Resources I Needed For Sustainable Pastoral Ministry

Anybody in the pastoral ministry will be able to testify how challenging it can be, and how equally exciting it can be because you have a front seat to the theatre of God’s activity in the church and in your life and ministry. With so many challenges, how then have I been sustained in forty years of pastoral ministry.

The Support of Loved Ones

Family support was crucial. To have a supportive family, especially a supportive spouse was without doubt an absolute necessity for long term sustainability in my experience. To go into pastoral ministry without my wife Jenny’s support would be foolhardy and risky. Thankfully, my wife knew I was called into the pastoral ministry and supported me to the hilt. In the early years, this included finances for she earned much more than me as a system analyst. Later, when led of the Lord, she gave up her job to be a full-time mum, and she united with me heart and soul to trust God for financial provision, God never failed us, not once.

To have a partner in faith, hope and love was a great strength. She was there to encourage and pray with and for me. She could tolerate my nights away from home, my long hours of sermon preparation, when I would be lost in thought and not fully present for her. She could tell when I feel down and encouraged me. Her presence meant a lot too. As much as she could, she used her gifts of encouragement and evangelism. I could work fully for the church and in peace because she devoted herself to the needs (physical, emotional, spiritual and academic) of the children. I also appreciate my children’s quiet understanding and strength. I once thought they might have suffered much from being pastor’s kids, but they said that they saw it as more of a blessing, than a burden. 

Encouraging and Complementary Co-workers

I was blessed to grow up in a church culture that practiced body-ministry. Whether in full-time vocational Christian work or not, every believer has been assigned gifts and roles to fulfill different functions needed in the body of Christ. Therefore, I had wonderfully complementary gifted “lay-leaders” that served as my co-workers in the Lord’s work: in the board (eg Abraham Sim, Paul Chan, Francis Shin), children’s church, cell groups, worship teams and many other areas. I do not have all the gifts. In fact, I have but “five loaves and two fish”. The Lord knew I needed people with gifts I lack (especially strategy and administration), and indeed they were always around and I found that their participation helped me to serve over the long haul. The pastoral staff I worked with were also supportive, co-operative, and superb team players, and I always had a Barnabas (“son of encouragement”) among them. For example at the beginning, Pastor Johney, my predecessor was a mentor and encourager. At the tail end, I had Ps Thomas. Lord, thank you.

Outside Comfort and Prayer

I needed pastor friends outside the church to serve faithfully over the long haul. My seminary classmate Raphael Samuel (now a bishop) was one. After he left for Bolivia, I joined an ecumenical group of pastors and priests led by Rev Dr Lorna Khoo who met monthly for faith-sharing and prayer accountability. Then followed a period where I was bereft of such faith sharing groups. I prayed the Lord would give me some. He did. There was Rev Dr Norman Wong, Rev Vincent Hoon (who was my random roommate in a Love Singapore Pastor’s Prayer Summit), Rev Kenny Fam, Rev Cheng Eng Hwa with whom I studied with for Masters program. Near the tail end of my pastoral ministry I had the input and wisdom of Ps Koh Seng Chor (who retired ahead of me) and Rev Dr Jimmy Wong, a Trinity Theological College lecturer. These were my peer mentors, friends and accountability groups. I needed them, and I still need such small faith communities. Since retirement, I have joined a pastors’ group in the Ministers’ Fellowship International, Singapore, and a Catholic community of friends with a passion for facilitating silent retreat and caminos.

These groups were vital for me because I needed a place where it was safe to share my hopes and joys, and my burdens and frustrations, and not be judged but get input and prayer. We met once a month, over one or two hours and sometimes more. These were the small groups that strengthened my faith, hope and love. They were reliable sources of comfort, strength and wisdom. Without them it would have been so much tougher.

Spiritual Disciplines

The Lord is the one who lives within me and sustains me. People were his instruments. Spiritual disciplines were the means that helped me connect with God and experience his grace, strength and insights. For many years, the bread and butter for me had been the practice of slow meditation on God’s word and prayer. In the second half of my pastoral ministry, journaling, reflective prayer (examen), weekly sabbaths, annual retreats, have been a great help, especially in those latter years of dryness, church conflicts and hitting the wall. I needed more time, and different prayer practices, and the guidance of a spiritual director to help me pray over and process the many emotional upheavals and regrets that surfaced and required attention and healing. These practices taught me to pay attention to my inner life, to soul-care and to spiritual discernment.  They taught me to trust God more and be freed from the “besetting sin” and burdens that weighed me down(without my knowledge) as I ran this marathon of a race.

I suppose there are many other helps that have not come to mind and given time, I could add more. I am sure other pastors reading this may have other ideas of what contributes to sustainable pastoral ministry over the long haul. Perhaps a wise philosophy of ministry…a rule of life….a way of managing your work. Please share in the comment box above.

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Pastoral Ministry Challenges I Faced

There are many challenges in the pastoral ministry. Like all challenges they can be overcome or lived with by grace through faith.

Inadequate Salary

Low salary was a challenge I faced in my first decade of ministry. I began with $300 a month without CPF. Living by faith was not a cliché. I lived it and I have many stories of God’s provision. A conviction grew over the decades of pastoral ministry that the right attitude towards this reality is to look to God as my Paymaster, and the church as merely one of his many instruments through which God pays me.

In the beginning, the church of 120 was financially stretched, with many being students, and having to support about four missionaries and as many local ministry staff, while at the same time pay for rental of worship space and office, and later on, loan repayments for a church property. Despite this, I remembered feeling indignant that a sales assistant’s salary was higher than mine. Thankfully, the salary improved when a committee was formed to look into the welfare of church workers and as more members joined the workforce.

Unstable Church Facilities

 Second was the challenge of facilities. Securing a space that could be used for worship and church activities was difficult. Hotels welcomed us but the rental rates were high. Proper HDB sites went through open tenders among churches and that made it impossible for small churches to make a successful bid. Industrial sites were a risk because the rules for religious use were unclear. We had to move from residential properties, to YMCA, and from hotels to hotels, until after twenty years of existence, by God’s grace and miraculous provision, the church purchased a freehold property that allowed religious use.

Expectations and Comparisons

A third challenge was the high expectations and comparisons of church leaders. I felt pressures, through overt as well as subtle remarks, about the rate of growth of our church compared with other newer faster-growing churches. That was the period of the rise of the megachurches in Singapore – Victory Family Church, F.C.B.C., Trinity Christian Centre, Church of our Saviour, Lighthouse Evangelism Church, City Harvest Church and New Creation Church. Such comparisons were always ill-advised, unwise and sinful and exerted unnecessary pressures and discouragement on pastoral staff. Thankfully, the church growth movement, like the story of the Emperor’s new clothes, has been exposed for its theological and existential emptiness and nakedness.


The fourth challenge is related to the third: consumerism. Internet informed members looked for what benefitted them and their family: for what excited, glittered, and impressed. The size of the building and the congregation, the worship and preaching experience, the excitement of the children’s program, the big-budget events, the fame, influence and accolades that the church or pastor exuded. Over the last forty years of ministry, I have seen how the traditional loyalty to denomination, gratitude to the local church that gave you birth and nurture, and the eye of God, no longer had the same weight among young people in their decision-making process about where to worship. It has become, “Will it excite, benefit and bless me? Will it be convenient? Does it have the right kind of people that I can gel with, or will potentially advance my career, or give me a higher chance of finding a suitable life partner?”

The Slow Work of God

A fifth challenge in pastoral ministry for me is that building spiritual maturity is a slow work of God. I get impatient. It’s discouraging when you put in a lot of digging, weeding, fertilizing and the growth in character and love of God is so slow. Worse, for some, regression takes place or there is no evidence of spiritual growth even after many years of active church participation. A physical project has a start point and a finish point and evidence is clear for all to see. Not so with this slow spiritual work of God. When a spurt of growth shows up suddenly it was like a rare miracle. Sometimes this lack of spiritual progress led to discouragement and frustration.

Unclear Leadership Roles

A sixth challenge was when the roles of Board and pastoral leadership were not clear or agreed by all. Who had the final say, and on which issues (programs, finances, policies, vision and strategy)? This of course had led to misunderstanding and friction. Vested interests and entrenched beliefs made it difficult to sort matters out. In addition, the government has its set of recommendations that did not agree with the biblical view of leadership as some pastors and denominations would see it.

My Lack of Inner Growth and Freedom

For me the biggest challenge was that the demands and expectations of pastoral leadership outstripped the rate of my inner growth. Even with Tung Ling Bible School, and seminary training, there were many faults, blind spots and disordered affections (idols) present in my life that were like viruses in my operating system, influencing my behaviour and decisions, and blocking me from leading, feeding and caring for the church effectively. It was in the last decade of pastoral ministry that I became more aware of the soul-care and freedom that I badly needed to in my life. It was in the spiritual desert and in silent retreats that God invited me to tread this path towards freedom. I am glad I said Yes to him. Praise the Lord.

What About You?

These were my main challenges. They were frustrating but they were interestingly the means of growth. They stretched me, tested me, exposed my weaknesses, and drove me to my knees, closer to God; they made me wiser, tougher and drew me closer to God. It was good I had no idea at the beginning of my call that it would be this challenging. The coward in me would have responded to God’s call this way, “No Master, this is not for me. I won’t be able to cope”. The good news that I have learned is that when God calls, his rhema word has packed within it the grace, poise and resources to overcome or endure all hardships and challenges we would face in the assignment he gave us. I have experienced this. We need to believe this. 

What about you? What are some of your personal challenges you face in pastoral ministry? Why not take some time to reflect and list them down, label your feelings about them, and have a coffee chat of the Lord about the list. After your chat with God, notice and reflect what you were feeling and thinking? Were there any new perspectives, Scriptures, images and emotions that moved or gently arose in your consciousness during prayer. Journal them. If you found that helpful, repeat the process. God bless you and be with you.

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Facets of Pastoral Work I Enjoyed

Teaching God’s Word

Equipping the saints is not a cliché for me but a major reference point for pastoral ministry. It is therefore not surprising that teaching God’s Word through sermons and Christian education courses was something I found great joy in. I loved teaching the Bible and every year I devoured books on preaching, and experimented and incorporated new homiletical insights, ideas and styles into my preparation and delivery. I found satisfaction when I received feedback that the adaptations were effective, and concerned when they fell flat. I also enjoyed the development and execution of Christian education curriculum. I enjoyed running Life in the Spirit seminars to help members receive the baptism of the Spirit, and conducting membership and foundational courses for new believers. 

Pastoral Care and Mentoring

Another facet of ministry that I enjoyed was meeting with leaders and members individually and giving them pastoral care, personal counsel or coaching. Patient listening to members’ concerns and struggles is a powerful way of equipping and helping them move towards wholeness. When I first began pastoral ministry in the 1980s, visiting families in their homes was the norm, but gradually I noticed that with the formation of home cell groups, the pastoral care that came through cell groups lessened the need for pastoral home visits unless there were special needs or circumstances involved. Still, it was the one on one sharing and sharpening of life that I found fulfilling.

Blogging as Ministry

Halfway in my forty years of pastoral ministry, I stumbled into blogging through my son Joshua’s suggestion. At that time around AD 2000 I began blogging on Xanga to reach out to the youth in church, and later moved my blog to my own website. Somehow this website was blessed by the Lord to influence its readers. Readers from around the world read the blog. The blog was cited in the Asia Wall Street Journal, the Straits Times, and in books and articles. The discussion was very active and beyond my ability to monitor and I saw that blogging allowed for conversation/discussion and thus was a good platform for teaching and influencing thought and attitudes. I enjoyed this thoroughly as it also led me to see my writing as an extension of my teaching and pastoral ministry.

Soul Care

Later in the last decade of my pastoral ministry, I was more interested in spiritual formation and spiritual direction. I saw how waiting on God in silence in a retreat setting with a spiritual director to guide helped me recover from a burnout, and I became convinced this kind of ministry to be vital for the spiritual health and vitality of pastors, church leaders and members. I completed a Master’s program on Christian Education and Spiritual Formation with AGST Alliance, went for annual silent retreats, and searched for spiritual director formation training. The whole area of spiritual formation of the soul became a focus for me.


During the last five years of my role as senior pastor, I also became more engaged with issues of pastoral succession and sought to equip a team of new ministry staff so that when I retired, the church would have a leadership team able to feed, care for and lead the church. My main concern was to equip them to do what would be a major means of equipping the saints – the Sunday sermon. As this was my main strength, I designed a simple program to give them opportunities to develop their preaching ministry. They have all been trained in Bible Schools but I wanted them to apply what they have learned in a systematic way and with peer group supervision and encouragement. I enjoyed this coaching role in the last five years of pastoral work.

If leading, feeding and caring are the main roles of a pastor, then I would rank the roles in order of personal fulfilment this way: 1) feeding, 2) caring and lastly 3) leading. 

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My Call Into Pastoral Ministry

I believe God’s call to each person is unique. We can conclude this from scanning the Bible and analysing the different experiences of ordinary people when they were called by God. They ranged from the supernatural experiences of burning bush (Moses), visions (Ezekiel), angelic encounter (Gideon), and prophetic utterances (David), to ordinary experiences like Jesus inviting Matthew the tax collector to follow him (modern equivalent: the pastor asking you to pray about joining the church staff). Thus, what I share here may or may not find resonance with the call of other pastors, missionaries and full-time Christian vocational workers.

I feel grateful that the context of my call to pastoral ministry was the charismatic revival that visited Singapore in the 1970s (you can read more about this in the book, “Unfolding His Story” by Georgie and Galven Lee). I was initiated into a period of intense and deep experiences of repentance, baptism, and the infilling of God’s love and power. These powerful encounters with God and other prayer encounters would generate in me an overwhelming passion for God and his church. 

Discovering My Gifts and Calling

This passion and desire to serve God’s people grew and blossomed, and ranged from running the library, to intercessory ministry, doing personal evangelism and follow-up, serving in the church management committee, and teaching Bible classes and preaching from the pulpit, first in the youth fellowship and then in the Sunday worship services. 

This heavy involvement in church work helped me discover my gifts in teaching and pastoral work, and the affirmations I received helped me identify how God has chosen to work through me most fruitfully. They would inform my pastoral ministry for years to come: firstly, of where I should give the most priority and energy and time to; and secondly, the kind of gifted people I would need to work with to balance off what I lacked.

Overwhelming Passion

This overwhelming passion to serve refused to fade or die. The deep desire never left me or waned, no matter how often I kneeled and surrendered the desire to go into full-time Christian vocational work, it would remain. When I looked at the NUS courses on offer for me, there was a complete lack of interest and deadness towards them. A vision and prophecy from a leader emboldened me to finally let the pastor know about my strong desire to serve on the church staff. Despite his advice that I should get working experience first (which I obediently followed), that desire never waned but grew even stronger, for after I was working-training as a cadet-teacher for two years, the daily devotions over a period of a few months, stirred me to leave my job and join the church staff. When I brought this up, surprisingly, the church leaders approved it. Immediately, “left my nets” and answered God’s call.

Strong Conviction and Perseverance Linked

After years in the pastoral staff, I realised the importance of having a strong conviction that God has called me. The pastoral ministry is fulfiling but also challenging. On many occasions during the forty years of service, there were moments, even periods of discouragement, inadequacy, self-doubt and hurt. There were moments of temptation when I could have given up God’s call. However, it was the strong conviction of God’s call and the Spirit’s ministry of comforting, strengthening, and encouragement that bound and anchored me to the cross, and helped me continue in perseverance and faithfulness. 

God not only calls us, but he also empowers and reinforces us. Blessed be his holy name. Amen.

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Retirement pangs

To reflect on 40 years of ministry takes considerable time and courage. It is a lengthy period of ministry in the only church that I have been committed to since I gave my life to Christ. It cannot be done in a day. That may be too intense and unfruitful. It needs to be done by the unforced rhythms of grace. The Spirit initiates and you attend to the memories and emotions that arise from such precious, and sometimes painful moments. It takes courage to face the fact that many mistakes had been made. Errors in methodology, in decisions, in policy making, in self-sufficiency, in motivation and in dealing with people and yourself. I wish I could go back in time and redo those days with the knowledge, experience and maturity I now have. However that is impossible and all you are left with are past failures and regrets that cannot be undone. I have to remind myself to be gentle with myself. After all God has forgiven and covered all these failures with His precious Son’s blood. When I shared this with my 3-2-1 group, Dr Jimmy Tan mentioned a quotation of St Augustine that consoled me. It went this way:

Trust the past to the mercy of God, the present to His love, and the future to His providence. St Augustine

It is consoling to know God’s mercy covers my failures and faults in the 40 years of ministry in the church. Despite the fact that members may have suffered the consequences of those decisions and policies and my weaknesses, the Lord’s mercy covers them all, and on the day of judgment the Lord will not even raise it up. I was teaching members how to interpret scriptures on zoom recently and one passage was the one about Jesus restoring Peter by the beach. “Peter, do you love me?” Its poignant and significant that Jesus never brought up the fact of Peter’s denial of Christ. It is all forgiven and under the wrap of God’s bloody mercy.

It is also encouraging to know that God’s love will be with me in the present while I wrap up and hand over my responsibilities and handhold those taking over my various duties and roles. The Lord will not discard me like a used tissue paper in the hawker center. He is very close and makes sure all is well with me emotionally. I recall the tenderness with which the Lord handled the home going of Moses. He let him see the promised land from Mt Pisgah. He let him know the bad news that he won’t be leading the people to possess the land, that the task belongs to Joshua his successor. The Lord endearingly called him, my servant, and even buried him personally. To this day, no one knows where Moses was buried.

It is strange to me to entrust the future to God’s providence, being someone who like to have options and plans. I am quite determined this time to give God a blank page for Him to fill in His time. It sounds over spiritual but I will resist using my brains to easily fill up my calendars with goals and plans, but I feel I need to take a step back, and enjoy staring at an empty page and calendar. Trusting in God’s providential care – so that while trying to do the ordinary things of life, like Ruth gleaning in the fields, ended up meeting Boaz, under God’s providential guidance of events and timing. Yes, that will be nice – to experience some of God’s surprises.

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