All Christian congregations have leaders. True Way’s leaders are organized in three groups: a pastoral team that comprises ministers and preachers, a session composed of ministers and ruling elders, and an elders and deacons court (EDC) that brings together the pastoral team, ruling elders and deacons.
Beneath these three leadership groups exist a squad of ministry heads and servants, a crew of discipleship group leaders, and office staff.
Many of these leaders are elected officers of the church, and their appointments have terms. Their decisions are guided by a constitution, a familiarity with their flock, an understanding of the changes that buffet the church and society, and a trust in the faithful provisions of an eternal God.
September was when the EDC, the broadest leadership body of True Way met, over two days, at its annual retreat. This happens every year, and there’s always business to attend to.
Some of the business at EDC retreats is urgent and new. Some is treading water. Once in a while, we hear sparkling ideas, and sometimes the suggestions are insipid, or a re-inventing of the wheel.
And because there are always new leaders who have come into their terms, there’s often a need to explain church procedures, for example, the theological meaning of church membership and why we ask prospective new members to speak before the church.
On the other hand, older leaders may continue to wonder: “We have the right membership mechanism, but why do some people enter discipleship groups, only to quit five months later?”
Our leaders are not cut from the same mold. They vary in their gifts, temperament and experience. But because they are called into service, they quickly forge bonds and get to work. The important burden of the EDC is not just running programs and shepherding people. It’s identifying problems, present and future, and solving them. This can be a tough yoke but for the grace-filled gaze of a loving God.
This year, we discussed disciple-making and looked again at issues unearthed in 2022’s visionary groups project. The latter included questions about belonging and mission, service and growth, vision and inclusiveness. One of the newer things we learned was how quickly the world outside the church changes, how its ideas can sift our generations and leave us increasingly ill-positioned for work and ministry in, say, a few more years.
“Why some DGs are in a state of poor health–I thought that was an important discussion,” said deaconess Linda Keh. “I’ve served several EDC terms. I know when you’re first elected to become a deacon, you may not know a lot of church people, and they may not know you. But in order to serve and help people, we deacons need to be there with people.”
This was deacon Koh Ee Wee’s second EDC retreat. “The retreat was very insightful. I don’t think it’s easy to come up with a concrete plan. But clearly we have some objectives for our future.”
Rev Stanley Soh, 54, was elected associate minister at November’s extraordinary congregational meeting.
Election is the process by which congregations, particularly those of a Reformed or Presbyterian tradition, calls a church leader. Although votes are cast and counted, Christian elections are not mere democratic exercises. They are about God choosing a particular person or group of people to a particular task or work.
After leaving Living Praise Presbyterian Church, Rev Soh spent a brief time away from pastoring. He was interviewed by True Way in mid-2022, and joined the pastoral team later that year. From the beginning, he met congregants eagerly, forging friendships with people and clergy. He served with church volunteers in U12, Boys’ Brigade, among other areas.
During his testimony at the ECM, he bared his heart: “The night before my ordination service several years ago, a pastor friend sent an encouraging message: ‘There’ll always be ups and downs in ministry. Sometimes people will tear you down. This is because we serve imperfect people, and we are imperfect ourselves. But the joy of the LORD will be your strength. God will quiet you with his love, most vividly demonstrated in Christ.’”
Rev Soh shared that his prayer was that Christ would ever be his centre: “Please pray that I will keep my head in all situations, endure hardship, share the good news, and serve God’s people.”
There was a distinctly smaller number of people presenting themselves for baptism and confirmation this Christmas. Two adults were baptized, one other confirmed. There were three infant baptisms. But a considerably larger number had attended the new members’ classes that began in October. During those classes, they were catechized and taught the Christian faith. These other class members will become members next Easter.
Alvis Cheong, 29, said in his baptism testimony: “Although I do public presentations at work, I was nervous. Many of us are frightened of sharing our testimonies in front of the church. But if baptism is an outward proclamation of our faith, is there another way that’s more public than using words?
“I pray my words encourage and touch someone who’s thinking about putting his faith in Christ, or getting baptized.”
There was great excitement over our annual Service of Lessons and Carols this year. Three reasons: first, choristers were enthralled by the prospect of performing the new material, a large portion of which came with unusual arrangements, and second, congregants were told this would be a Lessons and Carols with a new theme.
The theme was that Jesus Christ was truly born for all peoples, all tribes, all nations. Multiculturalism will be on display, we were warned. And not just cheongsam, sashes, batik, or mund. Instead, a deep awareness of how Christ died and rose for a whole world, regardless that the colour of our skin, our accents, and cultural identifies have divided us since time began.
The third reason was we were on TV!
On Christmas Eve, Channel 8 News and ChannelNewsAsia ran their stories about Christmas, describing how Christian churches in Singapore observed Christmas this year. Because editors and journalists routinely look for new angles, our unusual theme brought them – mics, lights and cameras — to True Way.
The Christmas story, ancient, holy and unchanging, became new and newsworthy. Everyone was chuffed, our church chatgroups crackled with the news, and people turned on their TVs.
This year’s watchnight service was held from 10.30pm on New Year’s Eve. In churches, watchnight is always crafted in a thoughtful, reflective vein, with liturgies as distant from parties, drinks, carousing and fireworks as you can imagine.
The countdown to midnight in the pews is almost always our only moment of levity.
But this was no matter. Senior minister Rev Lee Kien Seng preached from the third chapter of Philippians, a confident and centering sermon. He drew his listeners to Paul’s all-consuming life mission: that he, Paul, may know Christ, and the power of Christ’s resurrection, share his sufferings, and become like him in his death. Rev Lee spoke about running races, how the Christian life is often depicted as a race, and how every race has a beginning and an end.
If Paul was thinking about reaching the end of his race (the New Living Translation is lustrous here), was that not a poignant synapse with the end of a year?
Observers know that watchnight happens at an hour that is too late for many people. But our usual watchnight attendees were present, about 60 persons in toto. A dash of elders, the boomer faithful, and young people. In many churches, it’s often young people, and more teens than young adults, who would meet their peers to mark the passing of a year. This is a rite of passage in good ways, and it was good they were there, because the future is about them.
Looking around the sanctuary, I saw there were new people, too, two or three who came and sat alone. As the year prepared to turn, something had impelled them to travel to our sanctuary, braving the drizzle; some need, some desire, a reckoning with the past and God.
Lee Chung Horn is a medical doctor and church elder. All videos and photos by the author unless otherwise stated. Page design by Tony Cheung.
Opinions expressed are those of our authors. This is the final article of our December 2023 issue. All rights reserved. Please send comments to [email protected]. Previous issues are available at trueway.org.sg/newsletters.