Why I Chose the Institute for Worship Studies (Doctor of Worship Studies Program)

Dr. Clayton GraduationWe recently got back from a trip to Florida. We traveled to my graduation/commencement ceremony at the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies in Orange Park, FL (www.IWS.edu). We also managed to do 5 days at Disney World for family vacation, but that’s another story.

I started the Doctor of Worship Studies program in 2007, after a year off from completing my MA in Worship. Interestingly, I began my studies the first session after the passing of Bob Webber, the founder of the school and worship guru. It was a heavy atmosphere, but profoundly formative for me regardless. I got turned on to Webber’s writings in the late 90s in Worship Leader magazine. His monthly column always drew my attention as I began to wade into the waters of leading worship. There was a depth to his writing on worship that attracted me and made me want more. Before finishing seminary, I knew I wanted to continue my studies at IWS.

Here are the big factors that impressed me about IWS and made it one of the best experiences of my life:

  • The focus on worship (not just music). It is unusual and unique for a school to focus that greatly on one area of study.
  • The professors. I received instruction from Andy Hill, Lester Ruth, Connie Cherry, Jeff Barker, and Reggie Kidd. They’ve said stuff that has stuck with me to this day and shaped how I do ministry. Not only were the profs great individually, but the courses were all team taught by 2 faculty – usually from diverse denominational heritages. It was so helpful to see unity and respect modeled in everything.
  • The communal feel. Sharing meals, singing in chapel, and working on practicum projects in a group. You get connected to people in a very intimate way – far beyond just lecture in class.
  • The diversity. The cohort I did my learning with was a great mixed-bag: Wesleyan, United Methodist, Mennonite, Anglican, Southern Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Charismatic, Foursquare, Evangelical Free, etc. The variety of experiences and backgrounds creates a layer of richness that you can’t really get any other way.
  • The curriculum. Every course in the doctoral program was fascinating to me: history of worship, renewal of the arts in worship, the liturgical calendar, and sacred actions (sacraments). Every course was very self-directed, especially in the final projects. You could take a direction that works for you and run with it. The practicum experiences were also invaluable. Planning worship services with a diverse group in a short time frame was challenging and inspiring.

IWS Graduates 2012

4 thoughts on “Why I Chose the Institute for Worship Studies (Doctor of Worship Studies Program)

  1. Interesting, I was just made aware of IWS, and I’m rather intrigued. Is there any emphasis on theology and doctrine, or do you see this as supplementary to a theological/seminary training?

    FYI, the Robert Webber Collection (2 vols.) was just made available for pre-order on Logos.

  2. Thanks for the comment Jonathan. There is a definite theological underpinning to everything about IWS – the main focus of the curriculum is looking at everything about worship/liturgy from a theological perspective (as opposed to just doing what everybody else does, or doing things the way they’ve always been done). I would say that a good percentage of students at IWS already have degrees from other denominational institutions (MDivs, etc.) and are coming with a core heritage that they represent. But there is a freedom to try on new theological things at IWS, and experiment with what the faith looks/feels like in your life. Depending on your background/ministry focus, IWS could serve as a primary education for some. Its a great DMin-type program for pastors who already have the MDiv. For church musicians, it is a great experience as well. But you won’t get a heavy dose of systematic theology or church history, or languages – they aren’t offered.

  3. Hey Jonathan,
    I”m looking into IWS and was wondering if you could tell me if there were students getting the DWS that were hoping to teach on the college/seminary level, or were most getting the degree to better their church or ministry work outside of higher education? Thanks!!

  4. Gary – Thanks for the comment.

    I know many IWS students who are now faculty at various universities and seminaries. One of my seminary professors at SWBTS (Lyndel Vaught) was an IWS grad. One of my colleagues from IWS now teaches at Indiana Wesleyan University (J. Michael Dennis). I think IWS has a growing reputation for academic excellence that most schools would like to employ!

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