Chapel And Church: A Confession (Guest Post)
This is an article born out of personal conviction.
I don’t like the chapel requirement at Christian schools, and if I were to be completely honest, I’m guessing that most people are with me. When I was doing my undergrad, at the beginning of each semester I would have chapel weekend. This was when I would spend an entire weekend making up every single chapel from last semester so that I didn’t get put on probation. And it was a semesterly (if that’s even a word) affair.
Now, in my defense, I have had bad experiences in chapel. One time I walked in, expecting to hear the typical worship and sermon but was a little surprised when it was “school spirit” chapel. The only memory I’ve held onto of that particular instance was some student running around in a rainbow cape, but I don’t remember how a rainbow cape raises school spirit. Another time I arrived and became the victim of an hour long country-western worship session lead by a middle-aged couple (daughter on tambourine). You get the point. It left a bad taste in my mouth.
So, after enough experiences like these, my association with chapel fandom faded and like hundreds (or probably thousands) of others at my school, I resorted to chapel make ups.
This is the typical attitude of those who go to religious academic institutions. With the exception of the occasional superstar preacher or the beloved professor, chapels are to be avoided and then made up. And if this isn’t the attitude of most people, it is at least the attitude of many people. And I am definitely a representative of that group.
This apathetic disposition towards chapels raises some questions. The most pragmatic being, “is the chapel requirement inspiring the opposite response it is designed to inspire?”
My initial answer to this is, “of course.” It’s readily apparent to everyone that chapel should engender in students a sense of community and desire for spiritual growth. But it doesn’t work for everyone and it didn’t work for me.
During my entire time at the particular institution that I was a part of, I lived near or in my hometown. I attended the same church, bible studies, spiritual growth groups, and prayer sessions that I had my whole life. I was under the authority of the same pastor, learned from the same mentors and my friend group stayed basically the same. For me, chapel seemed more like a church-like entity seeking to subvert my already established church body, and I wasn’t buying it.
But this sword cuts both ways. People who are disenchanted with the staleness of their home church are quick to make the comparison between the life and color of their collegiate spiritual experience and the muted emptiness of their home church life. So for many, chapel becomes too important and ends up contributing to apathy concerning their home church.
No one wants to go from a world class preacher in hall of thousands of on fire students to a dusty school auditorium with an uneducated octogenarian. And although that contrast is intentionally contrived to make my point, there will be some people for whom it hits close to home.
So, we end up with a backwards situation where neither institution is doing its job properly and many of us become apathetic or downright oppositional to the institution that we are a part of (church and school).
Maybe a church is most healthy when it seeks to be more like the university in terms of the way it handles the Biblical text and the way that it relates to culture. And maybe the christian university has only stepped in because the church isn’t doing its job.
Regardless, I have a few suggestions to help remedy this problem.
(1) The church needs to take some of its cues from the university. As students leave their home and attend a thriving college setting, they are attracted to the excellent teaching born out of rigorous study and the way in which that teaching is relevant to them. There’s a reason for that. If it works for the university, it should, at least in some senses, work for the church.
(2) The university needs to shift its efforts in terms of spiritual development away from direct work with students and towards finding good churches for them to attend while they are in school (and even after). Universities don’t have to subvert the role of the church, they can instead support it.
(3) Students who are in a constant state of dissatisfaction with their church need to take an active role in changing it. Complaining and griping about boring worship or uneducated pastors are only doing a disservice to the body. It’s easy to whine and complain. What is more difficult is humbly assisting the church in its needs as a servant and understanding that God doesn’t need lively, modern worship and superstar preachers to change people’s lives (not that those things are evil).
(4) Students who (like I was) are rebellious against the universities chapel requirement probably need to take a careful look at themselves. In my case, serious pride was corrupting my attitude. If I truly cared for the institution that I was a part of (which at the time I didn’t) then I would have spent less time being such an iconoclast and more time participating with the community in how they fellowshipped with full confidence that if I am committed to my home church. If I have this commitment, there is nothing that the university could do to change that. In fact, chapel might (or more likely will) make a positive contribution to my spiritual development.
Andrew Kelley is a life-long member of Hope Chapel and has spent much of his life there in ministry. For nearly ten years he both volunteered for and was employed by Special Ministries Disability Outreach, a ministry designed for persons with developmental disabilities, as its Program Director. After that he spent two years serving as Hope Chapel’s High School Ministry Director. He completed a BA from a Christian University in Southern California and is nearly finished with an MA in New Testament Theology from Talbot seminary. He hopes to pursue PhD studies after that. His personal areas of interest are Early Christian Origins, Theology, the cultural relevance of Christian ideas, and how theology can be integrated well with other professions. He lives with his wife in El Segundo, CA. His hobbies include watching entirely too much television, battling with his wireless router, drinking unhealthy amounts of Coke Zero and wishing that he read as much as his wife does.