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Reflections on planning high school chapel

Reflections on planning high school chapel by Ben Dykhouse of Ontario Christian School

Mr. Dykhouse: “So yesterday, how was God glorified?”
Joi: I think God was glorified in the way students reacted and participated. They seemed really interested and engaged in the Passover elements we were showing them.
Mario: God was glorified in the way students responded to finding the Afikomen. (half-piece of matzo which is broken in the early stages of the Passover Seder and set aside to be eaten as a dessert after the meal.)
Mrs. Panther: I saw God glorified in the way each of you took our coaching during rehearsal and put it into practice
in Chapel. The way each of you committed to the text made a huge difference.
Sarah: I think God was glorified in students asking really good questions after chapel.
Chad: Yesterday, God was glorified through the singing. Even though not all students were singing, we had really
good participation. Those songs were the right fit for the mood and tone of the chapel.

The above is a sample conversation in Chapel Leadership Class. The class meets every day during second period with this group of 10 students. This conversation happened on Thursday in response to our chapel the day before.

Our goal in planning, writing, and executing chapels is to glorify God. Period. So, the first question we always ask is, “How was God glorified?” We intentionally do not first ask the question – Did people like it? While that may be important to ask for some chapels, we ask that question third….sometimes, fourth.

But, why? Why do we put glorifying God first and foremost in our chapels? Isn’t making sure students are enjoying
themselves the first step to chapel “success”? Won’t students listen better if they really enjoy what they are
watching and listening to? How do we know what really glorifies and pleases God?

Our answer, and part of the vision of Chapel Leadership Class, comes from an important chapter in the Bible. It’s a chapter on worship. It is also a chapter about what glorifies God. You might even call this chapter a kind of “chapel”… a chapel in the dream of Isaiah the prophet. This chapter, Isaiah 6, begins with familiar words, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on the throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.” The chapter goes on to detail four important elements in worship.

1. Praising God for who He is. In Isaiah 6:3, the angels were calling to each other “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty.” Our worship starts with God and who He is.

2. Confession. In Isaiah 6:5, “Whoa to me! I am ruined.” We are sinful and in need of a Savior.

3. Assurance that we are forgiven. Isaiah 6:7, “Your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

4. Sending. In Isaiah 6:8, “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, Whom shall I send? And who will go for us? And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

We have designed our chapel program around these four ideas that we think give us a “steady diet” in our school’s worship. When we plan worship services for our students and staff we use this chapter as a guide. We try to blend each chapel and our yearly chapel schedule with praise, confession, assurance, and sending. Additionally, we have developed a weekly process for planning chapels. While it may seem limiting to follow a similar process week after week, we have found that it causes us to put the focus right where it should be; that is, on the God we are worshipping.

Our process goes like this. First, usually on Thursday after chapel, we reflect on the previous week’s chapel. As you saw earlier, we ask the question, how was God glorified in chapel? Sometimes, the reflection includes goal setting for our public speaking and presence on stage.

Second, we decide on a topic. This can be an attribute of God, a topic that a speaker would like to cover, or something that corresponds with the church calendar.

Third, we take that topic and search for Scripture that relates to it. Typically, each student in class will find three to five verses or passages.

Fourth, each student writes a prayer based on the Scriptures the class found (using the “ACTS” model: adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication).

Finally, once the students complete these four steps, we ask questions to plan the “nuts and bolts” of the chapel.

  • What music fits in this chapel?
  • Will we do a skit?
  • What visual media will we use?
  • How will we use this Scripture and these prayers?

With this as background, here are a few “highlights” from this year in chapel.
1. Two chapels that told the narrative of Psalm 23 to start the year.
2. Guest speakers John Perkins (justice advocate, founder of The Perkins Foundation, and author of
numerous books including “Let Justice Roll Down’) and Donzaleigh Abernathy (justice advocate and daughter of civil rights worker Ralph David Abernathy).
3. A chapel that detailed some important elements of a Passover Seder. (We also had a Seder meal as a Chapel
Leadership class at the house of Mrs. Kim Swanson, OCHS Librarian.)
4. Visiting Arrowhead Christian School, to observe a chapel with hope of doing a chapel “crossover”.
5. An Ash Wednesday Service, where students were invited to respond by receiving the sign of ashes on their foreheads. This signified that they were “dead to sin, but alive in Christ.”
6. A Good Friday Tenebrae Service that marked the beginning of Lent. At the end of this service, students were given an opportunity to respond by writing their name on a card and hanging it on a cross at the front of the chapel. This represented their sin putting Jesus on the cross.

One of the most instrumental experiences we have had in planning chapels has been attending the Calvin Worship Symposium. Each of the past three years, on the last weekend in January, Cami and I have had the privilege of taking two or three Chapel Leadership students to Grand Rapids, MI for this conference. After a day and a half spent with leadership teams from Christian high schools from across the US and Canada, we merge with the larger conference which represents hundreds of denominations and countries from around the world. Our days, spent in worship and workshops have been a great way to share and receive great ideas. Each year we have come back encouraged, energized, exhausted, and full of great ideas for our chapels.

It has been great to see the ways that the Holy Spirit is moving in our high school chapels and we are thrilled to continue growing in the future. It is clear that God is doing great things at Ontario Christian. We are eager to see what God has in store in the coming school year. To God be glory.