Pastoral Perspectives

Serve The People

The Presbyterian Church in Singapore (PCS) will be holding its annual general meeting this week, beginning with a service on Wednesday to install the incoming Synod Executive Committee (Exco) into office and also Rev Tan Cheng Huat as its General Secretary (GS). The Exco is the highest ruling body of PCS and consists of a board of 17 elected members who are ordained ministers or elders of local churches. They serve a term of two years and are assisted by a team of staff working in the Synod Office and led by the GS who serves a term of four years. Prior to Rev Tan’s appointment as GS, an executive director (ED) was employed to cover the work of the GS and manage the office staff.

A thanksgiving cum farewell dinner was therefore held for the ED by the current serving Exco, which included yours truly. We met in a nice Cantonese restaurant somewhere in Chinatown and the lady boss who is a member of another Presbyterian church came to greet us. A member of the Exco who is from that church introduced us to her and explained the occasion for the dinner and indicated that it was the current serving Exco that was hosting the dinner. Then it dawned upon us that all those present will remain in the new Exco, all except for yours truly. Suddenly it became a farewell dinner for me as well and I was glad to have turned up that evening!

What’s the point here? Well, getting people to serve at leadership level can be a challenge. I do not know if it is good or bad news that many of the current Exco members will be continuing their term. Some of the new members coming in aren’t really new after all as they had served before in the Exco.I do not know if this is good or bad. It really depends on the people that make up the Exco but I do believe that a constant influx of new blood is necessary for leadership renewal and the long term good of the church.

Guess what? In about two month time, True Way will be holding our AGM and there will be the election of elders and deacons. Getting our people to stand for election is also a real challenge. At the moment, if no new elders are willing to come forward, we will have to fall back onto the same pool of non-serving elders. New elders are required to have served as deacons while new deacons are required to be members for at least the past 3 years, which in turn requires worshippers to be baptised or transfer their membership if they have already been baptised in other churches. And getting very-regular worshippers to transfer membership is another equally challenging task. So do you see the problem at hand? You may blame the rules for these technical problems but they are put in place for good purposes. We can remove all these rules but I doubt it will solve our problem if the heart of the problem lies with us.

Now you may be wondering about the role of a deacon and how it fits into the fabric of a church that is getting more complex with time. Well, allow me to share my humble perspective. The church is entrusted with the Great Commission to go and make disciples. There are two aspects to this one commission. Firstly, there is a need to disciple the converts and DGs are formed for this primary purpose. Mature Christians are needed to lead the DGs but that is not the function of a deacon, though a deacon may be a DGL. So even if the church should be persecuted, the building tore down and religious activities banned, the church continues to grow whenever and wherever the DGs meet. Perhaps our problem is that our life is good and persecution is beyond our imagination and thus many do not see the need for DGs.

Secondly, there are also the functional needs so that as one visible entity, the church may gather to worship God, share the good news to our neighbours and beyond, care for the needy in the community and be the salt and light for society. So ministries are formed to serve these functions. But how can these ministries work well together as a church unless they meet regularly to update, support and hold one another accountable? And how can they do so unless there is a representative from each ministry? That is to me the primary role of a deacon and the function of the EDC. In political term, he is like the elected MP of a constituency and the link between the leadership and his people.

Over the years I have heard two common reasons for turning down deaconship. The first has to do with humility, i.e. I am a humble servant and do not want to lord over others. But that’s really what a deacon is, i.e. a humble servant chosen to serve the people and not to lord over them. Even pastors and elders do not lord over others because there is only one Lord! The second has to do with service, i.e. I am already serving faithfully and so I do not need another area to serve. Let others who are not serving stand as deacons. But deaconship is not another ministry for one to serve. The fact that you are already serving makes you a suitable candidate to stand as deacon so that you may be that effective link for your ministry and the leadership. And the fact that they are not serving disqualify them for deaconship. The last thing we want is to have non-serving members become deacons and ‘helicopter’ them into ministries here and there. You should be wise enough to know the consequences.

It is true that there are other secondary expectations of deacons, like attending long meetings and retreats or representing the church at Synod and EP AGMs. Some are necessary for proper governance or administration while others may not be and can be tweaked. But let us not let these secondary expectations hinder us from the primary focus and work. So it is my prayer that there will indeed be new blood standing for election in our coming AGM in May because they have a heart for serving God and His people.

Rev Ronnie Ang

March 22, 2015