The ice breakers were agonizing. One flat bonding activity after another. Immovable as a pew I stayed rooted to my seat. It was not the right attitude to have at the commencement dinner of the 2012 Love Singapore Pastors’ Prayer Summit. It was not because Ps Eugene Seow, the king of icebreakers, has handed his wand to a new generation. It was refreshing to see twenty- and thirty- somethings on stage: a new generation of pastors. The greyheads should be applauded for this initiative. But 45 minutes to get you acquainted with others and to get everybody seated with someone they don’t know was just too much for this introvert!
Corporate waiting on God
The reason I was there was because I heard we would spend time as a corporate body waiting on God and listening. David Demian is experienced in this and would be guiding and showing us the ropes. We Singaporean Christians are very comfortable and confident (too confident!) about our abilities in strategising, marketing and planning church programs and events. Indeed we do not need the Holy Spirit to keep our churches running efficiently (sometimes He is a hindrance to our plans!). Our church calenders has to be crammed with activities and programs or it would leave a feeling of frustration, guilt and idleness. Disquiet is what I would feel. Maybe a holy dissatisfaction. Is there something more? The book of Acts demonstrated how the Spirit was involved in directing the “fishers of men” to where the fish were. Every new spurt of expansion and spread of the gospel was initiated by the Spirit and not from “successful models”. The Spirit spoke. The Spirit checked. The Spirit fell. Can there be more space for the Spirit to lead the Singapore church, a church so married to modernity, that they are more conversant with Peter Drucker than the voice of the Spirit? So I came wanting to see if there is a way to give more space for the Holy Spirit in the leadership of the church.
Difficult to enter into silent waiting
It was not easy for pastors and leaders of all kinds of persuasions to fully enter into what was intended by the Pastors’ Summit leadership. After a period of corporate worship we were instructed to wait in silence before God and ask, Lord what is on your heart for Singapore? We were to write down what the Lord laid on our hearts and pass down the message to a panel of pastors called a “table of discernment” and they would share with the larger body or act on what they discerned. Silence can be deeply disturbing for us hyperactive pastors. Waiting seemed so unproductive, a silly waste of time, even if it was waiting in prayer in the presence of God. This was evident in the first session, but less so in the second session.
Real gold or fool’s gold
My takeaway from the summit was one of possibilities. Can this possibly be done at leadership prayer times to seek the Lord and inquire what is on his heart for the church? Sounds like Acts 13: 1ff. The thought of it is at once intoxicating and intimidating. I left feeling like a gold prospector that has found a gold vein. I hope I will not be like the villagers of Kampung Melayu Majidee, in Johor, who elated that they had found “gold nuggets” on a street, were later disappointed by hard reality: what they had shining in their hands was iron pyrite – “fool’s gold”. By the way, preachers, there is a sermon illustration in that report.
The session of the Pastors’ Conference organized by Tung Ling had ended. Pastors and leaders stood up to stretch, look for the restroom, or just stand around and chat. A grey haired man went about with a carton of packet drinks to serve the pastors. He dressed simply and looked ordinary, though he was a very wealthy businessman and notable church leader. He was a great influence in the local and wider church and in the marketplace. He was one of many pioneers who unknowingly could be modelling a bi-vocational church and marketplace leadership that will increasingly needed in the decades ahead. He is Goh Ewe Kheng, one of my favourite sermon illustrations of humble and faithful servanthood. So when I read an article about him by Edmond Chua in the Christian Post, I just had to link it. He wrote:
Elder Goh Ewe Kheng is the quintessential minister in the marketplace. He started church ministries, preached, co-founded a denomination and participated in the governance and activities of over 30 committees, all while running a business. The passion of the 87-year-old Founding Elder of the 7,640-member Church of Singapore passion to serve God began at an early age.
Continue reading about the personal and family life of this inspiring marketplace and church leader HERE.
Unusual mix and origin
The building looked like a ship that is cruising on calm waters at Hoot Kiam Road. In the worship hall there were Africans, Australians, and Americans peppered among the locals in the 100 or so people who attended the 11am Sunday service. This mix is not unusual as surrounding the church’s location were scores of condominiums, private apartments and shop houses. Even expatriates need a church, and it must be the Lord that drew them. Zion Full Gospel Church is about 300 strong and they have an unusual Finnish origin. Sisters Nilja Nikkanen and Aira Kolkka were missionaries who left China after the communist takeover in the 1950’s and were led to preach the gospel in Singapore, playing the guitar and singing Mandarin songs in the Street. Out of this grew the first among several churches started by the Finnish mission.
Alfred Yeo and Assemblies of God
Rev Alfred Yeo had invited me to preach in the service and I was happy to accept as I had often noticed the church as I drove past the main road and wondered about it. Confident and friendly, Alfred is one of the more forward thinking Assemblies of God pastors who moved early into ministry to social needs , something generally put on the backburner in most AG churches. He was an executive director in the AG when this church asked for the fellowship’s assistance and he was released to be their interim pastor. This later developed into a permanent appointment.
A few firsts
ZFGC was the first church to house its worship in a shopping center. Way before it became popular with the megachurches in Suntec City, Zion held its worship services in Queensway Shopping Center, and later made it the base for their coffeehouse ministry, another first.
Silence and prayer please
The worship leader chose songs that were in line with the message even though he did not know what I was speaking on. That encouraged me in my preaching and I believe my prayer for the service that the Lord be revealed clearly, and loved more dearly was answered. The altar call I gave was a call for them to spend five minutes in prayer and silence where they were seated. Many services need more time of prayer and quiet. We tend to fill every minute, ever second, with sound and voice and noise. We do not make space for stillness and prayer and listening to the Lord. We squirm or look around listlessly after 2 minutes of silence. Thankfully the congregation was able to pray and experience His presence in the stillness and quiet as from the pulpit I could see people deep in prayer or visibly and emotionally touched by the Lord.
Tennis friends and lunch
Later I had a nice chat with Ruth and Ron, friends I used to play tennis with, but unfortunately we could not lunch together, so my wife and I went to Great World City’s food court, a five minutes stroll away. Convenient.