Concentrated on the ministry of the Word

The church today needs the word and men set apart for prayer and preaching the word. Too often the pastor is distracted by other urgent tasks that draws attending to prayer and word. This temptation and pressure is of course not new to modern times. It happened then too.

The infant church of the first century grew through the apostles’ preaching of the good news of Jesus Christ. However, after some time an internal problem arose that could have derailed the momentum of the infant church. The Greek-speaking widows were not being well cared for by the church. Pastoral help and administrative distribution of welfare fell short. It was a glaring gap in the Spirit-filled church.

There was pressure on the apostles to set aside their prayer and preaching times and made time for distributing food.  However by the grace of God, spiritual wisdom and order prevailed. The apostles declared, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables….. (pick out reliable men we can entrust with this task –italics mine)…….But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” (Act 6:2-4 ESV). So other spiritual men, all Greek speaking, were appointed to the task of serving the pastoral and administrative need. It proved to be a wise move for the next verse described the outcome: “The word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith” (verse 7).

Why is the ministry of the word so vital? Well for one thing, it builds faith, hope and love. For another, “All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16,17). Pray that the ministry of the Word will prosper and be given prominence in WRPF, and anointed people will be set apart to focus on this work of grace.

The pastor’s main task

It is the pastor’s main task to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. “He gave some to be ….pastors and teachers….to equip the saints for the work of the ministry” (Ephesians 4: 11, 12). The original Greek word was used in the Gospel, of the fishermen mending their nets so that they can be serviceable again. How does a pastor do that?

He feeds the flock. He teaches them by example and by the explaining the word of God so that Christ shines through and they are fed and able to serve one another.

He cares for the flock for most people come into the kingdom with needs, problems and hurts that need mending and wholeness. When they are being cared for, they are able to do the work of the ministry.

He leads the flock by organizing, releasing and encouraging people into that which they are called to be and to do and places them into small groups to make the feeding and caring effective. He sees people’s potential and allows them to minister and grow in the strengths God has given them.

A church where people are getting equipped will have a larger and deeper base of leaders so much so that even if 10% of the committed leaders are not around, the church can still absorb the loss, and continue in grace and strength.

What if church members stopped dyeing their hair

More are hitting their fifties and sixties
More are hitting their fifties and sixties

What if everyone in church, men and women, stopped dyeing their hair for a year? Before the end of the year there would obviously be more grey and white heads in the congregation.

There would be a greater awareness of the relentless ageing process of members who we previously thought were forever young. Without treated hair, we would look different. For the women, the difference would be more telling. Most men do not dye their hair and it is usual to see some grey hair, mostly men’s, in most adult congregations. But if everyone stopped dyeing, there would be a sea of grey and white, since there are usually more women than men in church. We would be surprised, perhaps dismayed, at how old others and ourselves appear. It could even be depressing, or devastating for some.

The members of the leadership team would have a heightened awareness of the ageing process in the congregation. They would think of the various implications of that. The financial implications would certainly surface. So would the need to renew leadership and mentor the next generation. The urgency of outreach especially to young people would be highlighted. The need for new blood would stare them in the face. Maybe special fixtures to aid the seniors, need to be added and the building made senior friendly.

The pastor would likely have already been aware of the greying of the congregation. However the colour of hair can be shock therapy for a pastor. Suddenly the needs of the grey haired senior become urgent. Hopefully the pastor would do some research or ask other pastors about how best to equip and serve the seniors in their churches.

So it may be a good thing for everyone in church to stop dyeing their hair for a year. In addition, more people will offer them their seats in the MRT during peak hours.

Catch the Age Wave: a reflection

Catch the Age Wave is a book about how the church should seize the opportunity of deploying the church’s seniors to reach a rapidly aging population. The church’s seniors are defined by the authors Win Arn and Charles Arn as those in the late 50’s and 60’s – the “soon to be retired” or “the recently retired.” My purpose was to survey what has been written about how churches pastored their seniors. Here are my brief reflections.

The Arns feel that there we should view seniors today differently from how they were viewed in the past. They are not weak and sickly. Today’s seniors are healthier than their counterparts a decade ago. They do not yet need a great deal of volunteers to take care of them. In fact they are potentially a great source of volunteers for the church. They can be great care-givers. Their retirement motive is not necessarily to play or rock the chair. They want to work, learn, grow and serve and play too. Evidently churches in Singapore need to revise their views of the seniors, and give more attention, more resources to deploy seniors and reach the unsaved seniors. I cannot but agree that we need new eyes. Ageism, that bias against the old, has no place in the church that boasts of Abraham as the father of their faith.

However, I was dissatisfied with the way spiritual development was dealt with superficially in the book. The tasks that seniors have to tackle and the spirituality of this stage of life were not spelled out nor examined. There was no mention of the very stark reality of the challenges of ministry to the seniors – especially the older old. Nothing was said of the infirm, the shut-ins, the poor, the sick and dying and their needs. The focus was heavily focused on the hope, the positive, the opportunities and ideas for ministry. It was imbalanced but their purpose was different from what I was searching for.

Their methodology was based on the “homogeneity principle” of church growth. This is the idea that the more people are of the same race, status, language and age group the higher the likelihood that such a homogeneous group would grow.  I thought that such a mental model would deter church leaders from seeing the church as ideally multi-generational and meant to be so because holistic, deeper and richer learning of the faith takes place more effectively in such a social context.

Arn, W., Arn, C. 1993. Catch the Age Wave. Grand Rapids Michigan: Baker Book House.

Crossroads Cup: Singapore’s inter-church football league

WRPF plays a Methodist Church
WRPF plays a Methodist Church

WRPF playing a Methodist church team

The Crossroads Cup is an inter church football tournament. Bless the people who organized it for it has offered an opportunity for men passionate about football to express their witness and worship in play. Many church activities does not press the button for Christian guys. This one does for those with an interest in football. And its a good way to bring in pre-believers into the squad. People often come to faith through experiencing Christ in Christian community. In the safety of the football pitch, under the open sky, or over meals at coffee-shop, hawker center or a home, the pre-believer encounters the Christ in community.  Stories are told. Acceptance and love is experienced. Seeds are planted. Who knows?

World Revival Prayer Fellowship joined the inter-church league this year. We have a team of church members as well as pre-believers. They pick up good values on the field. They fall, they fail in more than one ways. They learn character; they learn values. They learn Christ not by studying the Bible but by experience, observation, and reflection. A different way of learning than in the classroom, or in the worship service or in the small group. Nevertheless, learning takes place. Probably in ways that cannot be replicated by other church programs. More churches should join in next year. Winning, everyone says, is not the main thing. Even so, WRPF is currently fourth on the table, and everyone loves to have a sense of progress, and if it includes winning, why not? Maybe in three years time, this is a probability. Amen and amen.

Focus on God’s agenda for the gays

The church in Singapore could do herself much good by reorienting her focus on God’s agenda for the gays, instead of the publicly perceived homophobia of the church and its fear of the gays’ agenda for the world. The gays may have an agenda, but so does God, and God’s agenda and love plan for the gays and the world is what will prevail. The church can ask, “Lord, how can we partner with You in what You are doing among the gays, and how can we  join You in Your work”?  One thing this would involve is the church seeking to understand and inculcate compassion and develop church ministry and care of gay inclined believers. It will take the church out of a war footing into a posture of peacemaking, towels and basins. It will mean the church  identifying with the marginalized, taking risks, and serving with humility.

I was reading a friend’s review of a book titled, ‘Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality’ by Wesley Hill, who is Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies at Trinity School for Ministry. Sze Zeng summarized three lessons he picked up. They helped me see the struggles and loneliness of believers who experience same sex attraction. It helped me feel the plight and pain of brothers and sisters who often endure it all in anonymity. I have quoted two of his lessons. For the third lesson, please read his full blogpost.

Lesson 1: Same-sex attraction is real—the need to struggle with it.

There are those among us who are really and genuinely feel attracted to people of the same gender. For this reason, many have tried to find a connection between same-sex attraction and their childhood. Some even try to link sexuality to gene. Hence the whole debate between ‘nature versus nurture’. Accordingly, there are ‘therapies’ designed to help people to change their sexuality.

The author cuts through this impasse debate by talking about his own personal discovery of his homosexual orientation. He was brought up in a non-abusive childhood and had a fairly good upbringing. It was during high school years that he sensed a “steady, strong, unremitting, exclusive sexual attraction to persons of the same sex” (p.13). The unchangeable sexual desire for homosexual relationship is real to him and to those who experience it. Since then his life is marked by fear, persistent loneliness and inner conflict.

Hill asked a probing question, which I think many homosexual Christians are asking as well, “Can we gay and lesbian Christians who experience no change in our homoerotic desires live in the joyful assurance that our lives are satisfying to God? Can we who remain homosexually inclined actually please God?” (p.135).

To Hill, the answer depends on our understanding of homosexuality: What do the Scripture and Church tradition say? Hill is clear that same-sex attraction is “one of the myriad tragic consequences of living in a fallen world stalked by the specters of sin and death” (p.32). With full conviction and tireless struggle, Hill writes, “I abstain from homosexual behaviour because of the power of that scriptural story” (p.61), and such endurance is a “daily dying” (p.71). As Hill further affirms, “I am waiting for the day when I will receive the divine accolade, […] “Well done, good and faithful servant” (p.150). Hill’s spiritual persistence is exemplary for all Christians in dealing with our own temptation, be it on sexuality or otherwise.

Lesson 2: Homosexuality comes with unbearable loneliness—the necessity of a trustworthy and supportive community within the church.

The loneliness experienced by those with homosexual inclination is not easily understood by heterosexuals. Gay Christians cannot relate to their heterosexual peers’ interest in the opposite gender. They have to be careful not to jeopardize their friendship by developing romantic interest with friends of the same gender. They are afraid that they will be rejected and discriminated when their sexuality is known by their family, friends, and church-mates. They have to constantly struggle against the desire of entering into a monogamous homosexual relationship, especially in society where homosexual practice is widely accepted and legally protected (e.g. civil partnership and same-sex ‘marriage’). On top of these, they have to face negligence in various degrees by their heterosexual friends who eventually get married and start their own family. To Hill, loneliness is the “defining struggle” of his life (p.92) that makes him feels “painfully contradictory” (p.115).

“What I wish,” as Hill once said to his pastor, “is that I could feel the church to be a safe place” (p.42). “The remedy for loneliness—if there is such a thing this side of God’s future—is to learn, over and over again, to do this: to feel God’s keeping presence embodied in the human members of the community of faith, the church” (p.113). Writing from Hill’s own experience with his church, “I began to learn to wrestle with my homosexuality in community over many late-night cups of coffee and in tear-soaked, face-on-the-floor times of prayer with members of my church” (p.48, italics original) Are we, as part of the local churches, willing to learn to provide the kind of safe space for our brothers and sisters in Christ to wrestle with their same-sex attraction?

It takes a community to make a disciple

Jesus now present in his body, the christian communityBurden of solo discipling

A burden of expectation lurks somewhere at the back of the minds of many Christians. It insinuates that they have neglected a key responsibility. This idea that a believer who is a good disciple will make other disciples who makes other disciples is one that has been embraced by many. The solo Christian is to take a new convert, teach him the basics of Christian living and help him grow mature in Christ, and for him while growing, to make another disciple. By and large, he is on his own in this difficult task, and by and large, he usually fails in multiplication. It is wearisome for anyone to carry the memory of such a discouraging, erosive experience.

Redressing a bias

Perhaps too much have been made of solo discipling. The Scripture may have been made to say more than what it may have said. A re-examination and a re-interpretation of the same texts may reveal an additional perspective that shouts for greater emphasis and weight to redress a Western driven bias towards individual responsibility and action. There is in Scripture a community aspect of disciple making that we have failed to give sufficient weight to. We missed it because our lens are too Western.

It takes a community

An Eastern, and more balanced perspective is this: it takes a whole community to make a disciple. Just as it takes a whole village to raise a child it takes a church to make a disciple. The Gospels  seem to show that Jesus made disciples solo, and discipling actions emanated from him and the disciples’ learning was centered around Jesus. The rabbi of Jesus’ time would have followers and learners whose lives revolved around learning and imitating their leader, despite his imperfections. Jesus however was God incarnate, perfect and sinless, and filled with the Spirit without measure. The Twelve had a perfect model.

Discipling by the Spirit

With the ascension of Jesus and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit a new way of discipling has been opened up. Jesus was no longer around. He said, It is to your advantage that I go away. Now I am limited by my physical body. When I am gone the Spirit will come on you and where a community is gathered in my name, there I am in their midst; there is the body of Christ. In effect, the discipling that was centered around Jesus when he was physically present, has now shifted to the community, the body indwelt by Christ. Now it is the Christian community, together reflecting the fruit of the Spirit, and releasing the gifts of the Spirit, that makes a disciple. Discipling is still “centered around Jesus”, but Jesus is now present to us as a body, a community of believers not a solo disciple. This insight was developed most thoroughly and clearly in a book titled “Making Disciples” by Sylvia Collinson. Obviously no one person have all the strengths of character and gifts we see in Jesus. It takes the Spirit working through a whole community to get anywhere close to that. It takes a community to make a disciple!

Revival community

Let me give an example of what it means for a community to make a disciple. I became a Christian in a revival that began in Dunearn Tech Sec School. It happened around the same time as the ACS clock-tower revival but it developed differently: it became a church. It was a  revival of tears, love and joy: one where the deep moving of the Spirit resulted in hundreds turning to Christ and being baptized, filled with the Spirit and having their lives transformed. I was one of them. As I reflected on my experience, I noticed I did not have a solo Christian who discipled me. There were key encouragers who told stories, shared experiences and life. There were the values of the revival community: intense prayer, enthusiastic evangelism and missions, love for the Word, desire for spiritual gifts, great love for one another, that I saw lived out in the lives, activities and ministry of the people of the revival. It was a community and its values that discipled me, a socialization for citizenship in the kingdom. I learned behaviors, values and beliefs just by being deeply enmeshed in the social interaction, and involved in the community’s life and activites. The Spirit that indwells the community was implementing His curriculum in His time and in His way.