Spiritual formation for young people

the brochureHandcrafting young people

One of the main things we can do as a small church is to handcraft young people to take on the mantle of servant leadership in the church. One way is for us to actually use that period when young people are waiting to study in some institution, or for new semester to begin, or to go into National Service. It is difficult to find a similar period for Polytechnic students as the different polys have different breaks. However we managed to find a period for the former. We found a period of 40 days and brought together 6 of them. We “de-schooled” the training  and made it more relational, interactive, research-active, digital and communal. Nine to 5 from Tuesday to Saturday is intense and by the fifth week we were feeling like climbing the last stretch of Mt Kinabalu at 3am in the morning. But it felt so satisfying to have persevered to the end-point.

spending a half day in prayer

One thing young people found very helpful

One thing that really struck me was how the participants were hungry to make sense of the Bible. They were looking for meaning that tied together the seeming jig-saw of Bible stories, laws, instructions, prayers, wise sayings, poetry that were written long ago over a long period of time by a host of different authors with different purposes. They was a definite search for thematic perspectives. Its more than a book by book survey. Its the blood red vascular system that runs through the flesh of the biblical text that begs exposition. It’s also the historical and cultural and literary context that they wish to unlock as these hid the treasure.

Kranji War MemorialA memorable ending

Another thing that helped them was the challenge at the end. After they had viewed the mercy of God, and experienced His love in prayer and reflection, we brought them to Kranji War Memorial to reflect over how they would like at that juncture in their journey to offer themselves as a living sacrifice unto God. This experiential learning was poignant and helped to tie up everything they have learned and experienced into an appropriate response to God. For more pics and information go to wrpf.org.sg

AGST Alliance’s masters/doctoral module

Dr Allan Harkness the Director of AGST Alliance

laptop power

Carlos, Sonny, Winston, Ying Kheng

it can be tiring

Five are Bible college lecturers, four are pastors, two are in para-church organizations, two are in transition. Five are Malaysians, four are Singaporeans, two are Filippinos, one an Australian and one Thai. All were here for the AGST Alliance masters/ doctoral module on Education, Spiritual Formation and Discipleship in Christian Faith Communities: Interdisciplinary overview and rationale. Yes it is a rather massive and ponderous title for a module, and we took a morning to unpack the lexical complexity, and overlapping concepts of the terms. This was much needed work as this module is a core and foundational course upon which the course superstructure would be  built upon. I found the course immensely useful and stimulating. We looked at the subject from different perspectives: philosophical, biblical, historical, educational, technological and architectural. Sounds quite intellectual, and it was. But it was also interactive, collaborative. We had two guests, an architect and a Singapore Bible College lecturer who was an “Apple evangelist”. The course was mentally draining, and the assignments were practical, designed to achieve the stated outcomes. They look challenging, but should be doable. Having done the course just before Holy Week, I have hardly had time to digest and process what I learned or to start on any of the assignments. The comfort as I juggle ministry and study, is that the assignments given are all relevant to the community I am in, and require me to do further research, and understand and apply what I have learned. In addition, the study is relevant to the ministry at hand, and could be a basis of actual change action. On the whole I liked it, and it was nice to get to know more of the Lord’s servants in South East Asia. It was nice to get acquainted with Rev Winston Tan, whose late wife was my TTC classmate, and Ying Kheng, a popular lady  speaker with Campus Crusade, and Sonny, a Singaporean of Filippino descent, who has pastored in a few countries and is bi-vocational.

luching on the Vines

A review of Renovation of the Heart by Dallas Willard

renovation of the heart

Vision of spiritual formation

The author wants the church to hold to a vision of spiritual formation of all believers into the likeness of Jesus Christ. This is rooted in the Great Commission, and the church that fails to do this simply has failed. Dallas Willard is a professor of Philosophy in U.S.C. and a widely read author. His writing is cogent, and patiently builds up air-tight arguments to prove his thesis. His extensive reading and research is evidenced in his references. But his background also explains why his definitions of various elements of the human, like soul, spirit, and heart betray a lack of biblical theology.

Dallas begins by painting a grim picture of the gap between what is professed and what is lived out by the church. Many have severely fallen short of the standard of Christ’s holy life. He then pinpoints the church’s problem: majoring on the minors. The cure: a fresh, intentional focus on spiritual formation. A vision of change and hope is outlined and then in detail he goes on to show how every element of the human person can be transformed. The thought life and the feelings; the will and the body; the social and soul, all need to come under the transforming work of Spirit and man’s intentional and habitual response.

Biblical theology gap

The definitions and explanations and practical applications about what Christians can do to predispose themselves to God’s grace in transformation are clear and the arguments almost airtight. However I would have been more convinced if he had brought in more biblical theology with word studies, of biblical terms like the heart, or spirit and soul. It sounded more psychological than biblical. Perhaps in targeting the lay Christian reader, he has deliberately avoided technical discussion on such matters, but I wished that at least it could have been included in an appendix.

He could have filled a gap in terms of biblical theology of how Christ’s finished work, our union with Christ, the sacraments, and sanctification relates to spiritual formation. Perhaps he was overeager to avoid theological jargon but we readers would like to be able to relate what we read in his book to the epistles of St Paul in Romans 6-8 and other great passages. For example, he made some insightful observations about how “ideas, sensations and emotions”, both positive and negative, can by habit become “settled attitudes” that become like tendencies that can trigger automatically without conscious thought in reaction to life situations. It would have been wonderful if he discussed that in relation to the “old man” or “the flesh” or “body of sin” or “ indwelling sin”.

Community applications needed

His suggestions were practical. For instance, memorization and meditation of the Scriptures to renovate the mind so that it comes fully under Christ’s rule. However, it is noticeable that most of his applications were directed to the individual Christian. There were a few directed to the community and leaders of the community in the social dimension but it would have been better if all the application were viewed from a community and relational viewpoint. Thus the applications for mind renewal could have been the reading and preaching of Scriptures in the worship service, the role of hymns, the family’s role in encouraging thinking from God’s viewpoint, the study and discussion and application of truth to life in small groups etc. Frankly, most individual Christians will not memorize scriptures or study over the long haul. The only hope of such actions becoming habits must be for a community practice to be established and for them to participate in them faithfully.

An Asian way?

The approach of breaking down all the human elements that need transformation is also a very Western and scientific approach. It helps me to understand each particular part and how it functions together and deepens my understanding, but it also overwhelms the individual with too much applications, and it feels quite cumbersome. It may be better if he had taken a more Asian or holistic and biblical approach and viewed the human being as a whole and demonstrated how Christ’s death and resurrection has provided a basis for the renewal of my whole being and how the church needs to provide a conducive context where all its members can better predispose themselves to the ongoing grace of sanctification.