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A Passion for Worship

Rachel Heston-Davis A Passion for Worship

“Worship is our whole response to the liberating story of God,” says Assistant Professor of Worship Arts Paul Sunderland.

This view of worship as spiritual response undergirds everything Sunderland brings to his classroom at GC. For Sunderland, the act of worship is both art form and discipline, both intimate meeting with God and arena of rigorous learning. 

This love of worship has led Sunderland to devote his career to the subject. After many years of studying, teaching and leading worship, Sunderland has completed his dissertation, recently approved by the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies, to become a doctor of worship studies.


A Theology of Worship

Sunderland teaches students that they must develop a theology of worship if they would be successful in that art form. A theology of worship involves understanding what worship is, along with the personal and corporate components of our response to God. This foundation helps a leader make choices that effectively lead participants toward a worshipful experience of God. 

“That doesn’t mean worship needs to be an academic exercise,” he says. “It simply means that you cannot lead what you do not understand.”

Sunderland himself has become a student to worship theology all over again, as it shaped his dissertation topic. “My thesis had a research component, but I also had the opportunity to take about 10 worship leaders from the Gateway conference of Free Methodist churches to train them on worship theology and effective song choice,” Sunderland explains. “The project was fantastic and really meaningful to all of us.”


Excellence and Creativity Across Many Platforms

Sunderland’s experience encompasses not just leading worship, but creating music within the genre. He has written several worship songs and composed hymn arrangements, underscoring the need for strong musical training to accompany theological understanding.

“Worship music should always involve excellence and creativity, but not necessarily in the same ways we approach music for other platforms,” he says.

Sunderland would know; he’s played music in various settings and with different purposes. When he was just out of college he joined a full-time Top 40 band for a year, playing live music five to seven nights a week. He looks back on this amazing experience with fondness, but knows that path wasn’t for him; the job didn’t allow enough family time.


Teaching As Ministry

Following this stint as a performer, Sunderland shifted his career and became a full-time worship leader, as well as an adjunct instructor of commercial music for Malone University in Canton, Ohio, for more than a decade. A few of his former students include members of the popular Christian band Relient K.

He saw the full-time faculty role at Greenville College as a huge opportunity to bring together his calling as a worship leader and a teacher.

“There is nothing I want to do more than invest in the lives of young worship leaders and musicians,” he reflects, “I often tell people that I didn’t leave ministry; I now have the privilege to make teaching my primary ministry focus.”


Learn more about music at Greenville College:

GC Alumnus Wins Big at the Grammys

It Never Hurts to Ask: One Question Lands Dream Internship

Music Business Internships Open Doors of Opportunity for Students

Pursuit to Lead Worship at FMYC 2017


Students are grateful for the chance to learn with experienced faculty like Paul Sunderland and also grateful for the scholarships that make these experiences possible. Your generous gift today supports student scholarships. Thank you!

This story was published on April 11, 2017

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