Worship ministries program seeks to partner with Missouri Baptists
KANSAS CITY – Students of all ages are returning to campuses across Missouri, including at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. For MBTS professors Matthew and Angela Swain, they’re hoping for not just a smooth start to the school year, but an increased focus on equipping musician-theologians, on and off campus.
The Heart of Worship
The wording there is important to the Swains: musician-theologians. Yes, they’re training many who will become worship leaders. Others will become worship pastors. But regardless of title or eventual vocation or ministry, their goal is that music never gets separated from theological truths of Scripture.
“It’s more than training a worship artist or someone that gets up on stage and performs,” Matthew said. “We believe that in the church there needs to be an equal balance between music and theology, and not one before the other. We’ve seen a lot of programs throw out the baby with the bathwater and do musical training at the expense of theological training, or vice versa. We want to bring them together and provide a place were we can help students see how that equips them for their specific calling.”
Angela said that phase, “musician-theologian,” also incorporates women who are not called to be pastors, but still want to serve the church through musical gifts through biblical roles.
“For many men that come through, they do feel God’s call for some pastoral responsibilities,” she said. “But we also have women who are not called to be pastors, but we’re helping them figure out God’s call and training them to go out and serve the church in a variety of ways as musician-theologians.”
Everything – even something as elemental as a voice lesson – is balanced with theology and gets funneled through the seminary’s mission statement: “For the Church.”
“Even in a voice or piano lesson, we’re teaching skills, but it’s always through the lens of what the Bible has to say about God’s gift of music,” Matthew said. “We talk about how it’s to be used, and how we can steward these skills to relate to the congregation, the local church and its ministry. Are the words we’re singing biblically true and doctrinally sound? We want excellent music, but not excellent music for its own sake; we want excellence because God deserves our best and our preparation is a worthy sacrifice. We want to use music to create disciples, to see people come to know the Lord, and to put worship in the hearts and minds of people that will sustain them through life’s dangers, toils and snare.”
Blessed be the Tie that Binds
The worship ministries program at MBTS is growing. Seven years ago, when the Swains came to the seminary, there were five students. COVID-19 has caused some fluctuations this year and last, but enrollment has risen and the division now sports 10 accredited degrees, including associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s (including an all-online degree) and two doctoral programs. Every professor – even if an adjunct – has been seminary-trained and is involved in their local church’s worship ministry.
“We’d love to partner with Missouri Baptists,” Angela said, “and not just to train students who come here for a degree.”
That partnership not only reflects MBTS’s identity as a Cooperative Program ministry, but it also grows from the school’s mission to be “for the church.” Congregations sending their students who sense a call to worship ministry to campus is indeed the most obvious way to engage with the vision of musician-theologians, but the Swains acknowledge it’s not feasible for many. Other ways the seminary exists as a tool for Missouri Baptists include things like a community choir made up of nearby churches, assisting churches seeking a worship leader, equipping non-degree-seeking musicians or worship leaders, micro-workshops, and even meeting up for a cup of coffee and being a sounding board for the stresses and unique challenges facing musician-theologians across the state.
“As I’ve been in Missouri talking with people, they come to me and tell me there’s this need in our local churches,” Matthew said. “Not just good musicians, but good musicians who are theologically minded. How can we say we’re ‘for the Church’ if we’re not here as a resource and an encouragement for our local churches?”
For more information about the worship ministry program at MBTS or to contact the Swains, go to mbts.edu or call 816-414-3700.