SWBTS team preparing music as ministry for SBC Annual Meeting

FORT WORTH—Preparing music for an annual meeting that serves more than 10,000 people over two days can be overwhelming, but Joseph R. Crider, music director for the 2024 SBC Annual Meeting in Indianapolis, is confident in—and thankful for—the team around him that will help provide worship leadership during the gathering.

Crider, dean of the School of Church Music and Worship at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said SBC President Bart Barber, a two-time Southwestern alumnus, wanted the seminary’s music team to lead worship at this year’s convention. Crider was elected music leader during the 2023 annual meeting in New Orleans and has spent the past year preparing for Indianapolis.

“I am honored to be asked, but … there is a lot that goes into the preparation that most people never think about,” Crider said. “The music director for the annual meeting is a member of the Committee on the Order of Business for the SBC. The business of the SBC is packed into two days of committee reports, resolutions, entity presentations, elections, preaching and worship, so there are [many details] that take the entire year to plan.”

Crider, Southwestern A Cappella, and the seminary’s Cowden Hall Band will lead the music for the meeting. Southwestern A Cappella, a select music ensemble composed of graduate and undergraduate music students in the SCMW, assisted in leading worship during the worship sessions of the 2023 meeting in New Orleans. The Cowden Hall Band is the school’s graduate house band.

Charles Lewis, associate dean of the SCMW and professor of church music and worship, is coordinating all the production and logistical details. Ricky Johnson, SCMW artist in residence and director of bands, and Hugo Encorrada, a doctor of philosophy student, are working out specific musical arrangements for all the worship.

Without the help of these men, the students in the music groups, Fran De Wysockie, administrative assistant in the SCMW, and the help and encouragement of the school’s faculty and staff, Crider said, “I would be overwhelmed.”

Crider also tapped James Cheesman, who led the music for the 2023 meeting. Cheesman serves as the worship pastor at Barber’s church, First Baptist Church in Farmersville, Texas, and is a Ph.D. student and adjunct instructor at Southwestern.

“With all that James has on his plate, it was a lot to ask him to coordinate music for another annual meeting,” Crider said. “But I will say that the congregational participation and worship at last year’s annual meeting was the best I’ve heard in years. James did an incredible job of choosing songs people know and love, and he led with sincere, pastoral humility. I’m praying the Lord will help us do the same.”

Cheesman will lead the worship with SCMW students prior to Barber’s sermon on Tuesday morning of the convention.

Crider said preparation “began several months ago as we prayed through the theme of the meeting [‘One Mind, One Voice,’ based on Romans 15:5-6], the Scripture passages that will guide each of the worship elements and then the songs and hymns that Southwestern A Cappella and Cowden Hall Band have been leading through the year. Fortunately, we aren’t trying to learn all new music for the June meeting.”

Crider said he has lost track of the hours of rehearsal time, “But our students will come back from their summer break for three major rehearsals on campus totaling around 20 hours of intense rehearsals in preparation for our ministry in Indianapolis.”

The students will lead almost 40 songs throughout the two-day meeting, he said.

Crider explained what he hopes both SBC messengers and his students gain from the experience.

“We simply want to serve the messengers by encouraging them to worship Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father, in the power of the Holy Spirit,” he said. “We will serve them well if they think more of Jesus than they do of us and how we lead them. At the same time, we want our SBC churches across the country to know that it [is the SCMW’s passion] to prepare men and women for their calling to the ministry – as is true of all our sister seminaries.”

Crider also expressed the desire “to be faithful in representing” the seminary and Texas Baptist College “in the best possible way – by pointing people to Christ.”

“For our students,” he added, “I hope they see the incredible phenomenon of cooperation among autonomous churches in the Southern Baptist Convention. I hope they see that the annual meeting is not only a big family reunion, but it’s also something God has used in a powerful way to build Christ’s kingdom through evangelism, missions, education, discipleship, and resources for local SBC churches. I pray they will all want to be actively engaged in the future of the SBC.”

This article originally appeared on Baptist Press.

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