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The Costen Institute for Worship Leadership

Image: “Friendly Friendship Baptist Church” (1994) by Ernie Barnes

... a new canvas for music, media, and sacred arts.

The Institute will offer a collaborative environment where clergy, musicians, liturgists, and music leaders from around the country and the world can study foundations of Christian worship through the lens of the African American religious experience and the Black Church.


Learning opportunities center on worship leadership from general, vocational, and pastoral assessments to meet the needs of the Black Church. Lessons allow learners (students) to become acquainted with basic foundations for worship from an ecumenical perspective without compromise.  


Alongside the acquisition of basic information about what worship is and the significance of leadership roles through music, sacred arts, and preaching, the serious learner will be able to use in their own unique worship ethos. It also serves as an undergirding for persons who attend conventions and are without consistent follow up for training.


Worship is our response to God, and it is from that perspective that Dr. Melva Wilson Costen consistently reminds us of three powerful insights:

1) God was not new to the African people even when stolen from their homeland and transported to a world unknown. 

2) Black people, not permitted to worship with White congregations as equals were without concern or denominational polity, but rather attentive to the hearing of biblical truths that had meaning for them as a community.

3) We need to understand our own worship ethos that we may be able to reach into our innate gifts to continue the empowerment of our communities and others that are encouraged to this present day by our journey.    

It is from these perspectives The Costen Institute for Worship Leadership at Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary, through Core I, Core II, and Core III will prepare you to serve in greater capacities than ever before as you’re embarking on a path that leads to paradigm shifts in methodology making possible those captivated by erroneous schools of thought to be set free to experience worship through relevant liturgical interpretations that will solidify ideologies about the word that heals communities, challenges the status quo and make clear the need for authentic communication with God.


CORE I: Black Church USA, The Costen Thought


This pilot program is the first of three collaborative learning forums (communities) provided by JCSTS in conjunction with the 400 Year African American History Commission.


The strength of this introductory course is that we will define leadership in worship using cultural, liturgical, biblical foundations, and denominational distinctions, to familiarize ourselves with the rich heritage of the Black Church USA and the Black/African American experience amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and future disturbances to come.  


  • To use foundations for Ministry in the Black Church

  • Provide a basic understanding of worship and its significance of leadership roles through music sacred arts and preaching in accordance with the Matthew 28:19 mandate without neglecting the Racialdemics of the United States

  • Explain the need for the Black Church USA and gain insight regarding the type of leaders chosen to lead unique Black /African American congregations.

  • Become acquainted with basic foundations for worship, how to lead or assist in its leadership, and the awareness of how to discern what is needed in our various approaches to worship.   


Length of Study: Three weeks (20 hours)

Prerequisite: None

This Course is the Prerequisite to Core II and Core III
Credential: Certificate of Completion


Core I

CORE II: Music and The Sacred Arts, The Technical Approach


Participants develop and reach a level of mastery beyond the basic tenets of leadership from the Black perspective through music and the arts. Because we of while charting the course for those who serve in ministry alongside you and in tandem with the pastors and ministerial staff to impart the requisites of the multifaceted liturgical themes. Technical training of this caliber is quintessential for leadership roles beyond the music.

The Goal: Vocational and technical skill development track where participants learn instrumental communications from the Black media perspectives of piano, visual arts, MIME, and Liturgical Dance as acts of worship. Participants can expect development in these areas: 


  • Conducting 

  • Sight-reading 

  • Basic Piano 

  • Introduction to Singing 

  • Music and Liturgical Leadership 

  • Media in the Church 


Length of Study: It is a semester broken down into one or two-week sections for each topic, with the exception of Basic Piano

Music and Liturgical Leadership (One Semester)
Sacred Arts Course (Two weeks)
Other Courses (TBA)
Prerequisite: Core I
Credential: Certificate of Achievement

Registration Coming Soon

CORE III: The Minister of Music for Worship, The Professional Approach


Audience: Persons interested in acquiring theological education for this area of leadership, but cannot otherwise secure training from a more formal institution.  


The Goal: To eliminate the opacity associated with the minister of music position and provide professional and ecumenical instruction for persons called to music leadership ministry; and others who desire theological undergirding to substantiate their position and role in ministry based on the ethos of the Black Church, USA, Proper but without losing their denominational awareness or polity.  

Length of Study: Two Semesters
Prerequisite: Core I
Credential: Certificate of Competency

Registration Coming Soon
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About Dr. Melva Wilson Costen


Dr. Costen’s research helps the student understand the fundamental distinction between worship from the Black/African American and Eurocentric perspectives.  Her literary stance factors foundational characteristics and standards for leadership in Christian worship through music, preaching, and sacred arts from a uniquely African American perspective. 

Dr. Melva Costen’s teachings also include pragmatic components of the concept of ministry from, to, and for the Black African Community.  Her classes always used an ecumenical approach to probe, investigate, and explore dimensions of worship without barriers of the denomination. Once taught from the Costen perspective with an ecumenical approach, one leaves with the charge to make it work within the confines of our denominational methodologies. 


Denominationalism is a result of the persons who owned the Black African American ancestors.   However, Dr. Costen’s teachings are ecumenical; transcending denominational barriers and applicable to leaders to offer within the confines of congregational polity for use in worship whenever and wherever for the glory of God.  

Core III
Core II
About Costen
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