Worship Arts Program at TWU
It seems Trinity Western University has hit another high note on the scale of quality, relevant and grounded higher education. The internationally recognized Christian university has relaunched its Worship Arts Program, which has been lauded by Worship Leader Magazine as Editor’s Pick for top higher education programs in North America. The program includes not only Bible-based teaching, but input and collaboration from some of the top names in Christian music, including MercyMe frontman Bart Millard.
TWU has already welcomed its first 25 students to the Worship Arts program, and it aims to welcome 25 more every year – and that, according to the university’s Senior Vice President of External Affairs, Scott Fehrenbacher, is expected to help fill the fastest growing demand of leadership within Canadian churches. “The interesting thing is that across Canada, there are a lot of programs that prepare people to be senior pastors, but very few programs preparing people to be worship leaders,” shares Fehrenbacher. “We want to fill that void, with the growth of the church community in Canada, and as the multi-site church model expands.”
Fehrenbacher also points out that the maturation of the worship leader has changed over the years. Today, in addition to being able to lead music, the worship pastor is “someone who needs to be theologically grounded, culturally relevant and artistically skilled. Our program, we believe is one of the very few that will really serve all those three areas.”
TWU has been strategic in its aim to develop leaders who can grow in these criteria. The university is drawing on the expertise and experience of professors who have themselves served as worship pastors, including the Dean of TWU’s School of the Arts, Media + Culture (under which department the Worship Arts Program operates) Dr. David Squires, who was a worship pastor for 11 years, and Adjunct Instructor of Worship Arts, Johnny Markin, who is also the worship pastor at Northview Community Church in Abbotsford.
“As you get into worship studies, we think it’s important to have an understanding of what the Bible says about worship and the cultural narrative of what we think worship is about,” shares Markin, who is teaching the Foundations of Christian Worship. “Number one, we’re going to look at the biblical story of worship in the old and new testaments, and then look at the Church, and find out what God is asking us to do as we worship.”
By combining passion, creative artistry and theological instruction, students are poised to successfully follow through on a career in worship arts. Student Katrina Reynolds, who will graduate with a degree in Vocal Performance, and a minor in Worship Studies has discovered both a deeper love for performing, and for the songs of the Bible – the Psalms, which she is studying in the course, Songs of Faith. All of this fuels her desire to pursue a career in worship arts. “It’s just amazing to me that I can do music for a career, and for my school degree,” Reynolds says. “It really is just a blessing. My dream would be to be a worship director or a worship pastor in a church, but also teaching music classically on the side. We’re learning great tools to use, and different ways to approach worship that we would not have thought of before. Our professors in this department really have a desire for us to think about things … and how we can apply what we’re learning.”
Outside the in-class teaching, TWU is breaking exciting ground in professional development and collaboration with big names in Christian music, and unique experience. Reynolds will travel next year to Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan as part of a choir tour with over 20 other TWU students. Other students have already sung on six tracks of Rend Collective’s newest album (which will be released in Spring 2018), and the TWU worship band will join the Irish band on a few of their tour dates next year in the UK. The students have also been invited to participate in a recording session with Canadian gospel and R&B sensation Warren Dean Flandez.
But perhaps the highest profile collaboration for the Worship Arts Program is the one the university shares with Bart Millard, leader of the multi-award winning Christian pop band MercyMe. Millard has been friends with Fehrenbacher for about 10 years, and the two worked together to develop a successful worship arts program at Grand Canyon University, where Fehrenbacher previously worked. “He was kind of my champion, I trusted Scott and wanted to be wherever he was,” shares Millard. “The second he called me and said ‘this (TWU) is where we need to be, this is the place, they have a reputation like no other’, I was like, ‘I’m in.’ When I got there, I fell in love with the university, and totally see what Scott sees. So, I followed Scott into an amazing blessing at TWU.”
As Senior Advisor to the program, Millard will act as an ambassador, connect the students with industry professionals in Nashville, including worship leaders, performing artists, songwriters, and producers. He will also help raise funds for the program, and perhaps most importantly, he will meet with the students both in person and via Skype, sharing encouragement, personal experience, practical teaching and industry connections.
“A lot of it will be Skyped from Nashville, so I can get different people from the industry, whether it be Amy Grant or an engineer or songwriters or a mixer … I can get different people from the industry working with them in real time, and taking questions and engaging with them,” shares Millard, who wrote the most downloaded Christian song in history, the double platinum, “I Can Only Imagine”.
Millard, who has already met this year’s batch of worship arts students in person on campus, says he wants to encourage students to write worship songs that “will outlast us” and he is thrilled to be mentoring and championing students at Trinity Western University.
“What if you equip students to go through with their calling from an infinite God, in an environment where they can fail and succeed safely and leave better than when they came in?” Millard says. “TWU called that vision.” twu.ca
(Join the Light Magazine next month as we share our conversation with Bart Millard in full).