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Pursuing Praise

Pursuing Praise

GC Offers New Program in Worship Arts

In the summer evening air, five musicians stand on a stage at the front of an outdoor sanctuary, singing and playing their hearts out in worship. The crowd of high schoolers joins them, lifting their voices to praise God. This scene happens up to three times a day every week throughout June and July as Pursuit leads worship for camps in six different states.

The collective moniker for seven Greenville College worship bands that tour or lead worship on and off campus, Pursuit’s name reflects the desire of its members to passionately pursue Christ while leading others along the same path. “When people have an engaging encounter with God through worship music, we have succeeded,” says Professor Paul Sunderland, head of the new worship arts program at GC. In its inaugural year, the worship arts program specifically prepares students for Christian service through music ministry.

While touring ministries have been part of the Greenville College experience for close to a century, Pursuit was organized in 2010 as part of the Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) major. The CCM program was restructured this year to reflect more distinctive interests in worship arts and commercial music. Pursuit became part of the worship arts track.

Sunderland’s objective is to help Pursuit members develop as musicians while learning how to create a meaningful worship experience. Two groups receive academic credit, and the other bands practice and perform as volunteers. Pursuit is open to students from all majors, but draws heavily from those studying worship arts. Upperclassmen audition in the spring, and two new groups form in the fall after auditions by freshmen and transfer students to round out the roster.

Part of Pursuit’s role is to represent Greenville College, just as it was for the quartets from the College’s earlier history. For Sunderland, however, the training for ministry is more fundamental. “Pursuit has an incredible opportunity to promote GC, but it is just as important for our students to learn how to serve the body of Christ through leading worship and caring about people.”

Sophomore Paul Gandy played the piano and sang with one of the Pursuit teams last summer. The hands-on experience in ministry allowed him to grow spiritually as well as musically. “We learned that ministering and sharing Christ’s love doesn’t stop when your band is done leading worship in the evening,” he reflects. “Rather, it is a 24/7 calling that Christ calls us to. It was great to see God use us on the stage with worship after we invested time in the students."

In addition to summer camps, Pursuit led worship at over 20 off-campus events at Christian schools, churches, and youth retreats during this academic year. Its members also have a regular responsibility to conduct worship during GC’s chapel and Vespers services.

Pursuit members share God’s Word in addition to using their musical gifts. They plan worship music sets around a specific theme, offering a message in a clear and organized way. Their dialogue centers on the theme as well, so that their conversation is not disjointed and distracting. Pursuit’s success is demonstrated by the congregation’s response in worshiping God together. According to Sunderland, “that makes the music very different than a band that exists to perform. Worship leading is first a spiritual role, then a musical one.”

Ultimately, Pursuit’s aim is to influence a new generation of Christ followers. If its members can be part of even one young person making a decision to follow Christ, then the whole year is worth the effort. Pursuing praise because God pursues us – what a privilege to share the message!

This story was published on August 08, 2013

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