Dordt College News

Making chapel central

May 13, 2010

"It’s hard to explain what happens in worship,” says Pastor Aaron Baart (’99).

Baart, who is pastor of Bridge of Hope Ministries in Sioux Center, led the majority of this year’s chapel services on campus.

“We become a different community because of what we share together. That shared experience subtly reshapes individuals, institutions, and our cultural mindset,” he says. 

“There are few other events on campus where everyone comes together around a shared experience,” says Associate Provost for Co-Curricular Affairs Bethany Schuttinga, who led a team of people, which included Baart, assigned to rethink chapel last summer.

A team of people worked hard this year to make chapel a more central part of weekly life and more prophetic in its message.As a result of the group’s work, big changes occurred. Chapel now meets once a week instead of twice, but average attendance has increased from less than a hundred to more than 700. That dramatic change came because a team of people stopped to ask some basic questions and set a new direction. Some of those questions were: Who is chapel for? What should happen? Is it important? What are the values we share? What do we need to hear together? How does it fit with our vision for education? What are students wrestling with?

“We can too easily assume that because we have grown up in Christian homes we automatically know what it means to be disciples,” says Schuttinga. She wants chapel to help students address issues in their community and individual lives that don’t often get talked about or can be difficult to talk about. This goal fits with the college’s commitment as a residential community to educate students in all parts of their lives. The foundation upon which Dordt’s academic curriculum rests is also the foundation for the things students learn outside of class.

“If faith is worth living and dying for, we and our students need to know At the final chapel of the year, students and faculty were what difference it makes in all parts of our lives,” says Campus Ministries Coordinator Linsay Vladimirov. “Students are looking to be inspired, to be challenged, and to go out and make a difference in the world.”

Baart has been challenging and inspiring throughout the school year. He started by thinking about chapel topics he wished he’d heard in college as a way to address as concretely as possible the concerns and needs of students. During the first semester, he chose the theme “Your Truer Reflection,” focusing on Christians in today’s world, looking first at whose we are and then how we live in regard to such things as worship, technology, diverse peoples, politics, sexuality, and more. During the second semester, his theme was “Apprenticing Jesus.” In his direct and concrete way, he challenged those attending chapel to make choices, spend their money, use the Internet, and vote as disciples of Christ, not out of cultural habit.

“I recall the choices I struggled with in college. It’s such a formative time,” Baart says. He thinks that worship is sometimes too passive-aggressive and not prophetic enough, so he tries to speak directly and honestly. Preaching shouldn’t just reinforce what people want to hear; it should paint a picture that helps people see that the radical nature of Christian living frees them to live what they believe. Baart also provides online study questions and suggestions for additional Bible readings that allow students to think further about the topics presented.

“Prophetic truth disturbs your world, yet makes you want more of it; it kicks you in the gut, and yet feels good,” he adds. “We shouldn’t be afraid of the truth of the gospel. God is a big God and isn’t threatened by our honest attempts to serve him.”

The team approach to reshaping chapel has continued. Baart, Vladimirov, and Dean of the Chapel Rod Gorter meet weekly to plan a service with a simple format that they want to be rich in meaning and seamlessly run. Vladimirov selects songs that fit with Baart’s message and that prepare worshippers to hear the Word. Hours of planning and rehearsing go into each service. Vladimirov, an accomplished pianist and singer, is joined by fellow musicians and staff members Robert Taylor on drums and Todd Monstma on guitar, along with student violinist Nate Vruwink and bass player Adam Westenbroek. Other student and staff musicians also participate occasionally.

Team work has happened even further behind the scenes. Vladimirov, who grew up in a more charismatic style of worship, has spent time discussing chapel with Dr. Karen De Mol, a music professor steeped in a more historic and liturgical style of worship. Together they’ve challenged each other to think in different ways, and they’ve learned from each other.

“I truly enjoy going to chapel. It is a time for me to take a break from the busyness of school and homework,” says Freshman Kyra Kats. “As a music major, I love watching Linsay play the piano and lead worship, because that is something I would love to do in the future in my church. I almost always am able to apply something that Pastor Baart says to my life. I sense the passion in Pastor Baart’s life, and the way in which he enjoys and really cares about the time he spends leading us in chapel.”

Whether it is the complete package or whether they’re especially drawn to the message or to the music, many students, faculty and staff have expressed appreciation for chapel, in words and, more importantly, by their attendance.


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