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Decades-Long Spiritual Formation

An international pastoral leader, a public theologian, and a young scholar explain how the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship has impacted them—and made room for them to influence CICW and others.

In March 2003, Anne Emile Zaki began working at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship (CICW) to develop global worship resources. Now she preaches and speaks at conferences around the world. Zaki teaches in the practical theology department at Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo, Egypt, where she hopes someday to develop the Arabic-language equivalent of CICW.

David M. Bailey first encountered CICW at the 2010 Calvin Symposium on Worship, where he played saxophone in an ethnodoxology worship band. “I thought, ‘Oh, these are my people!’” he recalls. Bailey led a 2012 Vital Worship Grant project on contextualizing worship in multicultural, economically diverse settings. He founded Arrabon, which offers music and worship resources, curriculum, and consultations to help Christian communities bring about healing across racial and class differences. Bailey has become a public theologian and culture maker who believes that Christian communities should be a foretaste of the reconciled kingdom that is to come.

When Shannan Baker began attending Calvin Theological Seminary (CTS) in 2016, her worship professor introduced himself as John Witvliet, CICW director. “He connected us to the annual worship symposium, which is free for CTS seminarians, and to CICW books and resources. He encouraged my scholarly pursuits of contemporary worship music. Now I have a Vital Worship Teacher-Scholar Grant to learn about best practices for teaching contemporary worship by training Baylor University church music students,” she says.

Zaki, Bailey, and Baker help tell the long history of mutual learning that connects mission, people, and stories through CICW events, grants, and resources. Their stories demonstrate the importance of meeting people and building relationships to promote the study and renewal of Christian worship.

Connecting to Christ’s whole body 

In 1995, while studying at Calvin University, Zaki helped develop Rangeela, an annual event for international students to share their culture. She met her husband, Naji Umran, while he was a CTS seminarian. After she graduated, they worked in Egypt and Canada. In 2002, they needed to return to Grand Rapids, Michigan, so Naji could finish his master of divinity degree.

Zaki was hired as CICW’s first resource development specialist for global worship. She spent her first few years at CICW gathering tapes, CDs, hymnals, and other worship resources from around the world to build up a ministry center for global studies. Zaki consulted on events and helped translate Arabic Christian songs into English, such as Lily Constantine Kakish’s beloved Lord’s Prayer song “Abana alathi fi ssama (Abana in Heaven).” (Listen here.)

Zaki knew how much learning happens in person as people connect and share their networks. That’s why she worked so hard to boost international attendance at the annual three-day Calvin Symposium on Worship. “At the height, we had 163 people from 39 countries,” she says. “Symposium guests experienced that the event was not just for Christian Reformed people in West Michigan. More people from North American minority groups began attending the symposium and applying for Vital Worship Grants.

“When bringing in so many international symposium guests became too expensive, we started doing symposiums abroad. For the cost of bringing ten people to Grand Rapids, we could sponsor a hundred people in their home countries,” she says.

While working for CICW, Zaki earned her master of divinity degree at CTS. These dual roles immersed her in informal ministry training. “So many people I studied with—Emily Brink, Norma deWaal Malefyt, Howie Vanderwell, John Witvliet—were my colleagues at CICW staff meetings. I learned by osmosis.” 

Zaki credits CICW with “so much personal growth, . . . the ability to articulate the connection between theology and worship, . . . and CICW’s posture of general humility about injustices and where it and churches have done wrong. I’ve also gained great confidence in the power of Christ to change the world—when the Holy Spirit drives us to do what’s good for the other person or another community.” 

She draws on all this mutual learning as she preaches and speaks at conferences around the world and teaches preaching and practical theology at Evangelical Theological Seminary (ETSC) in Cairo. She hopes someday to develop the Arabic-language equivalent of CICW at ETSC. “I hope it will have the same essence and aura as CICW and will renew worship in the entire Arabic-speaking community around the world,” Zaki says.

Shalom-shaping worship in a polarized world 

David M. Bailey remembers searching for worship music and spiritual formation resources that fit his context as music director at East End Fellowship in Richmond, Virginia. “I noticed that only missiologists, anthropologists, and ethnodoxologists seemed to be doing contextual worship in urban underresourced communities,” he says. “At my first Calvin Symposium on Worship, it was awesome to play with musicians using instruments from different cultures and singing in Arabic, English, Korean, Spanish, and Shona.

“I had questions about how to apply the same learning to my multicultural, economically diverse congregation—and CICW and I have been journeying and growing together ever since,” he says. His 2012 Vital Worship Grant explored how to plan worship that reaches urban people across economical, educational, generational, racial, and ethnic differences. 

Bailey helped CICW identify and invite popular Christian music artists, academics, and pastors to a consultation. Through the Urban Songwriting Internship at East End Fellowship, he led young musicians in creating Urban Doxology worship songs, such as “The Earth Shall Know,” sung at CICW worship symposiums and elsewhere. These songs are still shared today through Arrabon and YouTube.

As mainly BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) were targeted by white nationalist groups or killed by police in the last decade, Bailey and his organization, Arrabon, helped Christians begin to talk about race. He did this through Arrabon curriculum, by leading pilgrimages to U.S. sites of deep racial pain, and by sharing his expertise at worship symposiums and elsewhere. He describes these experiences as ways for people to feel curious about each other without shame or defensiveness.

“Diversity at CICW used to be anyone who is not Dutch American and Reformed. Then it became more internationally diverse and eventually domestically diverse within North America. What I really appreciate in this second decade of my relationship with CICW is its thinking about different abilities and socioeconomic levels,” Bailey says.

“For example, I’ve grown so much in learning about universal design from the late Barb Newman. I visited her elementary school classroom and got to experience the joy of seeing everyone as a two-colored puzzle piece. Each of us has areas of skill (green) and areas where we need help (pink). God uses each piece to complete the community. God supplies all that the body of Christ needs when we learn and worship together.”

Bailey notes that the more someone rises in leadership and innovation, the less opportunity there is for companionship. “I really appreciate the partnership and companionship of CICW,” he says. “I hope this ethos of truly diverse ministry is generational. We sow and water, but God gives the increase.” 

Worship 101: Liturgy, the liturgy after the liturgy “for the life of the world”  

After graduating as a music major from Cornerstone University, an evangelical school with Baptist roots, Shannan Baker started at CTS in fall 2016. She enrolled in a worship class as her first step toward becoming a worship professor.

“Studying worship with Dr. Witvliet was an immense privilege,” Baker says. “He connected us with CICW events and resources. A big impact on my academic journey was getting to attend book launches that CICW hosted, such as for Lester Ruth and Swee Hong Lim’s Lovin’ on Jesus: A Concise History of Contemporary Worship. That was one of the first books that detailed the history of contemporary worship. Seeing that their research on contemporary worship was valued encouraged my passion to learn more about contemporary worship.”

Baker explains that she began to see how CICW is shaping and working with so many communities. For example, the annual Calvin Symposium on Worship is sponsored by CICW and the Center for Excellence in Preaching, which is housed at CTS. “The worship symposium is the primary way that CICW has impacted my education, training, and experience,” she says. “Also, Dr. Witvliet encouraged us to read—and made reading assignments from—books the worship institute helped publish. That’s how I was introduced to Worshiping with the Anaheim Vineyard: The Emergence of Contemporary Worship, which Lester Ruth co-wrote. That book inspired me to focus on contemporary worship. It’s part of CICW’s The Church at Worship, a series of documentary case studies of specific worshiping communities from around the world and throughout Christian history. I also learned a lot from the first book in that series, Walking Where Jesus Walked: Worship in Fourth-Century Jerusalem, by Lester Ruth.”

Baker earned her doctorate in church music at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Now she is a Baylor postdoctoral research fellow in music and digital humanities and serves on her church’s worship team. She’s using a 2023 Vital Worship Teacher-Scholar Grant to train Baylor University church music students through contemporary worship workshops about technology, music, and theology.

“The grant helps us bring in well-known contemporary worship artists,” Baker says. “Students appreciate being able to ask our local panel of experts about directing live music and instructing musicians pre-rehearsal. The grant provides students with entry-level versions of Ableton Live and MainStage, which give students exposure to some of the main programs used in contemporary worship settings. In monthly meetings we spend time making music together. We’re providing grassroots, no-tracks, no-clicks instruction on how to provide good music that helps churches glorify God—even without all the bells and whistles." 

Baker is also a part of another collaborative project, Worship Leader Research, that received a grant to research how the worship music industry affects how local practitioners choose songs for corporate worship. Baker has organized an online group that meets monthly to discuss articles and book chapters on contemporary worship topics.

“My hope is for people in contemporary worship to intentionally pursue biblically and theologically rooted worship that is deeper and richer,” she says. I hope that congregations that use contemporary worship will be inspired to create songs that bless and edify their local community. I’ve been encouraged to see how CICW is providing resources and funding research on a worship style that lots of churches are using. 

Reflecting on the stories of Anne Zaki, David Bailey, and Shannan Baker, John Witvliet observes, “All three stories involve three elements: a growth mindset, engaging in multiple offerings and touchpoints over time, and relational learning. One of the gifts of offering multiple programsgrants, publications, conferences, and seminarsis that we can learn from and with so many people over time in different contexts.” 


Read about how Anne E. Zaki helped start the cultural variety show Rangeela and about her post-university years. Listen to two worship songs she helped translate from Arabic to English: “Abana in Heaven” and “Anta Atheemon (You Are a Great God).” Listen to and read sermons and other resources that Anne Zaki contributed to the CICW website.

Explore David M. Bailey’s work with the Urban Doxology Songwriting Internship and its final concert in 2020. Lead a study group using Arrabon curriculum: “Race, Class, and the Kingdom of God” and “A People, a Place, and a Just Society.” Watch his documentary film 11am: Hope for America’s Most Segregated Hour. Read or listen to Bailey’s contributions to CICW resources and events. Listen to him discuss how to cultivate racial healing on Amy Julia Becker’s podcast. Watch the short video “I Am an Ethnodoxologist” (5:17).

Learn more about CICW’s Vital Worship Teacher-Scholar Grants and Shannan Baker’s 2023 Vital Worship Teacher-Scholar Grant. Catch up on contemporary worship research by Baker and others at, such as this June 2023 research report on US worship leaders. Listen to Shannan Baker’s 2021 Alleluia Conference presentation on how pastors and music leaders can learn to speak each other’s language.

Baker says that CICW’s The Church at Worship series was pivotal in focusing her research on contemporary worship and music. This series of documentary case studies highlights specific worshiping communities from around the world and throughout Christian history. You can use this series for personal devotion or classroom content. 

If you know CICW mainly through its annual Calvin Symposium on Worship or Vital Worship, Vital Preaching Grants, then you may be blessed by exploring its 150+ publications. CICW partners with many publishers and authors to produce these, including: