For the past five years I have had the privilege of teaching at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. It has been a joy to teach courses like History and Theology of Worship, Philosophy of Ministry, Congregational Song, Aesthetics, Spiritual Formation, Culture, and Biblical Foundations of Worship alongside a world-class faculty that are experts in their respective fields, everything from theology to church history to education to philosophy to church music.
While I believe that the best education happens in residential programs, at SWBTS we recognize that in some cases individuals whom God has called to receive more education are currently in ministry, and so they are unable to relocate to Fort Worth for their education. For this reason, many programs at SWBTS are now available in a variety of online, distance, and hybrid formats.
Four years ago I was able to be a part of a restructuring of our Master of Arts in Worship degree that makes it an online/residential hybrid program. Students are now able to receive this quality masters degree without relocating. They come to campus for four consecutive week-long “J-term” sessions (January and July), where they take two Spiritual Formation courses, three ministry practicums, and our Worship Studies core:
- Biblical Foundations of Worship
- Congregational Song
- Dynamics of Corporate Worship
- Worship Arts
The students then take three courses in Systematic Theology, two in New Testament, two in Old Testament, two in Church History, and Baptist History all online during the normal semester and summer sessions.
When we first launched the degree, I’ll admit I was skeptical. I cynically expected this degree to be populated with insufficiently motivated students who were just looking for a quick degree. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Our hybrid Master of Arts in Worship degree has turned out to be one of the programs I most enjoy. I think it is because since each of the students in the program is active in full-time ministry, either church ministry or teaching, they know what is at stake and are thirsty for knowledge that can inform their philosophy and practice. The modular courses are always packed with engaging and enriching discussion. I always look forward to the cohort coming into town.
This past year I was able to design and help get approved a new PhD concentration in Worship Studies. This program, like all of the PhD programs at SWBTS, is offered as either a traditional residential program or through flexible access. This means that distance students can log in to live classes online and participate with the students in the classroom. You can find out more able flexible access here.
The beauty of this structure (as opposed to a modular PhD) is that the degree is exactly the same whether students are in residence in Fort Worth or participate in the courses through live, synchronous online access. This means that a student could start the program from a distance and then later move to Fort Worth (or vice versa) to finish in residence without changing programs.
I had a great time this year brainstorming with colleagues about how to make this Worship PhD the best possible program, and I am thrilled with the result. Students in the program take three general courses:
- Research and Writing in Worship Studies
- Teaching in Higher Education
- Special Research in Worship Studies
They also take seven seminars chosen from four overarching categories:
- Worship History
- Research in Worship History: Old Testament to Middle Ages
- Research in Worship History: Reformation to the Present
- Theology and Worship
- Research in Theology and Worship I
- Research in Theology and Worship II
- Worship Philosophy
- Research in Worship and Music Philosophy
- Research in Aesthetics
- Research in Culture
- Congregational Song
- Research in Congregational Song: Old Testament to Middle Ages
- Research in Congregational Song: Reformation to the Present
Additionally, students take electives in theology, education, or church history and complete the program with a standard PhD dissertation.
I am very happy that we have six incoming students enrolled in this new program already!
I still believe that residential education is the best option for many reasons. But I also recognize that God could call someone to more education while remaining in current ministry. That’s why I’m so happy about these two excellent programs!