Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.

Colossians 3:16


People are searching for worship that is authentic, alive, creative and comprehensible, where they experience the life-changing presence of God in the presence of others.

from Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations by Robert Schnase

Biography

Music is intertwined with my earliest memories of church. My small Ohio Methodist congregation sang revival songs lustily in four-part harmony. In addition to standard instruction books, my piano teacher insisted I learn to play one new hymn every week. I started playing organ and piano for worship at the age of fourteen. What a blessing to be constantly affirmed by that congregation in spite of wrong notes, missed cues, and erratic tempos. It was an opportune lesson in building self-confidence and living in God’s grace. Organ became my primary instrument through my teen years, including study at Oberlin College. While recognizing that I lacked the drive to be a performance major, I formed a deep love for music in diverse forms and how it animated my life and the human spirit.

I served as organist and choir director in Cleveland area congregations before deciding to pursue a Christian vocation and enroll at Boston University School of Theology (1978). Seminary study deepened my appreciation for liturgy, Bible, theology and spiritual formation. In addition I got glimpses of the Global Church--a guest preacher in chapel one day predicted that: “by the year 2000 the majority of the world’s Christians will live in what we now consider Third World countries.” The spirit and energy of sacred singing from Africa and Latin America was enthralling.

With an M.Div. degree I worked for most of the next two decades in Christian organizing for social justice–with Bread for the World and the Reconciling Ministries Network, among other groups. Cognizant of the important role of music and singing in movements for social change, I brought my passion for music and singing to these ventures. I was invited to direct a small community chorus in formation and over seven years helped it grow into the 60+-voice Lesbian and Gay Chorus of Washington, D.C. Through these years in D.C. (1981-92) and later in Chicago (1992 to present) I was blessed to be part of congregations that understood creative and engaging worship to be the foundation of their community life.

Through my leadership in the ecumenical “welcoming church” movement in the late 1990s I worked with a number of amazingly gifted worship leaders and musicians, including Marcia McFee, Mark Miller, Patrick Evans, Phil Porter, Curran Reichert, and Jorge Lockward. This new generation of music/worship leaders exhibited several shared values: a) worship of God engages persons in active participation through all of their senses; b) the singing of the people is the heartbeat of worship; c) music and liturgy draw upon diverse forms from around the world. Welcoming Church gatherings embodied God’s radical hospitality and grace to persons who had been estranged from God and the Church and drew these diverse communities together in spirited and inspiring worship.

As the new millennium dawned I discerned God calling me into a new ministry, as an “enlivener of worship” (a term from one of my mentors, Michael Hawn). In early 2001 I became minister of music at the United Church of Rogers Park on the north side of Chicago. This multi-cultural, theologically progressive and justice-seeking congregation–that truly loves to sing–provided a forum to learn to creatively use diverse expressions of music and liturgy in worship.

This new role of “worship enlivener” is not learned in traditional schools of study. Over the past decade I have learned from conferences and workshops with many of outstanding practitioners of worship and music renewal from around the globe: James Abbington, John Bell & the Wild Goose Resource Group, Ruth Duck, Heather Murray Elkins, Elise Eslinger, David Haas, Marty Haugen, Michael Hawn, Swee Hong Lim, Jorge Lockward, Patrick Matsikenyiri, Marcia McFee, Mark Miller, Pablo Sosa, Brian Wren, and others. My life and ministry have been greatly enriched by studying with the Wild Goose Resource Group at the Iona Community in Scotland and participating in the music team at the World Council of Churches General Assembly in Brazil.

Combining my organizing skills with my passion for worship renewal, I developed the ecumenical Worship Alive! workshop series which since 2003 has brought renowned worship leaders to Chicago to train clergy, musicians and lay worship leaders and planners. Clergy and lay colleagues began asking me to share what I have learned about being an effective song leader. So I began collecting and shaping my insights, learnings, and reflections into a five-session seminar, “Enlivening Congregational Singing.” Dozens of Chicago area church musicians, clergy and song leaders have been trained through this interactive and practical skills-building seminar over the past several years. In addition, I have consulted with congregations, musicians and clergy on ways to empower congregational song.

From 2010-2013 I also served as chapel musician and worship coordinator at McCormick Theological Seminary. Beginning in the fall of 2012, I have directed music at Grace Lutheran Church, a theologically-progressive, liturgically-vital and diverse congregation in south Evanston.

I have been invited to serve as song leader and/or worship designer at a number of local, regional and national conferences, gatherings and retreats, including Regional Schools of Christian Mission, Northern Illinois Conference Clergy Retreats, Russia Initiative Consultation, and regional Religion and Race Conference. These settings have been gratifying opportunities to push the boundaries of experiential community worship and to encourage engaging with new forms of sacred song and liturgy. It is a joy and challenge to listen and discern how God is inviting churches into renewed and profound experiences of worship and discipleship.

O come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into God’s presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to God with songs of praise!

Psalm 95: 1-2

Song Leading

Mark Bowman leads singing at worship gatherings, assemblies, conferences, and retreats at the local, regional and national level. He models an inviting, irresistible style of song leading that draws many voices together into one, whether singing a unison melody or four-part harmony. His vast sacred repertoire ranges from classical hymnody to global song. He is also an accomplished keyboardist/accompanist and arranges music for and leads bands, choirs and musical ensembles.

What others say:

Mark is a gifted and talented music and song leader. For six years he has provided musical leadership for United Methodist Women School of Christian Mission across the U.S., engaging participants in a variety of global music and incorporating their own musical talents into the leadership. Mark’s quiet energy and creativity bring spirit to the music!

Cheryl Trent
Women’s Division, General Board of Global Ministries, UMC


Mark Bowman’s special gift is to empower a congregation’s voice to go beyond what they thought would be possible. In particular, his ability to make global song both accessible and relevant in cross-cultural settings is an asset to the congregations he serves and to the church at large.

Jorge Lockward
Global Praise Coordinator, UMC

When the people of God recount the history of God’s mighty acts, they invariably sing.

from The Church Musician by Paul Westermeyer

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

Romans 12:1

Worship Design

Mark Bowman plans and leads worship gatherings that model excellence as well as authenticity to the context of the particular community of faith. His leadership reflects his commitment to engaging diverse communities of faith in fresh and thoughtful encounters with the Word of God that deepens individual and congregational faith journeys. He has worked with worship design teams and led worship for local, regional and national events.

What others say:

Working with Mark Bowman was a gift … after I nailed down basic themes and scriptures for a season he was able to use his knowledge of cutting-edge music and drama, and provide authentic and creative worship ideas that truly spoke to the needs of the folks in the pews. He also has an incredible gift for drawing other folks into worship planning and leadership. Mark's leadership reflects his deep commitment to liturgy and worship that is truly “the work of the people.”

Rev. Wendy Hardin


Mark Bowman is a theologically grounded musician. His seminary background and gift for encouraging developing musicians enabled our worship team to plan and lead spirit-filled, scriptural based, inclusive worship. Mark would draw upon music from various cultures, his sensitivity to current social ills, projected visuals and short dramas to lead the congregation each week in worship that was participatory, liturgical, life-changing and filled with heart-felt praise.

Rev. John Alan Boryk


What a pleasure and joy to watch Mark at work! I have been at several retreats where he has been the worship leader–he exudes the Spirit and the Sacred as he brings everyone into the worship experience.

Rev. Lora Zink

The Christian assembly for worship is a gathering for hearing, speaking, singing, seeing, washing, drinking, feeding and being fed, greeting and dancing. … In all such gatherings, large or small, God is encountered through the senses.

from Worship Come by Dr. Donald Saliers

When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.

1 Corinthians 14: 26

Workshops

Mark Bowman provides innovative, practical training in leading congregational singing for church musicians, pastors and worship leaders.

The Enlivening Congregational Song seminar he has developed and leads is a series of five hands-on training sessions that builds skills in leading and strengthening congregational singing for song leaders and worship enliveners. Details and a syllabus are available.

The Worship Alive! workshop series he founded and coordinates brings outstanding worship practitioners and trainers from around the world to Chicagoland congregations four times a year. More details are available.

He leads workshops from two hours to a full day on how to enliven congregational singing and worship. He has led these workshops for United Methodist and Presbyterian lay training events, a regional American Guild of Organists conference, regional worship conferences as well as numerous congregations.

What others say:

Mark Bowman exudes enthusiasm and clearly has a passion for enabling congregational song. His workshops enable people to develop self-confidence in their own leadership skills, introduce them to appropriate music, and prioritise the singing of the congregation–a facet of church music too often sidelined.

Rev. Dr. John L. Bell
Iona Community

Mark Bowman excels at teaching new songs of many styles and sources to congregations, particularly those in multicultural settings. He also is intentional about integrating new songs into a parish’s repertoire, leading to a congregation that sings well and enthusiastically, making a joyful sound to God. He knows how to teach others to do this same thing–so consider learning from him if you are seeking to enhance your congregation’s song and worship.

Dr. Ruth Duck
Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary

The congregational voice is the heart of all church music. It can and should be beautiful, musical, full of the Spirit, responsive to both text and tune, and magnetic in drawing together all who hear.

from Melodious Accord by Alice Parker

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.

Colossians 3:16

Enlivening Congregational Song Seminar

This series of five hands-on training sessions for church musicians, worship leaders and clergy builds skills in leading and strengthening congregational singing.

Each three-hour session includes presentation and discussion of topics such as:

  • role of singing and music in worship
  • techniques for effective song leading
  • creating an environment that invites and enhances singing
  • selecting sacred repertoire for worship
  • tips for introducing new songs
  • teaching groups to sing in harmony
  • using the choir to enable congregational singing
PLUS opportunity for all participants to practice leading singing every session.

A detailed syllabus is available.

What others say:

This seminar will not only help enliven congregational singing, but will encourage your pastors and musicians to engage in dialogue about worship planning and collaborating with each other. It’s a practical tool that can be easily shared within the church.

Rev. Pam Keckler
United Church of Christ


The church today is ripe for creativity and new energy in worship. This seminar helped me appreciate how the creative use of song can enhance worship in new ways. It helped me see how singing can be a community-building activity, and how rewarding it can be to see a congregation begin to rediscover its own voice. I gained skills and confidence in my ability to use them in song leader.

Linnea Elrod
music director, ELCA


The experience of singing together is a great one. I learned good techniques, but the best part was being with Mark, who is a patient and encouraging teacher. It was good to learn from his example.

Rev. Jim Cotter
United Methodist Church


This seminar is an invitation to view a congregation not as an audience, nor as potential choir members, but as a group of individuals who each have the ability and the right to lift their voices in communal song. We, as song leaders, can open the door to new musical possibilities and re-awaken the deep desire for community in worship.

Michelle Hecht
minister of music, UCC


As a solo pastor without a choir, I found this seminar to be life-giving. Worship has changed forever. The songs Mark teaches are melodic and appeal to people who are classically trained as well as those who can’t read music. Mark teaches how to teach congregations to sing and enjoy praising God through song.

Rev. Susan Herman
PCUSA


This seminar offers valuable building blocks for enlivening congregational song. The format was especially good at providing support and encouragement to song leaders. Everyone of us walked away with greater confidence in leading songs in front of a group.

Benjamin Horvat
music director

God is spirit, and those who worship God must worship in spirit and truth.

John 4:24

Coaching

Mark Bowman provides consultation to clergy, church musicians, and worship teams seeking fresh approaches, perspectives and resources for congregational worship. Sometimes this consultation and training takes the form of a workshop for a group of persons, while other times this may be personal coaching for a clergy, minister of music or song leader. Coaching engages persons in taking stock of their gifts and skills in light of perceived needs for the congregation’s worship and taking steps toward increasing both excellence and authenticity in worship. Coaching arrangements typically involve a one or two hour conversation each month for a number of months.

with Michael Hawn, Terio Junker and Jorge Lockwood at the WCC General Assembly, Porto Alegre, Brasil

Questions addressed may include:

  • How can I increase our congregation's investment and participation in the Sunday worship gathering?
  • What are ways I can draw others into planning and leading our congregation’s worship?
  • How do I shape worship experiences that deepen the faith journeys of our members?
  • How can I help our worship words more accurately reflect our congregation’s theology?
  • What are steps toward strengthening our congregation's singing in worship?
  • How can I seamlessly weave music in and through the worship experience so as to bring more passion and spirit to worship?
  • How can I make the proclamation of Holy Scripture more alive in our worship?
  • What are ways to increase the confidence and comfort or our congregants to voice prayers so as to enrich our Prayers of the Community in worship?
  • How can I begin to create a greater global consciousness in our local worship?

In worship God expects every voice to play its part.

from The Singing Thing by John Bell

Musings

Here are some of my occasional musings and reflections about contemporary worship, sacred song and enabling congregations to fuller and deeper experiences of God in worship.

What to Do About the Non-Singers?

Glancing out over a singing congregation, it is usually noticeable that a significant number of persons are not participating–no perceptible movement of the mouth and lips. As a song leader, I might interpret this as a failure to motivate on my part–or else as acts of quiet defiance. However, the reality is that these persons are most likely doing exactly what they think they should be doing, i.e. NOT singing. At some point in their past lives they have been told–by a teacher, parent, or friend–that they can’t sing, or shouldn’t sing. “It would be best if you just mouthed the words, but don’t try to sing.” “I’m sure we can find something else for you to do while the other children sing.” “I don’t know what you call that, but it sure ain’t music to my ears!” Read More. Read More.

The Worship Music Crisis Revisited

A recurrent theme in conversation about Christian worship over the past two decades has been the conflict over music. “They still insist on singing those stodgy, out-dated and boring old hymns.” “All they sing is that insipid pabulum called ‘contemporary Christian music.’” Members have left congregations when a different musical form has been introduced to worship. Musicians have been fired or walked away from congregations when instructed to lead a change in music al style. Pastors have been overwhelmed by the tension over a musical change that might bring in new converts and yet drive away long-time members. Many writers have analyzed and proposed solutions for these so-called “worship wars.” Read More. Read More.

Five Values of Effective Music Ministry

As I have evolved and grown into being a 21st century minister of music, colleagues has asked me to share what I think it takes to be an effective church musician. In reflection on what I have learned and unlearned in my congregations and the wisdom gleaned from mentors, I have developed this list of five basic values that enliven my music ministry. Read More. Read More.

Leading Singing from the Keyboard

While having a trained song leader in front of the assembly is optimal for engaging the people in song, there are times when no song leader is available and the accompanist leads from the piano, organ or other keyboard. The first step is to select the keyboard that is appropriate for the particular style of song. A classic Western hymn is usually best accompanied by organ or piano. Early American folk tunes call for piano accompaniment, as do 20th century gospel songs. Songs in contemporary/ popular genre sound best with electronic keyboard or piano. African choruses and 19th century American slave songs (“spirituals”) are primarily vocal expressions with some rhythmic support, therefore, the accompanist does best to forego any keyboard. Read More. Read More.


Contact Info

Mark Bowman

worshipalive@comcast.net

773-316-8892 office

773-316-8892 cell