University 2020: Come to learn, depart to lead

Music and gospel arts leaders, corps officers and worship leaders throughout the territory gathered for two days of practical instruction at the Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in South Bend, Ind., this winter.University 2020 was an equipping conference in response to the Central Territory’s goal of Live Music in Worship in Every Corps by 2020.

Led by the territorial music and gospel arts department, the event was packed with sessions designed to expand skills and inspire leadership in worship, including music (instrumental, choral, praise band, guitar, keyboard), drama, dance and media.

At Friday evening’s keynote Bandmaster William Himes introduced an all-star cast of facilitators, which included Pastor Steve DeNeff and Dr. Emily Virmillya from College Wesleyan Church, Marion, Ind.; John Lam, Canadian Staff Bandmaster; Cathie Koehnen, Central Ontario Youth Chorus; and guitarist Jimmy Cox, Oklahoma and Arkansas divisional youth worship director.

Pastor Steve DeNeff set the tone for this compelling ministry. From Romans 12:1-2, he reminded participants the purpose of worship is to be “transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

“Never in history have we had better worship but worse ethics among congregations,” he said.  “Worship must provide opportunity for spiritual formation, enabling us to ‘test and approve what God’s will is-His good, pleasing and perfect will.'” Having received the challenge, participants were off to partake in the first of four breakout sessions.

University 2020 also relied on leadership resources in the territory, drawing on the expertise of Peggy Thomas (worship resources), Meghan Pierson, Charol McDonald and Evie Polsley (children’s music), Zane Koehler (percussion), Kelly Saydera (dance), Matt Rowland (media) and William Himes (keyboard and worship curriculum). The Bill Booth Theater Company addressed effective use of drama in worship, while The Singing Company identified and illustrated best practices for praise bands.

In addition, the Eastern Michigan (EMI) Divisional Band and Chicago Kroc Singing Company served as demonstration groups as delegates observed principles put into action. Delegates were invited to participate in choral and instrumental reading sessions in which each group read through 15 pieces of music in an hour!

Saturday morning DeNeff focused on the mission of worship to shape the culture of church so it’s hard not to grow. With the illustration of everyday objects, DeNeff talked about how having the right leadership (remote control) and maintaining the proper climate (thermostat) is crucial to change.

Delegates then plunged into a morning and afternoon of breakout sessions, fellowship and the opportunity to shop for worship and music resources provided by Resource Connection.

Too quickly the final wrap-up session was at hand, which began with exciting music by the Chicago Kroc Singing Company, EMI band and The Singing Company.

In his closing challenge, DeNeff identified three disciplines modeled by Jesus in Luke 6:12-19: solitude (prayer), community (disciples), ministry (preaching, healing). He said these must be balanced and occur in order. Delegates were urged to keep these disciplines as they sang with new insight, “Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to Thee.”

Although most delegates were soon on the road to get home for Sunday services, many remained and joined a crowd from the South Bend area for an early evening community praise concert featuring the conference demonstration groups. Led by Tom Hanton, the EMI band’s thrilling finale of “Fire in the Blood” brought a standing ovation.


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