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.

Share this:

Read More →

Fasting and Prayer

One day my daughter suggested that we fast once a week. Fasting was occasional for me – when there was a pressing need. Fasting as a regular spiritual discipline? I was game to try and so was my wife. 

We decided that our fast would begin after the dinner of the previous night. Then on the next day, the fast continued through the skipped breakfast and lunch, until we broke fast with dinner. 

For me it was not difficult to find the periods of prayer in the morning and afternoon, and a joint prayer with my wife before we broke fast. I have retired. Those who work have to schedule the fast in such a way they have time to pray and reflect.

Some Spiritual Benefits

What I experienced in terms of spiritual benefits are common among those who fast.

  • I was more alert and deliberate when I prayed.
  • I saw my trust in God strengthened and my love broadened. 
  • I felt greater self-control through the Spirit’s help.
  • The Lord broadened my scope of concern beyond myself and family to Singapore and the countries of South East Asia.
  • I saw answers to my prayers. Once we prayed for two Nigerian children and their nanny who were feared to have been kidnapped. This week we received news that all three were found far away from home kidnapped by a syndicate, and the nanny was an accomplice.
  • There was added anointing, conviction and confidence when I preached.
  • A bonus physical benefit was my pants became loose at the waist.

The Spirit Teaches and Guides Us How To Fast

Initially, the Lord taught me to answer this question he once asked a blind man before healing him, “What do you want me to do for you?” I listed what I wanted, and slowly shared with the Lord each situation and my needs and concerns. I took my time to feel, reflect, talk to him and listen and receive assurance that my prayers were heard. I did it on my knees with the written list of prayer needs. Gradually I realized that while fasting, the Lord was also putting on my mind and heart the matters he wanted me to pray about. For Singapore, and for nations that are suffering from the pandemic, like neighbouring countries, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Brunei, Philippines, and Indonesia. Sometimes I asked him questions, “inquired of the Lord”, to know his mind on what redemptive fruit has come out of the evil of this historic pandemic. Fasting and prayer is not merely about making our requests known to God with earnestness, but also inquiring of the Lord, deepening our communion with God, letting him share his burdens and concerns with us, and humbling and repenting before him.

Different Forms of Fasting

There are of course many different kinds of fast each suited to the lifestyle of the one fasting. It may be different for the mother of three young kids, the working professional, those in National Service or in schools. There are different forms described in the Bible and you can learn more about them by googling the topic.

Pray and launch into the deep by fasting a day and let God teach you more as you move along in faith. Or you could do this gradually – skipping a meal, then two, then three meals. Find some friends to join you in a pact and doing it together gives added strength of purpose.

Share this:

Read More →

Spirituality and faith formation at AGST

New eyes

So far the courses I have attended covered discipleship, building formative faith communities and this time round, “Spirituality and Faith Development”. Hands touched my eyes, and I find myself learning to cope with strange light and blurred images, and a new way of seeing how learning can take place more effectively in church. It is stimulating to view the same things from a new framework, and to have clarified in books, lectures, discussions and journal articles, insights and patterns you have sensed but could not give precise shape to. It is uncomfortable too, because you see methodology and philosophy in the church that does not maximize learning, but will require great energy to modify.

Dr George Capaque facilitating discussion

Different Christian traditions and spiritualities

Dr. George Capaque, the Dean of Discipleship Training Center was our main lecturer together with Dr Allan Harkness, the Director of Education programs in Asia Graduate School of Theology. There were eight of us in the group from four countries: Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Philippines.  We were introduced to the different traditions and spiritualities of the church and to the ways our faith is formed and developed, always with an eye to how we can incorporate what we have learned to benefit our respective contexts.

Though academic there was thought put in the program to integrate elements that would impact the heart and behavior. While we examined the six traditions expounded in Richard Foster’s “Streams of Living Water”, we took it down from the cognitive domain to let it work in our hearts and hands. We used the workbook for the first hour of each day to actually discuss where we are personally with respect to each tradition and how we will weave it into our actions through specific applications. The sharing were times of openness, fellowship and mutual encouragement.

Carlos making a point

break out groups

learning by sharing

Ladeq expressing her view

I’m liking it

Besides exploring the contemplative, evangelical, social justice, charismatic, holiness and incarnational traditions, we also examined the nature and contributions of the pietist spirituality, Ignatian spirituality, and John Wesley’s teachings. We looked at how different types of personalities have preferred spiritual pathways, the spiritual disciplines, different types of prayer and how to develop a personal rule of life.

Dr Allan HarknessDr Allan lead us through stimulating discussions on various theories and several paradigms of how faith develops. Some of the stuff here includes John Westerhoff’s styles of faith, James Fowler stages of faith, and Hagberg and Guelich’s Stages in the life of faith. These are interesting stuff that I will need to process and synthesize and reflect in the context of my ministry situation.

The papers we have to do are geared towards our own growth in spirituality and faith, and that of the community we serve and Ee Yiung and Kenny at EAST officefind ourselves in. They press us into integrating the insights and new learnings into our life and ministry context. This is anytime better than doing purely theoretical stuff that does not result in real change in attitude and behavior. True knowing involves life transformation.

Meeting friends

In such courses, we do make new acquaintances occasionally, and when we meet in an intensive 7 days schedule, inevitably friendship grows, and we even discover new things and meet old friends. A new aquantance shared with me theology outside the classroompersonal anecdotes about the late Anthony Yeo that really moved me, and I said to myself, I must write at least a blog post about this great man, even though a book is more appropriate. Another pleasant bonus was meeting Ee Yiung, a member I baptized 21 years ago in the East Coast Park and with whom I keep in touch via….what else but Facebook. It was heartening to see that she has found her place in God’s economy and enjoyed the work she did for East Asia School of Theology, the Campus Crusade’s training center.

Share this:

Read More →