Interview with Joel Taylor, Director of Bethel Music and WorshipU.
Explain to us more about what WorshipU is all about and who is involved.
Sure. WorshipU was birthed out of the Bethel School of Worship, a summer program that has been going for over 10 years at Bethel Church in Redding, CA. We have been wanting to make the worship school more accessible to worshippers and worship leaders around the world for a while and this was the year we finally made it happen.
We are all about equipping and empowering worshipers to walk in their identity and to understand the fullness of what worship is. Our Biblically based teaching from experienced instructors helps students go deeper in their personal worship times and enhance their skills as leaders.
The Bethel senior pastoral staff and worship staff, as well as some of the Jesus Culture team are involved in the program. This includes Bill Johnson, Brian and Jenn Johnson, Jeremy Riddle, Kris Vallatton, Chris Quillala, William Matthews and more.
What should students who enroll in this program expect to leave with when the 3 month program has ended? What sorts of skills will they walk away with?
I think the main thing students will walk away with is confidence. This includes a deeper knowledge of worship and leadership as well as a greater sense of identity and personal calling in worship. We want students to capture their God given destiny and find their own voice.
Beyond that, students can also walk away with fresh musical skills. The self-paced electives taught by Bethel Music and Jesus Culture musicians teach on a number of instruments for any skill level. They really tried to teach in a way that would help fellow musicians play on the same level as they do.
You advertise your program to provide a community with which they can connect. What are the benefits of an online community of worship leaders and students from around the world?
The WU online community is still evolving into something bigger than we anticipated. Initially, we wanted to provide a platform for interaction. However, our beta students have shown us that it is so much more than that. They are forming songwriting groups, getting prayer groups together, interacting on social media sights and asking peer-to-peer questions in the discussion boards.
It is just a great opportunity to connect with others who have the same passions as you and can relate to your current circumstances. We have students of all ages and instruments, so you can chat with peers on everything from spirituality to guitar gear.
Can you tell us more about the mentorship the student will receive when they enroll?
A lot of feedback that we received from our summer students was that they want someone to help walk them through the application of the teachings into their individual situations. With the WorshipU mentorship, students have direct contact with someone on the WU team. This is someone who can guide them through the learning experience and to walk them through the program.
We like to use our mentorship program to strongly encourage students to find deeper mentor connections within their own community. Online mentorship can give insight on topics, but can’t speak a ton into people’s hearts.
How does this equip students with interests in the varying outlets of the church? (i.e. speakers, songwriters, worship leaders, etc.)
A lot of the WorshipU curriculum is about character, identity, and spiritual authority. These topics are cross-functional to almost any area of ministry and aim to equip believers in any role. It’s about more than worship, it’s about living transformed so that we can transform the world around us.
Furthermore, this program goes into depth on worship leaders and songwriters. We have multiple songwriting electives and numerous lessons on worship leadership covering topics such as team dynamics, community, and leading a congregation.
What does the curriculum consist of? What aspects of worship does WorshipU stress or focus on?
Well, I touched on it briefly in the last question. The curriculum touches a lot on identity and finding your voice. God has a unique anointing on every persons life and we want to help call that out. We hope this course gives a lot of self-discovery to each student about calling and God-given destiny.
We also have an emphasis on instrument training. Every student gets 4 electives of their choosing that stress excellence and professionalism. There is such a beauty in finding that sweet spot of playing well and having an authentic heart of worship. It’s not perfectionism; but rather a realization that our amazing Creator is worthy of our best offering.
What are the behind-the-scenes worship sessions that you offer like?
We wanted to try something unique with these and take a little bit of a risk. So we filmed the worship sets during our summer school of worship. We recorded them live in HD video and audio without any overdubbing. These are available for students to enter in to personal times of worship throughout the course.
I think the really cool part is the sound checks and band debriefs attached with each set. We have nearly an hour of unedited footage of sound checks and run-throughs for each worship set. It’s great to see how the band interacts with one another and learn how they arrange songs and build sets. Also, we have brief group discussions with the band after the set where they unfold what went right, what went wrong, and how they felt throughout the set. It’s a pretty interesting feature.
Much of leading in the church comes with practical application. As an online school, how do you incorporate this crucial step in any type of education?
You’re absolutely right. In one of our lessons, I think it’s Jeremy who says, “The best way to learn is to just do it.” We can provide a lot of tools and teaching about worship and leading; but without actually stepping into your calling for yourself, the lessons won’t do all they were intended to do.
So, the main thing we do is encourage. We encourage our students to take risk and step out in faith. We have mentors available to help answer some of those application questions, but ultimately we hope the students gain the courage and skill they need to walk as a leader themselves and transform the world around them.
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