Synod Youth Council trains young people for service

Synod Youth Council trains young people for service
By Joyce Peh

As a youth worker, I can tell you that I’ve met too many young people who tell me they’re either too busy for God, or that they don’t see religion as something relevant in their lives. Therefore, when, once in a while, I meet or hear of young people who are very zealous, or even willing just to make time to meet for Bible study and to share the gospel with their friends, I know how precious these young ones are.

So, can you imagine how pleasantly surprised I was when I learned that two young men from True Way signed up for training programmes organised by the Synod Youth Council? First, what’s Synod Youth Council?

I spoke with Rev Ong Chee Hong, SYC’s chairman, and senior pastor of Toong Chai Presbyterian Church. I learnt that SYC has existed for 15 years and its mission is to complement and strengthen the work of our local Presbyterian churches in evangelising and discipling youths for Christ, and raising godly leaders for the next generation.

Abel Low.

Altogether, SYC runs four different programmes for youths and young adults throughout the year. First, the Synod Youth Internship Programme (SYIP) is a one-month programme held at the beginning of every year. SYIP is targeted at O- and A-level school leavers. It has a teaching curriculum that takes its young participants through the Westminster Confession and the first twenty questions of the Shorter Catechism. The programme helps participants better understand biblical truths and explains the distinctives of Presbyterianism.

More than this, participants are also exposed to work done in our Presbyterian social arm and Presbyterian schools. SYIP climaxes with a short-term mission trip to Cambodia.

Abel Low, 17, a year one polytechnic student who finished his O-levels last year joined the SYIP programme at the start of 2024. I asked him why.

“Last year, my older brother Gideon joined another Synod-run programme called STEP,” Abel explains. “At his STEP graduation, I found out there was another programme called SYIP. Many people encouraged me to go for it, so I joined.”

STEP targets older youths and young adults. Working with A-level school leavers, university students and post-university young adults, STEP takes participants through discussions on controversial issues like election and the role of women in the church.

Participants also get to learn about church history, beginning with the book of Acts right to the history of the local church that each participant attends. While the intention of SYIP is to help participants learn about their Presbyterian roots, STEP brings this further by helping them see how their Christian faith interacts with current issues. This teaches STEP participants how to talk with, not only non-believers who may take different positions on a broad range of issues, but also Christians who may hold views that differ from the Presbyterian understanding.

Caleb Tan.

Caleb Tan was the second young man I heard about. Caleb is 22. He has finished his National Service and is waiting for university admission.

“I wanted to use my free time more meaningfully,” Caleb tells me. “So I signed up for the STEP programme."

“Personally, I learnt a lot about the history of the Presbyterian churches in Singapore. I’ve been in church forever but this is the first time I learnt this.”

Lasting four weeks, the STEP programme requires participants to attend day-long sessions from 10am to 5pm, Tuesdays through Fridays. Along with 10 other young people, Caleb also visited two churches for Sunday worship.

“We went to a Pentecostal church and a Roman Catholic church. It was an eye-opener for me. Things were done so differently. The Pentecostal church was a megachurch but still I was unprepared to see many people. It felt very beginner-friendly and maybe that’s why they had quite a crowd.”

When asked what in the training left an impression, Abel replies, “I can still remember the answers to the questions of the Shorter Catechism. I memorised them by heart. But the one that left the deepest impression is the answer to the opening question which tells us that the chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”

Abel and Caleb were also encouraged by the like-minded community that they became a part of during their training. Caleb says, “The friends I met in STEP encouraged me to want to serve more and serve better in whatever capacity in church.”

Abel shares, “It was interesting to hear my friends’ testimonies and how God turned some of their lives around. It helped me know that God is actively working in our lives even though I can’t see it.”

Rev Ong Chee Hong.

For Rev Ong, their responses were most encouraging. He says, “I’m glad that Abel and Caleb and their friends benefited from the programmes.”

He worries that some of the young people in SYIP and STEP do not always seem to grasp ‘the realness of their faith.’

“We don’t know if some of these young ones will continue in the Christian faith,” he confesses. This is why he and his co-workers feel it’s so important to teach the fundamentals like the Westminster Confession so that young people understand what they believe in.

Rev Ong’s concern is not unfounded. In a Singaporean census conducted in 2020, the percentage of Christians in the 25-34 years age group decreased from 18.4% to 17.7% when compared to 10 years ago. A similar trend was observed in the 35-44 years age group, where the number fell from 20.3% to 18.5%. *This means that the proportion of people in these demographic groups who saw themselves as Christian was smaller when compared to ten years earlier.

It is more than Singapore. These religious trends are being observed around the world. An article written by referencing a study done at Arizona Christian University titled American Worldwide Inventory 2020 pointed out that “millennials are rejecting the Christian faith, with only 2% possessing a biblical worldview. In comparison, it’s 9% for the Elder and Boomer generations and 5% for Gen X.”

Rev Ong says, “We must teach the Bible to our young people well. We must direct them to love Jesus. I pray that after SYIP and STEP, local church leaders will continue to walk with these young ones in their faith journeys.”

Abel and Caleb know that their growth does not stop even though the programmes have ended. Caleb, who is a discipleship group leader to Sec 1 and 2 youths says, “At first when I was approached to be a DGL, I rejected it because I felt very inadequate. I felt that, compared to many others, I didn’t know the Bible very well.

“After learning how to study the Bible in STEP, I hope to be more consistent in reading the Bible. Then I can impart what I have learnt to my DG.”

Abel, too, is reading and studying the Bible more after the programme. “The daily morning devotions at SYIP were most enjoyable and interesting. We took turns to lead and while that was stressful, I saw how everyone enjoyed God’s Word differently by their choice of worship songs to fit the theme of the passage they were reading for the day.”

In the Hebrew scriptures, Solomon has advice to parents to “train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6). While this proverb may seem to apply primarily to parents, it includes any person who has a responsibility to teach a young person.

There are many young people out there who are interested to learn about God. They need love and concern. They need to be taught well, so that they will walk with God every day of their lives.

They are precious.

*This line is a correction of a line which was published in an earlier version that read “This means that many people who had earlier identified as Christians no longer hold their affiliation.”

(The other two programmes organised by SYC are Synod Youth Talking Point, which holds discussions on topics such as LGBTQ throughout the year, and Synod Youth Nex Gen Conference, a three-day annual conference held in the first week of December that trains young people to read and study different genres of the Bible.)

Photo of Rev Ong Chee Hong by Daniel Liew, other photos by Lee Chung Horn.
Joyce Peh is a full-time worker with Singapore Youth For Christ.

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