Serving men from the marketplace

The pastors initiated some pastoral care when we found that a number of men were between jobs. They were mainly professionals  in manufacturing, retail, finance and service industries. We formed a WhatsApp chat group with Wai Tuck as a co-ordinator. We called it Men In Transition. We met them for prayer and meditation (lectio divina), sharing, and meals periodically.

Reflection, lectio divina, sharing and prayer

Last week Tom Cannon and I met them for a few hours of reflection on their vocational history. We got them to draw a timeline and reflect on the high and low points of their years of working life. We asked them to ponder how God was present in their careers, using Old Testament Joseph’s timeline as an example. It opened their eyes. Then Tom led them in a lectio divina on the passage Isaiah 43:1-7. This was followed with a time of sharing their reflections. We listened to their stories of pain, victories, struggles, weaknesses and wrapped up everything by bring these to the Lord in prayer. The Lord was present to impart peace and comfort.

Men in Transition having lunch at The Ranch

Then we proceeded to The Ranch for a $10 set meal. Lovely morning; wonderful fellowship! To do work that encourages, enlightens and give hope to people you care about is such a satisfying thing.

Benny Ho’s roundtable discussion about marketplace

Benny Ho’s  marketplace initiative

It was with curiosity that I entered the corporate penthouse of Orchard Parksuites. I was not curious about the building behind Wisma Atria, which I never knew existed, but about the meeting which was dubbed: Roundtable Discussion on Marketplace. Apparently Arrows Ministry, founded by Pastor Benny Ho, had earlier organized a marketplace retreat to hear the heart of marketplace people. This built on that and was a conversation between “pulpit ministers and marketplace ministers” facilitated with the help of Pastor Derek Hong, retired pastor of Church of our Saviour. I was invited to eavesdrop on the “conversation”. There were over 40 people present, half were pulpit ministers and half were marketplace ministers.

Pastor Derek Hong on pastors and the marketplace

After the preamble and roundtable introductions, Pastor Derek Hong spoke something pastors need to hear. He shared his journey which shifted from being a pastor focused on growing Church of our Saviour in numbers to a pastor seeking to equip God’s people to be effective in being salt and light in the marketplace. He grimaced about how he used to use people for church growth instead of powering them up to light up the marketplace. This shift resulted in him receiving reports of greater impact for Christ at all levels and spheres of the marketplace. People were saved in the workplace and though they did not end up in COOS, they were in the kingdom of God and that satisfies if you are kingdom-minded. The workplaces too were impacted by ethical applications of the gospel by ordinary people of God. What he shared really resonated at different levels. I do not know if that spoke to many pastors but it certainly spoke to my situation.

What marketplace leaders wanted to say to pastors

The conversation was interesting thus far, but it got more sensitive when Benny asked the marketplace ministers this question, “If you had a chance to tell pastors what they can do for marketplace people what would you say to them?” I wore my bulletproof vest and braced myself. Let me summarize what some of them shot said :

  • Christians are not acting ethically and living out their faith and are stumbling blocks to pre-believers coming to Christ. There needs to be better formation of Christians by the churches.
  • The clergy-laity divide still exists, sometimes in subtle forms, and need to be bridged. The sacred-secular divide need to be broken down.
  • Most church members spend most of their working life in the marketplace while most pastors spend their time in the church and their respective views of life do not match, and this is reflected in the sermons preached, and the ministry focus, and demands of members’ commitment to church activities.
  • Perhaps the fault lies with the seminaries and the way they equip the pastors.
  • Pastors should harness the opportunities of mobilizing members to be witnesses in the marketplace. Part of that witness is simply doing their job well so they have credibility when they talk about Christ. The potential is too great to ignore. Instead of church based outreach activities develop workplace based outreach and prayer with a kingdom mentality.
  • 80% of people feel they have not heard any teaching on the theology of work (Barna).
  • Do not demand so much involvement in church ministries and activities that they cannot even do their workplace jobs well.
  • We need the equipping and support of pastors for effective workplace witness.

These were all good pointers but I must admit to holding my breath at times as we pulpit ministers listened to all the frustrations of serious marketplace people. There are so many expectations to meet as a pastor, and this is another one added to the list. Of course most of us have an awareness of these issues, but many of us are already panting on a treadmill running at the speed of 12 and it would take some skill and great conviction to get off and do something different without a fracture.

What pastors wanted  to say to marketplace leaders

Then it was the turn of pastors to have a chance to say what they would like the marketplace people to know and to do. We did not have much to say actually. Was an apology to the marketplace people needed? Were we too diplomatic? Were we too afraid or ignorant to say anything? Did we want to show we were above giving tit for tat? So we had a little bit of meandering here and there. However, Pastor Benny did share something worth looking at. Many members are in one of several levels in terms of being salt and light in the workplace. The levels are Struggling – Surviving – Stabilizing – Succeeding – Significance. An estimate would put most in the first three mentioned levels but need to move to the last two levels. My take is all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and we need the gospel again and again in all our churches.

I did not take many photos of people because nowadays I am not sure about the Personal Data Protection Act and maybe I was too lazy to ask permission and take photos. I did take some shots of the nice though hazy views from the penthouse and of the exquisite 7 course meal we were blessed with. These cannot complain about their photos being uploaded on the internet.

Nice view from corporate suite of Orchard Parksuites
Nice view from corporate suite of Orchard Parksuites
Nice food - one of 7 courses
Parcel of flounder and chive - one of 7 courses
Poached Chinese pear wiht lily bulb
Poached Chinese pear with lily bulb

Christian veterans of marketplace

I met two Christian veterans of the marketplace. Both of them know my eldest brother Colin. One was David Chan. He was my brother’s classmate at St Andrews pre-university class, and fellow members at St Hilda’s Anglican Church. He worked for many years at senior executive level but had done theology at Regent College and is now a…take a deep breath….Chaplain in Far East Organization. I have heard of armies, football teams and hospitals with chaplains, but this is the first time a famous large corporation in Singapore has appointed a chaplain. I should not be surprised as its owner is a Christian who seems quite committed to applying his influence in the marketplace. He said his most common question is, “What do you do?” I wondered too but I could guess what kind of people would approach him with what kind of problems and it proved to be correct. “What kind of work week?” He works a few days a week. My next question was, “Do you need an assistant?” Haha.

The other Christian veteran I met was Georgie Lee, another St Andrew’s School alumni. This is the second time I have met him. Early in January, I sat beside him at one of the lunches at the Love Singapore Summit. He shared with me what he was doing as Vice President of Full Gospel Businessmen, and I was impressed that this organization, like an ember taken out of the ashes of its past glory and fanned to flame, has come up with a practical nuts and bolts plan to help marketplace people execute the more conceptual vision of mobilizing the church to influence the seven gates of arts and entertainment; business, science and technology; communications and media, divine institutions; education and school; family and home; government and leadership.

As an aside, Galven Lee his son is a first class honours history graduate who once interviewed me about the lesser known school revival of the early 1970s that was formed into World Revival Prayer Fellowship, the church I have been serving these past 34 years. He was doing his thesis about the charismatic revival in Singapore. I think it is a great contribution to Singapore’s church history, done as it was by someone schooled in research methods and under rigorous supervision.

To top it all, I had a wonderful time of talking shop with Pastor Richard Wong from Canaan Christian Church and Pastor William Lee of New Life Christian Church. It is always a blessed fellowship to journey together with spiritual friends.