The Depth Model: A Curriculum Strategy for Preparing Artistic Theologians

A worship pastor is both an artist and a theologian. To help students fulfill their vocational call to artistic ministry, the faculty of the School of Church Music at Southwestern joined with selected artistic ministers in the field to create the “Depth Model” curriculum for the master of music in church music degree. As an NASM accredited institution, the School of Church Music at Southwestern is a part of one of the world’s leading seminaries and provides both the breadth and depth of knowledge and experience needed to prepare worship leaders for a lifetime of ministry. The Depth Model moves students from entry-level general survey classes to depth-level classes built on student contribution and collaboration.

First-year students begin their journey by taking foundational theological courses that look at the overarching themes in the bible, foster the spiritual disciplines, and examine the philosophical, historical and biblical underpinnings of worship, congregational song, and artistic ministry. Their practical ministerial skills are enhanced as they take private lessons, participate in ensembles, and select specialized courses from a variety of offerings such as Media (Sound, Lights, and Staging), Leading Small Ensembles in Worship, Worship Planning, etc.… Professionals in the field teach these practicum courses. The first year of study is the “port of entry” for the Depth Model. It also serves as the platform for building community and developing lasting professional relationships

Second-year students continue their theological, worship scholarship, musicianship and performance preparation. In the worship and congregational song areas, the course of study transitions from lecture-based classes to research/presentation-based classes. This is where the Depth Model takes form. The students select from a variety of classes focusing on particular areas within worship and congregational song. For example, students can choose to take Hebrew and Early Christians Worship, Reformation and Postmodernism in Worship, Comparative Liturgies, and Dynamics of Corporate Worship in the 21st Century. In congregational song, they select from courses such as Contemporary Christian Song, Influence of Popular Styles in Worship Music, American Congregational Song, and The Psalms: Private and Corporate Worship Expressions. Their musicianship continues to be enhanced through the selection of graduate courses in music theory, composition, and music history. Their performance and presentation skills are sharpened through private lessons, ensembles participation, and practicum classes.

The second year of study also includes the addition of depth courses in ministry, worship leadership, missions, and philosophy. For ministry and worship leadership, students select from courses such as The Worship Leader as Pastor and Administrator, Supervised Ministry, Financial Management of Artistic Ministries, and specialized classes for leading children’s, youth Music, adult/senior adult, and instrumental music ministries. Not only do we offer the normal ethnomusicology offerings for missions’ engagement, but also students may choose to include groundbreaking study in courses such as Music Missions in Urban Settings, Hispanic Worship Ministries, and Worship in Korea. To complete the second year of study, students take Philosophy in Music Ministry, which includes units on aesthetics and learning theory, and select from specialized courses such as Arts, Architecture, and Aesthetics in Artistic Ministry and The Role of the Artist in Culture.

In all the depth classes, students are required to write a major research paper and/or conduct and present primary research. The depth classes teach the students to make a significant contribution to their field (scholarship, ministry, and performance). For example, this semester’s master’s level Comparative Liturgies class conducted a study of current Southern Baptist worship practice in Fort Worth. The class was divided into three teams to study the three major areas of the city. Within each area, the churches were divided into small (0-299), medium (300-599) and large (600 and above) churches. The students analyzed bulletins, surveyed congregations within each region, interviewed pastors and worship leaders, and facilitated focus group meetings. Each team generated a written report and presented their research to their peers in an open academic forum.

While the degree can be completed in two years (including work in the summer), the secret of success of the Depth Model is the encouragement of our students to take three years to complete their master’s degree. This “time-on-task” is often put aside in many places seeking convenience and general survey training. This extra year of study is a distinct advantage for our students. It allows for greater musical development, ministerial experience, and understanding of contribution and collaboration. Students can use this time to take additional depth classes, complete a thesis, or give a graduate recital. It also facilitates the completion of supervised ministry and allows the students to take advantage of mission trips and study abroad. Three years of graduate preparation is a brief opportunity to build a foundation for a lifetime of ministry.

The School of Church Music at Southwestern is having a Curriculum Summit for collegiate church music professors. As the coordinating host for the summit, I invite any interested collegiate music professors to contact me via email:

John E. Simons, D.M.A.
Professor of Church Music
Chair, Ministry Department
Associate Dean of the School of Church Music at Southwestern

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