Monday, 2 March 2009

Making Chapel Services Optional? Further Random Throughts about Preaching


Let's face it. While we desire to see chapel services as part of our spiritual formation in the seminary, the fact remains that attending seminary chapel may not necessary be what everyone looks forward to. I am not sure whether my observation here is accurate or not. But if I were to take a glance across the chapel, perhaps there are sufficient indications to suggest that there is some merit to my observation. Some would bring along their books to occupy time in chapel. Some, instead of paying attention to the sermon, would be dozing off. Some would be doing something else, such as playing games on their mobiles phones, etc. Sometimes I wonder whether our presence in chapel is simply to satisfy the requirement that chapel is compulsory for the seminary.

I have once suggested something radical before - let's make chapel optional. Let's give the students a choice of whether they would like to attend chapel or not.

I raise this issue to myself once again because it is my turn to preach in chapel next Tuesday.

Let's imagine this: If chapel is made optional, I wonder whether there would still be anyone sitting in the hall when I preach next Tuesday. If the seminary community knows that it's my turn to preach next Tuesday, will they still come and listen to me?

What if my fear is materialised next Tuesday? What if there is no audience when I stand up to preach next Tuesday? One thing for sure - I will not blame anyone. I will take it that this is a very clear indication to me about myself, my preaching and the quality of my sermon. I will take it that it is time for me to do some soul searching and to evaluate my preparation, my preaching, and the content of my message. I will have to ask hard questions. Have I not sufficiently prepared for my preaching in chapel? Have I taken chapel service too lightly myself? Have my sermon been so boring that it not only fails to exhort and encourage the community but it clearly reflects my ill preparation? Have I abused the pulpit by failing to adequately prepare myself?

If this is the case, perhaps it is time to listen to my sermons once again. Perhaps it is time to evaluate my attitude towards preaching and the the fundamentals of what it means to worship our Creator God. It is time to repent.

Deep in my heart, I wish for the day that students would still attend chapel even if it is optional. Wouldn't it be great if chapel services were so uplifting, encouraging and edifying that even though it is optional, students would still come in full force, knowing that they would have missed something if they skipped chapel? Wouldn't it be great that chapel services would be spiritually uplifting for both the preacher and the listener?

In the final analysis, I can only say this: Who says chapel is part of the spiritual formation for the students only? It is part of my spiritual formation as a lecturer too.

32 comments:

May Ong said...

Wow! I've been thinking of exactly the same issue in the recent 2 weeks. Wonder who will the first courageous seminary in Malaysia to make chapel services optional? Or is there already one....?
May.

Paul said...

I do not think it is a good idea to make Chapel services optional but rather revamp chapel services so it is something everyone looks forward to. Attendance among other things needs to be a discipline ...

Personally while I was at seminary, I found most chapel services boring and irrelevant which is a bad reflection of both my poor spiritual state as well as how poorly chapel services were conducted.

思问者 said...

do we dare to ask the student what kind of preaching they ask for?

be daring to face the 'political'Jesus, and not for a political reason, but for a realistic and relevant understanding: for example, when God really call, what actually He want to changge within a listener ownself and his/her community? or make it more clear--Malaysia context?

Sze Zeng said...

I agree with you KY. Chapel service should be optional.

I (might wrongly) think that spiritual formation in theological seminaries should not take up the timetable space.

But anyway, I think your post is challenging to the tradition of many theological seminaries, not to mention seminarians.

Lee Chee Keat said...

I would say Amen to that!! Finally, there's some one from the faculty is humble enough to admit that sometimes the chapel service didn't run well is due to the faculty's attitude rather than the students. Recently, in a homiletic class, I and my fellow students were being shot down for not giving honor to God during the chapel service when we dozed off, or doing other things while sermon is preached. He insisted we should stay up and there's always something to learn from every lousy sermons. To me, it was quite an unfair statement as I felt the lecturers should be blamed as well for not doing well in wasting our time to listen to a lousy sermon- that I don't think is honoring God. Now, Bingo, u came up with Chapel to be optional. How I long or wish for the day to come that STM would make Chapel optional and yet students would still come to chapel despite that.

davinci said...

chapel service must be compulsory, but let the students preach...

Kar Yong said...

Hi May,
Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I am not sure about seminaries in Malaysia, but chapel is optional for me in Gordon-Conwell. But I still went to chapel, because Walter Kaiser's sermons were always uplifting and challenging. He preached every Wednesday.

Kar Yong said...

Dear Paul,
The point of my suggestion of making it optional is to force us to rethink about chapel. As long as it is compulsory, even if I have to preach, I know EVERYONE will be there, whether I am prepared or not. As long as it is compulsory, I wonder whether we will ever revamp it. This is just my thoughts.

Kar Yong said...

Dear 思问者

Thanks for your thoughts. I concur with you that the bible is relevant - and we must preach it.

Kar Yong said...

Hi Sze Zeng,

As for me, spiritual formation is not a programme - it takes place in the lectures, in my studies, in the field, in the mundane things in life, and in every aspects of life.

Anyway, thanks for your input.

Kar Yong said...

Dear davinci,

Students preach in our Friday chapel service.

不肖生 Sceptics said...

Hi KY,

your blog usually takes some time to appear,,,

thinking of changing the layout? so that it would be more reader friendly...

Kar Yong said...

Dear Chee Keat,

Thanks for your sharing. This post is just my personal reflection. For me, I think I need to search my heart first before I point a finger at someone else. I cannot expect the students to listen to me if I have not prepared well, if I have not done my best, and if I have not preached from my heart.

Kar Yong said...

Dear 不肖生 Sceptics,

Thanks for this. I have been wanting to change the layout for sometime - just that I can never get around to do it...

Deos my blog take some time to load? I don't seem to have this problem on my end.....

pearlie said...

Had wanted to put in my 2-cents worth when I saw this before I left the office but didn't know quite how to put it, but have been mulling about ever it since.

Granted, it is the same in most services in church - there are bound to be those who doze off, and those who read whatever are on their hands and those who play games on their phone - I have seen all these happening in Sunday services. Even people reading the newspaper.

But I think as much as it is the preacher, worship leader and liturgists who need to buck up and do a better job, we as worshippers need to do the same.

To me, the most important question is, why attend service? Be it, compulsory or otherwise. It is nothing else but to worship God, in whatever state we are in - and in whatever quality the service is being held. But of course it is two-sided, because this does not relieve the preacher, etc from their responsibilities either.

I agree with what Paul said -- it is a bad reflection of our poor spiritual state. And I fully agree with davinci, if anyone thinks that the preaching or worship leading is bad, do something, offer to do it instead if you think you can do a better job.

Anyway, just my 2-cents worth.

Perng Shyang said...

I should only say Amen!

Paul said...

Kar Yong

Perhaps you are right. Making it optional may be a helpful way to shake everyone up (lecturers and students)and force everyone to think about the purpose of chapel and how we conduct / view Chapel.

I think however lecturers will have to be very mature to allow this as or they will penalise students if when they are scheduled to preach, they find the chapel empty LOL

This year I have made it a point to take notes for every message to force me to pay closer attention to every sermon. I am ashamed to admit (but repented already ok?! :-)) that when I did some reflection on this matter last year, I found myself naturally impatient with certain preachers and so had a wrong attitude when listening (as some are just boring and have little or no depth).

*sigh* It is not easy trying to grow spiritually :-(

One observation if I may. I wonder if one problem may be that guest speakers or lecturers have an unspoken expectation that they need to impress students with "deep theological" stuff in chapel? This is the general impression I got as a student.

After hours of "deep stuff", I would have benefited more if preachers had spent more time on practical application and exhortation. Just my thoughts

Florence said...

my seminary made chapel compulsory to 1st, 2nd, & 3rd year college students; and compulsory to 1st & 2nd year students.
other students, like ThM, PhD, and "transfered students" like me can feel free to make our own choices.
i think this is a compromised policy on chapel attendance. ;)

May Ong said...

I echo the wishes of KY and Chee Keat – that everyone will still attend chapel though it is optional. Anyway, isn’t church attendance voluntary anyway? We go because we want to worship together with the family of believers, not because so-and-so is preaching or leading worship, etc. Having said that, everyone who is responsible during the service (preacher, worship leader, musicians, etc.) must take their responsibilities seriously. Whoever is ill-prepared is accountable to God.

不肖生 Sceptics said...

I am not sure about seminary chapel service, but as for church regular sunday service;

when preaching is on, no one is supposed to play with handphone or read news paper,,, I shocked when Pearlie mentioned that,,,,

When I preach, and if anyone does that, I would chase him or her out of the church...no respect to GOd, and no respect to the speaker...

I am from assembly of God, and I dont think Malaysia Ag churches condone this type attitude...

haha! but no joke...

Kar Yong said...

Hi Pearlie,
Thanks so much for your thoughts, and for putting things in a broader perspective. Yes, I do agree with you that when it comes to service, it is both the responsibility of those in charge and the congregation.

But I wonder the spiritual state of a person is somehow related to the kind of preaching from the pulpit? I am just wondering...I know there are many other factors at work in a person's spiritual life.

Kar Yong said...

Hi Paul,
Thanks for your sharing.

I think generally, in STM chapel, we don't really have "deep theological" stuff. But good to be reminded that what is needed is still some encouragement and exhortation.

Kar Yong said...

Hi Florence,
This is interesting...why allow ThM, PhD and tranfer students the option?

Kar Yong said...

Hi May,
Amen to your thoughts.

Kar Yong said...

Hi Perng Shyang,
Thanks for the link to your blog

Kar Yong said...

Dear 不肖生 Sceptics,
Perhaps we are too laxed in our discipline to the extent that we allow what Pearlie describes to happen right under our noses?

Allen McClymont said...

Hi Kar Yong,

seeing to are next door to me it seems strange to write to you but this post is very provocative so here goes. To me chapel is a spiritual discipline and the focus, as some have mentioned, is the worship of God. At STM and in church one of our goals is to provide an environment beleivers can grow in maturity. We can't 'make' people grow, that is up to them and God, but we can put structures in place that we believe will help them grow. To me that is why we make chapel compulsory, because we believe that the discipline of regular worship will in the long run produce spiritual growth. It has nothing to do with how good the sermon is or how well we have prepared. I think Paul is correct in recognising that at the end of the day it is our attitude rather than the quality of the 'performance' that matters.

To make chapel cumpulsory too me sends the message that regular worship is optional for Christians. We should only worship God when we feel like it or when we have a 'good' speaker coming that we like. This to me is very indivuidualistic and reflects our culture. To me at STM we have an opportunity to challenge that culture and say 'no' that actually the community is just as important as me and worshiping together is a priority.

Having said all that that doesn't mean we should not do all we can to make our worship together as meaningful as possible. We as faculty, the students that lead the time of singing, those that read God's word, the musicians etc should be doing all we can to present to God our very best. But some of the comments I have read sound like the people are treating chapel as an entertainment venue. So that they will go when their favourite actors are on stage (Brad Pitt and Sandra Bullock in my case) but not when my favourite actors are not present (let's say Claude Van Dam and Meryl Streep). Some faculty are more gifted speakers than others and I would object strongly to making chapel a popularity contest. Yes we should always be looking for ways to improve but to me this is a totally separate issue from why we have chapel.

Shalom
Allen

blogpastor said...

When I was in Trinity Theological College, I used to pontang chapel because I felt it was information overload every day. I actually needed more time to process. So I would go off with Benedict and Raphael to some canteen and discuss stuff and chill out.

So I vote for morning and evening quiet contemplative times of 20 minutes, and chapel once a week.

Steven Sim said...

Someone said this and i read somewhere, it sort of became one of my fav. life-philosophy, it is always good discipline to force oneself to do things one doesn't like to do".

Students shouldn't be pampered to that extend.

But I agree with u on challenging to re-think chapel services, and may I add church services. I personally found sivin kit to be a wonderful revolutionary in this respect.

Steven Sim

Kar Yong said...

Hi Blogpastor,
Thanks for the suggetion for contemplative moments. I think this is very much lacking. What we have in seminary is lecture, preaching, and talk and talk and talk. We never pause for a moment to be silent before the Lord. We never pause for some moments of reflection. And may I also say, we are so used to "doing" things, and we might even be afraid to be silent.

Kar Yong said...

Hi Steven,
Thanks for those thoughts. I have been thinking about church services too.....

Kar Yong said...

Hi Allen,
Thanks for your comments. I really appreciate that you give a different perspective on chapel.