Small and mega churches: living in a land with giants

Gritty days ahead

in the land of giantsThe  Saturday’s Straits Times special report by Lee Siew Hua and Susan Long was an excellent analysis of the church scene in Singapore, albeit with a slant towards the currently newsworthy megachurches. Reading the well researched and eye-opening articles can give the majority of small churches a feeling of creeping muscular dystrophy. There are giants in the land and they have no time for the small. The mega churches in cavernous expo halls or high up in the city centre, cast vast shadows over the middle earth of small and micro churches. It generates an apprehension of imminent dark creatures and clouds about to devour all things small and micro. It will take hobbit-like qualities, a strong fellowship of the small, to survive, indeed to triumph, in such gritty days.

God’s kingdom

We need to start off with a biblical perspective. In God’s kingdom all kinds and all sizes have a place. The Creator God who factored variety and beauty into the universe he made knows this better than us. To reach people of different cultures and personalities, the world needs to have churches of all kinds and sizes. So God said, Let there be all kinds and all sizes for we need them all. As small and micro churches we must walk upright with the assurance that the Father wants to give the kingdom to the little flock as well. The small and micro churches, outwardly as short and whiny as hobbits, has a significant role to play: they can reach and disciple people the megachurch cannot reach.

Close the manhole

As we read the articles, we can easily trip into the open manhole of comparison. The reader who attends the megachurch feels superior. They have the better everything: bigger crowds, building, budget. Theirs the inspiring vision, the charismatic leader, the touching worship, the professional operations, the longer queues. The 90% who worship in smaller churches can feel discouraged, inferior, and critical. Some leaders of small churches will stupidly think, “If they can do it, we can do it too!” They are like parents who think every child can be a President’s Scholar: just have the right vision, strategy, motivation and implementation and ….boomz!

The Straits Times articles stated that the megachurches hire full-time professionals to be their musicians. That’s why they have such technically excellent music. Can the small church compare with that musical standard and ever hope to get there. More likely she would be discouraged and self-condemned before she even starts.  And this is just the music. What about the administration, the aesthetics, the multiple ministries, the charisma, the critical mass of young people, and all the bangs and whistles. Comparison in whatever form is a fall into a deep, dark stinking hole.

Leverage on the strengths

Small churches should remember their strengths and leverage on them. Small churches need to take a page from the epic movie “The Lord of the Rings”. The hobbits were focused on a clear purpose. they were authentic, close-knit, loyal, and incorruptible. The small church needs to focus on making disciples. Preaching  the Gospel to the pre-believers and and teaching the Gospel systematically to the baptized is crucial for the process of disciple-making. Making disciples, not en masse, but one by one, each personally and lovingly handcrafted, like Swiss watches (not like  the mass produced plastic Swatch).  The  disciple will be authentic and believes he can become all that he already is in Christ. The small church should also leverage on its natural strength of being more like a loving family than an unfeeling, bureaucratic corporation. It can major on delivering intimacy and community. Furthermore, very hobbit, I mean every disciple, in the small church can be equipped and deployed to function in his God-given role in the fellowship, unlike in the megachurch, and this is a big advantage the small church has in helping disciples find discover purpose.

Apostolic mentality

Yes, I have intriguingly cast the mega churches as Lord Sauron and all his army of followers as those dug from the gravel, and made alive by magic. There’s a twist in the story. The real truth is that Lord Sauron is Satan and his minions, and the Fellowship of the Ring includes the big guys and the small guys. The big guys are the mega churches, and the hobbits, well, they are the small churches. We are bonded like an imperfect family on this journey to defeat Satan. There will be distrust, fear, greed, misunderstanding, and suspicion as we move along towards our destination. Only together and by His grace will the job get done. We know this will definitely end in a climatic consummation when Jesus comes in glory and final victory is established on this earth. This is apostolic eyes: seeing mega and small and micro as one church of Singapore, the way God sees it. We are not competing; we complete each other.

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Century Christian Fellowship: love endures all things

CCF seated in heavenly places

An extension of the Chapel of the Resurrection

This was one of the many extensions started by the Chapel of the Resurrection. It was started in April 1991, with two house groups sent out as the core of a new church. It has been twenty years now and they now have about 60 members. Once they were once the verge of achieving “parish” status (120-150 attendance and 3 consecutive years of financial stability), but some setbacks held them back. This extension church has gone through some challenges including nomadic moving from one location to another. They deserve a reward for their doggedness and perseverance. May the Lord fill them with renewed grace and power.

John and Joyce Seet - CCF die hards

A rare breed: die-hards

They still have members from the original house groups sent to plant the church:  John and Joyce Seet, Christiana Tan, and Susan. These veterans are what we call “pah see buay chow”(die hards). We need such people in every church.  They are a rarity – perhaps an endangered species in these modern days. May their tribe increase!

New pastor : Peter Chang

The current leader is Pastor Peter Chang. Before full-time Christian vocation, he Pastor Peter carrying grandson Darrylwas a sales and marketing manager in the software industry and had worked in  China too. CCF had been without a pastor and had managed with lay leadership for close to a year, but with his appointment, there is a fresh stirring of hope among the people.  Peter and I got to know each other in a CRMS Focusing Leaders Network Retreat. When he invited me to give the talks at the camp I readily accepted and saw it as an open door to ministry to the larger body of Christ.

my favorite piece of claywork

Camp talks and experiences

giving insights into God's heartFifty people were at the church camp held at the Golden View hotel near Batam Center. It was a tight schedule: starting on Vesak Day and ending on Sunday morning. There were 5 teaching sessions and I spoke about how the church was deeply loved and accepted, transformed by grace, made righteous in Him, and called to serve with towel and basin, with God-recycled dreams. The teaching felt like I was downloading some new or updated drivers into their laptop so that itfeet washing can function better. I shared about my home church’s experience of revival. We also had some experiential moments of interaction with God in some creative prayer using clay. And a bonding and healing experience which involved  feet washing. During ministry, the Lord confirmed His word with his presence, power and prophecy. My wife received a word and I gave it to them, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).

In my intoduction talk, I told them my home church prayed for them to experience revival and anointed me to go. My continuous prayer for Century Christian Fellowship is for her to be filled with a surplus of His love, and to experience a revival of living loved, and giving love.

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Chapel of the Resurrection: one of the most productive churches in Singapore


Most productive church in Singapore is Anglican

The Chapel of the Resurrection(Anglican), now pastored by Canon Daniel Tong, is definitely the most productive(or “reproductive”), and yet unrecognized, church in Singapore’s church history. It has pioneered a path that few local churches can claim to have neared. Its glory is that it is the mother of many churches, a few of them, much bigger than herself. A few have lost their Anglican roots, two of which have become large, autonomous and independent churches. COR is just short of being a church planting movement, as  the churches that were birthed and matured have not gone on to birth more new churches.

This blog post is based on conversations I had with Christiana Tan(current secretary of retired Canon James Wong) and John Seet from Century Christian Fellowship. They have been with the Chapel of Resurrection when she was under Canon James Wong, when she experienced this remarkable spiritual movement and mobilization of the church members. More facts are needed to give a better picture but what I have is sufficient to give a sketch of the greatness of this Anglican church.

The womb that gave it birth

The fertile womb of this reproductive spurt of several decades was the charismatic revival of the early 1970’s. The then Bishop Chiu Ban It opened the heavy cathedral doors to the Holy Spirit and the fresh wind swept away all the cobwebs hanging from the candlesticks to the altar and the pews.  Wherever the Spirit was welcome, He left behind pulsating Anglican congregations, alive in Christ and hungry to realize their full potential as the animated body of Christ. In fact, the Anglican church, was like “an exceeding great army”. The bones had come together, the flesh had clothed the skeletons, and the breath of God had just filled their lungs. They were eager for battle. For too long they have sung their songs in the prison of dead orthodoxy. The Chapel of Resurrection was birthed as two fired up Anglican house groups from Holland Village and Depot road were welded together to form a formidable weapon.

Rev Canon  James Wong

“There was a man sent by God….”

The impetus for all this came from a robust, daring, visionary priest- a man filled with the new wine of the Spirit in the 1970’s. He was convinced the new Anglican wine, a laity filled with the Spirit, needed new wineskins, so that the newfound bubbling energies and overflowing life, may have new open structures for expression and extension.  For him, the answer was planting new churches. He was going to put his doctoral thesis into practice. The timing was perfect, and for such a time as this, this “sent one” was the inimitable  James Wong. God had a new weapon in His hand, and the weapon of choice was a battering ram!

Mother of many

Here is a list of the Anglican churches and church plants initiated by the Chapel of the Resurrection or in partnership with other Anglican extensions:

  1. The extension in Whampoa became the Chapel of the Holy Spirit.
  2. The extension at Bukit Batok extension married with Jurong Christian Centre extension and became Westside Anglican Church.
  3. Two extensions(Orchard City Church and St Andrews Christian Centre) married and became St Andrew’s  City Church.
  4. An extension comprised of four youth cells from Chapel of Resurrection married an extension of Church of our Savior in Woodlands and became the Light of Christ, Woodlands.
  5. An extension started in 1991,  mainly meeting in Pasir Ris, is the Century Christian Fellowship.
  6. The extension at Bukit Timah became Chapel of Christ the King which meets at St Margaret’s Primary School.

A legacy of manifold benefits

The benefits of the legacy of this productive spurt in the Anglican denomination are many: a “can do” spirit of faith in the Anglican ethos, not existent before then, and now spilled over into missions in the region; depth and maturity of clergy and lay leadership in strong local churches built to last, over against an over-dependency on the rare and “many talents” charismatic leader;  harnessing and releasing thousands of revived laity into ministry and maturity, who otherwise might have left for other more dynamic, open structures at that time, namely the Calvary Charismatic Centre; it cemented the Anglican denomination’s position of being the third largest “church” in Singapore after the Roman Catholics and the Methodists; and without doubt, the Anglicans have long had an “apostle” in its midst, with the credentials, though not the official title.

( This is no research paper, just a blog post. However it is the digital age, so do fill in the comment box with information that will enhance or increase the accuracy of what was written.)

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Tabernacle of Holiness: small church with mega impact

Small church with mega impact

I am not going to harm you...Rev Christina Jayarathnam greeted us at the car park of Citiraya Centre. “The service starts at 9.30am not at 9.00. Shall we have coffee?”. Over teh o, Christina shared about her husband’s dream several years ago.  Rev Dr Amos Jayarathnam had dreamt of a tiger on a table which stared at him and said, “I am not going to harm you, why are you afraid of me?” The tiger then became a woman who led him to a bus and bid him to go with her. This dream actually prepared them to go help the tsunammi hit people of Vanni in Sri Lanka under the control of the Tamil Tigers. They later went and brought aid and relief to the people there through the church. Later on Rev Amos, would recognize the woman in the dream as the wife of the pastor they had partnered with in Vanni. Rev Amos, who is well accepted and regarded for his prophecies, later on, was a catalyst for prayer meetings in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka.  The meetings brought churches together to pray for peace in Sri Lanka. In one of the bigger meetings, Rev Amos prophesied, “There would be peace in Sri Lanka within two years!”  A newsman put this on the front page of his newspaper. The thought was ridiculed. God, however, watched over His word, and accomplished it. Today there is peace in Sri Lanka.

Rev Amos Jayarathnam and I went back a long time to the late 1970’s. We were members of World Revival Prayer Fellowship. He played the bongo in the church service and I was a hungry believer. It was revival time and the Holy Spirit was working powerfully in people’s lives. At least 15 whom I know have felt the call of the Lord during that time have gone on to be full time pastors and missionaries and ministers. Amos and myself are just two of these.

vibrant music and singing

Worshiping and preaching at Tabernacle of Holiness

Rev Xavier Dawes, who succeeded Rev Amos as senior pastor of the Tabernacle, had graciously invited me to preach at his church. For many years I had been unwilling to preach in other churches due to commitments at home. Now a seasoned pastor, Rev Chua Seng Lee, has joined the church team, and this has opened the way for me to take more speaking engagements and serve the larger body of Christ.

Joanne Jayarathnam leading worshipThere were about 60 worshippers in the English service that Sunday. Most were Indians of different enthnic groups. There were Sindhis, Malayalees, Tamils and Gujeratis, Indonesians, Filippinos and some Chinese. Multi-ethnicity is one of the marks of the Spirit’s work  and it was a joy to see that racial divides have been torn down in Christ.

The music was vibrant and was led by Joanna Jayarathnam, who spent two years training in Hillsongs, with one year of Bible, and another in music and worship. The influence of Hillsongs was evident and it helped me to pray and be filled with the Spirit. The sermon wpreaching the gospelas based on Romans 1: 16, 17, about the revealed and received righteousness of God. The thoughts and words went forth with ease and I was pleased with the liberty and clarity. I pray they enjoyed the message and were blessed, as much as I was privileged in releasing it.

Punching above their weight

As I walked back to my church 10 minutes from TOH, I thought of Sri Lanka. I thought of TOH, a small church with a mega impact. People should stop looking down on small churches: many are punching above their weight. Its not a crime to be a small church; its a crime for a church to be small minded. Small churches deserve more respect and appreciation.

(Unable to post pics I took of the TOH pastors. The data was lost when I dropped my Nokia.)

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Church of our Savior with sails hoisted

COOS and my receding hairline

Visit to megachurch with a blogging friend

Daniel Ong drove me in his orange Suzuki to the side road car park in front of a former theatre. It was about 8 plus in the morning. He usually parked across the main road and MRT track in the multi-storey car park but in our banter he forgot and we happened to get an empty lot nearer. Never is easy to park in Singapore churches, both mega and small.

We entered the worship hall 5 minutes early and there were many empty seats. By the time worship began, most of the seats on the ground floor were taken but not the balcony. I noticed the planets mural were all gone. Missed them. The congregation were mainly folks in the second or third part of their lives. Nice worship, singing songs more familiar to me.

There was no sermon that Sunday but instead a report by their Harvest & Souls ministry- one that reached out to the poor communities in Redhill. I was impressed with the penetration into the dialect speaking world, the practical help they gave, the people who came to Christ, the cell groups they formed ( that met in the common corridor), and the children’s clubs they started (using the void decks). In the end, I had two messages from prophetic people, one on paper from Magdelene and another from my host. I also bumped into Dr Lorna Khoo but we had no time to catch up.

Prophetic painting

I had coffee with Paul, the pastor in charge of the creative arts- the drama, dance and now the prophetic painting ministry. I was of course curious about the latter and inquired about it.  They had picked it up from the Bethel Church in Redding, California, a church better known for its equipping and releasing of members to preach and heal the sick out where the people are. They are evidently very open to the winds of the Spirit and all His expressions through people, one of them being the employment of art in giving prophetic messages and in combination with words of knowledge and other gifts. Pastor Paul shared three stories of how God used paintings to revive a backslider and lead people to Christ.

Incredibly open to the winds of the Spirit

It struck me that the Church of our Savior has been incredibly open to the winds of the Spirit. It takes after its pastor Derek Hong, one of the pioneer and key Anglican priests, in the charismatic movement. He was an “early adopter” in the 70’s and his open innovative posture towards the new things God has been doing has never changed. His posture was “Dive!” or “Chiong”. He would hoist his sails and catch the wind whenever it passed, and that moved the church forward and kept it fresh. So it was no surprise to me then that while some people may have been debating about healing rooms, sozo, Bethel, and now prophetic painting, he had already gone full steam ahead with them.

Monthly COOS have someone painting prophetically on the stage as the people worshiped. I have read about emerging churches doing this but it’s probably the first and only church that does that in Singapore, with prophetic inspiration added. Probably this first in status will remain so for some years.

A few months ago COOS was associated with AWARE and the bad press from a bad press. Forget the past, and see what the Lord is doing in this new day!

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