The Ark: a place of rest

The Ark at Village Hotel Bugis
The Ark at Village Hotel Bugis

The Ark is a Pentecostal church. What a unique name. Pastor Jimmy Hoo started this church after he left the Emmanuel Assembly of God. It is small fellowship of 30 plus and they worship at the Village Hotel Bugis at 390 Victoria Street on the 6th level. I got to know Pastor Jimmy on Facebook. I was introduced to him by Pastor Peter Sze who also helped linked up quite a few grace-based churches and ministers in the region. We met once with Joshua Lee, pastor Kevin Choo and another minister and talked shop over tea at Funan Center. He invited me to take the Sunday message and I was most happy to do so.

Pastor Jimmy Hoo and wife Mabel
Pastor Jimmy Hoo and wife Mabel

I took a cab there with my wife and my son who wanted to visit. It was the first time I stepped into the Village Hotel Bugis and the hotel function room was the size of two large classrooms. They also had a separate room for the children. I met with the members who were there early and we chatted with Pastor Jimmy Hoo and Mabel, his wife, who was very warm, hospitable and friendly. The service started at 9.30am and like the other grace-based church services I attended, the Holy Communion was conducted every Sunday. Soon I was at the pulpit and preaching a modified version of what I preached in my worship service the previous week at WRPF. I talked about how a Christian can still live under the old covenant and experience the miserable Christian life. I talked about what it meant to live under the new covenant. My main text was from Jeremiah 31:31-34. I drew my three main points and contrasts from the text itself, and drew sharp contrasts of what it would look like if you lived as a Christian under the old covenant or under the new covenant. I enjoyed partnering with the Holy Spirit in delivering the message.

After the service we had and early lunch at about 11.40am at a Bugis Junction food court. I enjoyed the nasi padang and the fellowship and warm banter. Inevitably from the topic of family, the conversation went to ministry and I heard a dramatic and  grace-filled story of how this sincere and humble couple were initiated into the message of grace, and how they moved from being burnt-out and effort-driven to a place of rest in the grace of God.

Though many people crowd the Star Vista to hear the grace messages of the New Creation Church, small churches like this also deserves better support and encouragement. I am sure there are people who love the grace message but prefer a small church setting where things are less concert-like and more family-like, less distant and more personal, where they feel less like a spectator and more like a participant. This is one church you may want to explore visiting and being a part of, if you want to learn to rest in His grace, and a have a stronger community life. Pastor Jimmy and Mabel are well equipped with the message, the experience and love to give you the care, the rest and community you need.

Do not look at man

“Do not look at man, look to God” seem to be the recurring theme at the belated welcome lunch for the new addition to our staff. There were three pastors and two lay leaders and I had asked them to give a helpful piece of advice to Ethel Shin the youth worker.

They knew that in her calling she would have to deal very closely with people. People of all sorts including leaders and pastors. People with different personalities, backgrounds, expectations and values about how to do church or be church. Some of them may be  difficult to deal or work with. She would also know pastors and leaders who she thinks are good and godly, but as she gets near, and works with them, their imperfections will appear like cracks in the wall. She may get disappointed, disillusioned, hurt, discouraged or even worse cynical. Keep your eyes on the Lord, not on man.

Its good advice for everyone. The seeker searching for God. The searcher looking for a church community to call home. The faithful die-hard member and the active member serving in increasing capacities in different spheres and levels of involvement. The newly elected board member or addition to a leadership team. The new addition that joined  a cell group. Keep your eyes on the Lord, not on man.

Someone said, There is a snake in every garden. We think the church is a garden and there won’t be any snakes in them. They are safe to walk, play and relax and lie down on. We leave our handbag around and $50 is missing when we get home. “I thought I have a $50 note inside, where has it gone?” Why should we expect the church to be full of Mother Theresas? The church is full of all kinds of people at different junctures in their journey and development. Even the Mother could be difficult for some to handle. The fall of man has its residue in the church and as long as there are people in church its good advice to look to God and not to man.

If we have to look at man, and Paul does ask his readers to follow his example, look at the positives, the praiseworthy, the good, the noble, the godly characteristics that we could be inspired, encouraged and blessed by. Look for the Christ in them and praise God that if we look with His eyes of faith and hope, we can see many encouraging signs of God’s transforming grace and love in them. Do not look at man, look at God, is good advice. And when you look at man, pay attention to how Christ has graced him with goodness and mercy.

Singapore Christian Canaan Church: a happy servant church

New media connected

“I have read his blog. Then we became friends on Facebook.” That was how Pastor Richard Wong introduced me as the guest speaker in his church. New media is changing the way the world and the church works. More often than not people may meet online before they meet physically. This has been very much my experience in the last two years. We knew each other from afar and off-line, but recently we had lunch and we hit it off and shared our lives easily.

Jenny, Kenny and pastor Richard

Servant leader

Richard is hungry for the spirituals and yet is down to earth and a good administrator. He has been pastoring the church for close to two decades and still remains hopeful and enthusiastic. He sees himself above all as a servant. This serving heart has been his hallmark since the days of his youth, and it has been imparted to the church too.

The church building near St George'sMoving along

The Singapore Christian Canaan Church had come a long way from conservatism to Third Wave openness. This year they were moving into healing. This is a church of about 200 over and they have a building and worship team I envied. The worship team comprised half Filippinos and half locals. The elder Steven attributed their improvement to the training implemented by the youth and worship pastor.

A happy churchpreaching to produce a grace encounter

About 30 of the integrated congregation are Filippinos, mostly from the professional and service industry. The rest were mainly locals from youths to adults in their 50’s. The church was a family church: warm, welcoming, hospitable and all-embracing. This is their great strength: the love, unity and happy family feel was palpable. The congregation responded easily and positively to the message I preached, “The Church of the Prodigal Son.” This is a word I have been bringing everywhere I can as I feel it is a word in season for the church.

worship band leads congregation in song

engaged in praise

art renditionArt in the church

At the entrance to the worship hall, I caught sight of a large painting the size of a large notice board. This was evidence of how adventurous this church is. The pastor told me the  painting was done by a Japanese couple, during an art rendition at the Good Friday service, as the congregation sang two songs in worship of Jesus the Lamb of God.

Josephine and Richard Wong

Missions impact

Later Richard and his wife Josephine brought us out for lunch at Sushi Teh in the City Mall. Never did I know a relatively new mall existed in Little India, other than Mustapha’s. We talked about the missions work of the church in Bangladesh, Chiangmai and Sulawesi. We talked shop and about our families. It was wonderful to know how God worked in the world. Many are the risks taken but the Lord watches over His people.

We reached home after 3pm, satisfied and glad to have the privilege of serving the Lord and this happy church.

Reasons why members leave or stay in a church

sheep migrationThe topic was important. Sheep-stealing is a derogatory term, especially when thrown at you. You turn defensive and reply, “The hole in your fence is too big. Can I help it if the grass over here in my pastures is crunchy, smells better and is more nutritious?”  That adds salt to the wound, and a fight is about to break out in the body of Christ.

Well many of the pastors who gathered at the discussion of membership loss and gain found that they had similar reasons for why members left their church. About eighty pastors discussed in twos and then in tens. These are some of the main reasons that were listed, but not in order of importance:

1. Unresolved conflicts and disagreements with other members or leaders.
2. General dissatisfaction and frustration with their, their children’s or church’s progress.
3. Location and convenience.
4. Members from other churches enthusiastically inviting them to their churches.
5. Attractive and better children’s and youth programs of bigger churches.

And what about the main reasons why people choose a particular church to start attending?
1. The pastor and his strengths, usually the preaching.
2. To a megachurch in order to have minimum involvement, no questions and commitment asked, and to remain anonymous while recovering from hurts or burn-out.
3. To a small church to know and be known, love and be loved, and to find an avenue of service.
4. They were persuasively invited by a friend.
5. Great music or other programs that meet the family’s needs.

Bukit Batok Presbyterian Church: traditional church in the heartlands

BBPCTucked along Bukit Batok Street 11 and opposite St Luke’s hospital is the one and only Presbyterian church on a HDB site won by open tender. The Presbyterians have a few churches with HDB catchment areas but these are either in schools like Presbyterian High or were built long ago, like Glory Presbyterian Church. This church, Bukit Batok Presbyterian Church, was opened in 1995. It is one of two visible churches in Bukit Batok, the other being the Roman Catholic St Mary of the Angels. It was a branch church started by Orchard Road Presbyterian Church.

Bible Study Fellowship of the west

My wife attended this church on Tuesday mornings for seven years for Bible study organized under the international BSF. Many ladies from different denominations would attend this popular BSF site and it was very generous on the part of BBPC to host them.

Two English services

The church was a 10 minutes drive from home, so we left home at 8am.  The overall attendance of the English services were a combined 250-300. The early morning service targeted the young people and those who wanted a less traditional service- praise songs and a band. On the stage was what I thought was some sacred furniture covered with heavy blue material. As the service progressed, I laughed at my ignorance, when the puppet team performed a skit aimed at children from behind the blue-dressed puppet stage. the English service

praise band

puppet skit

traditional choir

The traditional service

preaching about "Work"The 10.30am service was more formal and traditional. The uniformed choir sang an anthem and every song was interspersed with other elements like prayer, offering and scripture reading. The worshippers were mainly adults in their 40s and 50s. The text they gave me was Ephesians 6:5-9  where Paul wrote to Christian slaves about finding inner freedom in constrained circumstances. The title of my sermon was, “From Unfreedom to Freedom” and demonstrated how God wants to redeem the thorn and thistle of toil and transform it into the gift of work. Preaching two services gave the opportunity to fine-tune the sermon for the second service, and that’s why it turned out better.

Surprise, surprise

Pleasant surprises awaited us after the service. Neighbours from our apartment block greeted us with loud hellos when we stood at the door to shake hands with the members streaming out of the auditorium. In addition, two of my Swiss Cottage Secondary School classmates, Soy Tee and Sze Chuan, greeted me with warm smiles, and I was briefly introduced to their families.

Ministry to different nationalities

One of the strengths of BBPC was its offering of services in the following languages: English, Mandarin, Indonesian, and Myanmese. They had different services for different folks. They do a particularly good outreach to the Chinese nationals.

Rev James Seah, Kenny Chee, Eric Chua (ps-in-charge)

Perceptive and sharp

However, their greatest strengths probably lie with the quality of their pastors. The English service pastor, Rev Eric Chua, was trained in architecture, and then in theology. A sharp thinker and spiritually perceptive, he gives good advice, and makes insightful observations about the church at large. We served together in the exco of the Church Resource Ministry Singapore, which focuses on mentoring marketplace leaders and pastors. It was a privilege to be invited by him to take the pulpit, and I enjoyed sharing my heart with him along the way. As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.

Humble hospitality

Rev James Seah, the other pastor brought us out for lunch in the nearby food court. We ate fish soup rice from the famous store once recommended by “Yummy King” and to top that we had durian for dessert. Wow…this pastor knows how to select D24 bitter-sweet durians. He said, “I was from Muar where I learned how to pick good durians.” My wife and I were further impressed with his servant attitude. It was the way he served us, and his warmth and friendliness. He even picked up a plastic container to clear our table of durian seeds and husks. Lord, send us more pastors from across the Causeway. Amen.

SIB Grace: abounding in grace

SIB Grace English service

Elder Thomas teaching the WordSunday worship service

We entered an empty spacious basement car park of the Crown Towers, an office building. SIB Grace leased the 9th Floor auditorium and halls. There was space for 500 but a third of it was used as a fellowship area, while the rest were filled with seats. The attendance ranged from 150 to 200 every Sunday. The newly started early morning Mandarin service, and the Sunday school each has 50 in attendance. The English service started at 11.30am. After the singing and communion, Elder Thomas, taught the Word verse by verse. The topic was the stewardship of the Master’s goods and the believers’ progress. The offering was taken, notices given and a closing song wrapped up the service. There was a sense of restfulness about the service, with no one straining to pump up adrenalin, or make things happen, or worry about “Were the people touched by God during the service?”.

A stunning miracle

The lunch area overlooked a lovely view of the Sarawak river. Over snacks we met Bartholomew, a male nurse who worked in the city’s hospital. He could not attend services as regularly as he would want to because of his shift duties. However, he prayed for patients in the hospital, and had seen a few answers to prayers for healing. Improvements in leg movements and the pain of patients as a result of Jenny, Kenny, Bartholomewprayer. Other times, he prayed audaciously for patients who died to rise, but they never did……until recently. He shared with me, “The doctor had declared a sick patient dead, and the distraught family had cried over him. I was sent to get him ready for the mortuary. I prayed a simple prayer for God to raise him. To my utter surprise he came back to consciousness. The doctor was called back and was shocked to see it. Later, a church elder visited the patient as he recovered in hospital.” This was a sign and wonder. This low-key but stunning miracle reminded me of another memorable story of a brain-dead member who came back to life in the deaf fellowship of World Revival Prayer Fellowship, where I pastor.

Re-installed by grace

Elder AlexLooking for empty seats at the Kuching food festival was difficult. When we finally did, and others went to order different food, elder Alex, who does most of the preaching in church, shared with me about his journey. During the charismatic revival in Kuching in the 1980’s, St Faith Anglican church was the center of action among the Anglicans. There was so much intensity and activity during that revival. The next two decades saw many who suffered burn-out, including himself, a committed youth leader. On one of his trips to Singapore, his cousin brought him to his church, NCC. There God ministered to him through the message. When he returned to Kuching he wrote to the church and it sent him 22 cassette tapes. He studied all the messages. Alex had severe asthma so that even the air-conditioning of a car could result in an attack. After hearing the tapes, he was completely healed!

Jenny, Kenny, elder Alex, Alan, Penny, Richard

Church gripped by a message

Later, Alex met with Thomas and other acquaintances of the charismatic revival. They met above the Crossway Christian bookshop, and had energizing discussions about the books and tapes of Joseph Prince. From there the idea of starting an SIB preaching point began. That preaching point grew and after persevering through difficulties, became SIB Grace, a church that abounds with the grace of God.

(Footnote: The Borneo Evangelical Church or SIB (Malay:Sidang Injil Borneo) is one of the largest evangelical Protestant denominations in Malaysia with membership at about 500,000. SIB Grace is part of this denomination.)

Small and mega churches: living in a land with giants

Gritty days ahead

in the land of giantsThe  Saturday’s Straits Times special report by Lee Siew Hua and Susan Long was an excellent analysis of the church scene in Singapore, albeit with a slant towards the currently newsworthy megachurches. Reading the well researched and eye-opening articles can give the majority of small churches a feeling of creeping muscular dystrophy. There are giants in the land and they have no time for the small. The mega churches in cavernous expo halls or high up in the city centre, cast vast shadows over the middle earth of small and micro churches. It generates an apprehension of imminent dark creatures and clouds about to devour all things small and micro. It will take hobbit-like qualities, a strong fellowship of the small, to survive, indeed to triumph, in such gritty days.

God’s kingdom

We need to start off with a biblical perspective. In God’s kingdom all kinds and all sizes have a place. The Creator God who factored variety and beauty into the universe he made knows this better than us. To reach people of different cultures and personalities, the world needs to have churches of all kinds and sizes. So God said, Let there be all kinds and all sizes for we need them all. As small and micro churches we must walk upright with the assurance that the Father wants to give the kingdom to the little flock as well. The small and micro churches, outwardly as short and whiny as hobbits, has a significant role to play: they can reach and disciple people the megachurch cannot reach.

Close the manhole

As we read the articles, we can easily trip into the open manhole of comparison. The reader who attends the megachurch feels superior. They have the better everything: bigger crowds, building, budget. Theirs the inspiring vision, the charismatic leader, the touching worship, the professional operations, the longer queues. The 90% who worship in smaller churches can feel discouraged, inferior, and critical. Some leaders of small churches will stupidly think, “If they can do it, we can do it too!” They are like parents who think every child can be a President’s Scholar: just have the right vision, strategy, motivation and implementation and ….boomz!

The Straits Times articles stated that the megachurches hire full-time professionals to be their musicians. That’s why they have such technically excellent music. Can the small church compare with that musical standard and ever hope to get there. More likely she would be discouraged and self-condemned before she even starts.  And this is just the music. What about the administration, the aesthetics, the multiple ministries, the charisma, the critical mass of young people, and all the bangs and whistles. Comparison in whatever form is a fall into a deep, dark stinking hole.

Leverage on the strengths

Small churches should remember their strengths and leverage on them. Small churches need to take a page from the epic movie “The Lord of the Rings”. The hobbits were focused on a clear purpose. they were authentic, close-knit, loyal, and incorruptible. The small church needs to focus on making disciples. Preaching  the Gospel to the pre-believers and and teaching the Gospel systematically to the baptized is crucial for the process of disciple-making. Making disciples, not en masse, but one by one, each personally and lovingly handcrafted, like Swiss watches (not like  the mass produced plastic Swatch).  The  disciple will be authentic and believes he can become all that he already is in Christ. The small church should also leverage on its natural strength of being more like a loving family than an unfeeling, bureaucratic corporation. It can major on delivering intimacy and community. Furthermore, very hobbit, I mean every disciple, in the small church can be equipped and deployed to function in his God-given role in the fellowship, unlike in the megachurch, and this is a big advantage the small church has in helping disciples find discover purpose.

Apostolic mentality

Yes, I have intriguingly cast the mega churches as Lord Sauron and all his army of followers as those dug from the gravel, and made alive by magic. There’s a twist in the story. The real truth is that Lord Sauron is Satan and his minions, and the Fellowship of the Ring includes the big guys and the small guys. The big guys are the mega churches, and the hobbits, well, they are the small churches. We are bonded like an imperfect family on this journey to defeat Satan. There will be distrust, fear, greed, misunderstanding, and suspicion as we move along towards our destination. Only together and by His grace will the job get done. We know this will definitely end in a climatic consummation when Jesus comes in glory and final victory is established on this earth. This is apostolic eyes: seeing mega and small and micro as one church of Singapore, the way God sees it. We are not competing; we complete each other.