SBC 2024: In leading worship, SWBTS’ Crider has one goal: ‘This is about Christ’

Joe Crider, dean of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s School of Church Music and Worship, leads worship on Tuesday at the 2024 SBC Annual Meeting. SBTC PHOTO

INDIANAPOLIS —Joe Crider smiled broadly as he stepped onstage Tuesday morning, surrounded by the worship team that had just opened the 2024 annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention with songs ranging from the traditional to the jazzy.

They had arrived. Crider’s smile reflected joy—and perhaps a touch of relief.

He welcomed messengers and guests, evoking the convention theme from Romans “that we would magnify and glorify the Lord Jesus Christ with one mind and one voice.” After reading from Psalm 90, he asked that the Lord would “establish the work of our hands during our meeting” and that “we would rejoice with one heart and one voice for what He has done, for what He is doing, and for what He will do.”

It’s been a busy year for Crider, dean of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s School of Church Music and Worship (SCMW).

Last-minute pre-SBC preparations included a daylong rehearsal on the first Saturday in June with two SWBTS musical groups both leading worship at Indy: Southwestern A Capella, the 17-member select vocal ensemble of graduate students, and the seminary’s 10-person Cowden Hall Band.

That Saturday marathon was followed by a Monday afternoon session with James Cheesman, going over the meeting’s musical selections that he led prior to Barber’s presidential address. Cheesman, worship leader at First Baptist Church in Farmersville—the church pastored by SBC President Bart Barber—led worship at last year’s SBC Annual Meeting in New Orleans.

These rehearsals represent a fraction of the time spent getting ready for the annual meeting. Crider told Baptist Press in an earlier interview that he had lost track of the hours of rehearsal time spent over the past year.

As if things weren’t hectic enough, during the final pre-convention week, the seminary also hosted 67 young people attending its Student Worship Camp, conducted in partnership with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

“This place is hopping!” Crider said of the Southwestern campus, as he offered a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the story behind the story of worship at the annual meeting.

Countdown to Indy

As the days counted down to the opening of SBC 2024, Crider stressed the need for flexibility, adding that his team had worked diligently to ensure a seamless musical experience for messengers.

“We wanted to make sure we hit our times so we don’t cause any delays in the business. … We have to be flexible. Meetings run over. We may not do some sets at all,” he noted, adding, “We are ready to turn on a dime if needed. We have to be ready for anything.”

Serving as music director has entailed far more than holding rehearsals and selecting music, Crider said. He has attended meetings of the SBC’s Committee on the Order of Business as an observer, to be part of the conversation as needed.

He praised his team, including Chuck Lewis, associate SCMW dean and director of Southwestern A Cappella, for his handling of musical and logistical details, and Ricky Johnson, SCMW artist-in-residence and Cowden Hall pianist and band leader, for their invaluable assistance.

“This means a lot for us as a seminary,” Crider said. “One, that Pastor Bart [Barber] trusted us. We are grateful for the trust and the stewardship we have been given. We have been blessed with wonderful faculty and students in the School of Church Music and Worship to serve the convention.”

SBC 2024 marks the third consecutive year of significant involvement by Southwestern musical groups, Crider noted. Two years ago, the Cowden Hall Band played for the Pastors’ Conference in Anaheim, when Matt Boswell led worship. Last year, Southwestern A Capella sang under Cheesman’s direction.

“We are grateful for these three years of involvement,” Crider said.

Those assisting in leading worship included Southwestern A Capella, a 17-member select vocal ensemble of graduate students, and the seminary’s 10-person Cowden Hall Band. SBTC PHOTO

Crider expressed enthusiasm about what serving at the convention will mean for the students, most of whom are pursuing master’s degrees. The band and ensemble represent a variety of ages and ethnicities, he said. While some have attended multiple annual meetings, for at least a third, this year’s SBC will mark their first exposure to the event.

“It’s pretty amazing. Several international students … are seeing firsthand the beauty in cooperation, the power of cooperation,” he said. They are “realizing that they, too, because they are part of Southern Baptist churches in the United States, that they …  have a part in this although they might be from Mexico, Korea, Venezuela, Argentina, or even Nagaland.

“I hope they realize that all of us together are better than one of us alone.”

Picking the music

The musical selection process began months ago, as team members prayed about the meeting’s theme: “One Mind, One Voice,” and its scriptural basis in Romans 15:5-6.

The convention featured a variety of music, including several of the great classic hymns such as “Holy, Holy, Holy” and “O God Our Help in Ages Past,” “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus,” and “I Stand Amazed in the Presence.” One session included selections inspired by a heaven theme; another focused on the blood of Jesus.

Selections reflected each speaker’s message or complemented the Scripture guiding a particular convention moment.

“We [chose songs] in the heart language of a lot of Southern Baptists,” Crider said. “For many, it may have been a long time since they have sung a lot of those older hymns.” he said.

The students will lead 35 songs throughout the two-day meeting, he said.

Logistical matters

It is no easy or inexpensive task to transport nearly 30 people from Texas to Indianapolis. Crider especially thanked First Baptist Benbrook, First Baptist Farmersville, and Birchman Baptist for their support. All three churches hosted special evenings of worship highlighting the seminary vocal ensemble and band, resulting in generous gifts to help defray costs.

Churches in Indiana—Friendship Baptist in Franklin and Northside Baptist Church in Indianapolis—provided the use of their vans to transport the students from the airport to the convention center, eliminating the costs of taxis or ride shares.

“We really couldn’t have done it without all these churches,” Crider said. “ … We do not want to make this opportunity about us. This is about Christ and pointing people to Him. We want to rely completely on Him and the power of His Spirit to guide and direct us.”


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