By Nancy Cawley Zugschwert
When Jeff McCourt ’85 traces his steps to his current ministry role, he sees a puzzle in which God clearly shaped the pieces of his life. McCourt is pastor of worship music and celebration arts at New Hope Church (formerly Crystal Evangelical Free) in New Hope, Minn.
McCourt, then an aspiring jazz trombonist, left Des Moines, Iowa, for Biola University (CA) with dreams of becoming a studio musician. The dream shifted when he fell in love and married his wife, Peggy, after his sophomore year.
“I loved music and felt gifted to be a studio musician,” he said. “I also wanted a family, and that life didn’t lend itself to that.”
His music dreams didn’t change but McCourt realized that God was leading him in a different direction. Having been raised by Christian parents who were involved in church ministry, McCourt grew up seeing “the importance of being part of God’s plan for transforming the world through the church.” That realization shaped the next piece of the puzzle as he headed with his bride to Minnesota to attend Northwestern.
Pursuing his new direction with a passion, McCourt looked for opportunities to cultivate his skills as a musician and a leader. He directed pep band for basketball, played trombone for musical theatre and landed a church music job while in school.
After graduation (and baby #1) McCourt went straight into full-time music ministry at New Life Church in Woodbury. Looking back causes McCourt to shake his head. “God opened that up for a young punk,” he said, acknowledging that the role came to him in part due to a strong mentor relationship he’d cultivated with music department chair Dick Edstrom ’58.
After 16 years and three more babies, McCourt accepted a call to his current role in 2001. New Hope is situated in a neighborhood where demographics have changed rapidly. He leads a worship ministry that may include black gospel, or salsa, or a regular CCM song in Spanish, or even a song sung in English and Arabic written by a pastor from Sudan.
“It’s a continual challenge,” McCourt observed. “This is where loving jazz has prepared and shaped me for such a time as this: to be able to embrace the wide gamut of musical styles and to find it life-giving rather than a burden.”