. This degree was the answer to my prayers,” said Park. “I want all the members of my congregation to be worshipers.”

The two-year degree was designed by seminary faculty as the centerpiece of a restructuring within the music school designed to “connect even more fully with the training needs of local churches in the western United States and to strengthen the financial base of the music school,” said seminary president William O. Crews.

McCoy noted the program’s emphasis upon practice in worship design and implementation allows students to combine “strong generalized ministry skills” with the specialized craft of worship and music.

“This program is more accessible for people who do not have previous formal musical training, and at the same time it provides training in areas of leadership in ministry in the church,” said McCoy, who also serves as a minister of music at a nearby church.

“We train the students in theology, worship leadership and music,” McCoy added. “It’s a combination that fulfills vitally the needs the church is voicing at this time. Churches want students who take an opportunity in studying worship design and learning how to carry out a rising quality of worship, music and other things.”

Karen Ball, a worship leader at Hillcrest Baptist Church in nearby Vallejo, Calif., called her discovery of the seminary’s MAWL program a “God thing” following the close of her career in the public schools.

The music course work has helped her brush up on her undergraduate studies, she said, and the theological studies she has found very enlightening. “Because I wasn’t raised as a Christian, I had to do a lot of catching up on learning and cultivating a personal relationship with God, and the classes have been really good. The worship leadership classes help me keep up to date with what trends and attitudes are happening.”

Though there is more of a contemporary bent to some of the music and worship philosophy courses, McCoy said it still offers a well-rounded approach in musical style. “The degree includes opportunities for students to choose what they want to focus on,” he said. “There are requirements in traditional, classical and contemporary styles and banks of classes for students to choose what they want.”

This way, the degree suits a variety of church contexts. “Church identities change so much,” he said. “There is less emphasis on choral work and more on an ensemble and teams and a more contemporized sound, but neo-classicism is in vogue too. Some music is classic in nature, but with a new sound.”

Though it’s not a master in music degree, McCoy, a former Southern Baptist missionary to Korea, said no one should view it as an easy music degree. “It’s not right to categorize a degree as easier or harder,” he said. “The MAWL is a very focused degree on a particular ministry call. It prepares for what it was meant to do. The other music degrees do have broader possibilities in the end, but to do the MAWL, one must have a call to worship leadership.”

Church planting student Phillip Connor, a music intern at Petaluma (Calif.) Valley Baptist Church, expressed appreciation to the seminary’s faculty for what he is learning: “I’m very appreciative of all the work the professors in the music school and those in the music ministry at the church are doing to make this experience so great. God has given me several great mentors, and the experience here has already shaped me and will continue to. I’m having fun with the MAWL degree.”

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  • Cameron Crabtree and BP Staff