Pursuit: We Are What We Sing

Pursuit Initially developed out of the growing desire for contemporary worship in Greenville’s chapel services. As Pursuit grew, the need for a Worship Arts major became apparent, and Professor Paul Sunderland was hired in 2012 to head up both Pursuit and the Worship Arts program. By the time he arrived on campus, the student worship teams had lost a sense of direction and purpose, and the overloaded music faculty didn’t have the time or resources to invest in them. “I felt like my first role was giving Pursuit some clear direction, consistency, and attention that others just didn’t have time to give it,” Sunderland explained. He created a master songlist for the teams to pull from, which creates intentional and consistent worship for the student body. “There’s a sense where if you sing something over and over it sticks with you, and if it sticks with you it eventually becomes what you value and believe.”

dsc_4154-4Coming from a background as a worship pastor, Sunderland saw the need for a mindset of service and ministry in the worship teams. “Some of that change had to do with getting bands to see what they do as ministry, or for the sake of the student body, not just as a platform as a musician. It’s an easy mentality to have—that Pursuit is just another ensemble—and not to have the sense of serving other people.” Marc Anderson, Pursuit’s tour manager, agreed. “We wanted to shift the culture to one of servant-hearted attitudes, because we both have the understanding that worship goes beyond the performance onstage; it’s an embodiment of who we are. We want to equip these students to live lives of obedience, and in that way, they will be connecting others to the Lord.”

It’s good to be forced to work with different people, especially those who have different musical and theological backgrounds. It’s been cool to see everyone’s different way of reaching to God through music and inspring to see people’s hearts come out through worship. Trey Brockman, senior

The community within Pursuit is based on love, trust, and Christ. A unique tradition started by Professor Sunderland is an annual foot-washing in which the students gather together and wash one another’s feet with the purpose of humility and service. “We talk all the time in Pursuit about building unity, but there’s something about doing it in a very concrete way that’s entirely different.” Sunderland described. “When you sit at the foot of somebody, it’s a great way to serve them, value them, care, and connect. It’s entirely different, though, when you’re the one in the chair – that is humbling, it’s difficult, it’s not natural, because we put ourselves in different shoes. We always talk about serving and leading, but what does it mean to be served and led?”

Pursuit encourages lasting relationships and spiritual growth as a team. Between weekly practices, leading chapel and Vespers services, traveling together, and Thursday morning meetings, Pursuit teams become tight-knit groups both musically and relationally. “A lot of my best friends at GC are from my Pursuit team last year,” said Jairin Schad, who is a sophomore and one of this year’s team leaders. “We’d hang out outside of practice, go to McDonald’s or the Union after practice and just talk about life.” All of the leaders agree that relationships are one of their favorite parts about Pursuit. “You grow together and get to see where people struggle and help them out with that. It’s cool that you can mentor someone even just within a rehearsal!” exclaimed Kent Luster, senior.

Not only do I think more deeply about choices I make in musical leadership, but I think more deeply and always desire to have meaning with every decision I make: in the mundane, in the ordinary, in the spiritual, in everything.Caleb Carlson, senior

dsc_4200-9During the semester, Pursuit teams travel to schools and churches to perform worship ministry on what they call “tours.” These tours are not only ways to minister, but ways to get the word out about GC. Kent Luster mentioned “I discovered Pursuit because there was a Pursuit team on a trip to my high school and I thought they were cool and could sing really well and minister in a way that I’d like to.”

Marc Anderson expressed his vision for this year’s tours: “We’re focusing on schools in different regions—Nashville, Chicago, St. Louis, Central-Illinois region. I’d like to get to Indianapolis and Kansas City, too.” The tours are not only meaningful to the people at the churches and schools, but also to Pursuit’s own teams. “The most powerful experiences are ones where I see direct connection and interaction with the younger students,” Marc Anderson explained. Pursuit places a huge focus on reaching out to the community both within and beyond Greenville. Marlene Saravia, sophomore and Pursuit leader this year, states, “When it comes to Pursuit tours, you get to go different places and meet different people. I feel like I’ve been impacted by people that I ran into, that I met, by how we can give our talents and gifts to serve other people and how that becomes a practical thing.”

In the business of school, sometimes I feel like I can get lost in schoolwork. Pursuit has kept me on track. Doing the devotions assigned to us has given me an incentive; it’s kept me accountable.
Jarin Schad, sophomore

Beyond the tours during the semester, Pursuit also sends out a summer team that is on the road for eight weeks. This summer, the team led seven different camps. Eddie Allison, one of the team leaders, explained his reasoning for becoming part of this summer’s team: “I didn’t want to spend another summer working at a retail store or in fast food; I wanted to do something that I would enjoy and would make a difference. Summer Pursuit helped me to become a better leader and I learned how to more effectively impact other people.” Eddie went on to explain how much different the summer tour is from leading at GC. “Everyone has their own week-long camp experience, but we do that eight times in a row with that many different groups of people. You get really close with the people on your team because you’re around them all the time, and you’re going to camps, playing games with kids… it’s just fun. It’s meaningful to them, and because it’s meaningful to them, it’s meaningful to us.”

dsc_4184-8When asked what their vision for Pursuit was going forward, both Anderson and Sunderland expressed their desire for more diversity, both in leadership and in the music itself. Last year, a Pursuit band was created specifically for gospel music, which was a first step for Pursuit in this quest for diversity. Kent Luster, the group’s leader, said, “It’s been a great experience because there is a need for something different on campus as far as worship.” Anderson talked about the purpose behind the gospel group: “We didn’t create the gospel group so that we could have only one group of people with different backgrounds.” He clarified, “We actually try to incorporate diversity into every group. What we need to do is focus on how to connect with people with different backgrounds than us. We have begun with the gospel group, but we need to go beyond that I would love to see each group striving to find new ways to connect with every person on this campus.” Sunderland elaborated, saying that diversity includes not only different races, but different genders; it is important to him to have solid female leadership, which is why there are three female Pursuit leaders this year. It is very important to Sunderland that diversity is not simply a claim, but a reality. “We do not promote diversity as if it’s politically correct, but diversity for the sake of what’s right about being hospitable to everyone among us. This means we all benefit when there’s a good sense of ’who are we,’ and that has a voice in worship through Pursuit. Diversity benefits us all—here’s not an agenda in it at all—we just believe in it.”

I have felt a clear calling to ministry through music ever since my tours with Pursuit. It’s helped me to know that ministry is definitely what I’ve been called to do.Logan Freitag, senior

Pursuit is a transformative, incredible experience that helps musical, spiritual, and relational growth in a way that not many other organizations can. Sunderland wants to create an environment in which people are permitted and encouraged to grow and make mistakes together. Pursuit is not a place for perfect people, but for those who want to learn and improve. “That is absolutely one of my goals for Pursuit.” Paul explained. “I want people to look back in ten years and say ‘Wow, that did wonders for me. I found my place at GC because of Pursuit.’”

by Mandy Pennington

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