The staff meeting of the week is usually on Tuesdays, unless there is a public holiday. It usually begins around 9.30am and never ends earlier than 12.30pm. We discuss what most staff would discuss. Then its usually a late lunch break for me. After that I would work on action following the meeting if there are important and urgent ones to tackle. And then, nowadays, with Christian Education every Wednesday, I will perfect my draft powerpoint and teaching notes, and send the Powerpoint slides to the CE WhatsApp chat group. This will usually carry on into the night and I quit with a satisfied sigh. Is there such a thing as a “satisfied sigh”? A sigh of relief and satisfaction.
I am currently doing a Zoom Christian Education course on “Interpreting Scriptures” for the church. It will run for 11 sessions and this Wednesday night I would be doing the third session of one-and-a-half hour workshop.
Tom Cannon, one of our pastoral staff, gave the rest of the staff a basic training on how to use Zoom. It was a good orientation. However, I lacked confidence, so I had to practice on my own, some of the functions needed in my workshops: like how to share screen, and how to use the whiteboard. Even then I needed another staff member, Ethel Shin-Cannon to help me with the organization of the rooms, when participants are put in virtual rooms for work on the scripture texts.
The first session I was too ambitious. I wanted to get past the introduction quickly and crammed all the introductory material in one session. It was too long -two hours. After feedback, and also because there was less content material to cover, the next session was a sweet one-and-a-half hour. I will definitely get more and more comfortable as I get skilled in presenting material online through Zoom.
I can see a potential in this format that Covid-19 has forced upon the church. Before this, it was almost impossible to imagine members fighting heavy traffic, or after work gulping a quick meal to go to the church premises for Bible studies, and then after that take a one-hour commute home. Now with Zoom, they can comfortably go home, have a meal, and even a shower, and tune into a Zoom meeting. He or she still has to be hungry enough to fight the natural preference to chill after a day’s work (perhaps of staring into a computer), rather than to sign up and show up for a course (again on the computer). We are just lessening the number of hurdles that he or she has to jump over.
To keep the level of engagement high, the content has to be formatted in such a way that there is interaction, actual practice segment, and more conversational and less lecture like.
Perhaps it is too early to get over-excited but I suppose with the Covid 19 situation unlikely to improve anytime too soon there will be a need to use technology to build the faith of God’s people. The church staff thinks that even if things return to “normal” we can still reach out to more people for spiritual formation/Christian education courses. So we signed up for annual zoom subscriptions to get a discount on what we are paying currently on a monthly basis.
Welcome to the “new normal” church of tomorrow.
A burden of expectation lurks somewhere at the back of the minds of many Christians. It insinuates that they have neglected a key responsibility. This idea that a believer who is a good disciple will make other disciples who makes other disciples is one that has been embraced by many. The solo Christian is to take a new convert, teach him the basics of Christian living and help him grow mature in Christ, and for him while growing, to make another disciple. By and large, he is on his own in this difficult task, and by and large, he usually fails in multiplication. It is wearisome for anyone to carry the memory of such a discouraging, erosive experience.
Redressing a bias
Perhaps too much have been made of solo discipling. The Scripture may have been made to say more than what it may have said. A re-examination and a re-interpretation of the same texts may reveal an additional perspective that shouts for greater emphasis and weight to redress a Western driven bias towards individual responsibility and action. There is in Scripture a community aspect of disciple making that we have failed to give sufficient weight to. We missed it because our lens are too Western.
It takes a community
An Eastern, and more balanced perspective is this: it takes a whole community to make a disciple. Just as it takes a whole village to raise a child it takes a church to make a disciple. The Gospels seem to show that Jesus made disciples solo, and discipling actions emanated from him and the disciples’ learning was centered around Jesus. The rabbi of Jesus’ time would have followers and learners whose lives revolved around learning and imitating their leader, despite his imperfections. Jesus however was God incarnate, perfect and sinless, and filled with the Spirit without measure. The Twelve had a perfect model.
Discipling by the Spirit
With the ascension of Jesus and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit a new way of discipling has been opened up. Jesus was no longer around. He said, It is to your advantage that I go away. Now I am limited by my physical body. When I am gone the Spirit will come on you and where a community is gathered in my name, there I am in their midst; there is the body of Christ. In effect, the discipling that was centered around Jesus when he was physically present, has now shifted to the community, the body indwelt by Christ. Now it is the Christian community, together reflecting the fruit of the Spirit, and releasing the gifts of the Spirit, that makes a disciple. Discipling is still “centered around Jesus”, but Jesus is now present to us as a body, a community of believers not a solo disciple. This insight was developed most thoroughly and clearly in a book titled “Making Disciples” by Sylvia Collinson. Obviously no one person have all the strengths of character and gifts we see in Jesus. It takes the Spirit working through a whole community to get anywhere close to that. It takes a community to make a disciple!
Let me give an example of what it means for a community to make a disciple. I became a Christian in a revival that began in Dunearn Tech Sec School. It happened around the same time as the ACS clock-tower revival but it developed differently: it became a church. It was a revival of tears, love and joy: one where the deep moving of the Spirit resulted in hundreds turning to Christ and being baptized, filled with the Spirit and having their lives transformed. I was one of them. As I reflected on my experience, I noticed I did not have a solo Christian who discipled me. There were key encouragers who told stories, shared experiences and life. There were the values of the revival community: intense prayer, enthusiastic evangelism and missions, love for the Word, desire for spiritual gifts, great love for one another, that I saw lived out in the lives, activities and ministry of the people of the revival. It was a community and its values that discipled me, a socialization for citizenship in the kingdom. I learned behaviors, values and beliefs just by being deeply enmeshed in the social interaction, and involved in the community’s life and activites. The Spirit that indwells the community was implementing His curriculum in His time and in His way.
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.