Chapel Bleeds into Smartphones in Teaching Spiritual Disciplines

A soft light lit Principal Isaac's face as students walked past his office on their way to breakfast Wednesday morning. In peering down at his phone Principal Isaac was participating in a group Bible study during his devotional time, purposely engaging with a student Bible study online as Hillcrest continues their march through their Square One theme in chapel.

The concept for Hillcrest's theme came out of many discussions. One prominent teaching came in the closing faculty meeting of the 2016-17 school year. Interim President Joel Egge started the meeting with a devotional many faculty to this day recall. His central theme directed the faculty and staff towards a heart of rediscovering the Gospel, looking at it as if for the first time.

In embarking on the 2017-18 school year, chapel coordinator Ryan Garvin started the school down a discovery, and rediscovery for some, of the structure, design, and purpose in God's creative acts in Creation. In the second quarter the school turned to the fall, studying that man has created a separation from God by choosing to define good and evil rather than following God's ordered design. As the school program makes the turn towards redemption following finals week, Hillcrest is humbly directing students towards spiritual disciplines in recognizing the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross.

Before the Christmas vacation a number of students approached various faculty and staff with a heart to grow more in their relationship and understanding of God. Small group Bible studies sprouted in the dormitories where two to three students joined staff members in flipping pages in their Bibles in search for answers to questions before times of prayer. A student prayer group started to meet periodically to pray for their friends in Hillcrest's Chapel. A Bible study was announced in a chapel service that would use an app for smartphones. The YouVersion Bible App was shown on the projector screen, with encouragement to subscribe to a group study with a handful of faculty, staff, and parents. A few students signed up for a study on engaging their city with the Gospel.

In returning from Christmas break Mr. Garvin introduced a new study that was aimed to direct students to deeper growth in their understanding of Christ by focusing their spiritual disciplines. More students signed up for the online app. Students are now engaging in 21 days of fasting. Some are fasting social media, uninstalling Facebook and Instagram from their phones. Others are going without a meal. Some put the remote on top of the shelf in walking away from Netflix to develop new habits in prayer and Bible study. Mr. Garvin quoted well known author Paul David Tripp in a chapel when he introduced the 21 days of fasting last week. "Good things become bad things when they become ruling things."

Mr. Garvin was careful to tell students that fasting and prayer doesn't make one more acceptable to God. God's love transcends willingness, devotion, and ability. However, he noted that many in the school have expressed a desire to grow deeper in their relationship with God and their dependence on their Savior. In turn, Hillcrest is humbly teaching disciplines to many students who are willingly seeking God. The next 21 days is developing a virtue in students to seek God through fasting and directed prayer.

The fasting Bible study is disseminated through cell phones via the YouVersion app. It is a remix in how past Hillcrest students have engaged the Bible. While cell phones are not allowed in the school day, after the final bell of the school day students use their phones to engage in the world. With this communication reality in place, some faculty are stretching themselves using a Bible app for a connection to a Bible study. They are learning to communicate with God using technology. Directed to prayer after reading the Bible on their phone, the faculty and staff are encouraging others in the study through an online chat platform where they can share insights and prayer requests.

Students engaging the study through the app are learning to communicate with God without technology. A prayer group meets regularly to call students to prayer with their faculty and staff, who are engaging in the study digitally with their students. Hallway high-fives lead to conversations from faculty as students share thoughts in the online message board in the Bible study app, holding a special accountability that is pulled into real life conversations centered on practicing a spiritual discipline in secret.

Hillcrest sees technology as an amplifier. If there are good communication practices, technology amplifies the communication. Using the technique of engaging knowledge and wisdom through a device that can allow immediate cross-referencing is a powerful tool for many faculty, staff, and students, where most faculty would formerly pile kitchen tables with a series of books to dive deeper in their spiritual disciplines. 

As chapel continues to form a unique heartbeat for students at Hillcrest there is a bleeding over into the daily lives of faculty, staff, and students. This bleeding is changing the way some students engage with their cell phones, also teaching some faculty to broaden their engagement with encouraging students to grow spiritually.

Wayne StenderComment