Pastoral Perspectives

The ALPHA Course

            I have just returned from the ALPHA leadership Conference in London hosted by Holy trinity Brompton Church. What struck me were the testimonies by key leaders from the various denominations including Bill Hybels, one of the keynote speaker, all sharing the same heartbeat of UNITY in the wider Christian community. The focus is on Jesus Christ and what he had done for all on the cross. This was resounded by Nicky Gumbel, giving God the glory for all that he has done through ALPHA over the last 20 odd years, and if someday, we find ALPHA is not the way in world evangelization, so be it. It is not about ALPHA, it is about who God is, the Gospel and what are we, believers in Christ doing about it.

            This program originated at the Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB), an Anglican church in England, and was developed by HTB pastor Nicky Gumbel for use by churches in addition to his own. Since its inception in 1992, the ALPHA Course is currently running in 169 Countries and 20 million people worldwide had attended it. The APLHA resources have been translated into 112 languages. The key question: “is there more to life than this?” The Alpha course seeks to explore the meaning of life.

            Alpha is an acronym, which explains the purpose and goal of the course as follows:

Anyone interested in finding out more about the Christian faith is welcome.

Learning and laughter. It is possible to learn about the Christian faith and have fun.

Pasta & pao. A meal together gives people an opportunity to get to know each other.

Helping one another. The small groups give you a chance to discuss issues.

Ask anything. Alpha is a place where no question is regarded as too simple or too hostile.

            In the United Kingdom the press reported that ALPHA is the world’s most popular course in Christianity. The Guardian wrote: “What Alpha offers, and what is attracting thousands of people, is permission, rare in secular culture, to discuss the big questions – life and death and their meaning.”What distinguishes Alpha from other initiatives is the easy-going, relaxed feel of the proceedings – that, and its astonishing success, said the Times.

            Some may be wondering why True Way chooses to embrace ALPHA as an outreach tool. Similar to the passion of Nicky Gumbel, the simple reason is that of Jesus’ prayer for all believers which can only be fulfilled through each of us as recorded in John 17:20-22: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word,that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one,” Can the Christian community not look at our common ground, agree on matters of basic faith and bear one another burden rather than splitting hairs in our differences? The truth is unity in the Christian faith sends out a strong message and testimony to an unbelieving world.

            In the United States, the Alpha Course’s is rising popularity among evangelical churches fueled by endorsements from some of the leading evangelicals in America—including mega-church pastors Bill Hybels and Rick Warren. Bill Hybels (Southern Baptist): “We applaud the vision and work of Alpha to connect the unconnected to the life of the local church and to relationship with Jesus.” Rick Warren (Southern Baptist): “It’s great to see how Alpha has been used to reach people with the good news of Jesus Christ, who wouldn’t normally come to church. This resource is very complementary to helping seekers connect with The Purpose Driven Life.” Alpha has also forged close official partnerships with several evangelical organizations including Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, Outreach Ministries and Prison Fellowship.

            ALPHA allows new believers to become more familiar with the Christian faith and for unbelievers to hear about Christ. It is not about ALPHA, it is about the Gospel. It is a tool that provides us opportunity to be a part of the evangelism effort of the church. This reminded me of a concept mentioned in page 85 of the book that the EDC is studying this year, “Becoming a Contagious Church”. What does this means? This means that one person leading a hundred others to faith is not as great as that same person helping one hundred others to each lead one person to faith. (1×100 is less than 100×1) In this scenario, you not only end up with a hundred new believers, you also have a hundred newly fired up evangelists who now know the exhilaration and fulfillment of leading someone else to Christ!

            Every believer should be doing evangelism. Every Christian regardless of the spiritual gifts he or she may or may not have is a member of the church to which Jesus gave the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18 -20) and consequently has a vital role in fulfilling it. The bottom line question still is how do we instill evangelistic values in the people around you? Can we not run ALPHA? Yes but do we have another option? The key is not to wait until you feel completely prepared. It will never happen! Les Brown, a motivational speaker says that the key to growing and making changes is to “make your move before you are ready.” It’s like the challenge, “Leap and the net will appear!” Many a time, this is true – God shows up, help comes through, details fall together and people are impacted by the gospel. (Pg. 60, Becoming a Contagious Church) It is my prayers and the prayers of the leadership that we will make the move to leap and God shows up. We want to thank God for Deacon Lawrence Fu who champions this course and for leading Pearl’s CG and his own CG to pioneer the first run of ALPHA. Let us not fold our hands to wait and see, let us support them in our prayers, invite someone for the introductory dinner on 28 June (Friday) and allow the Holy Spirit to convict and move amongst us and we may be the answer to Jesus’ prayer in John 17 that they may be one even as we are one.”

Pastor Cheng Huat

June 2, 2013