Ben Dykhouse on a Chapel Planning Process that Engages Students

Ben Dykhouse teaches computer applications and church history at Ontario Christian High School in Ontario, California. He also co-teaches a daily chapel class for the school’s weekly chapel worship. In this edited conversation he talks about a chapel planning model that focuses on glorifying God together.

Ben Dykhouse teaches computer applications and church history at Ontario Christian High School in Ontario, California. He also co-teaches a daily chapel class for the school’s weekly chapel worship. In this edited conversation he talks about a chapel planning model that focuses on glorifying God together.

 

When and why did you start using your current model for planning chapel?

It coincided with coming back from the Calvin Symposium on Worship in 2009. We went in knowing the depth that could and should be in our chapels wasn’t there. The worship apprentices at Calvin inspired us. They challenged us to spend more time on planning, less on mechanics. My chapel co-mentor at the time was Cami Panther, our music teacher. We asked for and got second period every day for a chapel class. Students apply for it, and they get fine arts credit for it.

We chose to take small steps with the first group, doing a little more prayer, scripture, and worshiping together. That summer, Cami and I created a planning template that we taught to our kids on our late-August retreat. Now I teach this class with Melanie Dorn, our new music teacher.

What are the steps you follow?

First, we ask ourselves and each other about what God is putting on our hearts. We encourage staying away from topics like gossip or trials, because that makes chapel too much about us. But thinking about gossip can point us to an attribute of God—truth telling.

Second, we take time in class to do a keyword search in our Bible concordances or on Crosswalk.com. Our students use different Bible translations, so their concordances are different. They come from many churches, so they hear the same passage different ways. For a chapel on God’s forgiveness, our scripture search showed that God’s forgiveness involves mercy and justice. A lot of times we find that a Bible story is more meaningful than passages that use a certain word. The story of the Father and Two Sons, the Prodigal Son parable, illustrates God’s forgiveness.

Third, each student in class writes a prayer, typically using the ACTS model of adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. We encourage them to use the words of scripture in their prayers.

Finally, we start to ask how to communicate this prayer and scripture through music and visuals.

In what ways does your planning model feel either restrictive or freeing?

It’s freeing in that we no longer are captive to what we like or what comes to mind first. Instead we are intentionally seeking out God’s Word. It’s so great to come to class and know what will happen. There’s a rhythm. The day after chapel we talk about how chapel glorified God and we start on coming up with a topic. Often part of this is homework. Students say there’s a lot of faith development in reading and praying together. After figuring out what elements we’ll use and how to plug them in, we practice the script and rehearse in the chapel space.

The only thing that feels restrictive is that you spend a certain time on each step—and it still seems like we can always do more. There’s not enough time to carry out all the ideas in class. But that’s a good problem.

How does this model help you focus on worship that glorifies God?

In class after chapel, we always ask first how God was glorified. Quite honestly, at the start of the year, that’s a tough question. Sometimes God is glorified when things don’t go well. One day the lighting changes we’d planned didn’t work. But through the way our team responded—and how we saw that certain parts worked better without special lighting—we realized the focus was off us and on God.

After talking about how God was glorified, we talk constructively about what we can do better in the next chapel. We always spend time encouraging each other, like “I appreciated the scripture you shared” or “Thank you for being so diligent about running the sound.”

What have you seen or heard that helps you gauge how well your school community gets what you’re trying to do?

At the beginning of the year, Melanie and I do a lot of writing and planning. By the end of the year, students do more with choosing music and visuals and writing scripts, mini-reader’s theatres, and skits. Next year we hope to have at least one worship band made up of students not in the chapel planning class. We want to involve more students.

Students come from so many churches. Some may experience a gap between chapel and their church’s energy level, amount of scripture use, or music style. I don’t think the average student at chapel could articulate that worship is a dialogue, but our chapels have really improved since we adopted our planning model. The staff sees the intentionality and depth. In chapel now, there’s not nearly as much talking or goofing around or being late.

We hear from our chapel team and other teachers that chapel experiences come up in class discussions. We’re constantly starting with God and then asking how to live this out. When I coached baseball, we talked about what came up in chapel.

Can you describe a chapel that made a big impact?

We look for opportunities to say yes to an idea that a student is excited about. A student saw a cardboard testimonies church service on YouTube and asked to do it in chapel. Most who gave testimonies were not from the class. It took an incredible amount of planning, and we got a lot of feedback.

Read a feature story about increasing participation in chapel services at Christian high schools. Watch videos of Ontario Christian High School chapel services.

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