A friend of mine posed an interesting question the other day: “why pursue worship at DTS?” It’s a good question, especially in light of this morning’s graduation ceremonies, where we will send out many of our graduates into pulpits where they will lead in worship. And, it’s a question that needs a bit of unpacking. We might infer an attendant set of questions, “Why follow the crowd? Shouldn’t we be maintaining our distinctively biblical emphasis, and leave worship to those schools whose budgets allow for the kind of massive overhead typically required in a worship program? Wouldn’t an emphasis on worship create a fiscal (not to mention a theological) diversion from our central focus of teaching the Bible?
Let’s take the questions in order. “Why pursue worship at DTS?” The answer can be summarized in two points: 1) biblical mandate, and 2) need.
At Dallas Theological Seminary we never create a degree program, a department, a course, or an assignment based purely on felt need. Our curriculum is designed to fulfill a biblical mandate, which is reflected in our mission statement: “to glorify God by equipping godly servant leaders for the proclamation of His Word and the building up of the body of Christ worldwide” (Deuteronomy 6: 5-7; II Timothy 2:2; 3:16; Matthew 28:19). A number of years ago Bill Zinsser, author of On Writing Well, made the following comment at a national EPA conference: “the most despised word in publishing is ‘market-driven.’” He was making the point that, as soon as leaders allow the market they serve to dictate the direction of the business, they abdicate their leadership role and become followers of followers – a turbulent and inconstant market. The original vision of the founding fathers erodes under the pounding waves of immediate and urgent demands.
Fulfilling the mandate to teach the Word requires sensitivity and discernment as we seek to meet the real needs of our students and the body of Christ worldwide. Real needs often stand in contrast to felt needs. Real needs are often more substantive, more profound, and, paradoxically, less accessible than are the more insistent and immediate felt needs of those we serve. People are hurting so much, they often miss a deeper need. Think of the paralytic in Matthew 9:2 whose deeper need for forgiveness was addressed by Jesus prior to meeting the felt need of his paralysis. Understanding the real need of those who suffer doesn’t lessen the reality or the pain, but it does place it in perspective, and may, in the long run allow us to provide comfort that will extend beyond the desire for immediate relief.
Felt needs may be painful, but they are frequently transitory. They are often based on a primitive, fight-or-flight reaction to a crisis, and rarely take into account how the original vision should inform the response to the immediate need. That takes maturity, perspective, patience. In this regard, the need for worship is a bit of an anomaly. In the case of worship, the pressing, felt need for worship leaders, and the real need for biblically grounded worship in the Christian community fit together hand in glove. Felt need and real need are both immediate and substantive. So our goal becomes to meet the real need in a way that will also address the felt need for worship leaders.
“Why follow the crowd?” We can say, unequivocally, that we are leading the crowd rather than following. By providing biblical and theological training for those who wish to serve as worship leaders, we set ourselves apart. Rather than assuming the posture (and the accompanying expenses) of a music or arts institute, we set about to train gifted musicians, dramatists, and other talented artists to think theologically – to evaluate music, drama, and other art forms from the perspective of our distinctive theological emphases which have been the hallmark of Dallas theological seminary for over 90 years.
Rather than being a diversion, an emphasis on worship helps to fulfill our biblical mandate to teach, informing the hearts and minds of our parishioners. Our founder, Lewis Sperry Chafer, was an artist – a musician – and a theologian. By offering an emphasis in worship, we are returning to our roots, cultivating beauty and enhancing our fidelity to the living Word of God.