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Paul Jones on Bible college training for music

August 7, 2007

In his book, Singing and Making Music, Paul Jones offers the following critique of the training of church musicians at Baptist seminaries and Bible colleges:

The Baptist seminaries and independent Bible colleges are training church musicians, and have been for years, predominantly for service in churches of a congregational nature. They must be given credit for actually doing something, and the required coursework in theology/Bible is an excellent beginning. In this author’s estimation, the focus on ‘worship techniques’ in such schools (with credit-level coursework in clowning, puppetry, mime, dance, play- and scene-writing, drama teams, contemporary worship ensembles, and such graduate level required courses as ‘Leadership in Contemporary Expressions of Corporate Worship’ and ‘Producing and Staging Church Drama’) indicates an attempt to equip musical leaders with what is ‘currently out there’ in evangelical churches. Unfortunately, it also seems to exhibit a degree of willingness to compromise musical excellence to accommodate the relativism of the postmodern church. One wonders how much stronger the graduates of these programs could be if hours spent on such courses were instead allotted to a deeper study of great music, history, and liturgy. But all institutions feel the pressing need to find prospective students (and to graduate them ’employable’), and this factor wins out over a commitment to change the musical landscape for the better.*

I found some of this true in my bible college experience, which was (or at least feels like) a long time ago. They certainly did not cultivate a love for great hymns or hymnody, even within the class on the history of hymns. By far, the products of the fundamentalist music industry received the greater amount of attention and promotion.


*(Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Publishing, 2006), 144-45.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. mandythompson permalink
    August 7, 2007 12:30 pm

    my question is this: what is the goal of the degree program? is it to create musical academics with a fine-tuned grasp of theory and history (which is admittedly valuable) — or is it to prepare graduates to serve a regular musically illiterate body of worshipers?

    the objectives of the music ministry degree should reflect the objectives of the Church’s need in a music minister…..

    i think Mr. Jones’ objections to these programs are rooted in two deeper questions: what is the purpose of a “music minister” in today’s church? what are the goals that the church needs to move towards when establishing a worship environment?

    i applaud these programs for preparing worship ministers with a more holistic approach to worship that incorporates a number of the arts. worship is not and should not be exclusively musical in nature.

    i also agree with Mr. Jones in saying that musical excellence may be compromised…… on the other hand, most churchgoers today wouldn’t miss the absence of “musical excellence” with which he refers.

  2. August 7, 2007 12:56 pm

    The illiterate worshippers are illiterate worshippers because the worship leaders are illiterate in the history of Christian worship. By making “graduates” who are able “to serve a regular musically illiterate body of worshipers,” they have only further deepened the trend toward illiteracy.

    What is “today’s church”? How is it different than “yesterday’s church”? Has the body changed? Better yet, has the Head of the Body changed? Has the purpose of the “body of Christ” changed so that the purpose of someone who is a musician within that body has changed with it?

    What is a “worship environment”? I do not know what that means.

    Just to be clear, Mr. Jones was addressing music ministers in particular (I only cited a small portion of the chapter). I see no injunction from Scripture to worship with the “number of arts,” though I agree that worship is not limited to singing. I cannot conceive how drama can be worship, but even if it could be, I am not sure what warrant there is for a Christian assembly to have it, whether biblically (which is all that truly matters to me) or historically.

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