Q&A — Lutheran High School Chapel

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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