Q&A — Lutheran High School Chapel

October 25th, 2012 Post by

Here’s another question that came in using our Ask a Pastor button on the sidebar.

I teach at a Lutheran high school, my children attended a Lutheran grade school. In both women are allowed to give chapel. This is not a foreign practice as I’m sure many Lutheran high schools and grades schools do the same. Does this practice align with I Timothy 2:11-12, I Corinthians 14: 34-35?

Thank you for your question. As a matter of background, I am the associate pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church and School in Cheyenne, Wyoming. We have both a faithful congregation and a thriving school. The central part of our school’s curriculum is theological, where children both learn the faith (catechesis) and live it through participation in regular chapel services (worship).

I think there may actually be two issues in play here, and I wish to address both briefly, if I may. The question you raised specifically deals with the propriety of women leading chapel services. But I would first like to point out that the congregation has someone in their midst who is not only trained but given by God for the task — the pastor. The pastor is trained in liturgics and is comfortable in conducting the services of the church. Far more importantly, though, God has given this man to this congregation for that very task. St. Paul writes to the church in Corinth: “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:1-2). The pastor has been put there as God’s man to handle the sacred things: the Gospel and the Sacraments. In our own school we use the offices of matins and vespers, led by the pastor. This affords students the opportunity to worship the God they are coming to know through the school’s teaching, and to learn more of the culture of the church as well by participating in her prayer offices. It also allows the pastor to preach short homilies to them — something intensely edifying for children who are learning more about their fallen world, and also something forbidden to laymen by virtue of the congregation’s subscription to the Fourteenth Article of the Augsburg Confession.

Rather than view this merely in terms of Law, however, let’s look at this in view of the Gospel. God has seen fit to send a willing and obedient servant into your midst, capable and called to proclaim God’s Word. What better place than the school? If your school is anything like mine, many if not most students are not Lutheran. Many students likely do not hear of their Lord Christ outside the walls of your school. Why not give them the best the church has to offer by immersing them in the culture of the church, complete with preaching by the pastor? They can hear God’s Word boldly and faithfully proclaimed. They also will learn that the pastor is someone to whom they can go for spiritual questions or concerns. So in summary, my first question would be why the school would deprive students of such a rich blessing.

Secondly, and more directly to your point, is the issue of women serving in such a capacity. You correctly point to the verses from 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians which have long been used to support the church’s practice of only ordaining men into the pastoral office. On the one hand, I’m sure these women are not claiming the title of pastor, nor are they aiming at ordination — but that isn’t the point. Referring again to the Fourteenth Article of the Augsburg Confession, we know that preaching is certainly forbidden to anyone who is not a pastor, and both the congregation and pastor have publicly affirmed their subscription to this in order to be a Lutheran congregation and a Lutheran pastor. To be sure, there are rubrics for laymen to lead those prayer offices in settings where having a pastor may not be possible, such as in family devotions. Even if the chapel service does not follow the liturgy of the prayer offices, it can likely be done in a way where the “leader” is not performing the duties specifically given for pastors to do regularly and publicly (Baptism, pronouncing the Absolution, benediction, etc).

But there is the issue of the propriety of women leading the public worship of the church. This ought never be done. First, it is important to realize that the chapel service at school is a public service of the church. In my opinion, this means our children should never be given any less than the best the church has to offer them — the best prayer offices, the best hymnody, the best reverence, the best preaching. Second, women conducting chapel services makes them look like they are pastors. It confuses children, who are already trying to make sense of what a pastor is and what he does. Children are sponges; they learn from everything. For that reason alone, this is the worst possible time to give them any cause for confusion. The women who lead chapel are likely sincere in their desire to serve the Lord and His Church, but this is an inappropriate way for them to do so. The students will see that the women who lead chapel are fundamentally interchangeable with the pastor. Worse, they get the impression that headship in the church is given both to men and to women — or worse, just to women — despite Scripture’s insistence to the contrary. The texts you cite in your question speak to this well. I hope this answers your question and gives you and others insight into the immense blessing that school chapel services can be.


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  1. PC
    October 25th, 2012 at 12:09 | #1

    I understand at a Lutheran elementary school where there is a pastor who is responsible for the sheep of that church/school. But what about at the high school? My high school doesn’t have an ordained minister on staff anymore. Is it OK to have male staff lead chapel during lent and advent when pastors in the association are reluctant to add another responsibility? Female? What if a female organized a group of students to lead a skit for the “homily”.

  2. Mrs. Hume
    October 25th, 2012 at 13:26 | #2

    We are considering a Lutheran high school for our son. It is not directly part of one congregation. However, in such a large city, is it really too much to ask of the many pastors in the area to come out once or twice a year to lead chapel for the benefit of the students? Maybe it is. I don’t know. It sure would make the students feel like they cared. The students at the catholic high schools have clergy lead chapel.

  3. Joe Olson
    October 25th, 2012 at 14:30 | #3

    As a parent I would probably categorically exclude any Lutheran School that had lay lead chapel or that had skits for homilies regardless of the ordinational status of the person leading the circus.

    Kids are young and impressionable, why not teach them about the gifts of liturgy and hymnody?

  4. Mark Schulz
    October 25th, 2012 at 14:59 | #4

    The 1985 CTCR report on Women in the Church said the following (in response to the question, “What about the service of women in other worship contexts such as devotions conducted in the chapels of synodical colleges and other institutions?”):

    Here, especially in the tradition of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, much has to do with definition and perception. While it is clear from the Scriptures that women should not preach or lead the formal public worship services of the church, many of the church’s educational institutions conduct what has been referred to as extended “family devotions” and have asked women to serve in worship leadership capacities. These “devotions” should be differentiated from the formal (and to a great extent, public) worship services. Institutions that hold public worship services under the responsibility of one who is called to be chaplain, campus pastor, dean of the chapel, etc., would seem to be out of the realm of “family devotions” in any acceptable meaning of the phrase. In such contexts, women should not preach or lead the services of worship. In those other worship opportunities which may be appropriately understood as “devotions,” the chaplain or other “spiritual head” of the community should make responsible decisions regarding the service cf. women, keeping in mind all of the guidelines presented in this report.

  5. PC
    October 25th, 2012 at 15:36 | #5

    Joe, personally I’d love to have chapels that are all hymns and matins but when congregations in our association have contemporary worship we can’t really take a stand against that. Frankly, whenever we try matins the only ones you hear singing are a few of the teachers (and some, like me, are not very good singers…) As far as the skits go, we don’t usually have them but we do regularly have our called males do the chapel talks. We don’t have a pastor on staff. That’s all there is to it. Mrs. Hume, we usually do have a pastor do the chapel talk, but it becomes difficult to schedule them during Lent and Advent. That’s generally when the called males lead.

  6. October 25th, 2012 at 15:57 | #6

    @PC #5
    Does your pastor regularly miss public services on Sunday or Wednesday nights (Advent and Lent)? Chapel services are public services of the congregation/school – the pastor’s schedule should be made around them (the same as Sunday morning or other service times). To do less teaches something horrible about how we view the parochial school and our children.

  7. October 25th, 2012 at 16:23 | #7

    @PC #5

    I think you’re demonstrating something that’s key to this discussion, as is key in every other discussion regarding issues of worship. Namely, that while we can discuss these questions in terms of what is ideal or best, real life situations make these issues and their solutions both difficult and unclear. You’re not, for example, beginning afresh with no history; you have to deal with what you have. So first, I’d like to encourage you to take heart. God’s Word works faith even when worship situations are less than ideal. That doesn’t mean that Christians don’t continue to wrestle with these questions and striving to provide the best in Christian worship to their schools, but it does mean that God is near to you and working His will through His Word.

    It is good for you and for your school to wrestle with these sorts of questions. I probably don’t have to tell you that a simple and easy solution will probably not be available. But anything you can do to encourage the pastors of the congregations who support the school to be involved in its spiritual life could well bear good fruit months or years later. You might start by asking them to lead once in a while. You could start by inviting them to lead for special days, like the opening of the year or Reformation. If they won’t do that, perhaps you could ask for them to provide devotional material for men to read to the school in place of a homily. Ask them to provide hymns or songs for the chapel services, or to review existing materials. If it truly reflects your own perception of the problem, you might let them know that their absence makes it seem as though the school children are left with the impression that the local pastors are not available for them. I agree totally with Pastor Scheer above, that children notice the absence of the pastors and will deduce from that conspicuous absence that they are not of primary importance to the pastors or to the local congregations.

  8. Mrs. Hume
    October 25th, 2012 at 18:49 | #8

    Frankly, whenever we try matins the only ones you hear singing are a few of the teachers

    Children learn what they live. If they do it every day, it is familiar and that is how they learn. Kids don’t immediately sing any song. They learn the ones that they hear often. This is just plain old training and it is specifically the business of a school.

  9. Dr. Ty Fantroy McCall
    October 26th, 2012 at 08:46 | #9

    As a Lutheran Day school principal, I can not even imagine leading a worship service. It is not my vocation. Furthermore, chapel services during the week are apart of my worship time; it is for the faculty and staff, as well as the students. Fortunately, we have two pastors who are dedicated to our school; not just it’s success in the secular world, but in our worship life. This must be a priority! By allowing our children to witness these type of behaviors, we are creating a worldview in them that goes directly against what scripture teaches. Just my humble opinion!

  10. Joe Olson
    October 26th, 2012 at 09:01 | #10
  11. Dies Irae
    October 26th, 2012 at 09:39 | #11

    Here in SoCal the local Lutheran High School, at the command of the ordained LC-MS executive director, invites clergy and laity (men and women) from churches like Saddleback and Rock Harbor, including local Pentecostal churches, to preach (correction: “not preach” at the “not service” – love the LCMS!) to Lutheran kids at a “Lutheran” High School funded by Lutheran dollars. This, despite the fact that local LC-MS pastors have volunteered to cover and find other LC-MS pastors to cover all chapel services at no cost to the school. The ordained executive director prefers instead to “celebrate the wonderful diversity we have within Christendom” by bringing in others from other churches to lead chapel.

    Ask any kid there: Is this chapel service is a “worship service” or a “family devotion”? We are scribes and pharisees.

  12. Brad
    October 26th, 2012 at 14:19 | #12

    Dies Irae :
    Ask any kid there: Is this chapel service is a “worship service” or a “family devotion”? We are scribes and pharisees.

    @Dies Irae #11

    Yep. We wonder why GenX, GenY, and Millenial people are leaving the LCMS? Because this generation knows a fake from a mile away. The world has conditioned them to tune their BS meter to a very refined setting, and we set it off daily with our hypocracy and synodical double-speak.

    We either subscribe to AC XIV or we don’t. The same with all the other doctrines of Holy Scripture.

  13. Michael
    October 26th, 2012 at 15:55 | #13

    Don’t you know all know we don’t ALWAYS have to follow scripture EXACTLY like it says? Aleast that is what my pastor informed me when i asked about that verse in Timothy thats says a “Woman shall not have authority over a man”

  14. Tim Schenks
    October 27th, 2012 at 06:22 | #14

    The local pastors should be overjoyed to lead a chapel service for the Lutheran high school, especially if their congregation is served by the school. They should be involved with chapel.

    There is often a pastor or two listed as pastoral advisor of the school. They are usually overlooked but they could (or should) be leading chapel services as well.

  15. Mrs. Hume
    October 29th, 2012 at 18:09 | #15

    Dies Irae :
    Here in SoCal the local Lutheran High School, at the command of the ordained LC-MS executive director, invites clergy and laity (men and women) from churches like Saddleback and Rock Harbor, including local Pentecostal churches, to preach (correction: “not preach” at the “not service” – love the LCMS!) to Lutheran kids at a “Lutheran” High School funded by Lutheran dollars. This, despite the fact that local LC-MS pastors have volunteered to cover and find other LC-MS pastors to cover all chapel services at no cost to the school. The ordained executive director prefers instead to “celebrate the wonderful diversity we have within Christendom” by bringing in others from other churches to lead chapel.
    Ask any kid there: Is this chapel service is a “worship service” or a “family devotion”? We are scribes and pharisees.

    It has been several days since I read this comment and I still can’t get it out of my head.

  16. helen
    October 29th, 2012 at 18:59 | #16

    @Mrs. Hume #15
    This sounds like another of the termites in our Lutheran woodwork… which is paperthin in some areas! :(

  17. Mrs. Hume
    October 29th, 2012 at 20:28 | #17

    @16

    How is having those people lead our children not as bad as Benke in Yankee Stadium. I mean, at least at Yankee Stadium everyone knew that the ministers were of different faiths and Benke wasn’t in front of a captive audience of Lutheran school children. Here we are putting our own kids in our own schools and then our trust is violated when they have these ministers of other denominations give our kids their spin on the message of Christianity or whatever it is they believe. What is the point of spending $10k-$15k a year to send your kids to an expressly Lutheran school if they are going to have other/non-denom folks leading them in RELIGIOUS exercises? My own husband could do better, and he is just a faithful layman. I mean Benke was over the line, but he was out in the world. A Lutheran school is our own turf and our kids are trusting us to tell them what is right and we are inviting false teachers to teach them false doctrines.

  18. October 30th, 2012 at 04:44 | #18

    Mrs. Hume :@16
    How is having those people lead our children not as bad as Benke in Yankee Stadium.

    As far as one sin can be worse than another, this is far worse.

    It’s Time.

    p.s. Is Rev. Louderback on vacation? Mr. Rixe?
    [crickets]

  19. Mrs. Hume
    October 30th, 2012 at 14:48 | #19

    I guess the thing that drives me crazy is that by having some pentecostal lay woman come give a talk at a chapel service is that it implies that our synod is some how walking together with those folks when that is not the case. We are misrepresenting our relationship with these other denominations as being somehow reciprocal and we are doing this with our most vulnerable members those whom we are charged with teaching correctly and teaching them how to discern and where to draw the fellowship line. Obviously our kids can be friends with their kids and care about them etc, but we are training our children to seek out false teachers to come and teach them when we invite such people to “not preach” in our “not service” in our Lutheran schools. If we tell students in religion class that we don’t have altar and pulpit fellowship with other denominations and then invite their teachers to teach our students, surely the students will wonder what does this mean? They will think it means nothing, that none of what we say means anything. They will think we are incompetent or liars or both.

  20. November 4th, 2012 at 17:25 | #20

    Dies Irae :The ordained executive director prefers instead to “celebrate the wonderful diversity we have within Christendom” by bringing in others from other churches to lead chapel.

    Pastor Louderback, isn’t this your theme song? Mr. Rixe?

    [crickets]

  21. John Rixe
    November 4th, 2012 at 19:20 | #21

    Tim Schenks, Comment 14, is right.

    @Pastor Ted Crandall #20

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