At a Christian event with a smoke machine and flashing lights illuminating the jumping crowd of exuberant youth, you might not expect to hear the strained voice of a grown man singing in broken falsetto, heavy with the weight of emotion.
But the Chapel Movement in Vancouver has a number of surprises like that mixing of mature adult and young-adult concerns. It embraces the weight of responsibility upon those gathered, a serious recognition of the burden of the gospel and the mission of the Church.
What is the Chapel Movement? You might call it a youth worship revival network. It holds once-a-month worship events across the lower mainland of British Columbia, builds relationships among youth leaders and sponsors student led Alpha programs in highschools. It got started in South Vancouver in January 2012 and has since grown dramatically.
At a recent Chapel Conference I attended, the thumping bass reverberated through the sanctuary during the course of the day, lights flashed along to the dancing singers on stage and there were throngs of youth excited to encounter the Lord through worship and prayer.
And yet there was a distinct maturity evident from the outset. When the house lights rose on Jonathan Mitchell, founder of Chapel Movement, he was sitting on a humble stool with a kind smile and a heavy message: “This weekend we’re bringing on the hard teaching guys; I’m not going to pull any punches, we’re going to treat you like adults.”
An honesty about the idolization of feelings was striking. Mitchell boldly stated, “We need to name our idols so that they lose power over us. I think that the North American church’s biggest idol is emotions — we are hell-bent on feeling good.”
He referred to a fictional situation in The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, where the devil does everything he can to make sure Christians do not acknowledge the war around them — he asserts there is no war, so the Christian can relax, make do and have fun.
Yet, Mitchell interjected, “The most beautiful things in life are on the other side of hard emotions and troubling times.” He asked the students in the room, all too familiar with the alarming rise of mental health issues, “If the idol of our life is feelings, why is everyone so sad and depressed and empty? We aren’t succeeding at worshipping this god. If we inherit bigger problems than those that this idol provides — problems that the Holy Spirit cares about — we don’t have time to deal with the little problems, we’ll have to let go of feelings, because our lives are no longer our own!
“Just like the warriors in Gideon’s army, it may be unclear how we will solve these problems and win, but we have a promise from the Lord that the battle is already won, we just have to fight. Maybe we’ll be the ones who don’t get the credit, are forgotten, who people learn lessons from their example of failure. Whatever happens, it doesn’t matter, because we know that we are being obedient to God and ushering in His kingdom.”
Mitchell challenged the individualistic idea that can seep into Christian communities, where we begin to rely on personal feelings of grandeur and success. In this mode, we live according to the sight of numbers and influence, rather than the faith God has already won.
Mitchell explained, “I think too often as a church, our problems are too small. I want to see a generation of leaders asking ‘What is the Holy Spirit worried about in our city as a whole?’”
By elaborating on the overwhelming love of the Father’s heart for the lost, Jonathan urged that God is calling us to “Come wait outside on the porch with the Father, looking into the distance for the prodigal son, ready to welcome them home.”
The overall journey of the Chapel Movement itself has exemplified the growth from gatherings of excited Christian youth to a more mature, strategic mission to bring the kingdom to highschools in Vancouver. Mitchell has been there for the whole trip as he moved from volunteer youth leader to youth pastor to part-time staff at Youth Unlimited, the ministry that oversees the movement.
Mitchell explains: “We’ve gone through a five-year journey. At the outset, we were filling up highschool gyms with 1,000 kids to worship and pray together. I figured the name of Chapel as ‘the cool thing to go to’ had about four to five years of brand recognition, so I had a choice to make. I could ride the wave as long as possible and watch cool things happen and stories be told, or I could use that integral time to build as many relationships as possible.
“These discipleship-oriented relationships would be key to help leaders and students buy into a movement that transcended single events and the hype of conference culture — I wanted to take aim at Holy Spirit problems and fight for a cultural shift in Vancouver to the point where it might be as common for students to live out the kingdom to their friends in school as it is to attend youth group.
“We’re aiming to be an on-campus ministry in every one of the 92 highschools in the lower mainland of Vancouver. We want to set up youth leader liaisons in every school that will champion, support and connect the Christians in each area. I hope to one day see every teenager in the area only one invitation away from a gospel presentation.”
Additionally, Chapel leaders are working to form hubs of youth pastors to dream up bigger problems that will require unity to solve. Here, the leaders in the area will gather to ask, “Do we have the same problems that the Holy Spirit is focused on? Have we taken on the burden of Christ that transcends a single event?”
After several years of success and significant growth, Chapel may have reached a moment “when the hype has died,” says Mitchell. “Momentum naturally fades with time. Now, we’re relying on leaders going to bat for something that is bigger than a one-time event.
“We can no longer just point at the shiny thing going on downtown. If we’re looking for students to become life-long disciples of Jesus, we need to dream about the world being changed, not just staying excited. We’ve prayed for this time, and I love that it’s here, but it’s a tricky time nonetheless. The ‘cool wave’ has crashed, and a new mature, much more impactful wave is gaining traction — and now we’re living in the tension of who’s going to give this wave the momentum to hit the shore.
“We can’t deceive ourselves that it will be a straight up trajectory. It doesn’t take much faith to rally around a brand… But if we’re shooting for a culture shift, it’s going to be hard work, and walking through valleys — it’s all pushed forward by relationship.”
The mission of Chapel Movement is one marked by strategy in both the grand vision and the small details. When we focus on expanding our problems past our immediate circumstances and focus on kingdom concerns, there is freedom. When we dream with God and take real action in our communities, success is no longer an indicator of faithfulness, we can embrace the humble character of Christ, and lives are transformed through the day-by-day revelation of God’s love through us.