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. 

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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.

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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.

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A New Beginning in Spiritual Direction

Even though I have completed the one year nine months formation program for spiritual directors led by the Life Direction Singapore team of spiritual directors, I wondered about how my burden of journeying with younger pastors would be fulfilled. 

Most evangelical pastors and ministry staff have little idea of the need for spiritual direction. They also tend towards productivity in their work and would be too busy with schedules that look like expanded suitcases. They would rather prefer a mentor who would help them be more productive and fruitful and effective in leadership and ministry. The doors seem shut. I have to look to God to open doors. 

In the last decade, I have detected a glimmer of hope. A new generation of evangelical pastors and ministers have been trained in our institutions that have a knowledge of spiritual formation and the spiritual disciplines. The major evangelical seminaries and colleges have already established courses on the above subjects that would help students deepen their friendship with God, and their awareness of self. They even arrange for students to experience a silent retreat and/or spiritual direction as part of their training.

Such was the case for Trinity Theological College, whose lecturer Dr Jimmy Tan, from the time I knew him as a seminary student, had a passion for such knowledge. His years of study, practice, research, and reflection has resulted in a book he wrote titled, “How Then Shall We Guide?”, which is a comparative study of Ignatius of Loyola and John Calvin as spiritual guides. He has even run courses that included an experiential component so that students get to experience personal encounters with God in the context of a prayer retreat and reflection on the word.

A week ago Dr Jimmy Tan (third from left) led a retreat for Trinity Theological College students attending his course on Pastoral Theology and Praxis. He invited Koh Seng Chor(second from left) and myself to help out in providing spiritual direction to the students during the retreat. A few other regulars were also invited to help out: Sue Kim Lee(fifth from left), an Elder of a Presbyterian church and from the Life Direction Singapore; and Tina Khoo (fourth from left) and Kayyona Lim (extreme right), both ministry staff from Wesley Methodist Church.  Together each of us met with three students each for spiritual direction sessions. It was a joy to serve in this inter-denominational context.

I felt privileged and blessed to experience this “open door” and to provide a safe space for the students to share about their walk with God, and their reflections on what God is doing or how he is leading them in their current life context. It is merely two sessions for a brief retreat. However, it was a good beginning. 

All the time that I have gone on retreats, I have been sitting in the seat of the directee. It was a humbling and meaningful experience to sit on the other chair. Not that it is superior, for both persons are in seats of poverty. It is more a seat of co-discernment and sacred entrustment. I believe that this ministry is very much needed for people in pastoral ministry and I believe the Lord will manage my availability to those who need it.

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An Evening With Covenant Pastors

I attended a Covenant Pastors fellowship recently. This was not my first time experiencing the gracious hospitality and welcome in the home of Pastor Justin. He has been doing this for many many years. Long ago, I was a regular, until the pressures of ministry drew me away. Now that I have stepped down from pastoring I found myself gravitating to the fellowship. Of course, it is because I have more time and less responsibilities now. I even bring my wife these days to this and other pastors’ fellowship. 

Covenant Pastors is a fellowship of pastors and ministers from church and marketplace that has as its main focus fellowship, bonding and ministry to one another. They also focus on Singapore and the nations, and the wider Body of Christ. The fellowship is led by Rev Amos Jayarathnam, a humble but bold prophet, whom I got acquainted with in the late 1970’s. We were from World Revival Prayer Fellowship. He is the real thing, a prophet: authentic and gentle, but a lion when he delivers the word of the Lord. 

Pastor Justin Leong and his wife cooked up a sumptuous dinner for about 25 of us. It was pleasant to meet and get to know other ministers. I sat beside pastor Clare and she shared about her ministry with another church. Then we sang and worshipped the Lord (always led by Pastor Isaiah). I always loved this part – the anointing of worship helped me become keenly aware of God’s presence and always lifted up my spirit.  Pastor Beulah had a vision of a high priest with the gem stones on his breast-piece, and those gemstones had our faces reflected in them. 

Jacob Sim, a prophet and an effective marketplace minister shared a word in season from his heart. It was about how to reach the omega generation by looking from God’s PERSPECTIVE, and facilitating PERSONAL ENCOUNTERS with God, and POSITIONING.

Amos then shared with us stories of his ministry in Russia and Estonia, and prophesying over Russia, and in the spirit, over Putin. His testimonies were astounding and inspiring. I never get tired of the stories of his prophetic encounters. 

Pastor Henry then prophesied over me, and while he was prophesying, I felt a fire and heat rising up within my belly, and he too was moved by the Spirit. Later when we broke up into groups to pray for Ukraine & Russia, Singapore, and the Singapore church, I went to Henry and shared what I experienced while he was prophesying over me. There and then, Pastor Andrew shared what he saw. He saw the mantle of Isaiah 11:2 upon me: the Spirit of wisdom, understanding, and counsel. I received all their words with joy and reverence. I was indeed surrounded by prophetic ministers all around me. I will sit with these words before the Lord and continue to wait on Him. I left the fellowship that night in animated conversation with my wife, and walked with energy to the Tanah Merah MRT station. I pondered, “What does all these utterances point to?”

Have you been ministered to by prophets or prophetic ministers? Share your experience with us in the comment box.

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