Vicar’s Message - AGM 2022
As we approach a new AGM year, we can now say with some measure of confidence that we have pulled out of the pandemic. There have been many predictions that the life of the church would be changed forever.
Taking both a historical and long term view - this wasn’t the first pandemic nor the last - the nature of church as a gathered community is more resilient than we think. Her calling, nature and the way she expresses her life has fundamentally not changed. As I have written elsewhere, she will remain faithful to the ancient normal.
The church will still hold Services. She will still have some form of small group ministry. She will still live as a community, with various ministries, activities or interest groups which best express the community’s gifts. She will still be involved in community outreach. She will still explore missions work overseas. She will still preach the Gospel. She will still own building facilities. After all, how else will a large community meet regularly? She will still be a committed community; with a stable pastoral eldership, an on-going community and long-term mutual commitments.
The life and ministry of the church has always - as history and Scripture tell us - flowed from a worshiping community, not individual activists. Individuals may pioneer ministries, but if they are to have long-term stability and fruitfulness, the community needs to step in. The church needs to be built “brick by brick” - spiritually, communally, socially and even in terms of good governance as required by the laws and norms of the land.
Ancient normal will need to be based on ancient biblical values. This new season is as good as any for us to return to and strengthen these values.
Let us restate them again:
Our spiritual well-being and personal walk with God should be the focus of our life together. This includes guarding our faith (1 Timothy 6;20,21). This will involve adherence to right doctrine and teaching of course, but never separated from right living. It will also include the need for awareness of our inner self and how we are walking with God in our hearts. The space to experience intimacy with God is being squeezed out all the time by modern living, activities (even those in church!) and distractions. Some of these can be very dark and eclipses the sense of God’s presence in our lives.
We need to always keep this spiritual attention before us. Church is not about numerical growth and basking in the pride that one is a member of a thriving church. In urban Singapore, it can be easy to reduce church to just that, especially if our “KPI” is focused on finances and head-counts. Individual lives can become less significant, with the only importance attached to Service attendance and capacity for financial giving.
The reality is that there is less pressure to focus on the unseen or less seen aspects of our inner life. Therefore, we need to encourage each other to constantly dwell on these. The spiritual health of each member needs to be our focus and drives the way we do church.
A quick survey of the metaphors which the Bible uses for church can be helpful. From Ephesians 2:19-22:
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
The church is a temple of His presence or a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. We are a people marked by his presence. As Jesus has promised in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Recognising and honoring His presence amongst us is vital. We also need to be aware that He is the Shepherd of the Church (1 Peter 5:4). How can we “ do church” in such a way that it is always a response to these truths? And to consider anything less, a sacrilege? This calls for an attitude of dependence on Christ, humble prayerfulness and learning to see people and church life through the heart and eyes of the Lord. This attitude also causes those of us in leadership to be less confident of our own views or judgment and to learn to listen. Prayerful discernment is needed given the complex issues facing churches today. This divine dependence is an important mark of the spiritual health of the church.
This also influences the way we see and treat each other: as “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” We give priority to help each other to worship and walk with God. We value spiritual friendships which are based on more than just common interests or friendship affinity. We are able to cross economic, educational and racial boundaries because we see each other foremost as brothers and sisters in the Lord. This also help us to treat each other in holiness (see 1 Timothy 5:1,2). We learn to have spiritual conversations and sometimes, these can go deep. Yes, we will live and do life together in its breadth, whether we are coffee-ing or cycling together but these are always experienced in His presence.
As we draw close to each other, friction will be inevitable and I will say an opportunity for personal growth and transformation. When we struggle to get along, that is where we have opportunities to be humbled and grow in discipleship. It is good to read the first half of Ephesians 4 again, where we are asked to treat each other “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love”, and “ eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace..” The health of our communal life is vital.
Flowing from the above, we also see each other as gifts that God has given to build up His body. We are familiar with the nine gifts of the Spirit listed in 1 Corinthians 12. Elsewhere, seemingly less spiritual gifts like administration, hospitality, giving helps etc, are also listed. Once we understand this, we will begin to see how everyone can serve God, the church and the Gospel with these gifts. We will begin to value each person as called by God and placed in His Body for a purpose. We will give space to every person to serve and live out their calling and destiny. Someone once challenged me regarding how local churches value members according to their usefulness to the church rather than asking how the church can help each person to discover their calling in Christ. This may sound like modern Western individualism but it is deeply biblical when we read Scripture carefully. As Vicar and along with other pastors/elders, we are to help the saints to do the work of ministry (Ephe 4:12) and walk in the good works which God has created them for (Ephe 2:10). In other words, it is my role to help you to find your calling and destiny in Christ. We need to give each other space to serve and grow.
May these values shape our journey together for the years to come.
There has been some ministry development even in a muted year which was struggling to live with the pandemic. We can be glad that the youth ministry is led by youth leaders. Pastoral staff and older lay leaders will still play their part to encourage, counsel and mentor. Peer leadership is important and we need to create space for the younger amongst us to grow, care for each other and learn to be vision-bearers. Zimrah MInistry (Worship and AV) has also grown by leaps and bounds even as we transit back to onsite Services. It is the faithfulness to little things which count and will augur well for the future of this ministry. The Alpha Course remains our regular form of integrating evangelism into our parish life. We hope to run it twice a year with the next run starting in late July or early August. Alpha is more than just a course or programme. It is about cultivating values of love, welcome and creating space in church for seekers. In 2022, we have also started interesting seminars which can help us to connect with those outside the church. This is an encouraging lay-led initiative. We can also look forward to the coming church retreat. It is a rare opportunity to strengthen our koinonia life. This is also a good season to build up our outreach and missions work. While we may continue to support a few full-time workers, we need to also engage the wider church.
Our church life is almost fully back to normal. It is indeed time to rebuild our onsite Services and communal life together. We can look forward to the return of “body ministry” where we are not just seated and receiving from the TV screen or “stage” passively. We will reach out, minister and pray for each other. We will serve and enjoy meals together. There are still a lot of space in both Services for us to bring friends. We also need to treasure our Chinese-speaking and Filipino communities, and where possible work in partnership with them.
In closing, I want to thank Revd Tan Piah, staff, PCC members and each of you for contributing to the life and ministry of the church during this challenging season. Both Jennifer and myself have been very warmly welcomed and loved. Thank you.
May 2022 be a year where every member will grow spiritually and discover his or her gifts and callings in Christ.