Pastoral Perspectives

Hello From The Other Side

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

I bid you greetings in the name of the Lord. May we continue to rejoice in the resurrection of Christ! It has been a while since I wrote a Pastoral Perspective. At the start of this year, the church leadership has approved of me going on unpaid leave to complete my postgraduate studies. In June of last year, I enrolled in a three-semester Master of Theology (MTh) degree programme in Trinity Theological College (TTC).

For the first semester which stretched from July to November of 2023, I was serving in our church while engaging in fulltime studies in TTC. While such an arrangement was manageable because I had a light first semester, it was difficult to find time for my readings and assignments amid ministry duties and family commitments. Knowing that the study load would only increase for the subsequent semesters, I requested for a long leave of absence to complete this programme by early 2025. This is not a sabbatical leave as I am not receiving a salary, but I am thankful the church is providing some support for the journey. 

To qualify as a Preacher of the Presbyterian Church in Singapore (PCS), I had to acquire a basic Master of Divinity (MDiv) degree at TTC. This I graduated with in 2019. However, after some time in church ministry, I was also discerning a call into academic teaching in a seminary. Perhaps my enrolment into this MTh programme may be considered part of this discernment process.

My area of research in my MTh programme is in liturgical studies, or the study of the church’s worship. Personally, I have always been interested in knowing more and answering questions about the interface between the material and the spiritual, between the human and the transcendent. This was why when I was considering an area of research for the programme, I vacillated between the area of evolutionary theology, Russian Orthodox sophiology, and liturgical theology. I finally decided on the latter because I felt I could contribute to the church in this area. Liturgy is what the church engages in on a weekly basis, yet those who study it in Southeast Asia are few and far in between.

Currently, I am working on the French Reformer John Calvin’s theology of the sacraments. In doing my research, I have gained a deeper appreciation for our Reformed heritage and for Calvin’s brilliance as a theologian. At the same time, there is also a profound realisation that the questions the people of 16th century Europe were bothered by and were fighting tooth and nail to answer are no longer the same questions we have in Southeast Asia today. Our contexts have changed because the world has changed, and our worldviews have changed.

Yet, the church will have no clarity to move forward without a hard backward glance (no aggiornamento without ressourcement). Without knowing what has been discussed and cast in the past, the church is vulnerable to the present circulating fads and ideologies. All the various movements we see in the church in the past decades—praise and worship, health and wealth, neo-Reformed, neo-Charismaticism, dominionism, etc. —are, in part, a result of our forgetfulness of our theological past. To steer clear of errors and extremism, we ought to have a firm grasp of Scripture and at the same time, be immersed in the stream of Tradition. This, I believe, were the twin principles guiding Calvin and the magisterial Reformers.

What the future holds is not completely certain. A wise man once told me, God does not give us certainty in the choices we make, but he gives us sufficient clarity to make those choices. I am not sure if I have the latter either. Personally, I enjoy ministering to the youths. To be completely honest, when I was first assigned the youth ministry by the church leadership, I was not fond of it at all. I would rather work with a more mature age group. However, as I served, I found much joy and meaning in what I was doing. It is priceless to see how God works in the lives of the youths and to witness them grow both in stature and wisdom. The Keat from five years ago would have found this passion rather surprising.

Nevertheless, I still find myself inexorably drawn to a prospect of teaching in a seminary setting. I have found no certainty in this choice—only a litany of uncertainties. Yet I have some clarity that whether it is pastoring in our True Way community or teaching in a seminary, I will continue to be a servant of the church. God willing, I will be making my applications for a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) programme later this year for the 2025 enrolment. Right now, my focus is to be responsible in my research and complete my thesis writing on time. I am deeply appreciative to the True Way community for your encouragement and support. This will be a difficult decision to make, so do say a prayer for me and my family should you remember. While I am on leave, my family and I remain part of the community and I will continue to serve in the youth and young adults’ ministries in my meagre capacity.

Christ is risen!

Eastertide 2024