Building the Next Gen: A ‘whole-church’ issue

 “No matter how good a prawn’s internal systems are, it will not survive in an unhealthy environment,” warned Mr Jose Philip, keynote speaker at the Next Generation seminar held on 3 Nov 2016 at St James’ Church. “We are the environments in which our youth are being shaped!”

Mr Philip cut right to the heart of the issue at this third and final follow-up seminar to the survey of 125 youth and children’s ministries in Singapore in which several Methodist churches had participated (see MM Oct 2015, P15).

The stage was first set by Dr Calvin Chong, Associate Professor of Educational Studies at Singapore Bible College and Chairperson of Worship and Music at Covenant Community Methodist Church, who presented a summary of findings from a follow-up qualitative study by the Evangelical Fellowship of Singapore on “Youth Ministry Realities in Singapore”. He gave the audience a quick whirl through the self-reported missions and goals expressed, strengths and weaknesses observed, and opportunities and challenges faced by these youth ministries and organisations.

Mr Philip, an Evangelist and Apologist with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries as well as lecturer at theological seminaries in Singapore and Malaysia, then stepped up to challenge the audience: “What will it take for us to take this information, and work with it to bear fruit?” He quoted these thought-provoking statements:

To our forefathers, faith was an experience.

To our fathers, it was an inheritance.

To us, it was a convenience.

To our children, it is a nuisance.

Having sounded this sombre note, Mr Philip went on to unpack some of the reasons behind such shifts, so that the Church can take stock and reconfigure with a better understanding of how choices by the current generation of adults carry a far-reaching impact on the next generation of children and youth.

He noted that in many areas, “we have levelled the ground where we shouldn’t have – that of the distinction between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world”. At the same time, we have “created divides where we shouldn’t have”, for example between “faith” and “knowledge”. He pointed out: “We tend to think faith is in the absence of knowledge. However, this is not true of Christianity, because of our commitment to revealed truth. Have you ever been able to have faith in what you don’t know? Faith is a commitment to what you know is true!”

Mr Philip also urged parents to examine the values that are reflected in their actions and choices, as these are clear signals to their children of what should be valued. “The less we desire to know Jesus today,” he warned, “the less relevant He’s going to be for our children tomorrow.”

Calling for more adults to walk alongside young persons, he noted: “The most valuable gift we can give to our young people is not a picture of our perfection, but a ring-side view into our transformation. Jesus never gave an instruction before He invited people to ‘come and see’.”

A panel discussion followed (above pic), moderated by Dr Chong and featuring Mr Philip and Mr Ng Zhi-wen, a staff member of Zion Bishan Bible-Presbyterian Church and co-founder of TeamZero, a group of young adult Christians.

Mr Ng opined, “Culture has changed a lot, but two things will never change: The Word of God, and the Word of God embodied in the people of God. It takes a whole church bringing the whole Word to grow the whole person.”

“Not just inspirational verses to get me through the day,” he said, “but the whole Word of God. If young people are not biblically literate, they are going to be without purpose. There’s nothing so practical and relevant as good theology… it helps them to make sense of their purpose in the light of God’s missional purposes.”

“Whole person” refers to relational needs – “Programmes don’t disciple people; people disciple people.” The important thing is to meet people where they are. “The context of ministry today is very much one of brokenness… We need to be open and vulnerable about our own brokenness, sharing how Jesus can take our wounds and turn them into marks of grace.”

Questions from the floor focused on practical matters. “Where do we start?” asked an audience member. “How possible is it to reach such an ideal?”

Dr Chong noted that we need to watch out for two things: What is not happening in our churches? What is happening badly in our churches? “It’s a whole-church problem,” he pointed out, “not just the youth group. Some of the polity and things that we have inherited may feel stifling… Have we been functioning as compelling signs to point people to Christ?”

Mr Ng stressed that prayer is needed to bring about change, and also working together as the Body of Christ. “I spent a year in an Assemblies of God church,” he shared, “and gained so much insight.”

This point about unity was further reinforced when another audience member asked how the rest of the church could be brought on board in seeing this as a whole-church issue, and not restricted to youth ministry.

Mr Ng responded: “One of the things that stifles ministry is when we operate in silos. We need to start talking to each other, relating issues to each other… it starts with lots of conversations, with the lead pastor and leaders in church.” Mr Philip agreed, noting: “Change always happens one step at a time; we have to go the distance patiently. How do we get the church involved? One member at a time!”

Ms Margaret Lim, Youth and Children Worker at Living Hope Methodist Church, commented about the seminar: “It was amazing how the speakers put into words the cries of our hearts. Mr Philip warned that what one generation ignores, the next generation will take for granted. May this warning no longer fall on deaf ears.”

Play your part in “whole-church” discipleship – sign up for the D6 Family Conference 2017 organised by the Sower Institute for Biblical Discipleship, supported by the Trinity Annual Conference Board of Children’s Ministry, among other churches. More info at www.bible.org.sg/d6familyconference


Grace Toh –

is the Editor of Methodist Message and a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church. She is secretly obsessed with patterns, and her favourite plant has leaves parallel to each other.

An audience member asking a question during the panel discussion.

Photos courtesy of The Bible Society® of Singapore