Nelson  Cowan
School of the Arts
Center for Worship and the Arts
407 Buchanan Hall

Rev. Nelson Cowan, PhD, is a worship leader, a liturgical theologian, and an ordained pastor in The United Methodist Church. Nelson’s passion is to equip worship leaders across all art forms to use their gifts thoughtfully, skillfully, and playfully for the glory of the Triune God and the strengthening of the Church.  

He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Relations and Religious Studies from the University of North Florida, a Master of Divinity from Wesley Theological Seminary, and a PhD in Liturgical Studies from Boston University. While at Boston University, Nelson conducted research at Hillsong Church, New York City, examining the embedded liturgical theologies of ordinary worshippers. His current research interests are in contemporary Praise and Worship music, the liturgical theology of play, and the relationship between worship, meaning, and spiritual formation. 

Nelson teaches courses in worship, preaching, and church history for non-traditional learners, masters students, and doctoral students. He has held adjunct faculty positions with Emory University, Drew University, and Wesley Theological Seminary. In addition, he maintains professional memberships with the American Academy of Religion, Societas Liturgica, and the North American Academy of Liturgy—the latter of which he serves as convener for the Exploring Contemporary & Alternative Worship Seminar. 

Nelson is married to Samantha, an ordained pastor who works in the non-profit sector. They have one delightful daughter and an embarrassingly lazy dog. 

Degrees and Certifications

  • BA International Relations and Religious Studies, University of North Florida
  • MDiv Wesley Theological Seminary
  • PhD Liturgical Studies, Boston University

Select Publications

“Online Only? Join the Worship Committee,” Ministry Matters (June 2022)

“CCLI Top 100 + Beyond: A Toolbox for Worship Leaders,” Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church (Spring 2021)

“’Heaven and Earth Collide’: Hillsong Music’s Evolving Theological Emphases.” Pneuma: The Journal for the Society of Pentecostal Studies 39:1-2 (Spring 2017): 78-104.

“Lay-Prophet-Priest: The Not-So Fledgling ‘Office’ of the Worship Leader.” Liturgy 32:1 (2017): 24-31.