Fellowship is critical in Discipleship

by Jenni Ho-Huan

The longing
Growing up in faith, I have always felt something was missing. Today, I know what I longed for was fellowship. Not that I did not belong to several ‘fellowships’; I did. I was president of the Christian fellowship in school (IVCF). We had youth fellowship in church. Later, there would be cell groups, young adult fellowship, and many other interest-based fellowships.

In and through all these groups, I kept seeking for something deep, abiding, fierce, and powerful. I longed for a bond, a loyalty, a common pursuit and destiny. But church and faith activities and groups seems to revolve endlessly around tasks and goals and self-improvement.

The story of the early church intrigued me. I was taught to be careful not to confuse it with communism. But what is Dr Luke describing that we fail to find a real and living model of? The good doctor described it in less than forty five words:

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous sign were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common.” (Acts 2v42-44)

I read Church History and it pained my heart to see how we fought with each other over creeds and interpretations of truth. Today, we find it hard to read the plain sense of Dr Luke’s words.

Early as a youth, I prayed and sought out soul friends. Routinely I would ask some poor gal if she would like to be my spiritual buddy. The search lasted a long time. I was a leader in church but I was terrifyingly alone and lonely. At one leaders’ gathering, we had a session on friendship. The message was of course about being careful with our choice of friends. But at one point, the speaker said, “…if you needed to call someone at 3am, who would you call”? A fear and sadness cloaked me as I looked around the room and could not be certain of my answer.

Like good sermonising, the question brought on a knowing air where everyone seemed to agree with the speaker. But afterwards when I asked several individuals who they would call, they could not answer me. What was worse was how they seemed not to be bothered by this realisation.

 

The reflection
Perhaps mine was a pathological condition of sorts. Having grown up in a large family, I suffered from attention deficiency – not getting enough attention from those who mattered most. But as God both heals and works through our brokenness, I began to embrace that perhaps I have a passion for community and fellowship. This is confirmed along the way as I learnt to be a vulnerable leader who in turn helps others to open up their lives and receive from God and others. To this day, this remains one of the most exciting, rewarding, and mysterious parts of my pastoral calling.

Theologically, I begin to understand that this longing and its possible realization is rooted in the Triune God. Mark what Jesus prayed before his climactic hour on earth:
“May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me.” John 17:21b-23a

Much has been made of how the nervous unsettled disciples became fierce and amazing preachers and rose into their stature as apostles after the filling of the Holy Spirit. According to this prayer and according to the record in Acts, an important dimension of the early church’s growth, strength and resilience is to be found in how they let the Spirit bring about oneness as they humbled themselves and acknowledged their need for each other. The bickering disciples who were wrestling for recognition and status had turned the corner. The wondrous result of such fellowship – indicative of God’s glory – is the attraction, conviction and salvation of those who are watching us.

John Calvin has taught us that knowing God and knowing self are two sides of the same coin. I would like to add that this happens safely and truly only as it develops in a community that is seeking the truth and living in grace. God seeking can and do lead to self-righteousness and pride. Self-knowledge can and do lead to the extremes of unhealthy introspection and personal aggrandizement. It is the community that demands we be honest, true, and sacrificial that prevents this from happening.

This fellowship or community can occur at multiple levels. It happens in marriage. It happens between parents and children. It happens in small groups and interest groups, work groups and even service teams. All it takes is for us to stay long enough so that our persona gives way to our persons.

Or it may not happen.

More likely, we find it does not happen. Some move on to the global beat. Others shy away from such disclosure and knowledge. It is a weight we may not want to bear. Often even though we have belonged to a community for a while, we are not asked to state what it is we truly live for. We do not know each other’s spiritual state. We are uncomfortable with areas of dis-ease in each other’s lives. We don’t want to be the ‘bad guy’, the ‘fall guy’, the ‘tough guy’.

We all want to be nice and decent.

But community and true fellowship can never occur in nice and decent worlds. Nice and decent is superficial.

 

The 3Cs of a Fellowship-Community
What does it take? How can we foster and forge such relating in a world that celebrates change, movement and new-ness?

I want to recommend that we pursue 3 Cs: courage, consciousness and conscientious.

 

Courage
Community requires risk-taking; the courage of shedding one’s mask and accepting the faces that emerge from other masks let down. Most of us struggle to really like ourselves and often nit-pick on others. Courage is refusing this habit any soil to grow further.

Courage needs an energizing source. Christian courage is rooted ultimately in God’s covenanted love for us as individuals and as a people. There is simply no other source of power to allow us to face rejection, misunderstanding, even humiliation, except to be plugged in to receive a regular dose of God’s unlimited love. Is this why Jesus’ final command to his disciples – to love one another – is weaved into that famous text about abiding in Him? We can only love ourselves and love our brethren (and others) if it is God’s love that flows into and out of us. Nothing else can suffice. Not good intentions, plans, experience or feelings. Indeed as a pastor I know first hand how these other things can turn one way or another quickly enough. It is when we recognize and remind ourselves of our inability to love, our lack of courage and honesty, our tendency to run and hide – and graciously help each other to receive and then give – that the breakthrough to agape community happens.

 

Conscious
Community requires we be conscious of its presence and it absence. If we are frivolous and callous about it, we can be sure its foundations are weak. Yes, of course we can differ and diverge and go separate ways. That sometimes needs to happen as we seek to obey God and follow our convictions. But I have learnt that there is a healthy way to do so and a totally unchristian way to go about it. Scripture is honest about the reality of conflict but it prescribes that we manage it so that the community is not broken except in the case where the person(s) persistence fractures the community and they must then be disciplined.

Being conscious begins with an awareness of self. We need to be honest about our fears of community, our pains, and our expectations. We need to allow that we have blind spots and have biases. Awareness of our own brokenness and limitations will tenderize us to others and humble us to be ready and willing to receive.

 

Conscientious
Most of us allow work to overtake us that family and community often suffer. It takes conscientiousness to build community. Relationships can either strengthen and deepen through tough times or give way. The latter is a result of weak foundations due to a lack of consistent sowing. I admit there are many times I want to skip church, small group, even hide from all and sundry. There are times for such retreat; but there are times to overcome our feelings and fatigue and soldier on; to keep at it beyond feeling and convenience.

 

What is at stake?
There are many groups and gatherings of humans all around us today. It’s on the net, it’s in the coffee shops, it’s in clubs of all kinds. What distinguishes the Christian gathering that makes her so essential and so powerful?

Firstly Christians need community. It is the seedbed of our nourishment, equipping and discernment. How often my heart aches as I see people run headlong into decisions and regret them later because they took the ‘rugged individual’ approach to life. We ought to be there to offer wisdom to each other.
It is also the place of our safety and victory. We are called to battle together against the enemy, to watch each other’s backs, to hold each other up and bear those burdens for one another. We cannot deny the fact that we are a part of a cosmic war God has planned to win. He has drafted us in to join the action and given us the weapons for it: his authority, our armour and each other.

Secondly, the world needs the Christian community. Our witness and our community are inextricably linked. I submit that a church which majors on attractive teaching but does not foster community runs the danger of becoming anaemic and endangered one day. On the other hand, it took a small community after the Resurrection to turn the world upside down.
The church is meant to showcase God glory – His oneness in us being an important aspect of it. In a world torn apart by conflict and violence; fragmented by designs and desires; the Christian community is a living audio-visual roadshow of what life can be and what each of us can become.

Finally, humans made in God’s image are meant to live in community. Dallas Willard says, “The souls of human beings are left to shrivel and die on the plains of life because they are not introduced into the environment for which they were made.” (as quoted in John Elderedge’s The Journey of Desire)

 

It’s time we rediscover the necessity, beauty and power of community rooted in Christ. It’s time we reconnect with our longings and reach out to one another. It’s time we redeem what we have allowed to go to rot because we have been distracted, disbelieving and dysfunctional.

 

Get back to a daily connection with God in His Word and let the Spirit touch the deepest parts of our lives. Let Him heal us and free us to be loved and to love. Let Him fill us with courage bright to fight for life and embrace death, to live for the Impregnable Kingdom while suffering the losses of yet living in a foreign land. Take courage, awake, and persevere.

 

“Revivals have always been undergirded by prayer, swelling into a crest of awakening to the full and final authority of God’s word and crashing in waves of obedience marked by marked by mutual confession, repentance before God and radical outreach.”

 

“Jesus is no James Bond. The latter needs no one, the former could not stop bragging about his relationship with his dad and loves hanging out with his buddies.”

 

ChurchLife Resources also offers:

  • Training Cell Group Core Teams to “Engage People through Outreach & Hospitality”
  • Training Pastors and Board Key Leaders in “Compass for your Outreach Mission”
  • Training All Members to “Reach out with Hope for Sustaining Evangelism”
  • Training All Members in “I am a Witness”

Contact admin@churchlife-resources.org to find out more.

Photo by Kevin Gent on Unsplash

After Celebration of Hope, Can The Changes It Brings Last?

 

May 2019 will go down church history as a significant time. Through the “Celebration of Hope” (COH) event, the Singapore Sports Hub-National Stadium was filled with people to hear the gospel of Christ, to be touched, and make decisions to accept Jesus as Saviour and Lord!

227 Churches, Christian groups, 18,000 volunteers united together to declare our shared Hope found in the Good News. We pulled out all the stops to mobilize, communicate, and equip for the largest outreach event in 40 years! Churches committed to invite, bring pre-believing loved ones and to follow-up in inviting to grow in spiritual community thereafter.

events are but catalysts for the more enduring transformation we hope to see in our land

The magnitude, time and cost1 involved may cause us to question its fruit. This is natural as we seek to be good stewards, and also because events are but catalysts for the more enduring transformation we hope to see in our land. The Billy Graham Crusade 40 years ago was a tinder for ripples of growth and change as churches, parachurches grew.

 

Can the same be said of the Celebration of Hope?

 

1. Have the lives of people changed through the Evangelistic Event? Did we reach many?

On the nights I attended, one of my relatives desired to respond and I followed him down to the area for respondees to the message. I saw hundreds of people in that foyer, listening to one-on-one sharing, reading the Bible, praying to respond to Christ!  And this was only one of several areas for marshalling respondees. The statistics are 6000 people made responses – of which 2000 were first time responding to Christ through the days of the rally. What a great harvest!2

However, for the several churches I consult for, as they sifted through and called the COH respondees allocated to them, a significant number declined to come to church, or preferred to follow another friend rather than the one allocated.

For churches that received some 30 names, perhaps 4-5 would ultimately be connected to that church.3

While we may focus on only that 4-5 that got connected, I want to remind us that all 30 people made a commitment to Christ of some sort! They were touched by the hope of change and the gospel of Christ!

There are large numbers of people across the churches and the nation that made spiritual responses arising out of COH.

I believe there will come a time when God will fan into flame their experience of their COH encounter.

While we focus on the 4-5 that are connected to church, let’s remember and pray for all 30 for God to continue to touch them and minister to them in various ways.

It would be great to have a Service or Platform in church where we remember the efforts during COH, thank God for those who got connected, and pray for the numbers of those who were touched by God and responded at COH even though they may not have been redirected to our church.

Let us pray for the names of respondees in COH even though they do not end up in our own church, and partner with God to fan into flame the seed God has planted in COH, at the right time in their lives.

 

2. Has my church changed through the Evangelistic Event? Are churches stronger?

It is the personal evangelistic strength of our own church members that has greatest impact.

A number of church leaders shared that though the numbers of respondees dwindled as they were followed up, the ones who truly connected with the church are those who were brought by their own church members themselves. This conveys the idea that the strongest outreach impact is still via outreach of our own church members. Bishop Rennis Ponniah (Anglican Church in Singapore), through COH, championed the tagline: “personal evangelism on a mass scale”. It is the personal evangelistic strength of our own church members that has greatest impact.

In a previous article, I had encouraged churches to leverage the nation-wide COH outreach to build up the evangelistic muscle of the local church.

Through COH, we have been exposed to many valuable skills of evangelism:

Praying

    • Listing regularly names of loved ones (List of 5)
    • prophetic and declarative prayers over our loved ones (Prayer Altar)

Engaging

    • Art of building relationships
    • Sharing personal testimony
    • Sharing the gospel (FOUR)
    • Responding to objections to faith

Gather

    • Mapping a 30-day momentum plan
    • Developing a Church-wide system of allocating and calling for follow-up

These are valuable skills and processes that, if our people are equipped with and apply regularly, will make the local church stronger in her evangelism muscle! By making national events “work for growing your own church”, the muscle you gain stays with your church long after the event is over!

Have you trained your people in these skills?

Will you create regular opportunities and processes via Outreach Seasons to “exercise these muscles”?

 

3. Has our Nation changed through the Evangelistic Event? Has there been transformation in people-groups?

I believe many would agree that COH has stirred much prayer for evangelism and for pre-believing loved ones. COH has mobilized and equipped tens of thousands in some form of evangelism skills.

We saw the Mandarin-speaking believers integrate a seeker-outreach program that stirred heart-values, worthy of a MediaCorp level presentation! It was even reported in Taiwan’s GoodTV news!4

I have never seen so many celebrity personalities declare their faith and share their testimonies on a public platform! I believe each of them is a powerful witness in the public sphere of the nation.

Very close to God’s heart, I believe, is also the joy of seeing a deeper sense of unity amongst the Indian churches “stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel”. They gathered their resources together to reach their loved ones in a united effort, many doing so for the first time!

Rev. Tony Yeo shared that he observed many churches not caring about personal denominational or church lines but working together to reach the harvest for Christ. 

If the following happened…

  • Pastoral leaders encourage church members to continue in prayer and utilizing the skills of outreach as a lifestyle
  • Christian celebrities seek out mentors and intercessors to encourage and sustain their witness for Christ amid the pressures of the media industry
  • Indian churches maintain and deepen friendships and relationships across previously traditional lines
  • More churches share resources in reaching the harvest in the community together

… then our nation would have indeed seen the hope of change after COH that last!

Those days of Celebration of Hope saw a very foundational transformation in the lives of thousands of people! The potential of a changed society begins with the seeds of changed hearts during such responses to faith.

Canon J. John, the English Speaker for the Celebration of Hope rallies once shared, that in 1975, he said to Christ, “I open the door of my heart and I receive you!” After he received Christ into his life the “light came on” for him. His mother was sceptical and said to him, “You have been brain-washed!”. He replied, “Mom, my brain has been washed! If you knew what was always in my mind, you would be glad it has been washed!”

J. John was speaking of how a commitment to Christ began the process for the change of his mind, his heart and his life.

I remember a testimony where a CEO who is a believer and had been touched by God recently faced a conflict at his work. One of his managers had confronted the CEO on some of the practices in the office. While the manager had strongly mooted change, the CEO was frustrated by the complains and bluntness of his manager. The CEO said, “If I’ve not had a change of heart recently, if you had spoken to me like this a couple of months back, I would have destroyed you!” In his honest frustration, in his heart that CEO held back his instinct to strike out.

Fundamental to all positive changes in society is a changed heart. The Bible describes the potential of such an inward change of posture, attitudes, instincts and heart:

[6] The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.
[7] The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
[8] The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest.
[9] They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
[10] In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious. (Isaiah 11:6-10)

 

Fundamental to all positive changes in society is a changed heart.

That “root of Jesse” is the person and the work of Christ proclaimed through the gospel, calling a response to faith and convicting one and all to make Jesus Saviour and Lord!

We may think that Singapore, being a sophisticated urban society, requires more than just traditional evangelism. One may feel that sophisticated societies instead require more NGOs, strategies to reach the marginalized, ways to lift people out of poverty, initiatives to speak into the public sphere and engage controversial issues, etc.

These are all important! However, the Bible shows us what is core foundation to these – a changed heart that is touched by the simple gospel and the love of Jesus Christ:

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. [15] And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. (2 Corinthian 5:14-15)

I believe the work of the gospel for saving faith is pivotal and foundational to change in our society. We need to all work together as leaders, believers and churches to witness with the gospel of hope.

 

So, after COH, will hope bring lasting change?
For the church, pastoral leaders, members and spiritual families…the answer is in your hands!

 

Regards,
Rev. Dr. Philip Huan, Principal Consultant Churchlife Resources

 

[1] Event cost estimated S$3.6 million
[2] Further, there were 1.2 million view of the COH Testimony Videos, and 464,880 view of the live streaming over that season.
[3] These are sample numbers from several churches only. Numbers may vary with different churches.
[4] https://goodtvnews.goodtv.tv/goodtvnews/2019world49/

ChurchLife Resources also offers:

  • Training Cell Group Core Teams to “Engage People through Outreach & Hospitality”
  • Training Pastors and Board Key Leaders in “Compass for your Outreach Mission”
  • Training All Members to “Reach out with Hope for Sustaining Evangelism”
  • Training All Members in “I am a Witness”

Contact admin@churchlife-resources.org to find out more.

Photo by Seth Schwiet on Unsplash

Hope Not Responded

There is hope, even when loved ones have not yet responded.

 

We are just 2 weeks away from the Celebration of Hope—a major outreach event that we believe God will do great things in our nation, and in the lives of our loved ones!

At this point you may have invited a number of pre-believing loved ones. A number of them may have accepted your invitation, yet others may have rejected, or not yet responded. Some of these loved ones may be people we have been praying for a long time.

What do you do when loved ones have not yet responded in the way we hope for?

I want to encourage you to keep your faith and hope alive in Christ! This is the time to look to God for a needed breakthrough… a time to pour out your faith in prayer to God!

Keep the invitations & reminders open,
keep praying for your invitees,
keep reaching out…

Through all of this, one of the most important factors that can make a difference is in keeping your faith and hope alive in Christ, for faith and hope in God can lead to great things:

Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved? Jesus replied, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” (Luke 18:24-27)

Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (1 Corinthians 5:3-5)

There is always hope for your unsaved loved ones, not merely because of what you do, but more so because God has a plan for them, for they were created by God!

Most of our loved ones may trace their origins back to a great-grand parent, or to China, or India or some country before ancestors migrated here. When we go back far enough, we realize that we are birthed from God who created the first man, that we are descended from God, our lineage and potential is in Him. This is true for all of us!

No matter how much denial your loved ones present, they can never run away from who they are in God! Therefore, you can have hope that at some point, God will confront them, He will speak to them, and will touch them.

Therefore, in this journey, the best gift we can give to our loved ones is a “self” filled with faith and hope for their salvation! Our demeanour, our words, our actions and our very lives are a testimony of God’s desire to connect with them.

How can we keep this faith and hope for loved ones alive, despite their indifference or rejection?
Let me share 3 thoughts about our loved ones to keep your hope alive, even when your loved ones have not yet responded:

  1. Your loved one is meant to believe in something greater than themselves

    The Bible tells us that deep within all of us is an awareness that the driving force of our lives should not be just ourselves.

    I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

    There is a yearning for something greater and eternal that your loved one is seeking to find in life. The scientist & mathematician Pascal called this “a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of each man which cannot be satisfied by any created thing but only by God the Creator…”

    The Bible tells us that life is lived best when the driving force of our lives is God at its centre.

  2. Your loved one needs the work of God through seasons of their lives

    There are different seasons through which God works in your loved one’s lives. They may not respond in the same way through the seasons, but God’s work and word planted in different ways does His work.

    As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11)

    When we partner God, His word is planted in our unsaved loved ones in different ways through different seasons. While they may not be yet outwardly responsive in this season, God does deal with their hearts. There is a hope that they may be responsive in the next season!

    A church member once shared that when she became a Christian, she had a dream: her brother in law was happily swimming in a sea of fire. She called out to him from a higher place to get away from there. His answer to her was “No! I’m enjoying myself!”. Her brother-in-law was very resistant to the gospel. She thought he was condemned and would never change. But encouraged by friends, she began to pray systematically for him. She was disappointed repeatedly when she did not see the results. She brought her frustration to God, to which God’s reply to her was “not yet”! But she was always filled with the hope that God’s plan is divine, God’s timing is perfect, God’s love is immense. It was many years later that a breakthrough came to her family. Of all the members of her family, her brother-in-law was the first to open his heart to Christ. She invited him to a healing rally and there, he received a healing for his back, and gave his life to Christ!

    It is beautiful how God has done everything at the right time. He has put a sense of eternity in people’s minds. (Ecclesiastes 3:11, GWT)

    Perhaps some of your unsaved loved ones have been unresponsive to you in past times. Is this coming season one where they may have a change of heart? Would you hold the hope that God is at work, and will touch them through the seasons, if not this one then perhaps the next season of their lives?

    Our role is to keep our hope alive and keep praying for them through the seasons of God’s work!

  3. Your loved one needs a plethora of gifts to meet them at the point of their needs.

    While we bring our personality, gift and style to reach our loved ones,there may sometimes be a limit: they need a diversity of gifts to touch them and prepare them to be open to God.

    Paul asserts,
    I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labour.(1 Corinthians 3:6-8)

    We may be watering into our loved one’s lives, while others may seed or harvest. You may not see the outward change at the watering time, but in all efforts, God makes things grow! It helps if we can discern the needs of our loved ones and seek the right gifts that may address some of their deep needs.

    At special outreach events like the Celebration of Hope, there are gifts of music, evangelist, healing and others that are in operation. Some of them may be the gift needed for this season to bring a breakthrough in your loved ones’ lives. Perhaps in inviting them, that gift may give that breakthrough where past seasons have prepared them for!

    1. Isn’t it worth your time and effort to help your loved one find the One who is their creator and source of their purpose in life? More exciting than climbing the ladder of success is when you see your loved ones discover the purpose for which they were born and to live it out! The start of that journey begins when they discover God in their lives!

      Don’t give up hope if your loved one has not yet responded!

      Continue to journey with them out of faith and hope—God is committed to speak to them and touch them because in Him they live and breathe and have their being (Acts 17:28). He is their creator and their source is in Him.

      Let’s put our faith and reliance in God and pour out our faith in prayer. Put our faith in Christ above all, and let’s celebrate our Eternal Hope together!


      Regards,
      Rev. Dr. Philip Huan, Principal Consultant Churchlife Resources

      ChurchLife Resources also offers:

      • Training Cell Group Core Teams to “Engage People through Outreach & Hospitality”
      • Training Pastors and Board Key Leaders in “Compass for your Outreach Mission”
      • Training All Members to “Reach out with Hope for Sustaining Evangelism”
      • Training All Members in “I am a Witness”

      Contact admin@churchlife-resources to find out more.

      Photo by Louis Moncouyoux on Unsplash



The Marathon of Ministry

Through the ups and downs of life, we inevitably reach a point of tiredness in our ministry. Even more so if we are involved in intense projects!

We are roughly at the one-month countdown to the Celebration of Hope — our nation-wide outreachi. In your preparations and even in other general church ministries, you may be facing challenges and tiredness. In the churches I work with, some of them face:

  • property, governance and institutional challenges,
  • tired members, not present in church and too busy with their lives,
  • challenges within the team, disagreement or resistance to ideas.

Despite the church having a great vision, a good plan and resources, moving the church onward and persevering in ministry is like running a marathon!

The term “marathon” comes from the legend of Phdidippides, the Greek messenger sent from the Battle of Marathon in 490B.C. From the battle, he was sent to Athens to announce that the Persians had been defeated in the Battle of Marathon. He ran the entire distance — 26 miles — without stopping, burst into the Athenian assembly exclaiming “We have Won!” and collapsed and died!ii Ok, there is some doubt to the accuracy of this account but leading a church / ministry to success is often like running a marathon!

At such a time there we press-into God’s calling in order to press-on!

As we prepare to challenge our people to grow in ministry, to reach people for Christ, or even to mobilize people forthe coming Celebration of Hope, you may have reached a point where you are tired – the grind of daily life has weighed you down, andthere are even distractions and warfare that have threatened to derail your focus on your God-called ministry.

Let me share 4 ways that we can do this:

  1. Vision before Programs & Activities
    Put the heart and mission in front of people always – before the programs and activities. While every program inherently captures a vision, it’s time to distil the vision and place that before the eyes of the people.

    [18] Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keeps the law, happy is he. (Proverbs 29:18, KJV)

    The word “vision” refers to a revelation or dream that seems overwhelming real. For peopleto walk in the laws of God, there needs moments when parts of the law jumps out as a vision that grips their heart and is overwhelmingly convicting. Such a conviction comes from the Bible, from metaphors and imagery that touches the heart and reminds people of the “why” before the “how” — the vision before programs and activities.

    Keep casting, breathing and reminding people of the value of your programs, and of the consequence of a Christ-less eternity of evangelism. Breathe this fire again and again in the various platforms of the church even as programs run their course!

  2. Share the One-on-One Stories
    Though you may be involved in corporate roles and programming, personally keep in touch with ministry to individuals or personal evangelism. If the ministry you are pursuing is spiritual growth, make sure you are teaching a CE class or mentoring an individual. If the ministry is Celebration of Hope, make sure you are engaged in personal evangelism.

    I’ve been more mindful of people who may need a Christ encounter in their lives. I went to a coffeeshop packed with people. Every table was filled with people still looking for seats. However, there was one man seated all by himself. Dressed like a hawker (in singlet with a towel around his neck) he had bottles of beer on his table, with all surrounding seats empty. So, I approached him to ask to share a table with him, to which he agreed. We both sat in silence, until I asked him how he was doing and what he was here for. To which he unveiled his story of renewing his hawker license and having to wait a couple of hours and losing business in the interim. He shared a fascinating history of bidding for hawker stalls, how much it cost, how to by-pass certain requirements, etc.! I was about to leave when I just said a parting “God bless you I’ll pray for your application”, he asked if I was a believer! He shared he had been a believer but had not been able to go to church. He also felt burdened to kick the habit of drinking. I prayed for him in my halting Mandarin, blessed him before going on my way.

    I met another Hawker whom I buy pancakes from regularly (I love pancakes!). He was closed for a a season. When I asked why, he shared his mom is in hospital. As he shared more about his mom, I expressed a sympathy for him. I hope to bring Christ into the conversation and to bless him somehow.

    the individual interactions you have will touch your heart in a different way from corporate programs

    When you encourage your people to be involved in one-on-one ministry, and practice it yourself, more than just setting an example, the individual interactions you have will touch your heart in a different way from corporate programs — it will put a face and name to your efforts and stir compassion in you as you champion the ministry.
    Draw out such stories from your church members and show-case them at the pulpit and announcements. It reminds people that at the centre of the ministry are names and faces of loved ones yet to experience God or yet to know Christ!

    it will put a face and name to your efforts and stir compassion in youas you champion the ministry

  3. Champions to increase Capacity
    Unavoidably, there are many ministries to run in order to maintain an organized church. If the pastor or key leader oversees everything, there will come seasons where there are too many things to focus upon. Inevitably some important ministries end up on the “back-burner”. They get neglected for a season and may lose out on an important window of opportunityto grow it!

    If the pastor or key leader oversees everything, there will come seasons where there are too many things to focus upon.

    A solution is to increase capacity for that ministry by raising champions. Look for people who are passionate and willing to champion that ministry. Give them the responsibility of reminding the leadership and initiating some programs. You don’t have to find perfect people with all the skill-sets and time (although if you can, that’s a real blessing!). A champion may be a passionate person who had enough space of heart to trigger reminders and start some things running. A champion will serve as a conscience and triggerfor the larger leadership to get back to that ministry in the midst of many ministries demanding their attention. Once these champions initiate certain things, the larger leadership jumps back to that ball-game and pushes those things from the “back-burner” to the front for that season. Without such champions, ministries bottle-neck at the limit of attention and focus of the leadership. Champions turn the attention of leaders to other needs that require a seasonal attention, and that increases the capacity of attention of the leadership.

    A champion will serve as a conscience and trigger for the larger leadership to get back to that ministry in the midst of many ministries demanding their attention.

  4. Prayer-Protect against Distractions
    When a church is gearing up to disciple people, touch lives and win the lost, a massive awakening of the potential of the church is about to occur! There is nothing more powerful when a community of God’s people — the church — rise as one to make concerted impact! It is at this time the enemy will strike to slow things down or even derail the ministry track.

    Some of the strategies to slow or derail are: breaking up unity, institutional/legal issues that arise, tiredness and burnout, etc. These strategies of the enemy all require different gifts and wisdom to engage, but for this article I want to underscore the core strategy of prayer. Underlying all these issues are spiritual initiatives and therefore they have to be engaged and won in the spiritual.

    There is nothing more powerful when a community of God’s people — the church — rise as one to make concerted impact!

    Raising prayer-protection often requires:

    • raise up intercession
    • sharing needs authentically
    • staying humble
    • praying deeply and consistently

    In this day and age, attacks can come from many angles. Whichever route they take, they seek one purpose—to distract and derail the church from their God-called ministry! As we gear up for the national level outreach in COH, where many people will come to Christ through the nation, in and around your community, I suspect we will see more and more distractions and things that may derail your ministry focus. I recommend a pre-emptive measure: raise prayer & protection beforethis happens!

    I recommend a pre-emptive measure: raise prayer & protection beforethis happens!

    So, how are you feeling presently in leading your ministry to success? Are you feeling tired, worn, as if running a marathon?
    Don’t give up! There is eternal impact through the work of your hands! Keep up the fight!

    [24] Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. [25] Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. [26] So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. [27] But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27, ESV)


Regards,
Rev. Dr. Philip Huan, Principal Consultant Churchlife Resources

ChurchLife Resources offers:

  • Training CG Core Teams in “Outreach & Hospitality”
  • Training All Members in “I am a Witness”
  • Equipping CG leaders to Recruit and Raise Core Teams

Contact admin@churchlife-resources to find out more.

Photo by Louis Moncouyoux on Unsplash

i A combined effort between several national Christian organizations for a nation-wide outreach rally on May 15-17, 2019. See www.celebrationofhope.sg.
ii https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marathon(09032019)



Is The Church Still Relevant Today?

My 12-year-old son was playing games online recently, and his 18-year-old sister remarked, “I’ve never seen that before!”

While avidly on the smartphone herself, within that 6-year gap between them, games and online services have changed significantly. Where online engagements are concerned, nearly a generation has evolved from the time my daughter was introduced to it to when my son similarly was!

The unprecedented rate of change in society is leaving the church behind in its wake.

I believe the social and entertainment platforms go through a generation of evolution almost once every 8-12 years. Revolutions that occur in a country are known within hours, spread through social media. An unpleasant incident on the roads is put on online platforms that very evening, garnering opinions in the hundreds within a few hours. This is a testament to the environment facilitating increased rates of change in all areas of society.

I knew a young pastor in his 20s who lamented that he already found the teens he is currently shepherding to be so different from his own upbringing. His generation was told to just follow and “go with the flow and you will learn along the way”, while the youths now are much more critical, wanting to know the “why and how” before they embarked on anything!

Differences in just 10 years result in a generation of completely different mindsets!

 

The unprecedented rate of change in society is leaving the church behind in its wake.

The church, invested in helping the needy, encouraging long-term life-change issues, working with busy volunteers, has not been positioned nor resourced well to respond to new people-needs and challenges that come with the rapid change.

Here are some of my reflections regarding social changes and their implications for the church, which still need to be addressed today:

 

Trends Implications for the church
Shift from,Church-Centric Ministry to Marketplace-Centric Ministry
  • A move to greater witness in the marketplace, “send and go for Christ” rather than “come to church and see Christ”
  • The need to find new marketplace strategies that integrate with church
  • Fewer people are committed to see church ministry as their primary arena of service, while more people see marketplace as their primary ministry
LGBTQ momentum
  • A clash of opinions of how to engage LGBTQ
  • Younger Christians want to see more acceptance, engagement, and even championing those marginalized, while older, more traditional Christians prefer to stand on principles of right and wrong
  • The church “freezing in action” as she works out these differences, leaving younger churches or more radical groups to have to find solutions for themselves
Millennial Generation
  • More “fight for cause” consciousness, leaping out at a young age for dreams and vision, yet less staying power when faced with obstacles
  • Tendency to take “gap-years” and experiment working with various organizations
  • Increase in the need to disciple people for perseverance, patience, wisdom before leaping, finding mentors for them. Yet, discovering the church may not have enough people and systems in place for such ministries
Facility and Church-Hubs (multiple churches in one place)
  • The government is opening places that locate multiple-churches, and setting rules for operating churches in industrial buildings
  • The church needs to take the call to add-value to society in terms of expressing it as a business or venture seriously to qualify for the dual-location use
  • Churches need to find their niche and excel in it so as not to compete with one another. They also need to work harmoniously together to support one another’s success within the same location
Youth / Young Adults attrition in churches
  • While this has occurred in every generation, it arguably seems starker presently due to shared stories between churches, and peer-influence and shared information over online communities
  • Churches need to take mentoring of youths and ministry to young working adults / young families more seriously or else suffer this “bleed”

This is just a partial list of social changes and implications which I wrote 5 years back, which I believe is already dated!

Furthermore, many of the changes are tied to the upbringing, education and opportunities of growing up in this new generation;

A 25-year-old who studies business and starts a café with money sponsored by parents…
An avid internet-gamer who joins an organization designing internet games…
A young person who works in an organization known for LGBTQ equality and rights…

Those above 40 today may not fully understand and identify with these examples of exposure. It simply was not their social nor educational norm. Consequently, most leaders above 40 may find it difficult to build church ministries that embody the above needs at its core.

They lack the upbringing and exposure to envisage cutting-edge ministries that can engage and reach a generation other than their own

This is also a natural thing as I believe God raises people with appropriate experience and wiring for their own generation, as He did for David. David was called to establish Israel as a nation, but not to build a Worship-Centre for God.

For David, after he had served God’s purpose in his own generation, died, was buried with his ancestors… (Acts 13:36, NET)

I believe that the best person to lead a church into relevance for a generation is a leader from that very generation who is committed to make an impact for Christ for his/her generation!

What then can the church do to stay relevant and impactful for every generation?

There are no quick-fixes nor easy answers to this generation-spanning question, but rather it requires investments in certain directions.

1. For everyone: Hold to the belief that there are good things in every generation that must be embraced and embedded in a healthy church.

In meeting a group of young leaders, I heard a common mantra repeated: “the gospel must not change, but its forms must always change to be relevant. There are things that should be retained as a core principle, though expressions and new forms must be developed to be relevant.

As Jesus taught new and radical ideas of the Kingdom of Heaven, he said to his disciples,
“That is why every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a home owner. He brings new and old things out of his treasure chest.” (Matthew 13:52, GWT)

There are good “old things” and good “new things” and we must learn to embrace both whole-heartedly if the Kingdom of Heaven is our goal. If a familiar way of ministry is our sole goal, or the newest move of God is our sole goal, we will never build a house of God.

2. For the older leaders: recruit, invest in and disciple younger leaders who have passion to shape church to engage their generation. (This is more than a cliché…)

The top-most leaders of the church need to look for promising people with passion 15 to 20 years younger, begin to disciple them and invest in them. I know this is so commonly said that it’s almost a cliché, but it’s easier said than done. There are a few challenges that need to be surmounted in order to do this, but if it’s not done, the church may not have a future!

Some initiatives to embark upon, and challenges to navigate:

  • Identifying and mentor passionate AND healthy young leaders with a HOLISTIC view for God’s church I’ve seen young, passionate and gifted people invited to leadership who have made astounding differences in their service! However, as they go through challenges they have fallen along the way, get disillusioned and even distanced themselves or leave church.

    On the surface level, what they may have lacked from older leaders are proper guidance, mentoring and protection from hard knocks from older leaders. However, within themselves, they may lack a secure sense of self or a good spiritual parenting in their upbringing. These have left a gap in their hearts which they have not been able to fill, which becomes marked when going through difficult times.

    For raising young leaders for the long-term it is essential to mentor people who have a certain degree of emotional and spiritual health with a holistic view of spiritual community and God’s purposes!

  • Giving younger leaders the opportunities to make mistakes and face possible failure Young leaders who are serious about making a difference inevitably reach a point where they have to decide if they are able to transform their church to reach their generation. If they feel that this church “would never change sufficiently”, they would find either learn to live with it and moderate their passion, or they would go all out for their passion and may embark on a search for it elsewhere. It would be sad if young leaders remain in the church only because they moderated their passion rather than developed it fully!

    A young leader who grew up in the church and became a pastor there, once remarked that she would give her leadership in the church a few more years to discern if she can fulfil the vision of her ministry there before considering seeking a pastorate elsewhere.

    Older leaders need to give younger leaders opportunities to carve out a vision of the church for the next generation. While allowing space for them to carve out new forms of ministry, make mistakes and even fail, it is possible these new and experimental “arenas of ministry” may serve as parts of the present church to reach next generation people and could even grow to become the de-facto ministries in the future!

    Which leads me to the next thought of what older leaders can do…

  • Influencing the older members to support the younger leaders When new, never-seen-before ministries arise from the younger generation, changes in tradition and styles may cause consternation amongst older members. Leaders need to persuade older members to invest in the success of these new-leader-led ministries. They need to win the older members to giving new initiatives a chance, and to invest in these their “spiritual children”.

    I believe that the best person to lead a church into relevance for a generation is a leader from that very generation who is committed to make an impact for Christ for his/her generation!

    It is important for the church to reach a point where the older members genuinely love, support and want to see their younger leaders mature, succeed, and try new things for their younger generation. A mere “let’s see what they can do, we will tolerate it for a while” mindset will not give the younger generation a “home where old and new treasures are found” (Matthew 13:52). Inevitably young leaders may feel a sense of fatherlessness in their own church and seek to find a father and a home elsewhere.

    Older leaders need to disciple older members to have a genuine heart for the younger. Some may even have difficulty accepting generational changes from their own biological children, and in this regard, this could be a discipleship-growth for these older members. This may be a discipleship that have to reach into homes and families.

3. For the younger leaders: rise to fulfil God’s purpose and honour the spiritual fathers and mothers in the house

My word to younger and upcoming leaders is two-fold:

  • Courageously accept leadership within the church and make a difference. If God opens the door, rise and lead the church to reach your generation as best as you can! Though sometimes you may doubt if this church will evolve sufficiently to engage the current landscape, that’s when courage and faith is needed! The church needs to keep changing to engage the changing current generation, and you play a part in helping segments of the church grow in this. As they do, I believe they will have generous and open hearts for the next generation—that’s discipleship! All of us need to grow in discipleship, even our “uncles and aunties”. Appeal to them to grow with you and your generation!
  • Develop platforms that allow for the older leaders to guide you when you take-point. If God puts you into key leadership roles, eg. become the new Senior Pastor or key Board Leader, find ways to allow godly, older people to continually speak into your leadership even as you helm it. DON’T relegate older people to a peripheral or mere-advisory role. Allow their concerns and wisdom to guide policies in your leadership.

    The world needs a church that is this-generation-need-focused, yet time-tested-principle-founded. There will come a time when change happens so fast that core-principles will be the much-needed cry upon people’s hearts!

    A church I know has established councils of older people, selected for their godliness, their heart for younger leaders, yet of sound principles. While usually advisory, when the vote in that council is called upon and unanimous, it becomes binding on certain issues. These are carefully thought-out and creative ways to engage older, wiser and godly leaders to continue to speak into the new generation of leadership!

    There is no need to be locked in to old forms. We can evolve new structures and patterns for embodying core principles and new engagement that are important to us.

So, how can a church be relevant to our world today? The answer is already in our hands!

We need to steward the passion of the young, guiding with the wisdom of the old. More than just a cliché, we need to make investments of heart in these directions: drawing out those who are passionate and healthy, structure new governance, persuading the older generation—leaning consistently in these directions over time to raise an integrated and passionate new generation of leaders.

Spanning the generations, we can build a church focused on today, yet founded on the time-tested, a church that is relevant to the landscape, built by Jesus Christ that the gates of hell will not prevail against!

Rev. Dr. Philip Huan, Principal Consultant Churchlife Resources

ChurchLife Resources offers:

  • Training CG Core Teams in “Outreach & Hospitality”
  • Training All Members in “I am a Witness”
  • Equipping CG leaders to Recruit and Raise Core Teams

Contact admin@churchlife-resources to find out more.

Photo by Louis Moncouyoux on Unsplash

How Strong is the ‘Evangelism Muscle’ of your Church?

“Can it lift more than 80kg in a single feat?
Or is it well-toned and healthy enough to sustain daily lifting and carrying?”

With impending Celebration of Hope (COH) coming in May 2019, there comes a huge event that promises to transform spiritual atmosphere over our nation and win many to Christ! That excitingly huge, one – time event is one we should all leverage for reaching our unsaved loved ones! However, I submit to you that it would even be better to leverage COH to build up the “muscle of evangelistic strength” of your church/ ministry for the mid – long term so that your muscles are strong, well – toned and healthy to sustain witnessing and evangelism in daily life long even after COH.

How can you do this?

The key is consistently training for the event while progressively building up key-blocks of evangelism health.

Training for the Evangelism Event includes:

  • sending everyone for training
  • challenging everyone to look outward
  • encouraging everyone to prayer.

These are vitally important strategies to build up muscle for the event. I believe COH will provide a number of these much-needed opportunities for these in due course!

Complementing training for the event, building up key-blocks for Evangelism Health include:

  • training & identifying the gaps of evangelism life-style of your members
  • training Cell-Groups (CGs) to mobilize for outreach
  • building up the resilience for sustained outreach lifestyle
  • turning church-programs more newcomer-orientated.

Training for the event, as well as building up these health blocks will lend to a higher quotient of evangelism lifestyle for the long-term.

To benefit maximally, you should consider bringing these 2 approaches together in some way in the coming season as we prepare for COH in the coming year.

Helping with the “Gaps”

 

“If it is guaranteed that the first 3 persons you talk to will come to Christ, will you look for your loved ones to talk to immediately? I am sure the answer is a resounding YES!”

I submit to you that a low outreach-quotient today is not due to a lack of desire to share the gospel and win people, but rather due to a fear of rejection, a fear of not meeting the deep needs or speaking to the hearts of people they share with. If we want to help our people to sustain a natural, witnessing lifestyle, we need to identify their “gaps” and help fill it.

Some common gaps in our outreach lifestyles are:

1. HEART – our fear of rejection.

This needs to be addressed by understanding that the Holy Spirit is the initiator and our role is one of followership to God’s prompting. Our deep, heart-felt belief in this enables us to put our trust in following God’s leading.

2. SKILL – our lack of knowledge in leveraging our own God-given style.

Poor outreach quotient is sometimes exacerbated by being forced into styles of outreach which are unnatural to us.

I know someone who was petrified when asked to share the gospel on the street. He often panicked and felt so bad after such a session. Over time, he discovered what came more naturally to him: discussing questions about Christianity. He rejoiced in seeing salvations through his discussion-talks!

I believe God has given all of us an Outreach Style comprising of our: personal testimonies, the way we emphasize aspects of the gospel, the roles we prefer to play in an outreach event, the way we bring value-based conversations into our friendships.

When we discover and enhance them, we become a unique and Spirit-anointed witness, the way God meant for us to be!

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes to you. Then you will be my witnesses to testify about me in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8, GWT

I like the God’s Word Translation that emphasizes how we are witnesses to testify about Jesus. Our testimony about how Jesus ministers to our life-situations is personal and unique to us!

3. DISCERNMENT – our compassion for the needs in the lives of our pre-believing loved ones.

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:36-38, NIV)

Compassion for needs was a powerful driving and sustaining force for evangelism in Jesus, and it is, too, for us. We need to teach our ministry members to discern how far / close to Christ their loved ones are on their journey, how to bring them along that journey, and what are the deep needs / blocks in their lives that our members can address. People don’t usually “jump” to Christ if they are a far-distance from salvation due to blocks in their hearts. We need to encourage our members to persevere in helping their loved ones move on the journey toward Christ and have compassion for their blocks / needs in their hearts. 

Helping with Community

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:23-25, NIV)

Encouragement makes a significant difference in helping our ministry members sustain an outreach lifestyle. It can be discouraging when our loved ones don’t respond to or reject us when we reach out with the gospel.

We need the “spurring by others” not to give up, to keep hoping and praying for that breakthrough in our pre-believing loved ones!

For most churches and ministries, such a community is often found in the Cell-Group / Life-Group or equivalent. This is a precious community that is involved in each other’s lives. Such a community, when well mobilized, provides an accountability and encouragement for your ministry member to persevere in outreach.

Several things need to be in place to build the CG to be such a community:

  1. Reminding the group to pray with and for one another’s pre-believing loved ones.
  2. Equipping them to reach out to their CG networks by hosting CG-based events that engage the needs of the pre-believing loved ones.
  3. Positioning them to host and welcome member’s pre-believing loved ones when they visit the CG, the Weekend Service or special event.

Someone once said, “Revival is spelt W-O-R-K… work to reach out to win and disciple people!”

Sustaining the above can be a lot of work! This requires thought on how to mobilize a Core rather than just assume the CG leader can take all responsibility for it.

However, when the core and CG is mobilized, a significant core of the church is engaged in sustaining an outreaching lifestyle through encouragement and loving accountability!

It is frustrating to have shared the gospel or reached out to a friend, yet that pre-believing friend turns you down again and again. Ministering to that loved-one’s heart requires prayer as well as specialized giftedness that could speak into that need.

The pre-believing loved one may have blocks such as past bad experiences with religious people, family-marriage-parenting struggles, cognitive questions about God and suffering—a whole plethora of possible issues. The church needs to bring in specialized gifts to support the outreach efforts of our members.

About gifts nearer to home:

  • Ministering songs and testimonies in Weekend services could engage some needs
  • Relevant sermon topics or seeker sermons could engage some needs
  • Talks on parenting-marriage could engage some needs

However, this requires the church and ministry programs to be generally oriented to inviting newcomers and hosting seekers. This requires an outward-orientation of the present existing platforms of the church.

About gifts farther from home, specialized resources could include:

  • Inviting an apologetics expert to speak
  • Bringing a person with great life-change and testimony
  • Having great evangelists at the coming Celebration of Hope (May 2019)!

This requires planning for such events and helping members leverage them for reaching their pre-believing loved ones.

No matter how persevering our members are, the lack of experiencing a break-through in reaching their loved-one’s year on year will discourage them all the more as time goes by.

The church can help by bringing these specialized gifts in the hope of “changing the game” and giving a breakthrough in the outreach life of our members!

It gets discouraging and lonely when we face our pre-believing loved ones year after year with little result.

Yet, it is that same journey of believing, hoping and winning that truly captures God’s heart!

Your loved one may not be saved through today’s or this year’s outreach, but maybe next year… maybe the next outreach… maybe that next seasons is the one God would deem it the right time and prepare their hearts to receive Him.

We must not give up!
We need that support, to close the gap;
we need that community;
we need that specialized gift—that is the toned and trained muscle that sustains outreach through the ups and downs of a lifestyle of evangelism and witness.

So, how strong is your outreach-muscle?

 

Rev. Dr. Philip Huan, Principal Consultant Churchlife Resources

ChurchLife Resources offers:

  • Training CG Core Teams in “Outreach & Hospitality”
  • Training All Members in “I am a Witness”
  • Equipping CG leaders to Recruit and Raise Core Teams

Together in tandem, they will go a long way in building up the long-term muscle of the church!

Contact admin@churchlife-resources to find out more.

Photo by Victor Freitas on Unsplash

Making Decisions as a Leader

Decision making is far more than listing down the Pros and Cons. It involves more than thinking through the options and seeking godly counsel. It is more far reaching than being able to meet a dateline and therefore moving on to the next thing.

As a leader, decision making is a discipline, a process, and an exercise in personal growth, leadership responsibility and corporate accountability.

The leader’s decisions, after all, impacts many other lives.

Yes, it is a fearful prospect and many of us are paralysed into quasi-decision making; where we tilt towards a certain direction and then let the circumstances play themselves out.

But in fact Scripture gives us many models of decision making and the impact of the leader’s decisions.

(I) decision pertaining to personal calling

Abraham had to make decisions in response to God’s clear leading and his decisions affected his family directly. Sarah was put into a position of great risk because Abraham wanted to save his own skin. This choice reflected a lack of thorough commitment to the covenant God made that the promised heir will come through Sarah.

(I I) decisions pertaining to the formation of a nation

Joshua had to make many hard decisions in order to secure the perimeter of the Promised Land. Each battle required him to be sure it was sanctioned by God and that the people would be assured of victory.

(III) decisions pertaining to specific instructions

Jonah was told to go to the Ninevites. It wasn’t something within his comfort zone at all and he made the decision to avoid obeying the instruction. His decision led to an innocent group suffering a stormy gale and losing precious cargo.

 

While these stories highlight for us the humanity we all share; it is important that as leaders we do not gloss over the repercussions of decisions poorly made.

Of course, precisely because our decisions impact others; we want to be careful. But how can we proceed without letting caution overtake faith?

St Ignatius of Loyola probably developed the most demanding grid and process for decision-making. The word used is ‘discernment’. In fact, this is a far better word for spiritual leaders.

Decision-making posits agency upon us; discernment changes the tone: we are seeking to see God’s hand and sense God’s work – and flow with it.

Ignatius’s elaborate and methodical ways of developing discernment especially for one’s sense of vocation is something we need to recover today.

But for now, I want us to consider 3 aspects that we need to include as we discern and decide.

Being aware of these aspects will help us to recognise that our perception, judgement and therefore decisions are often coloured and therefore the need to exercise due care so that we can arrive at better (not perfect) decisions as leaders.

A) Being aware of how we learn and process (epistemology)
Here I am not speaking of whether we are visual learners or audio ones. That is a helpful thing to know too; but I am rather thinking of knowing our own bent. Some of us take a long time to include new and contrary information, yet many times; these kinds of information is needful for a good, sound discernment. After all, the Lord puts diversity in the body to give it strength. Others of us have not developed the habit and discipline of thinking issues through to their theological and teleological conclusions. This accounts for why we follow fads and lose steam with sticking with our once zealous convictions.
Making sound, solid, thorough decisions after sensing what the issues, implications and motivations are take time. This leads us to the next aspect.

Good discernment and decision-making takes into account how the leader learns; and he/she should be learning more about him/herself, theology, the world, and ministry with each decision.

B) Being aware of our own spiritual hang ups and strengths (spirituality)
It is well known that our strengths are often our weaknesses too. Good, responsible leaders keep this in view and find a way to have themselves checked so that they are not leaning too much into something that boosts their ego, promotes their safety or reinforces their position. Very few of us are so surrendered and set free as to harbour no selfish ambition.

The famous Johari’s window reminds us that we all have blind spots – areas that others can see but we are not fully aware of. Good leaders seek out the insights and care of others to minimise this, because they know their decisions impact other lives – sometimes very severely.

Leaders need to be aware of what they tend to lean into and sometimes intentionally go against the natural bent so that the decisions are made more from faith than fear.

C) Being appreciative of the community (ecclesiology)
It is a sorry development that we have chosen to place the full burden of decision-making on the leader. This reminds us of the story of the early Israelites in Exodus, who chose to stay at a distance and let Moses deal with God on their behalf. With the giving of the Holy Spirit to each believer and follower; the community now plays an important part in our lives and choices. There is wisdom, support, caution, intelligence, and resources that God would provide. This is such a strong theological sticking point for John Calvin that he moved the church away from an ecclesiastical structure of the episcopacy to the presbytery. (We can debate this another time). But suffice to say, the New Testament insistently situated the individual in community; and the leader is no exception.

Leaders must learn how to leverage upon community maturity, dynamics and season for decision making. A great decision becomes a poor one when the community isn’t ready for it – the most common lesson we learn in change management.

In the end, our decisions are like points on a Long trajectory. We need to hold to the tension of their importance and take a longer view of how they will play out with time.

When we aren’t feeling proud about church because…

What do you reply when someone asks, “How is church?”.

I recently asked this of two persons from the same church. “It’s…okay..”, came the response. It isn’t an easy question to answer is it? We don’t want to sound cliché; and in truth, most of us have some concerns or issues with our local churches.

 

“No church is perfect” – we get it, sort of. But in truth, our hearts are not at peace about it.

Rightly, we don’t usually go around digging for dirt (although some seem to have been gifted for doing just so). It is more an unspoken understanding we have that our brothers and sisters have quirks and we learn to let live.

When elder Jim walks up to the stand and we all know we will be singing some of his favourite Hillsong-chart choruses; we clap along and belt it out. We get used to someone’s sense of humour, ministry zeal and even pet theology.

 

But sometimes these imperfections become more serious. Somewhere along the line, a difference of opinion, work-style, personality and even theological emphasis can become a serious fault line; and people make the difficult, often heart-aching decision to depart from the community.

Pastors may be asked to leave – at which point, the church that was family can feel like an employer who wants a better candidate. (The specific pains of pastors in another article).

 

I have seen enough of it:

The couple who leaves because those around them suggest that they may not be compatible.

The once zealous lay leader who suddenly quits his role and packs his family off.

The local church hauled to state courts by members or the state.

The departure of senior leaders, a change of Board and elders seemingly overnight.

 

The thing is – these are eruptions. The magma is already burning under the surface.

And it is hard, when these eruptions occur – for people get hurt and friendships get tested and sometimes even severed. Great teams can become broken, working systems screech to a halt, roles are replaced, discontinued or juggled among those who remain. There is pain, frustration, disappointment and a sense of lostness. It feels like a train that was chugging along merrily had suddenly hit a split track it did not see coming.

 

The big question we want to know is: how can God be okay with all of these?

Twenty years ago while I was in theological college preparing to become a missionary, two things happened and this question hit me with a force.  I had been raised on a somewhat simplistic notion that the Protestant reformation improved things and set the record straight regarding salvation through faith. (It’s always got to know one is on the right side of things); but studying Church History brought me face to face with the abject darkness, corruption and deception that lurked within the highest ranks of the church. I understood leaders can have lay feet; but to have the world plunged into darkness for hundreds of years seem unreasonable and felt horrible. A loving God? That same period, Schindler’s List the movie about this selfish man who transcended himself through saving hundreds of Jews during the evil madness of Hitler’s Third Reich hit the big screen.

For a whole week after that, I lost my appetite, and could not take my mind off the question: how can God be okay with all this? Why does He allow His church to sink so low? How can he let his people get so trampled upon? Where is truth, righteousness and justice?

I banged on the doors of heaven demanding an answer.  “God, I am about to give my life to whatever it is You are all about; and this just doesn’t make sense. This scares me! Can I trust you?”

 

Other faiths answer this question:

it’s what they deserve [karma] It’s what is ordained [sovereignty]

 

But my God refuses to give me a straight forward answer.

And I am still finding out today that this is because what we see and experience is like refracted bits of a shattered mirror. The image is distorted, the light bounces off at strange angles and funny tangents emerge.

 

As I ask the question, I find myself journeying deeper into the events and — finding myself right there. I am that bishop who may sell the indulgence to help poor uneducated and desperate souls find the assurance of salvation. I am the warrior who may have left home and hearth to charge into battle to claim a land I believe belongs rightly to my God and my people. I am too that frightened Jewish girl who wonders why my world has suddenly lost all sunshine and everywhere I turn, there is nothing but terror; and my heart and body begins to lose the will to live. I am that soldier who numbly shoves a fellow human being with my rifle butt so that they fill out a gas chamber faster.

 

Underneath all of these specific behaviours is fear, pride, sin. And I am not above any of it.

I felt such a pang of conviction as the Cross of Christ shows me that it is precisely that the church is so imperfect that Grace is real, hope is powerful, and love is eternal.

I felt such a desperate need for God because I realised that without His salvation, the restraint of angels and the Holy Spirit, chaos will truly reign on earth.

I felt that God is far wider, deeper and more mysterious than ever before and I am hushed and wary of saying things that show nothing but my prideful presumption.

 

When things go awry in church, we want to jump quickly to a place of assurance. We may push ourselves harder, play a little blame game or two. We may turn to prophets and spiritual luminaries to ‘fix things’. All the while, in our hearts, we refuse to see everything for what it truly is: fallible beings making a mess.

We proclaim loudly that “God is in control”, keep our chins up and go on business as usual. We even try to justify it as inevitable: personality differences, stylistic differences, new seasons…

 

But the heart of any matter is always a matter of the heart.

 

What I have also seen is God’s patient Grace that lets his children mess up, skin their knees, hurt each other – and learn, forgive, reconcile.

 

In every imperfect situation, there is much to unlearn and learn.

Chances are, there is also much to repent of, because we hate to lose and lose out and are wont to resort to thoughts and deeds to defend and entrench our positions.

 

It is time to slow down, ask ourselves some hard questions, seek help. If we truly wait and are open to growth, God may show us new ways to pray, think, and so do things differently. Hopefully, it will be a maturing towards a form of godliness with power (2 Timothy  3v5).

 

 

 

 

 

Where do pastors go to retire, if they should/could?

I am reaching my personal jubilee and have started thinking about things which I never did; such as retirement.

In the current ever-new world with a possible economic shift, where do pastors go to retire?

Actually, I don’t believe in retirement. The reason is simple: work is a gift and a mandate given by God. It is part of our imago Dei, it gives dignity to our humanity. But of course, as we grow older; we just may not be able to do the same work we have been doing – because of energy levels, failing health, changing circumstances {such as people preferring ‘online’ church?*}

What skills do pastors have to re-invent themselves in order to still be ’employable’? Professionals who have funds can set up private practices and become consultants and coaches. Those who are entrepreneurial may find it all about a fresh learning curve to move onto a new industry. Others may be able to move onto teaching in colleges or a more niche role in a parachurch organization or NGO.

The thing is, most pastors are generalists; and often many do not have extensive training or a wide berth of qualifications and training.

Rare is the instance where a pastor grows old with his congregation and have the immense privilege of passing the baton on to a younger minister or a son with a smooth and successful transition.

Let’s face it. The organizational, human resource perspective holds sway in many churches; and pastors are mostly ’employees’, hopefully, loved and respected ones.

Some church systems have retirement schemes, and they are busy redefining it to catch up with longer life spans and the lack of pastors. Many others have no such protocol in place. Yet some systems have a voting scheme where pastors have to step down if they are not re-elected.

Clearly pastors are not immune to employment threats.

But that’s not commonly thought about. In fact, the reverse is true. During the Asian financial crisis, my skeptical brother had said to me, “You are lucky as a pastor! People will always need spiritual services!” After the initial offense, I thought about what he said.

Are pastors always needed?

Will they always be paid for their ‘services’?

Not only does it betray how we are viewed; it is also important for us to be aware of what Pastor John Piper wrote about, “Brothers, we are not professionals” – the very real danger described by Paul as peddling the gospel {1 Cor 9v18-23} — where we change gears when it no longer pays us the due we feel we deserve.

Pastor, you have to work out your conviction about your work. If you subscribe to the commonplace view that work is drudgery and retirement is the end of the long trudge through the sludge of necessary toil; then retirement becomes a real allurement. Pastoral work, arguably one of the toughest jobs on earth, can be a real slog and it’s understandable that we sigh TGIM when Mondays roll around.

pastors-office-corridor-projecting-sign-se-6542

About eight years ago I stepped away from a pastoral position I enjoyed immensely due to a set of circumstances I could not manage. The loss was very palpable. I remember sitting at my desk at home, staring at my computer screen, and asking God, ‘what now?”. I no longer had my salary. No one would call me ‘pastor’ I thought. I missed my church community and interceded with anguish at the valleys they would have to endure. I wondered about my calling and my identity.

In those days of prayer and thought, I received an insight I did not get from my training or my busy work-life. I received a fresh affirmation from God. He had called me to himself and to the work of a pastor. He alone affirms and qualifies me. Not only that, our vocation – our response to His Voce (Latin for voice) – is the obedience that opens the way for Him to work mysteriously in us to mould us into the being we truly are. In that sense, a pastor is not what I do, but who I am.

I recognized then that I would always be a pastor whether I had a title, office or a pay packet. I would be a pastor wherever I go. I checked my new insight with respected theologians and church leaders. They resonated with it. This gave me immense freedom to explore where God may be opening doors and the ways He joins the dots of my life for me.

So pastor friend, if God has called you to Himself and his work of feeding the flock; don’t stop doing it – even if you find yourself ‘unemployed’, ‘retired’, ‘not re-elected’. Be faithful. Be yourself, work hard and raise your family.

This reminds me of a friend who stepped down as a pastor several years back to do what he loves with more freedom. It turns out what he loves to do is encourage people; and he does it so well! He pastors total strangers, leaders and those in need with his amazing gift of encouragement; strengthening hearts and faith. He did not necessarily need to do it with the pulpit and all the attendant aspects of a pastor’s work.

As we grow in ministry experience; it is important to become comfortable with what we are good at and enjoy. What gives us life will spill life onto others. You may need to ‘re-invent’ or ‘retire’ – and that may be the best thing to happen to you.

*this is a whole different topic for another time: the online church.

Community: what comes to mind?

by Jenni

You may be an introvert, and extrovert or a bit of both.

You may have grown up in a large rowdy family or a small quiet one.

You may have walked into church one day all by yourself or was ushered in by a friend or more.

 

I remember the ah-ha moment of relish. It was as if the scales from my eyes fell — and I saw it. It was beautiful, beckoning, bountiful. Community.

One day, just like that, a gladness welled up within me. I had a family beyond the one I was physically born into. There was another place, other people, who welcomed me. More than that, they seemed to need me. They asked me to help lead songs, to tell stories, to join this committee and the next. It was great. My gifts started to emerge. I had followers. As a young adult, the scope of this community widened further as I moved further up the church-leadership rung and my influence (or at least presence) widened. I traveled on short-term mission trips, I saw how total strangers welcome and hosted each other because of Jesus. It was very wonderful.

Truly the church is an amazing thing, only possible because of God.

I have had friends from other religious commitments who are utterly lonely as they go through religious motions. I have been in interest groups, study groups, cause-related groups…and they all fizzle out. But church — hey, we stick around!

But as iron sharpens iron, sparks begin to fly.

chinese boats

 

It is part of growing up to be an individual. You need space as you develop convictions. You need space as you figure out priorities. You need space to explore your spiritual inclinations.

And this is where church often starts to crumble formany of us.

The people we grew up with playing games, laughing ourselves silly, eating way too much together — start to move apart – sometimes with great pain. We disagree, we hurt each other, we hinder one another at times.

All community, all relationships must negotiate itself through the seasons.

There’s this popular four stage description: form, storm, norm, perform (Tuckman). But few of us persist beyond the storm. It’s not for want for trying. All good men and women I know regret the losses and try very hard. Perhaps, it’s because w
e don’t know what we are trying to get at, what to work towards… In fact, most of the times, we are trying to bring back the ‘good ol’ days’ which in some cases, was mostly nom-ing {eating}! That won’t do.

What is the Bible’s picture of community? Pastor Bill Hybels used to call it a biblically functioning group/community.

trail starts here

I share here some less common notions of what Scripture calls us to build:

1. where there is no lack

You probably never ever heard a single sermon on this. After forty years, I have not either! But Acts and 2 Cor 8 tells us that the church community must be the go-to place for help. Brothers and sisters should not feel deprivation, hunger, cold…

What we see though is as people prosper, others often get left behind. Yes, we give to different causes. But, what about the actual person seated not far from you? It pains me to hear of members who are struggling while others discuss the latest model of car they are contemplating on buying. admittedly, i do not rush out to welcome everyone under my roof and pay for others’ bills. One has to circumspect – but i sense the Father’s pain that we do not watch out for each other more.

2. where there is love

I have lost count of the number of churches that felt like a refrigerator; people walk by one another as if they don’t see each other. No one knows more names than the same few after years.

My own quest began when a leader asked us, “who will you call at 3am if you had a need?”. I looked around and saw anxious faces everywhere. No one answered.

Seriously, will you tell anyone if you have doubts about your sexuality? if you are struggling with porn, if what you really want to sing is heavy metal?

‘Look how they love one another’ was what the first century church was described as. In a Roman world full of loose sex, there was something that was making people sit up and notice.

This what we are after. The norm. The time comes when you do not stay in a community for what you get; but for what you are meant to help build.

Have your harboured hurt and loss or handed it to God and chosen the way of forgiveness?

Can you distinguish between theological irreducible from ideological preferences?

Are you challenging yourself to grow in love and in meeting the needs of others?

chinese bridge

Yet as the New Testament honestly records, the early church was not perfect. In fact, the letters tell us clearly the things we will grapple with:

Romans – secular cultural pressures, godlessness

Corinthians – spiritual excesses

Galatians & Colossians – our tendency to return to works-righteousness and therefore become a pressure-cooker rather than a peace-carrier

Thessalonians – flawed logic arising from our sinful tendency to sloth and a life of ease

Timothy & Titus – intense leadership pressure

Ephesians – losing sight of the larger Community/Church and the spiritual power we have

 

Do we see something here?

The church is salt and light. We are a prophetic community – that says, look, imperfect as we are; within us are seeds of an incredible future!

So don’t walk away too soon.

related:

how easy to get sleepy in church

what are we thinking/feeling?!

the part-time pastor?