For all the tragedies COVID-19 wreaked on the world, some good things have resulted from it, especially for believers like Luke Waters, a Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary student, whose call to ministry was redirected in part because of the pandemic.
Waters, a Master of Divinity student with a concentration in worship leadership at Southwestern Seminary, was a biblical studies student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, when the dorms shut down in March of 2020. Waters went home and together with his father, Michael Waters, pastor of Parkwood Baptist Church in Concord, North Carolina, he led in musical worship as the church was limited to online services only.
“I played the piano and sang when they would do the livestream,” Waters recalled. “Just basically me and my dad, and I had a lot of people tell me, ‘We appreciate when you teach, but we really love it when you sing. We think that the Lord uses you that way.’ And so, I tucked that away.”
In the fall semester, Waters was struggling with God’s call. “I was practicing piano in my room. I wasn't satisfied,” Waters said, feeling God’s leadership towards music, even though he had been a biblical studies student for his undergraduate degree at North Greenville University in South Carolina and had a significant number of hours in biblical studies at Southern Seminary. Other than piano and singing, he had very little musical training.
Looking to pursue music and worship, Waters applied at Southwestern Seminary, from where his father graduated with a Master of Divinity with biblical languages in 1994. “I was surprised when I got in,” Waters laughed, adding that Southwestern Seminary’s School of Church Music and Worship (SCMW) has a great reputation.
Waters said he received a lot of encouragement from Southwestern Seminary professors, giving him a vision of how he can take his natural talent of singing and develop him into becoming what his professors described as a pastor “who ministers through music.”
Charles L. Lewis, associate dean of the SCMW and professor of church music and worship, told him about a new track in worship leadership that would incorporate his biblical studies courses.
“It was a leap of faith when I got here, and it ended up that all my hours transferred, and I'm now just focused on music and worship studies classes here,” said Waters, who came to Southwestern Seminary in the fall of 2021.
“After having a year under my belt of worship studies, I got to be an intern at my home church. I felt more confident in front of a choir,” Waters said. “I know it sounds funny, but I still can get scared in front of people.”
As a result of the smaller music classes at Southwestern Seminary, and the personal attention on his strengths from the professors, Waters said, “I felt myself getting a lot more confident going into this kind of situation.”
Waters serves as chaplain for the Southwestern A Cappella singing ensemble that recently went to Nashville, Tennessee, to participate at the Sing! Conference. “Being in that group forced me to be in front of several thousand people,” he said, adding that he has also grown spiritually by listening to other A Cappella singers tell their testimonies.
Lewis, reflecting on Waters’s journey in his calling, said, “Luke is a wonderful combination of a pastoral heart, theological depth, and musical excellence. He is going to be a worship leader, that’s his gifting and his calling, but he could equally, if God ever said, ‘I want you to preach,’ he could do that, too.”
At first, Waters said he didn’t know if he would fit in at Southwestern Seminary. “I felt like I'm not good enough. I don't have the music background,” Waters recalled. “But the professors here have done a good job of not focusing on what I can't do, but on nurturing the gifts God has given me, saying, ‘Just take one step at a time, just trust that the Lord can take you through this situation.’”
“The music school feels like a family. And I have a relationship with Dr. Lewis and Dr. Crider,” Waters said about Joseph R. Crider, dean of the SCMW. “They've taken me out to eat. I've been over to Dr. Lewis's house. He cares about seeing me grow as a person. He cares about my life.”
“I know that two years from now, whatever ministry context I'm serving in, if I were to call Dr. Lewis, he would take the time to answer my questions,” Waters said, noting that he has seen previous students return to campus and Southwestern Seminary professors maintain relationships with graduates. “As I prepare to minister, I’m glad I’m in a place where I see gifted people [the professors] humbling themselves by serving their students. They are models of the kind of minister I want to be,” he added.
Waters said he has enjoyed courses that teach about how to lead worship, the history of the songs churches sing, and even how to creatively read Scriptures in front of the congregation.
The diversity at Southwestern Seminary prepares ministers to grow diverse churches, Waters believes. “Being able to experience the diversity here can give us tools as ministers to lead churches to be more diverse. That's attractive for people nowadays,” Waters said.
“The diversity of the music school is incredible, because you've got a lot of men and a lot of women,” also noting the ethnic and racial diversity in the SCMW. “Everyone brings something different to the table,” Waters said. “I’ll be a better minister because I’ve talked with people from different backgrounds.”