Originally published in Summer 2017
Dr. Jon Roller ‘83 isn’t just passionate about Christian worship music — he’s passionate about teaching students to understand it and practice it better. The coordinator of Asbury University’s Worship Arts program, Roller is committed to equipping the next generation of church music leaders by building them up, both as musicians and as people of faith.
Research forms a significant part of Roller’s mission to equip students. He studies the theory of Christian worship music, trying to better understand the underlying practices and assumptions of the music form. Roller’s research (which he is collecting in a textbook) is a direct outgrowth of his role as a teacher, and the classroom is likewise enriched by his research.
“Understanding music theory can provide structure, tools, and even the crucial sparks of creativity to a music culture,” Roller said. “We have to find ways of talking about music in ways it hasn’t been talked about before. We have to give students tools, not only for past kinds of music, but also for future kinds of music.”
Roller has a musical heritage. He’s the son of former Music Professor Gilbert Roller, who taught at Asbury from 1975 to 1993, and music has been a life-long passion and calling. For Roller, building up excellent church musicians is part of a missionary effort to engage culture.
“We don’t go to other cultures and take them our dress, our English, our food — or our music,” Roller said. “We learn their preferences, their music, and we present the gospel in their language. The dominant culture is a missionary situation.”
Roller is keenly aware that many of his students are already leaders in their churches, and will continue to shape the next generation of Christian worship music. This gives his work a pastoral dimension — indirectly, Roller is ministering to the future.
“My prayer with all of this is that worship musicians will become more competent musicians,” Roller said. “We want to create an atmosphere that is conducive to the Holy Spirit working in people’s hearts.”