Thank You, Rev Dr Yonggi Cho

“Another one?”, I said to myself. So many notable servants of God have gone home to glory these past five years. I heard news that David Yonggi Cho, the Korean founding pastor of the 800,000 members Yoido Full Gospel Church, largest megachurch in the world, and founder of Church Growth International, had died at age 85. 

Yonggi Cho in Singapore

Did you know that before K-Drama, and K-Music hit Singapore, we here hit by K-Church? I had fond memories of pastor Yonggi Cho, when he visited and preached in Singapore several times in the 1980s. If I recall correctly, the Assemblies of God brought him in to conduct a church growth conference at the Hilton Hotel. I remember attending that conference. A Korean preacher who spoke in English with an interesting accent. He preached with passion, intensity and inspiration. His messages were simple to outline and understand, peppered with inspiring personal stories from his life and pastoral ministry. He shared his victories and his failures with humility and honesty. I remember being charged up and inspired by his preaching and attended his meetings enthusiastically whenever he preached or taught in Singapore. On a few occasions he took evangelistic meetings too, one in NTUC Conference Hall, and even in the former National Stadium. You could always expect him to inspire you with faith and hope. 

His preaching legacy

Some of his key messages were on the importance of fasting and prayer and the home cell group for church growth; the fourth dimension of faith visualisation; God’s desire for us to prosper in spirit, soul and body, and the Holy Spirit as our Senior Partner. He always spoke to people’s needs with words of faith and encouragement spiced up with positive and inspiring stories. I have also read quite a few of his books.

In these pandemic months when hybrid church is prevalent, his preaching philosophy is particularly relevant for online audiences:

  1. Preach to people’s pain and needs.
  2. Keep the sermon topical and the outline simple to follow. 
  3. Give your main ideas punch with stories and illustrations.
  4. Aim to inspire faith, hope and love.
  5. Speak with conviction.

His mixed church growth legacy

Many pastors were inspired by his teachings and that has helped them to grow their churches. There is no doubt that his teachings and the example of the growth of his church have sparked the growth of many churches around the world. At the same time, it has also led to increased negative pressure on pastors because church leaders developed unrealistic expectations of rapid numerical church growth from the pastor of their churches, despite the pastors gifts being different from those of David Yonggi Cho’s. This is the downside which we do not hear about often enough. Not many pastors have the same faith, gifts and personality as him, nor do they live in the same Korean culture and economic environment as his church, but we naively believe we can do the same by simply applying the principles of church growth. With time and lack of success, many became disillusioned, frustrated and discouraged. 

Tarnished legacy

Sadly, in the later years of his life, his legacy was tarnished by a financial scandal. Christianity Today summarized it this way: “In his retirement, Cho faced his most serious scandal. He was found guilty of embezzling funds from the church and was given a three-year suspended sentence. He had directed leadership of the church to buy unlisted stocks owned by his eldest son. The value was inflated, and the church reported lost about 13 billion won, the equivalent of about US$12 million. He was also found guilty of evading taxes in the stock deal. Cho told his church that the conviction was the hardest day in his life of ministry. But he also said his conscience was clear before God, and the church allowed him to continue in part-time ministry. His supporters said Cho was really guilty of being too naive about his wayward son and argued Cho has not personally benefitted from the stock scam or his many years in ministry. He continued to preach at the church on occasion until his health deteriorated in 2020.” The dangers of being influential and powerful are evident in many stories of famous godly men, and it underlines for all servants of God the need to grow in awareness, wholeness and holiness in our interior lives and to take up the full armour of God to stand against the wiles of the devil.

Nevertheless I thank you!

I was very privileged and blessed to have seen and heard him preach in Singapore and to inspire the younger me with hope. In those days, his books have blessed me with their simplicity and power. His prayer life and partnership with the Holy Spirit were exemplary and encouraging. Thank you, Rev. Dr David Yonggi Cho. 

Share this:

Read More →

Because the pastor said so

Ben drew a deep breath and closed his bank account. All that he had saved for the past decade of working in the premier Administrative Service is now in this cheque that he would put in the offering bags on Sunday. He had been saving to invest in a private property he had been assiduously evaluating. Now he wrote the church’s name on the cheque. There was hesitation, but once he put pen to paper it was quickly over.

He was not the only one. Many in his cell group from the church had already done the same thing over the last few months. In fact he was his usual cautious reluctant self – turning things over in his head till his mind was exhausted and drew a blank. It was not just a matter of copying others in the cell group, or the many other cell groups. The whole church had been feverish about being ready for this greatly anticipated event the pastor had spoken about. Now he has decided to dive in too with the rest of his friends.

The pastor’s words had reverberated in the corridors of churches in Singapore. As the messages were being broadcasted in other countries in the region as well, there had been a groundswell of hostile reactions in Facebook. Many heads of denominations and pastors have taken to pulpits and pen to write against the pastor’s prediction. “Heresy!” they declared. “Dangerous doctrine!” they shouted.

Ben, 34, had heard from colleagues about how other churches had raised the alarm about his pastor’s prediction. This must be how the early Christians felt when opposition battered them, he thought, shaking his head. The pastor had said it, with scriptural backing, scholarly argument and numerical precision too, and that was convincing enough for him. Like him, many in the mega-church, cannot accept what the critics have said, for their lives had changed and became better and happier as a result of being part of the church.

On August 4th, he was among the first to go to the top of the Marina Bay Sands to get a better view. All the earth will see and know, the pastor had said. It would be a spectacle that cannot be ignored by the world’s media.

Ben had not married, not even fallen in love once. He had wanted to travel more, especially to visit the Holy Land, but was too busy to have done so. He hadn’t even had a chance to vote once! Though he was high up there in the civil service, he had not even attended a National Day Parade in his life. As the elevator shot up, regret bit him as he thought of all the things he wished he had done.

He also wondered, How would his meeting with the Lord be? What would he hear the Lord say? He had mixed feelings about meeting the Lord in the air, but the pastor said it would happen on 4th of August, and he had done all he could to prepare for this day.

Because the pastor had said so.

Share this:

Read More →

Why pastors resign

pastors salary

Recent spate of resignations

News of the resignation of two prominent pastors surprised me. It was announced in Riverlife Church, a megachurch in Pasir Ris, that Rev Vincent Lun, their senior pastor has resigned. Then I heard that so has Rev Melvyn Mak, the deputy senior pastor of Faith Community Baptist Church. These two in the wake of recent resignations of pastors from New Creation Church, City Harvest and Church of our Savior who have served faithfully in their respective congregations. Then there is the forthcoming retirement of many senior and experienced Anglican priests in the next few years.

Push and pull factors

It made me realize that though I have given thought to why members leave a church, little have I thought or written about why pastors resign. It was a rare thing in the many years that I have served, but recently it seemed like the drizzle of the past has turned into a tropical downpour. So why do pastors resign? Common sense, anecdotal hearsay and guesswork is all you need to draw up a list of push and pull factors. A combination of push and pull factors are usually involved in any pastor’s resignation.

resisting change

Push factors

-Frustration over resistance to positive change.

-Unhappiness with some in church board or congregation, usually precipated by conflict or disagreement.

-Pastor finds insufficient support for his vision or strategy.

-Pastor is discouraged or burnt-out and there is no provision for sabbatical or rest.comparisons and competition

-A stifling system invented out of distrust of a pastor’s consecration to God, dedication to the ministry.

-No chemistry with leadership or staff team. Personality clashes with key people.

-Disillusionment about people, leaders, and the way church is done.

-Frustration over inability to meet up to unrealistic expectations of church and self.

-Disunity and politicking in the church.

-Autocratic, unreasonable  “boss” or board.

-Poor fit of one’s gifts with the position.

-The shove of mandatory retirement age or poor health.

endless needs, needs, needs

Pull factors

-Called to another kind of ministry: whether missions, a para-church ministry or to plant a different kind of church.

-Attracted by greater freedom, flexibility and trust, or by its opposite: a clear structure and order and policy.

-Children have grown up and are independent and the need to provide financially for their education is lifted.

-Greater awareness of one’s true passion, gifts and wiring and the fit is better outside church.

Its time to move on.-Too long in a place and restlessness beckoning for a change of scenery or challenge.

-Pastor’s conviction that they have done what they could with the team and people and a change would be good for the church.

-Emigration to another country.

-Finding expression for one’s changes in convictions about doctrine, philosophy of ministry or vision, that the church cannot provide space or acceptance for.

– Better compensation and terms so that there is more than enough to meet the family’s needs, and to give to others.

-Maximizing one’s experience and insight in the senior years to focus on passing on the baton to the next generation.

POSTSCRIPT: To find out where do pastors go to after they retire click HERE.

And you might want to add other factors in the comment box…..

Share this:

Read More →

Lost shepherds in the city

Lost shepherds and waiting sheep

The Rt Revd Rennis Ponniah, the Vicar of St John’s-St. Margaret’s Church, and Assistant Bishop in the Diocese of Singapore, gave an insightful message to priests and ordinands recently that was excerpted in the Diocesan Rt Rev Rennis PonniahDigest(Nov 2010). He was reminding the church of what it meant to be an Anglican priest in the church of God –the classical role of Anglican priests. Over the years, this has been greatly eroded, obscured, obstructed, and pushed aside by the pressures arising from expectations of congregations for their priests to function like CEOs. The result: lost shepherds in the church, and the consequence – more lost sheep waiting in the pews for their shepherds to do what they are truly called to do, and other sheep leaving for other pastures. The irony is that members want their priest to act like a CEO so that the church would grow, but the outcomes are exactly the opposite: priests and lay leaders suffering burnout and members leaving because their soul care has been ignored.

Lost shepherds can find themselves

What he said so accurately reflects a clear and present danger in the other churches in Singapore too, not just the Anglican. The unbiblical expectations members have of their pastors to be like CEOs,  reminded me of what Goh Keng Swee and his team of systems engineers did to the Singapore education system in the 1970’s (they killed its soul, and teachers felt lost). What Rennis said would resonate with many pastors in this land. The same has already happened in urban churches in the United States too. Shepherds today, like the ones at Christmas, need a fresh and heavenly revelation of who God is. They need to eagerly seek the One in Whom they can find their true self and calling.  Here is an excerpt of his message:

So much is expected of the priest in the modern city – chairing meetings, organizing major projects, replying emails at the speed of smartphones and sometimes initiating financial ventures – that it becomes easy to lose our way and neglect the major tasks of our calling. The affirmation of men and meeting the expectations of our congregation for dynamic leadership and management can become our priorities instead of pleasing God through our faithfulness to our calling. As one of my clergy colleagues recently remarked, “If there is a parable to describe our modern situation, it may well be entitled the ‘Parable of the Lost Shepherd.’  The hundred sheep, safely in the fold, wait hungrily for their shepherd to find his way back to them.”

We do well therefore as priests to heed the call to vocational holiness – to being true to the central tasks of our calling. What then is our vocational calling as priests? In a word, I would say that our call is not to run an organization or meet people’s felt needs, but to build a community of disciples. I often have to remind myself, “I am not running a church, I am building a community.” With this in mind, the key vocational tasks of a priest can be identified as:

1.     Preaching / proclamation of the Gospel

2.     Discipling/teaching and equipping bands of people

3.     Interceding/shaping and leading corporate prayer and worship services

4.     Pastoral care and spiritual direction(ie the role of the “wise man” in the Old Covenant)

5.     Leading the people out in mission and community service

6.     Oversight of the flock and governance.

The greatest threat to fulfilling our vocational tasks is our management responsibilities in our urbanized parishes. I am not saying that management work is not needed in priestly leadership; however, they should not stand in the way of our primary tasks. This is clear in the early account of the early church where the apostles found themselves diverted from their vocational calling because they were personally managing the task of food distribution to the needy. They learnt to delegate this task to others in order that they may give their “attention to prayer and the ministry of the Word” (Acts 6:4). Sadly, priests today may be delegating away their primary vocational tasks, while focusing on secondary ones. We are farming out the task of pulpit preaching to frequently-invited guest speakers, and the task of intercession to church intercessors. We are called to “prayer and the ministry of the Word”. We are called to “attend to God” in prayer and the study of His Word, and then to minister to people out of the strength of His presence. Are we attending to the needs of men (emails and mobiles) but ignoring our Lord (eg. Prayers and devotions)?

Share this:

Read More →

Young adults at Bukit Batok Presbyterian Church

Trends in the Singapore church

The senior pastor Eric Chua invited me to speak with his young adults at Bukit Batok Presbyterian Church, on the topic, Trends in the Singapore Church, and I politely refused as I had no hard data on the subject.”All I have are years of observing the church, collecting anecdotes among pastors, reading articles about the church online, and some study on the church. No conclusive, hard facts based on sociological studies or any such thing, is that okay?”  So that was how I gave this talk of 30 minutes, with 20 minutes for questions and answers. The recent articles on the Glitz and the Gospel in the Straits Times and my background work formed the backbone of what I shared with them.

1. Megachurches are growing bigger and small churches are growing more numerous.

2. Megachurches owe their growth mostly through members of other churches switching over.

3. Consumerism is a pervasive influence on the Church’s culture.

4. There is an increasing corporatisation of the church.

Negative about the megachurches

There may not be any questions, I was told. But as it turned out the topic about 4 trends I have observed in the Church seemed interesting enough for intelligent, interesting questions to be asked. “You seem to have painted a negative picture of the megachurch?” , someone asked. Never was it my intention in my preparation to do so, but it came out that way. My reply was, “The megachurches do have a role to play in the overall scheme and they are reaching people the small church cannot reach as effectively.” And I continued, “Of course, losing 5 families to megachurches in the last few years, may have colored what I think and feel about megachurches.”

talking to the leaders

Four trends of Singapore church

they discussed before asking questions

Share this:

Read More →