the New Covenant Church: by grace through faith

New media networking

An exciting weekend gave me further encouragement to blog. The invitation to preach at the New Covenant Church came through the new media. Peter Sze had been reading for two years and we became friends on Facebook. He announced one day that he was starting a new church and I politely mentioned that I would love to visit it when I visited Kuala Lumpur. He said, “Better still, why don’t you preach?” That was late last year, and now seven months later, the church has grown remarkably to an attendance of over 200. And I had preached there the Sunday before I had my own church camp in Glenmarie Holiday Inn, KL.

Warm Malaysian hospitality

Kenny, Alex and Karen with daughter

On the balmy Saturday evening of our arrival, a couple, Alex and Karen, two lawyers who had  just joined the church, brought me out to taste the best bak kut teh (pork ribs soup) in all of Klang valley. It was so good that it was sold out by the time we arrived. So we went next door to a restaurant designed to benefit from the spillover crowd….. folk like us. Nevertheless my wife and I tasted warm Malaysian hospitality that night and throughout our short stay there.

By grace through faith

The New Covenant Church is located in the suburbs of Petaling Jaya, in a shopping center that had seen better days. It was cavernous  for a new church plant, with a large fellowship hall, that had a staircase that led up to an auditorium that seated over 300. When you start with 30 people, leasing such a big space requires quite a stretch of one’s faith.

the new covenant church in worship

The service began at 10.15am. The songs were familiar and one was a song from a New Creation Church album, “I see grace”. Standing in the front, I noticed a little Indian boy lingering in the front to be held by the pastor. It was the third time the family had visited the church. Then it was announcements, testimony and the Holy Communion, which they served every Sunday. No offering was taken. Those who were moved could put their offerings in several offering boxes on the walls. The sermon I preached was titled, “The Church of the Prodigal Son”. There was a spiritual liberty and the message connected with the congregation, and we had an impactful time of prayer ministry at the altar. Thankfully, the message was well received. Lunch was food cooked by people and brought to church in trays and pots. There was no roster. People cooked as they were blessed and wished to contribute.

makan fellowship

No barriers of race, wealth or status

During  the fellowship, I had my first experience of meeting datuks at close quarters. I had supposed most datuks were unhappy, snobbish people but Datuk Tony and Datin Alicia, and another Datuk Roland, were all smiling and happy and without airs. This new church and the gospel it preached had drawn people from different races and social status together. The Nepali security guard may sit next to Chinese lawyers; Indonesian maids worship with businessmen; and the datuks lunch in the same hall with the struggling widow and the marginalized of society. What I saw there, was what Jesus came to form: an “odd” company of men and women fitted together by grace, indwelt and united by the Spirit. It can be called a Jesus community- like the people who gathered around him when he was on earth, a mix of disciples and seekers and needy.

Giving birth at 58

Fifty eight isn’t the right age for someone to birth a church. Then again, God is used to doing the exceptional. Peter Sze, a busy managing director of a large Malaysian company with a multi-national presence, had been a committed Methodist layleader for years. Together with external circumstances, something had been gestating in him to thrust a church is born!him out into planting a new church, but it was a confirmation through a prophecy  from “down under”, that propelled him to take immediate, concrete steps of faith. Having been convinced of the gospel of grace, Peter envisioned a  church that majored on celebrating the Christ and the finished work of redemption. Their early sermon series on “The New Covenant”, expository studies  on the book of Galatians, and currently a series on Joseph, reveal an sunday school attempt to be more systematic and expository in their approach to the message of grace. Even the small children’s church are being taught the “indicatives” of who Christ is and what He has done, rather than the typical moralistic tones of most Sunday School content.

No traffic jams

One of the reasons for the rapid growth of this church is that he does not face traffic jams in decision-making. Very quickly the church was set up: leasing, renovations, audio-visual system and musical instruments, stage, CDs duplication, and online presence through Facebook and a dedicated website with podcasts – all within 6 months. They have also begun to venture into missions partnership with workers in Cambodia and a missionary in Muslim Africa. He also has the kind of confident trust in God that enables him to make decisions without unnecessary dithering. The Kuala Lumpur traffic crawl is more descriptive  of those who prefer the traditional perfect will of God route, than the highway of God’s  love he is happier to travel on. Move in faith and the Lord will direct your steps. God is so big, there is nothing to fear.

Peter Tze, See Fen, Kenny, Jenny

Complementary partners

Peter and his wife, See Fen, are complementary in personality and ministry. One is into the big picture and the communicator, the other has great compassion for the down and out and demonstrates a down to earth love for members living in the margins. Their marriage was recently featured in the newspapers, and from what I read, the the engineer figured it out-1000 letters!engineering student inundated the “most beautiful girl in Segamat” with 1,000 letters and won Joanna- the daughter, with grandchildrenher over.  See Fen has this large reservoir of patience and love for the powerless and needy and this has rubbed onto Joanna her daughter, who at one time was working full time with the poorer Malays and Indons in the low-cost housing areas of Subang.

The future of this church is very bright from what I have seen. Its response to the message of the gospel is remarkably balanced in the breaking of distinctions of race, wealth and social class; its involvement in missions; its care for the needy; and its concern to preach and teach grace in a systematic, Bible based, and comprehensive way that included modifying the children’s curriculum.

I heard there are other “grace-based” churches in KL and Kuching. God willing, I would like to visit and blog about them too.

It’s fun to discover small churches and make them known, to give them a face and a voice. It gives the larger body a sense of the richness and diversity of the church of Jesus Christ. There are many great small churches of all denominations and sizes in the east coast and west coast of Malaysia doing unrecognized tasks for the kingdom and God willing, I’d like to visit them.

Century Christian Fellowship: love endures all things

CCF seated in heavenly places

An extension of the Chapel of the Resurrection

This was one of the many extensions started by the Chapel of the Resurrection. It was started in April 1991, with two house groups sent out as the core of a new church. It has been twenty years now and they now have about 60 members. Once they were once the verge of achieving “parish” status (120-150 attendance and 3 consecutive years of financial stability), but some setbacks held them back. This extension church has gone through some challenges including nomadic moving from one location to another. They deserve a reward for their doggedness and perseverance. May the Lord fill them with renewed grace and power.

John and Joyce Seet - CCF die hards

A rare breed: die-hards

They still have members from the original house groups sent to plant the church:  John and Joyce Seet, Christiana Tan, and Susan. These veterans are what we call “pah see buay chow”(die hards). We need such people in every church.  They are a rarity – perhaps an endangered species in these modern days. May their tribe increase!

New pastor : Peter Chang

The current leader is Pastor Peter Chang. Before full-time Christian vocation, he Pastor Peter carrying grandson Darrylwas a sales and marketing manager in the software industry and had worked in  China too. CCF had been without a pastor and had managed with lay leadership for close to a year, but with his appointment, there is a fresh stirring of hope among the people.  Peter and I got to know each other in a CRMS Focusing Leaders Network Retreat. When he invited me to give the talks at the camp I readily accepted and saw it as an open door to ministry to the larger body of Christ.

my favorite piece of claywork

Camp talks and experiences

giving insights into God's heartFifty people were at the church camp held at the Golden View hotel near Batam Center. It was a tight schedule: starting on Vesak Day and ending on Sunday morning. There were 5 teaching sessions and I spoke about how the church was deeply loved and accepted, transformed by grace, made righteous in Him, and called to serve with towel and basin, with God-recycled dreams. The teaching felt like I was downloading some new or updated drivers into their laptop so that itfeet washing can function better. I shared about my home church’s experience of revival. We also had some experiential moments of interaction with God in some creative prayer using clay. And a bonding and healing experience which involved  feet washing. During ministry, the Lord confirmed His word with his presence, power and prophecy. My wife received a word and I gave it to them, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).

In my intoduction talk, I told them my home church prayed for them to experience revival and anointed me to go. My continuous prayer for Century Christian Fellowship is for her to be filled with a surplus of His love, and to experience a revival of living loved, and giving love.

Dreaming of a certain kind of Annual General Meeting

agmI dream of an Annual General Meeting where the accent is on affirming and encouraging the work of leaders: both pastors and layleaders. Taking some time to celebrate what God has done, instead of a time to grill leaders, place blame or gripe over what happened or didn’t happen.

Church pastors and leaders do not need policing. If we elect leaders or appoint pastors, then we need to trust them, encourage them and pray for them. If you don’t trust them and have to police them, why appoint them in the first place?

When things are not doing well, leaders feel bad enough as it is. They don’t need more “awareness”, condemnation and discouragement piled on them.

Otherwise, we are no different from the world system: silent when things are fine; but a deafening, draining cacophony when things aren’t.

There are enough check and balances in any organization under the Charities Act.

God is the biggest check and balance and nothing escapes His eyes and He will balance all accounts on that Day, if not earlier.

I dream of AGMs where the silent majority who appreciates what the leaders are doing will speak up and not be silent. Its been too long that the floor is dominated by a vocal minority. The angels will be on tiptoe to listen in when such a choir of faith-full and hope-full voices is heard.

Some say that God is grieved when he sees the way AGMs are conducted. Others say God stopped attending AGMs long long ago because they are so far from what the church was meant to be. They say He has better things to do, and many young people feel the same way He does.

Business has to be done. The AGM is a requirement. I know, and let’s do it.

I just dream that it can be infused with a spirit of love. That there will be a display not of fireworks but of honor for the office of the leaders who serve the church.

I dream of a day when members realize the way they treat pastors reflect how they treat Jesus, and Father God.  Jesus had said, “He who welcomes you, welcomes me, and he who welcomes me, welcomes Him who sent me”. Yes, its that simple.

May the spirit of Caleb and Joshua lead the way when it comes to approving the budget. After all, the soundest logic, the most thoroughgoing financial prudence, is the one that factors in the greatness of God. This was what stumbled the ten tribal leaders that Moses sent to spy the land:  GOD’S PROMISES were not factored into their calculators.

Many a young man’s dream of being a pastor have probably sunk on the shoals of rocky AGMs. Young people are smart and they figure, “This is not the way to do the church, and this is not worth giving up my life for”.

And one day in the same AGM we will be talking about why many talented, smart young Christian people would rather be lawyers, doctors, and accountants, rather than be pastors.

Yes I dare dream of a day when unpleasant AGMs are a thing of the past, and the church has AGMs where members enjoy( not endure) attending, and are safe for young people under 18 to attend.

“Wake up, wake up.”

“It’s 8 already, better get up and go to work”.

Do Singapore pastors overwork?

Anecdotal accounts tell me that Singapore pastors do overwork. Their minds are engaged perpetually on preaching and church ministry and problems. It even affects their family life. Even while physically present they could be emotionally absent from home. Rick Warren (Saddleback Community Church) warns pastors against overwork in the ministry.“My experience is pastors tend to overwork when they assume extra hours make them more effective in ministry. That’s simply not true, and this misguided notion can actually keep others in your church from developing into mature Christian leaders. It is human nature but it isn’t the way God wants us to operate. It turns your ministry into one of those ‘whack-a-mole’ games. The moment you whack down one problem, another one pops up. It’s never ending.” Church leaders are to heed the apostle Paul’s imperative in Ephesians 4:12 to equip others to do the ministry. Pastors are to equip members to find their God-given gifts and ministry, so that everyone can be blessed and the pastor can “spend more time with family and with God, time that is necessary to keep your congregation pressing forward with purpose.” (The Christian Post)

City Harvest Church: spider with $310 million web?

The personal provision shop

provision shopMy generation grew up with the provision shop- that disorganized and overpacked grocery that sells the common things a family needed but with less choices. Service was personalized and there’s even first name familiarity. You can even get credit and items purchased delivered to your home. But there are limitations: it does not sell everything a family member may need. You can’t get a haircut, or buy fresh food, or a pair of shoes or clothing. They don’t do banking and you can’t get a meal or be entertained with a movie. Sometimes what you want is there but you can’t find it in the mess. However, this is what we grew up with and are comfortable with, even tolerant of.

Shopping mall generation

There is however another generation, now in their thirties and below, who have grown up in a different world. It is the world of the shopping mall. And in this world, in this one place they can obtain nearly everything they needed. The mall is stocked with all kinds of products from all over the world, whether fresh or packaged. It offers services of all shopping mallkinds for all the needs and desires of all age groups. Air-conditioned and alluring, it is the consumer’s paradise. It offers choices. It offers lifestyle. It even confers identity. If I regularly go to a particular shopping mall, I am young and trendy; if another, I am an aunty; if still another, I am a sophisticate’ or yuppie or sporty person or bargain-hunter. This particular generation is comfortable in a shopping mall; but it feels disoriented, disjointed, and lost in the good old small provision shop and find it a hassle, so what if the manager calls them by name and knows their parents!

Megachurch growth is sociological and psychological too

That’s why I believe the megachurch is here to stay and is likely to grow stronger. It’s more than just a spiritual thing; it is also sociological and psychological. The younger generation has been culturally conditioned to feel welcome and comfortable in a megachurch structure because it is so much like the shopping mall they have pleasant experiences of. There they get all their needs met under one roof. More resources means more choices, “products”, even branded ones from USA or Australia; and it means varied and better servicing of the attendees’ needs.

Giants in the land

webThis is one reason for the rise of the contemporary megachurch in our city. Churches like City Harvest Church and New Creation Church are the two notable examples of giants in the land. Are they like spiders organizationally? Without the spider the web will become cobwebs.  I say this with deep respect for the pastors of both churches. This is just an organizational metaphor I recently learned. I use them without any sense of contempt or put down so do not inundate this comment box with “Sour grapes” etc etc.

From spider to starfish

starfishThere used to be a megachurch that dominated the scene: Calvary Charismatic Center. It used to be a spider. It became a starfish a decade or more ago. A wise move. A starfish when cut up regenerates itself and multiplies. That’s what happened to that megachurch now with a new name, Victory Family Church. You find them in all the suburbs: Choa Chu Kang, Sembawang, Yishun, Jurong West, Tampines and where else? Wonderful. The spider can go away for a year and spin another web in East Timor and things are still well with their churches’ souls.

Happy for City Harvest Church and New Creation Church

Having said that I am glad that City Harvest managed to cut a deal and avail itself to a place huge enough for its growing congregation in the suntec Sporecity-Suntec Singapore. $310 million is an amount that seems chewable by 30,000 attendees. Its just about $1000 per year per attendee for ten years. The members must be as happy as when New Creation members heard about their coup at One North, though some may be contemplating a quiet exit . I used to be provocative to stir other Christians to think about issues like stewardship, laws, the lease, alternatives, etc etc. Now I only think up provocative titles, and have come to the view that each church decides what they regard as best in the Lord, and for the church, from the leadership’s discernment. The rest we just leave to posterity to assess. The members who do not like it can zip up their wallet or vote with their feet to the megachurch next door. Or why not walk to the small church next door.

Small church challenges

The small church: well, to be candid, young people are there not always by deliberate choice but because their parents are there; or close friends are there, or they find meaning and purpose in some role or responsibility. But they do feel the pull when their friends talk excitedly about their “shopping mall experiences”. Anyway when was the last time you stepped into a small provision shop? Is this a death knell for small churches of under a hundred? No not really. Haven’t you heard of 7 Eleven? But that is another story: the story of the small church.

Does size matter?

Does size matter in the light of this? Can a megachurch more effectively reach unchurched people who are more used to and comfortable with the shopping mall than with the HDB mom’s and pop’s store? Probably so. However, megachurches do have their weaknesses too. Consumerism, the cultural trait of generation next is one of several things that the megachurch appeals to, and this is the very Achillees’ heel that gives rise to megachurch weaknesses. More on that another time, God willing.

(I am getting lazy. Picked up an old post -28 dec 2007- from my files and just revised it to make it current.)

The advantages of being small

small church

I love the small church because Christ loved it and gave himself for it. He loves the small church as much as the megachurch. He must love it for there are thousands of them. In fact, the small church is the norm, and the megachurch (over 2,000 members) is the rarity. In all the countries of the world where the church has a presence, the small church of 150 and below, forms the majority. Typically more than 80 or 90% of all churches in each country would be of that size.

More relational, more like family

I love the small church because by nature it is more relational, and less structured and bureaucratic. As a church grows bigger it has to be better organized; hierachical levels increase; policies and standard operating procedures clog the arteries; and institutionalism sets in. Decisions are less concerned with persons than with precedence. Leaders hardly shake your hands and probably doesn’t know you’ve been a church member for five years.

Nurturing and caring

As a member of a small church you get legendary care. When you are hospitalized the church knows it, and prays for you, and the pastor visits you. The pastor knows you by name (and even your family members, dog, and goldfish) and you do not have to press 1, press 3, press 5 before you reach the secretary of the secretary of the pastor, and finally get stuck there. The pastor can give better attention to spiritual growth and discipleship. When your kid’s exams are around the corner, there is prayer and even tutoring. When you lose your job, others are concerned and they pray, and help out, and look out for a job for you. When you get married, many are there to rejoice with you. When you die, many are there to pay their last respects and to comfort the bereaved family, and though you won’t be around to benefit from that, your family will.

Every member involvement and growth

You cannot just attend the worship services. There are more things that needs to be done than there are people to do them. So all hands on board and everybody helps out somewhere, and many have to help out in more than one area. Some Christians don’t like this because studying and working is tiring enough for their packed life. Yet it is in serving one another, contributing to the common good of all, that we also find the meaning of communtiy, and taste a little of the intra Trinitarian love. The small church compels you to serve and thereby discover your spiritual gifts and make significant contributions. It motivates you to invest in what is eternal: serving Christ.

Shaped and sandpapered

While serving and relating, you get shaped or sandpapered: with help from people around you, you get to be all that God wants you to be. Small churches can be “ojama shimasu”(translated: Sorry, but I am going to disturb you). You won’t be left alone in anonymity and untouchability. You will get to know people whose rough edges will scrape on your smooth, soft sensitive skin, and I must say vice versa. In the big churches, everybody smiles because few folks get close enough and stay together long enough to get in your face and step on your toes. In a small church it is so squeezy you have to say, “Excuse me,” or “Sorry”. You step on people’s toes or get elbowed in the narrow confines of true Christian community. It is just one  of the major ways that God uses, besides trials and marriage (are these both synonymous?), to change us into His likeness. God loves you unconditionally as you are, but he loves you so much he won’t leave you as you are, in your character. Its the same with our kids, we love them with all their faults and bad habits, but we do not leave them as they are; we encourage change for the better. The small church is very good environment for such change to take place.

Absolutely irreplaceable

Nothing beats being in Christian community. Of course such authenticity can be found in megachurches’ small groups too. However there are special joys in being part of an extended church family network such as is found in many small churches. Staying put over the long haul, building deep abiding friendships through serving, woshiping, praying, dreaming, weeping and laughing together, and having shared experiences over decades is absolutely irreplaceable. I hope and pray that the younger generation will be able experience this kind of rootedness, stability and communal strength too.

Epigram Pte Ltd: creativity and generosity

Lord thank you for your provision

It was a chance meeting at my mum’s funeral. It was something like Ruth in Boaz’s fields: “As it turned out, she Lord, thanks for Edmund Weefound herself working in a field belonging to Boaz..” (Ruth 2:3). Edmund Wee, founder and owner of design company Epigram Pte Ltd was there to offer condolences. His family and my wife’s were next door neighbours and family friends for decades. He had just won the prestigious President’s Design Award for 2008, and I knew he published annual reports for companies. But I did not know how well the company was doing until I checked out his website after he offered to do pro bono design work for the church. I was blown over and very impressed.

When I shared with the leadership they too were pleased. Edmund is known for his generosity but I never knew he was creative too. When the designs came, I liked the originality and creativity of the logo idea that they proposed to us. Our old logo was the winner of a church competition and it has served its time. Now its time for the new one to mark a new chapter in the church’s life. The new look was unique, clean-cut and elegant. I loved it staightaway. They did designs for stationery and signage and other stuff as shown above.

The new church logo had many doves in flight, forming an 8, a significant number in our church’s history, because at its first baptism 8 were baptized on the 8th of August (eighth month) on the 8th anniversary of Singapore’s independence. In the Bible the number 8 symbolizes salvation and new beginnings and resurrection. It all fits and makes sense.