Book Summary: On Being the Antioch of Asia (W M Syn)

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Singapore has been labelled by Billy Graham as the Antioch of Asia. Have we lived up to our calling? Syn analyses how local churches and mission agencies can be properly related to each other for greater effectiveness. The recent trend is for Singapore local churches to directly send missionaries to the field and bypass the agencies. Why? Churches nowadays are well-informed about missions and have the funding to carry out work themselves. But is this the best option? Syn interviews many church and agency leaders to get their opinion. It must be stated that he is a director of a mission agency so there is conflict of interest. Since the book contains unnecessarily long-winded interviews, I shall highlight key findings that struck me.

Two key trends in missions:

1. Decrease in the availability of people for long-term missions service.

2. Direct sending by local churches.

…leads to two Symptoms:

1. Singapore missions system lacks cultural intelligence.

2. Missionaries and missions programmes are not venturing to the hard places (Unreached People Groups).

Local churches need to recognise that agencies are specialists in certain mission fields. For example, agencies have cultural intelligence, networks and crisis preparations to assist missionaries on the ground. However, many churches see agencies as competing for their own missionaries. This should not be the case as most pioneer mission work (even in Singapore) were started by agencies first. Think of the London Missionary Society (LMS) that started many Methodist schools in Singapore. The mission agency usually sends missionaries to plant churches in a new place. How can we overcome this break in relationship?

Syn proposes that mission agencies must adapt their roles drastically in order to partner with churches. There are two possible models:

1. Code Sharing Model

Code sharing has been used by the airline industry with great effectiveness. It is a model that finds ways for churches and agencies to share and collaborate without losing their own identity. He highlights the 25 Elements Model as a framework to delegate the responsibilities of a church or agency. The responsibilities are not split in an either-or fashion (church or agency) but differing degrees of responsibility.  This allows the local church to remain engaged on many levels.

2. Consultancy Model

The agency has specialised information that the church could tap on: crisis training etc. There is a need for formal consulting service by agency staff much like a consultant in the corporate world. Churches would pay the agency for the cost of their service. Normally, we think that ministry should be freely given but in many parts of the church, there is already fee-for-service! For example, training programmes, Chrsitian entertainers or Christian speakers. Why not missions consulting services.

Syn lists several characteristics of a mission consultant:

  • Facilitation skills and the ability to help the church develop their missions vision and programme.
  • Some preaching and teaching skills to inspire and impart knowledge.
  • An understanding of the needs and workings of the local church.
  • Some good missiology and theology of missions to help lay foundations.
  • Some strategic thinking skills to help missions committees think through their plans.
  • First-hand field experience which would be an advantage to share as a practitioner.

Agencies need a dedicated strategy to priorities consultancy service to churches.

Overall, this book provides a good overview of missions in Singapore and how we as a nation can truly fulfill our calling to be the Antioch of Asia by working together.

Book Review: The One Minute Manager Balances Work and Life (Ken Blanchard, 1999)

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Management guru Ken Blanchard, who is a Christian, highlights the importance of staying healthy. As we work, we tend to neglect our health and life. The problem is that when we become unhealthy, we become worse employees and our work suffers. If you’re the boss of a company, you pay out more money for employee medical issues and productivity drops. Your whole company suffers.

Blanchard reminds us to take care of our life to ensure we remain productive in our work. This is very important for those in ministry, especially pastors and missionaries. He notes that “even success could kill you” (p. 19)! Firstly, we need to recognise that some stress is good. Too much stress leads to Burn-out while too little stress leads to Rust-out. Neither is ideal. Blanchard wisely notes that “in early life, people give up their health to gain wealth. Then, in later life, they give up some wealth to regain health.” (p. 70) Don’t reach that stage!

The question is how do we deal with stress such that it doesn’t become strain (burn-out or illness)? There are four moderators to make sure we are in good shape: 1) Autonomy, 2) Connectedness, 3) Perspective, and 4) Tone (p. 32).

  1. Autonomy is the state where people have many choices and relatively able to control their lives. They find that their daily activities move them towards achieving their goals. Also it is the ability to move to other jobs if we want to. I think we need to learn to set goals, vision and improve our skill sets regularly.
  2. Connectedness gives people strong positive relationships in their home, work and community. It’s important to have good friends and support. This would preferably be a Christian group in your church or workplace to offer mutual support whether it be through exercising together or not tempting each other with unhealthy food.
  3. Perspective has to do with the meaning of life. If we have a big picture view of life, the little stresses don’t affect us so much. For Christians, we know our approval is from God and that earthly gains have no eternal significance. Our work should not define or control us. Someone once said, “No one on his deathbed ever said, I wish I had spent more time on my work.”
  4. Tone is how we feel about our body and physical appearance. We can manage this through exercise and a proper diet. Having a healthy body improves our self-esteem and reduces stress. The tone is the easiest to start with as we can measure the number of kilometers we jog or the number of push-ups we perform. Blanchard notes that when we take care of ourselves, we are then better able to focus on other’s needs better (connectedness).

There are some simple ways to stay healthy (p. 50-51):

  1. I love my job/studies.
  2. I use safety precautions.
  3. I am within 5 pounds of my ideal weight.
  4. I know three methods to reduce stress (not drugs or alcohol).
  5. I do not smoke.
  6. I sleep 6-8 hours each night.
  7. I engage in regular physical activity at least 3 times per week (20-30 mins of sustained physical exertion). Stick to your program!
  8. I have 7 or less alcoholic drinks a week.
  9. I know my blood pressure.
  10. I follow sensible eating habits.
  11. I have a good social support system.
  12. I maintain a positive mental attitude.

I think as church workers, we tend to over-indulge in food. Gluttony is a sin that is not condemned in churches enough (Prov 23:2,20-21; Phil 3:9; 1 Cor 6:19-20). I know a pastor who is severely overweight and had to undergo a back and knee surgery due to the strain on his body. He took a long medical leave as a result. Sadly, his unhealthy diet hasn’t changed. What a shame it is to let your uncontrolled love for food shorten your ability to do ministry! How would you explain to God if you meet him ten years earlier than you were supposed to die? Let us stay healthy so we can do more for the Lord’s work.

 

Worshipping Jesus

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The Jewish temple, since it was demolished by the Romans in AD 70, has not been rebuilt. In its place, sits the Dome of the Rock that belongs to the Muslims. Only the Western “wailing” wall of the temple remains.

It is revealed to Ezekiel thousands of years ago that a new temple will be built and specifications are given down to the smallest detail. Although this revelation was six hundred years before Jesus’ birth some designs in the new temple pointed forward to Him. The wall carvings are fascinating, showing God’s marvellous wisdom. It says:

Ezekiel 41:17-19
In the space above the outside of the entrance to the inner sanctuary and on the walls at regular intervals all around the inner and outer sanctuary were carved cherubim and palm trees. Palm trees alternated with cherubim. Each cherub had two faces: the face of a human being toward the palm tree on one side and the face of a lion toward the palm tree on the other. They were carved all around the whole temple.

In the new temple, the seemingly innocuous carvings on the walls hold a deeper meaning that reminds worshippers of whom they were worshipping. It still applies to us today.

Note that the cherubim has two faces, one of a human and one of a lion. Doesn’t it ring a bell? The reference to Jesus’ dual natures of deity and humanity is overwhelming. Jesus, the lion of Judah and Jesus, the Son of Man.

Those carvings were to remind worshippers as they entered the temple that they were to worship Jesus. A popular worship song chorus goes:

“I’m coming back to the heart of worship,
and it’s all about you,
it’s all about you Jesus.”
– Heart of Worship, Matt Redman

Worship is all about Jesus – the Son of God and Son of Man. Not only do we worship Jesus for who He is, we worship Him for what He did for us. That’s what the palm tree represents.

In Selwyn Hughes’ book 7 Laws of Spiritual Success, he highlighted that the palm tree provides material with hundreds of different uses. It represents work. What work did Jesus do? He lived a sinless life, died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead. That’s why we worship Him.

The alternating cherub and palm tree carvings on the temple walls serve as a reminder to us that we worship Jesus for who He is and what He has done. We must balance both aspects of worship for completeness.

I’ll be looking forward to that new temple in the future. Even more, we’ll meet Jesus Himself.

Missionary Principles Series, Part 1 Of 11: Our Work Must Be Evangelical

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In this series on Missionary Principles, I will be expanding on each of them in separate posts. Let’s get started on the first one.

What is the meaning of evangelical?

Evangelical simply refers to following the teaching of the Gospel or Christianity.

This is crucial as theology will affect what is being taught to the locals. And their teaching will determine how they live their lives.

When locals become believers, you teach them based on your theology.

There lies the danger. You reproduce what you are. Your brand of theology will be passed on consciously and subconsciously to others.

Wrong theology will be passed on and the gospel loses its effectiveness and power.

My suggestions flow from Paul’s letter to Timothy:

2 Timothy 3:16-17
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Therefore, I believe that:

1. Missionaries should have a basic theology training in a reputable Bible school 

Your theology must be sound, not liberal or even worse, against the basic teachings of the Bible. Especially dangerous are Bible schools that only focus on spiritual giftings such as prophecy and healing. That is imbalanced.

You must be at least grounded in systematic theology found in the Bible. Basic courses would be Old Testament and New Testament surveys, Doctrines and Pastoral theology. All other courses are icing on the cake.

2. Missionaries must be vetted by sending organisation

The theology of missionaries must be tested to make sure they adhere to the sound tenets of Christianity. It would be a shame if wrong doctrines are taught to the locals far away from the sending organisation or church. The effects rippling out would be seen only years later as the local church crumbles under shaky foundations.

3. Missionaries must teach the local believers right doctrine

After going for several mission trips, I’ve come to realise many pastors have never had a proper systematic Bible education. This is where mission teams can step in to train them. That’s the idea of equipping them for good works. It all starts with the right theology.

May this be your prayer.

2 Timothy 2:15
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.

‘Brother, did you receive God’s call?’

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Photo credit: Kathea Pinto (Flickr)

‘Brother/sister, did you receive God’s call?’ That’s a common question asked whenever one aspires to go into Christian service. Be it becoming minister, missionary or even administrative worker.

It sickens me at the hypocrisy of it all. Let me explain. When I was young, my grandparents and parents warned me that if I don’t study hard, I would end up as a butcher or road sweeper. It was meant to scare me into studying more, but often did not work.

Then the next thing implied was that there were good professions to aim for. Namely, becoming a lawyer or doctor. Always these two, apparently there’s a parental conspiracy going around. There’s nothing wrong with being a lawyer and doctor, I think they are very noble professions.

But I want to highlight that the question of calling is not asked. If you want to be lawyer, well done, go ahead. If you want to be a doctor, well done, go ahead.

Then comes the crux of the matter. Let’s say you want to become a missionary to Iran/India/Indonesia (Three countries starting with I’s is coincidental). Your parents or pastor might take a few minutes to reply. And eventually the question pops up – ‘Did you receive God’s call?’ If you say no, they’d probably advise you not to do it.

Now, why is serving God as a missionary requiring such a crystal clear call from heaven than being a doctor? Why don’t people ask, ‘Did God call you to be a doctor?’

The Great Commission commands us to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth.

Matthew 28:18-20
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

If that is Jesus’s command, do we need to ask if we are called? I believe God still calls today. Especially, when we are headed in the opposite direction and God steers us back to His divine plan. And His divine plan might even be bringing you away from being a missionary to secular work. Whatever the case, let’s not use calling as an excuse to prevent us from doing God’s revealed will.