June 26, 2017 | Hannah Ebeling

Calvin profs Roland Hoksbergen (economics) and Tracy Kuperus (political science) co-lead a session during the "Take Your Church to College" event. Photo courtesy: Deborah Hoag Photography

“Worship is strengthened not only by learning more about preaching, music and architecture, but also by learning from those who research and teach about culture, history, city life and more,” said John Witvliet, director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship (CICW). “In fact, every area of study across the arts, humanities, social and natural sciences offer insights that can strengthen Christian life and worship.”

With this in mind, the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship held Taking Your Church to Collegea one-day exploration of how liberal arts-style learning can strengthen congregational life.

“Our mission is to strengthen both the study and practice of worship,” said Witvliet. “Learning deepens Christian life.”

Strengthening congregational life

On June 21, leaders representing churches and Christian institutes from around the country gathered together in the Covenant Fine Arts Center Auditorium to commence the CICW’s “Taking Your Church to College” event. Vital Worship grant recipients were invited to attend, but the event was free and open to the public. CICW has hosted learning events in conjunction with their grants colloquium for many years, said Witvliet. And, this is the second year they have hosted this event.

Witvliet said CICW was prompted to start this event because they were eager for their audiences to learn from the insights and expertise of Calvin’s exceptional faculty colleagues on campus, and eager for Calvin faculty to reflect on what their disciplines have to offer to discussions about worship and congregational life.

Pursuing congregational wisdom

Neal Plantinga, author of Engaging God’s World, opened the first session, urging attendees to ask: How can higher education help congregations flourish? “Preaching calls for great tact,” said Plantinga. “Churches have such a diverse audience; they must choose their words carefully.” He said, “preachers need to constantly be getting wiser; good congregations help lead pastors down that path.” Higher education can be a tool to both churches and church leaders, said Plantinga. In concluding his address, he urged the audience, “Whatever you get, get wisdom.”

Attendees then participated in learning through two workshop choices led by Calvin professors in nine different disciplines and gleanings. Hour-long sessions covered everything from church reading practices and the significance of church location to music across cultures and the role of sports in Christianity.

The workshop sessions were followed by conversation with Vital Worship grant recipients during an interactive poster session at Price Conference Center. The event wrapped up with an evening of worship in the Calvin Chapel.

Appreciating congregational diversity

Dalia De Fiesta, an attendee and grant recipient from Whittier, California, said this event is very valuable to congregation leaders. “I feel like it gives us tools that will promote healing, growth and new experiences,” she said.

“People of the earth are as diverse as their cultures,” said Plantinga during his opening session. And the one-day event highlighted this variety of perspectives. “One of my biggest takeaways and something I’ve been able to experience is the beauty in diversity, not just ethnically, but in how we worship,” said De Fiesta. “It’s really amazing.”

Witvliet said he hopes attendees have a renewed desire to keep learning and growing or are inspired to read a book or article from a field of inquiry they may never have explored before.  He hopes this event prompts congregation leaders to discover a vision for a new approach to a ministry opportunity or challenge back in their own context.

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