Authenticity in Preaching

The world of fashion is estimated to have lost US$2 to 3 trillion a year to counterfeiters of their branded products, usually fashion and luxury goods like clothing, shoes, watches and leather items. I wonder how much is lost in the kingdom when there are counterfeit or fake preachers in the pulpit. Probably, it can never be quantified. There were false prophets in the Old Testament, wolves in sheep clothing in the New Testament and they are not absent from Christendom today. Authenticity in preachers is super important for effective communication.

Authentic preaching changes lives

Effective sermons are forged in the furnace of authenticity. Authenticity in preaching is power-packed, not in a spectacular flourish, but in a quiet way. There is no lightning or thunder, no fire nor earthquake, but the Spirit’s work in connecting the speaker with the hearer and penetrating their hearts with the unvarnished truth.

Authentic preaching facilitates a connection with the hearers and engages them. Such sermons seem to come from the heart of someone who seeks to practice the truth in everyday life, even though the preacher is far from perfect. With the qualities of openness and transparency, such sermons make the preacher relatable to ordinary people with common struggles. There is a bond of trust as the congregation senses that the preacher is for real and not wearing a mask.

If the preacher is also their pastor it is even better because he or she cannot escape scrutiny and the church grapevine, and if what they hear from the pulpit is congruent with what they see in the life of the pastor, that word has tremendous power to inspire changes in values and beliefs and upload new operating systems in people’s lives. The reverse is also true: inconsistency or incongruence between what is preached and what is practised cannot be hidden and will undermine the credibility and power of the message.

An authentic preacher is someone with the qualities of being genuine, true to oneself and not pretending to be something other than what one is, and living a life that seeks to be congruent to the values, beliefs, and convictions one holds dear and proclaims. There is honesty, integrity, and transparency present in the authentic preacher and this potent mix inspires trust and accelerates personal connections with others.

Jesus and Paul on authenticity

Are there scriptures that highlight the importance of authenticity in life and preaching? Take a look at a few of them below:

“Then Jesus said to the crowds and his disciples: ‘The teachers of the law and the Pharisee sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach ‘”. (Matt 23:1-3) The people feared the teachers of the law and Pharisees because they wielded religious power, but were despised because they did not practice what they preached. Jesus saw through their masks of hypocrisy and exposed their deceit.  St Paul warned the church in Corinth of the fakery of the so-called apostles who had fooled them. He underlined the importance of integrity in apostleship and ministry: “Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways: we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Cor 4:2). St Paul claimed the high moral ground in both the character of the messenger and the substance of the message. In his letter to Titus, he enjoined authenticity in leadership and preaching: “In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness, and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us”(Titus 2:7-8).

One of my favourite books on preaching is John Stott’s “Between Two Worlds” and in this concise gem he wrote: “Communication is by symbol as well as speech. For ‘a man cannot only preach, he must also live. And the life that he lives, with all its little peculiarities, is one of two things: either it emasculates his preaching or it gives it flesh and blood'(John here quotes J.H. Bavinck). We cannot hide what we are. Indeed, what we are speaks as plainly as what we say. When these two voices blend, the impact of the message is doubled. But when they contradict each other, the positive witness of the one is negated by the other. This was the case of the man Spurgeon describes as a good preacher but a bad Christian: he ‘preached so well and lived so badly, that when he was in the pulpit everybody said he ought never to come out again, and when he was out of it they all declared he never ought to enter it again.” (John quotes from Spurgeon’s book) It is at this point that a practical problem presents itself to us. Pastors are told to be models of Christian maturity.”

The how of authentic preaching

How then can one preach with authenticity? First, the preacher has to engage with the Bible He has to cultivate a life of prayerful, systematic study and meditation of God’s word. He approaches the Bible with an openness that allows the truths of God’s word to penetrate his mind and heart. He allows the Word to affect his thinking, affection, and action. Little by little he incorporates truth into his lifestyle and it becomes the dominant operating system of his life. One verse that inspired me and that I hold dear is in Ezra 7:10: “Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.” This one verse summarizes the three essential habits of the authentic preacher. First, he studies – eats, digests, and assimilates the word. Second, the truth points him to the reality of the Living Word, and he relates intimately with Jesus himself. This faith relationship releases the grace to do what the word says, and to experience the fruit of obeying God. Finally, this growing confidence in the power of truth enables the preacher to boldly proclaim the truth he has incorporated into his life. This growth in congruence is “from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Second, the preacher is humble and transparent when he or she struggles to live out the topic being preached. Admitting lack, mistakes, and struggles or that you do not have all the answers displays authenticity. The preacher can ask the congregation for prayers so that you may grow continually in the particular facet of Christian life that you are preaching about. St Paul called on the believers in Ephesus to pray for him “that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel” (Ephesians 6:19).

Third, authentic preachers speak from the heart and are not hesitant to talk about their personal experiences of struggle or success. Sharing personal, real-life examples that illustrate the truth you are preaching about is inspiring and memorable. Personal stories are engaging, disarming, and moving. They have a way of touching the affective and volitional domains of listeners, moving them to make decisions that lead to change in their lives. St Paul, in his legal defence against his accusers, chose to share the personal story of his conversion encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus.

Fourth, during the preparation of the sermon, the preacher engages personally with the passage or topic to experience its power and to notice how it moves him or her. The preacher reflects on how those insights and truths have impacted him or her in the past and in the present. He or she prays for a deepening of the application of the truths in their own life and congregation.

Fifth, the authentic preacher is open to feedback from the congregation and is in dialogue with them so that he or she knows whether their preaching is connecting with their needs, questions and struggles. They hear their perspectives on how the sermon was received by them so that they can be of greater help to them in the future.

Heavenly Father, to preach is a sacred invitation to share your truth and my life with the congregation I serve. Help me to be true to your word in the way I live, and the way I communicate your truth. I want to dedicate myself to prayer and the preaching of your word. Grant me great grace to do so. Amen.

Share this:

Read More →

Sermons for Good Friday & Easter

One of the tasks that pastors find challenging is to find fresh sermons to preach during Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

In the past, attendance increases during these special days in the Christian calendar, but nowadays more Christians are taking the opportunity to get out of the country for a break. This is sad because these are high days for followers of Christ to be present to receive the full significance of Christ’s death and resurrection. These high days mark the great turning point in the salvation history of the world.

The forty days of Lent before these high days are preparation for a more meaningful remembrance and experience of Christ’s death and resurrection. Look further back and there is Advent, with its theme of hope in the midst of darkness. Advent and Lent point us to this pivotal point in salvation history. It is meant to be the high point, the climax of the Christian year. Christians should all be geared to honour, celebrate and worship our God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Preaching sermons about Christ’s death and resurrection can be forbidding for some pastors. Partly because expectations are higher. Partly because there are usually special programs like evangelism and baptisms planned around it, and these can be tiring. Partly because the members half-expect and know what’s going to be preached. They can guess what the preacher’s next point is. Partly because the pastor has already preached so many Good Friday and Easter sermons in the past, that he or she is now scraping the bottom of his creativity pot.

My suggestion is to use a resource I have put up. They are actually a first draft of a book I have written titled, “A to Z of Christ’s Finished Work”. Here are my suggestions:

You can do a series on “Blessings of Christ’s Death & Resurrection” or some title like this and choose three points for each sermon. That’s a total of six points out of 26 points available. Use the ones that resonates with you, or that the congregation can be blessed with, or because it suits your purpose (eg. evangelistic sermons have to focus on facets of salvation).

Alternatively you can preach A, B, and C for Good Friday, and then D,E, and F for Easter and end it by encouraging cell groups to do the rest of the alphabets in their Bible discussion groups.

Or if the response and feedback is good, you can continue the series for the following Sundays. It only takes seven more Sundays to finish all the alphabets. It will give the congregation a good grounding and understanding of the whole gospel.

Well, have a look and pray about it. You can look at all the material HERE. You have full permission to use whatever you wish without acknowledgement, and add or subtract to make it suitable for your purposes and for the feeding of your people.

Have a great and exciting Good Friday and Easter.

Share this:

Read More →

Pastor PJ Johney’s 22nd Death Anniversary

PJ John reminded me that 9 November was his father’s 22nd death anniversary. Pastor PJ Johney was my predecessor, spiritual father and mentor in the ministry. 

My thoughts went down memory lane to recall the difficult decision he had to make as a civil servant, husband, and father. He found himself thrust into a scenario he never wished for. The founding pastor, brother A.M. Mathew, was leaving for Canada. He had applied for a posting to Canada. While he waited for an opening, a historical revival broke out in Singapore and it filled his house with young students fired up by the baptism of the Spirit and a love for Jesus. While he was leading this young fellowship for about about two years, an opening in Castrol Canada opened up. He decided to take it. What will happen to this little flock? Hand it to the next best person in the fellowship that he trusted. Pastor Johney was reluctant to accept it. He felt that Crispus, a dynamic young man of faith, who was a great encourager and spent a lot of time with the youths should be the one to take over. Brother Mathew insisted that it should be Johney, and Johney it became. As events unfolded over the decades, that was a prudent and wise judgment call by brother Mathew. 

Pastor Johney and his family had to leave the Marthoma Church because of his firmness in his new found faith experience. Suddenly, he is the leader of a fellowship full of enthusiastic youth with lots of energy and ideas but little resources and money. This is indeed a dire challenge that I imagine would drive most lay people to their knees in prayer, entrusting people and church and financial problems to the Lord of the Church. I cannot imagine the kind of pressure he and sister Johney would have experienced those days as a lay pastor still holding to his civil service job, and leading the flock. 

Having been his associate for so many years I would describe his pastoral leadership as spiritual fathering. He was a father to the church of young people offering prudent judgment and garnering the respect of the church through his exemplary and dignified conduct and sacrifices. It was what the church needed at that time. A model of what a godly Christian family looks like. We were young but we were a few years away from getting married and having and bringing up our children in the fear of God. We needed a stable model of godly living, prayerful lifestyle and faithfulness in stewardship. This is what builds families and make them strong. 

In addition, he was aware of his limitations and welcomed the contributions of all the young people. Everyone could exercise their spiritual gifts, lead and serve in ways that built up one another and the church. His style of leadership was not top-down CEO leadership but a fatherly nurturing of every member ministry in the church. It was one of the legacies I happily continued after I was appointed in his place. Identifying peoples spiritual gifts and strengths and encouraging them to deploy them in building and strengthening the body, and of course, giving credit where it is due. 

I am rambling on and on. I better stop here. If you wish to read more about Pastor PJ Johney you may want to go HERE. 

Share this:

Read More →

Spiritual Direction Formation Program Graduation

Praise to the Father 

Praise to the Son 

Praise to the Spirit

Three in One

This is the song in my heart as I pondered over the graduation of the fourth batch (see above) of the Spiritual Direction Formation Program (2022-2023). I felt great joy and gratitude to be amongst those who were formed by a group of experienced, skilled and dedicated spiritual directors from Life Direction Singapore. It took a year and nine months of serious yet meaningful and enjoyable experiential learning and practicum. Even till out last sessions, our teachers were emphatic that we have to continue being under spiritual direction and supervision. That is how seriously that take this calling and ministry of spiritual direction. I now understand why this should be so. This ministry is a sacred and holy entrustment.

The introductory course was done online because of the Covid-19 precautions. When our first semester began, we were all wearing masks in class. By the time of graduation, we were all maskless at the ground floor conference hall of the newly opened La Salle House, a retreat house located at St Patrick’s School. 

Sr Elizabeth(above right), a Good Shepherd Sister who led the earlier program batches, brought us down memory lane with photo collages of the beginnings of the program more than a decade ago, and Sr Francisca (above left) of the Cenacle Sisters, who emceed the graduation service, was the program director of this batch. Together with her, a team of volunteer spiritual directors (see below, together with graduates) gave of themselves in generosity and a labour of love to form us in this calling. One by one our names were called as we went up to receive our Certificate of Completion, signed by Diana Koh, Chair of LDS Exco and Sr Francisca. 

The program included class lectures, mostly by Sr Linda Lizada (see below pic with my pastor friend Seng Chor), workshops, group sessions, faith formation, retreats and the practice of spiritual direction under supervision. We were all placed in faith sharing groups (see second one below) and were each assigned to a spiritual director who met us once every three or four weeks for three semesters. We also had to see two directees monthly, and our supervisor (see my supervisor Joy Toh below) during the nine months practicum. Despite having pastored for forty years, I learned so much from this program that would help me to accompany pastors in their journey of faith.

Over the year and nine months of classes, group interactions, and retreats all the participants have grown into an ecumenical community of spiritual directors. Life Direction Singapore, a Christian community of spiritual directors, has granted us complimentary membership and that means we have access to resources, ongoing input and supervision. 

I felt glad that I completed this program. I almost did not sign up, but God intervened, and through the generosity of an anonymous benefactor, my son, and a pastor friend, I have been able to be equipped to fulfil my assignment in the new chapter. Although I have retired from my position as a senior pastor, there is no retirement for a servant of God, or even a child of God. I will continue to steward my spiritual gifts and other resources for whatever God invites us to. I will trust God to lead Christians that need spiritual direction to me. Like all the other spiritual directors of Life Direction Singapore, for each session of 45 minutes, a little stipend of $30 to $50 is suggested. However, many spiritual directors will not allow a lack of money to hinder individuals who cannot afford it, to receive spiritual direction.

Pray for all the graduates of this batch of spiritual directors.

Share this:

Read More →

MFIS Leaders Seminar: Building Healthy Leadership Teams

130 registered participants from 40 churches showed up on 21st September 2023 to listen to 4 plenary speakers, one youth ministry panel, and five interesting workshops. What a learning festival this turned out to be!

 “It must be grace”, I thought to myself. Normally, I would not have the energy to stay on for a whole day’s seminar, but this one turned out to be energizing. It defintely helped that the program was engaging. In addition, Riverlife Church was the venue, the food was good, and the hosts were warm and welcoming. Somehow Pasir Ris has this relaxed kampong feel that puts you at ease. However, feeling kiasu, I left Jurong East early and was glad I found a car park lot. 

After some breakfast fellowship, I was pleasantly surprised to see our church pastoral staff, Tom and Ethel, on the stage (see above). They were the emcees. They looked good together and emceed the program. As I looked around I also saw a good mix of the young old, the middle-aged and young pastors (see below). This is what a healthy tribe should look like!

Landmark message

The seminar began with a big bang! Pastor Ben KC Lee (see below), the Senior Pastor of Riverlife Church, and an apostolic leader in Ministers Fellowship International Singapore (MFIS), gave what I thought was a landmark message about “Leadership: Solo or Shared”. Ben has a way of cutting a clear path through a confusing wall of jungle trees and foliage. The last time he did this was in an earlier leaders seminar on “Top Concerns About Ascension Ministries”. Both messages clarified issues and context, and argued well for a biblical perspective. It was the same in this session. He began with a description of the current Church situation. Then he explained how cultural narratives, Western ministry models, and generational paradigms shaped our current ideas of leadership. He briefly talked about the various theories of leadership from secular research and argued that none of them are appropriate models for church life. Then he stated his conviction that the church ought to be modelled after the family. It should be highly relational, centered around our intimate fellowship with Father, Son and Holy Spirit and our love relationships with brothers and sisters of the church: a closely knitted family of God. In line with this family model, he defined leadership as reflecting God, guiding others to life in the Son, and cultivating an environment where people can grow and thrive. I find this personally affirming, because it put into words what my pastoral ministry had largely been about. When I reflected on my years of ministry I could not describe it better than the way he defined leadership in the church with a family model. At least that is how I see it. Wonder whether the church members I served, would agree with my perception about my pastoral leadership. 

Then he went on to argue for shared leadership. In an increasingly complex and rapidly changing world, no one leader has all the knowledge it takes to navigate the uncertainties. A collaborative leadership is necessary. Furthermore, in a society used to the idea of equality and shared power, people will tend to resist solo top down leadership. Shared leadership would definitely slow decisions down and complicate matters but to go far, you have to go together. 

He then built the biblical case for shared leadership. First, God is trinity: shared leadership! Second, Jesus plan for church leadership is shared leadership through the fivefold ascension ministries teaming up to equip every member for ministry (Eph 4: 7-16). Third, Jesus own example of self-sacrificial and humble servant leadership (Phil 2:1-11). 

Pastor Ben Lee envisions the church increasingly moving from solo to shared leadership, from a task to relational orientation, from leading to parenting (which, as we parents know, can be difficult and messy). 

I am giving this talk a lot of space here because I admit to a preference for shared leadership. Church is body life and body ministry, period. I think Ben Lee is rather bold to preach this message, as every megachurch in Singapore is modelled on solo leadership. They were led by their founding pastors, always a strong natural leader (SNL). These leaders led the church to rapid growth with expansive vision and bold faith and action. The members followed them, used as Singaporeans are to Lee Kuan Yew, the SNL who headed the government, and led the nation to unprecedented progress. That era is gradually tapering off. The new generation of young people populating our churches, are not like the Pioneer and Merdeka generation. When the pastor asked members to jump, the older generation asked, “How high?” and they obeyed their pastor. Today’s generation will ask, “Why should I jump?” and the new era pastor will say, “Let’s have a conversation”.

Most under-emphasized message

The second session was about “Followership”. I thought it was a key area to talk about because without good followership, a leadership (whether solo or shared) simply cannot operate effectively. I was glad Pastor Gabriel Han was giving this talk because he does exemplify what it means to be a good follower and supporter of leaders. He was the “armour-bearer” to Pastor Rick Seaward, who was a SNL and founding pastor of  Victory Family Church. Rick spearheaded the rapid growth of the church and its expansive church planting in mission fields all over the world. He is a powerful example of solo leadership that made a huge impact. After many years being the second man, Pastor Gabriel was appointed the senior pastor. Therefore, he knew what it meant to be a good follower and what it meant to be a good leader. The notes outline he gave us was substantial and it would be useful to teach the content in our churches. I would divide the content into a two part message over two Sundays. 

Engaging Youth Panel Discussion

I liked it that the MFIS always involved youth ministers significantly in all their seminars. The panel of youth ministers (above L to R: Jess Ong, Joel Tan, Jay Ong, Joel Peh, Angeline Tan), were refreshing to listen to. They caught my attention because I can get a snapshot of leaders from Generation X and the Millenials (I learned these terms during the seminar). My sensing is that they were authentic, articulate, confident, and interesting. The forum moderator was Pastor Rhordan Wicks, the senior pastor of Full Gospel Assembly. The topics he framed for the panel discussion and the way he facilitated it made the session engaging. One of the standout parts was about ungrieved losses from the pandemic (rarely talked about in seminars). Asked about what losses their ministries experienced from the pandemic and all the churches represented had youths that left them during the pandemic, and also, new youths that joined them. They expressed feeling aggrieved when the youth left the church and stopped attending any church, but felt some comfort when they went to another church. It was good that they all displayed a kingdom mentality. I hope that they see these sad moments of losses as opportunities to feel and stay with the grief, and let the Spirit enlighten, and move them closer to God. I enjoyed the session. I was blessed and I am hopeful that there are many more such sacrificial youth ministers in other churches, all serving faithfully and lovingly in their respective ministries. 

Workshop Session

After a scrumptious lunch, I was feeling drowsy but the Workshop Session kept me awake because of round-table interactions in the Word & Spirit-led church by Pastor Chua Hock Lin (see below). The topics were all appealing but everyone had to choose one. 

Captivating session on generational differences

I was sure I would struggle when the last two sessions began but to my surprise I was captivated by the third speaker Pastor Tan Soo Inn (see below). His local research in generational divide has been written into a book and he was presenting to us the essence of his research and its implications for the church. His rich insights, winsome communication and humour simply lit up the dreary afternoon hour. Everyone could relate to what he was communicating as he used real life examples that we could relate to illustrate his points about the differences between the generations: Silent (born 1928-1945), Baby boomer(b 1946-64), Generation X(b 1965-1980), Millenials(b 1981-1996) and Generation Z (b 1997-2012).

I must admit I get confused and refuse to read such information when I see them in literature, but the way he put things clearly and simply in their essence, really helped me get a working grip on this. I am sure I will forget the details, but at least this basic survey will make this terrain more familiar when I come across these terms in future. The burden of his communication is that these differences pose challenges to unity across the generations. He spoke with passion about the Church’s great need of intergenerational understanding, and the practice of love for one another. Everyone in the audience, of whatever generation, resonated with his challenge, and heartily agreed with him with a loud Amen.

Useful & Practical As Always

Everyone familiar with Pastor Benny Ho (see above) would know that the material he covers would have a biblical basis and would include insights and applications from practical theology and wisdom from practitioners. We were not disappointed when he talked about “Building Healthy Leadership Teams”. It was the main topic but because he was busy elsewhere in the morning, his session was placed last, like the good wine at the wedding in Cana. He covered key principles for healthy relationships, best practices for building healthy teams, and gave insights into wise conflict management, something all ministers need to grasp in order to maintain healthy leadership teams. As can be expected with Benny, we are left with practical handles that will help us work at building healthy leadership teams. 

By the end of the program, I let off a sigh of relief and satisfaction. It was good, a good and blessed day. Feeling kiasu again, I walked briskly to the car park, and tried to beat the heavy traffic during peak hours.

The MFIS first seminar was held last year in 2022 with the teaching emphasis on the fivefold ascension ministries God has appointed to equip the saints. It clarified a lot of confusion and sought to set in place some common understanding about the fivefold ascension gifts. This year’s seminar examined the kind of collaborative leadership that would be a necessary environment for fivefold ascension ministries to thrive and flourish. There is a logical progression in the themes that have been chosen for these seminars, and with every minister’s prayer and followership, we can expect MFIS to move towards God’s ideal.

Were you present at this MFIS leaders seminar? What part of the seminar resonated with you and blessed or inspired you? Do add a comment so readers have a better feel of the program’s impact.

Share this:

Read More →