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!
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.
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.