TWU’s new worship studies minor no small thing

“We saw that TWU was uniquely positioned to fill this niche. There’s not a lot of opportunity in Canada to study worship as part of a recognized university BA.”
—David Squires, PhD, Instructor of Music, TWU

Langley, B.C.—Though the church’s greater focus on music and the arts is attractive to congregations, according to worship studies experts, it’s leaving church leaders scrambling. With the shift, evangelical churches are finding it difficult to locate adequately educated and equipped music pastors. And few understand this dichotomy better than former worship pastor, David Squires, PhD, Associate Professor of Music at Trinity Western University. His scholastic and professional experience has uniquely positioned him to offer a solution. Partnering TWU’s music faculty with churches, Squires helped initiate the University’s first worship studies minor. First implemented in the summer of 2003, the program will be graduating its first two students with this minor in April.

“We often only get a very narrow slice of contemporary music,” explains Squires, referring to today’s music in church. “Worship leaders are often drawn to the latest CD, what they’re singing at the next church, or they rely on what their band knows. But everything I’m reading about our post-modern culture says we have a growing sense of eclecticism; there’s a willingness to explore other repertoire. So for one, we’re teaching students to look beyond the western church to what’s happening, for example, in France, Asia, Africa, and in the Celtic Christian church in the UK.”

Practically, the minor teaches students how to arrange for worship teams, write their own music, and deal with current worship leadership issues. But it also provides a foundation through a breadth of worship theology and history.

“In one course we look at the history of our repertoire as a church,” says Squires, who spent 11 years as an Associate Pastor of Worship, most recently at Sevenoaks Alliance church in Abbotsford. “What was the meaning and purpose of those songs? For instance, in Martin Luther’s case he was trying to educate the church. He had an illiterate congregation that was just discovering justification by faith. Today, songs are often more concerned with personal expression. When we realize why songs were written it helps us understand a lot more about worship and worship repertoire.”

The minor’s inception can actually be traced back many years. “When I became a worship pastor,” says Squires, “So many churches were crying out for better leadership, unable to even find people to hire. If you sat down with many music and worship leaders, they would often admit they felt ill-equipped.” According to Squires, that’s because worship pastoring today requires enormous skill—from leading a choir, worship team, and multiple services, to recruiting, overseeing, and pastoring others—these leaders need to be well-trained and highly versatile.

Once Squires returned to TWU in 1998, he knew he needed to help. Partnering the music faculty with churches, the worship studies minor was born.

“We saw that TWU was uniquely positioned to fill this niche,” says Squires. “There’s not a lot of opportunity in Canada to study worship as part of a recognized university BA.”

TWU students clearly agreed. Without much advertising or formal announcements, the minor attracted 14 students last September and 22 this spring. David Unrau, music major from Abbotsford, and Jon Hildebrand, international studies major originally from Saskatchewan, will be the first to graduate with a worship studies minor this April.

Part of the minor’s unique value is that it not only prepares future leaders, but it empowers current ones. Squires and his team have developed numerous modular courses, the bulk of which are taught in intensive weekends.

“We made contact with worship leaders all over the Valley in an attempt to determine how we could best partner with them,” says Squires. “How can we get beyond the campus and into churches to help train and equip people? That’s when we came up with the versatility of smaller modular one- to two-credit courses.” Since January alone, the program has run three weekend modular courses—Songs of Faith, Songwriting Workshop, and Arranging for Worship Teams. Two more are planned for the fall.

Held at various churches in the Lower Mainland, these modular courses invite community worship leaders to study alongside university students. They can complete the full modular components and receive credit, or simply attend the practical weekend course taught by experts in the field.

Crystal Hicks, worship pastor for Abbotsford Evangelical Free Church, and five members of her worship team attended the first weekend module. “When David came up with this I was excited,” says Hicks. “I’m limited in my resources, in what I can offer within our church, so it’s great that we’ve got someone from the outside lending their expertise. This is local, accessible to people and right in line with what I wanted to do.

Last Updated: 2015-07-20
Author: Keela Keeping