Meet the Annual Conference Presidents: The Rev Dr Gregory Goh Nai Lat (CAC)
Anyone who knew the Rev Dr Gregory Goh Nai Lat when he was young might not have imagined he would one day become the President of the Chinese Annual Conference (CAC) and provide spiritual leadership for 17 Chinese-speaking churches under The Methodist Church in Singapore (MCS). And he did it for two terms (2017–20 and 2021–24).
Born into a dysfunctional household where he saw his mother continually interacting negatively with his Christian grandmother, the Rev Dr Goh came to hate the faith. So deep was his disdain for Christianity that he ripped apart a Bible he received in school.
But God did not let go of him. His deeply personal faith journey with the Almighty has brought both spiritual and physical healing, for the Rev Dr Goh suffered from chronic asthma since childhood.
He endured many sleepless nights of struggling just to breathe. One such night, the young Rev Dr Goh’s thoughts drifted to life after death.
“From my earliest days, I would often ask myself: Who is this voice speaking inside me? Will this voice continue to exist when I die? Where do I stand in the entire magnitude of the universe?” recalled the Rev Dr Goh. Despite not having a clear idea of God at that time, he asked God for healing.
“God did heal me,” said the Rev Dr Goh, “but it was not total. That said, I have come to experience being asthma-free, barring the rare episode here and there.”
Even as he sees the partial healing as a blessing from God, the Rev Dr Goh feels the lingering asthma serves as a reminder that God is faithful and He alone is more than sufficient to keep him.
Finding faith in pre-university
Being totally Chinese-educated, the Rev Dr Goh’s poor English O-level results made it difficult for him to get a place in a local educational institution. This was in the early days of Singapore’s nationhood, when the Government decided to close Chinese-medium tertiary institutions. He eventually secured a seat in the Pre-University classes held at the Seventh-Day Adventist Church.
There, he met Mr Tan Hua Joo from Telok Ayer Chinese MC (TACMC), who would turn his fledgling Christian life around. Mr Tan invited him to the TACMC Youth Fellowship year-end retreat where he was ministered to and learned more about Christ.
“It was at Telok Ayer [CMC] where I joined the caroling group even though I still did not see myself as a Christian at that time. But it didn’t matter as I found it fun. However, what was different this time is that I developed a habit of prayer.”
After about two years in TACMC, the Rev Dr Goh was baptised.
A hand on the plough, but with an eye looking back
His university years were most challenging to his faith. It was the start of a tumultuous spiritual tug-of-war between the opportunities of the world and the ones God would lay in front of him.
“I should have known that my entry into university was only possible with the grace of God. To be frank, I was but an average student and with my terrible English results, it would have been impossible to secure a place had I not been accepted on provisional grounds based on my good scores in Economics. God has indeed been gracious to me.”
“As my family was not financially well-off, being able to graduate to a well-paying job would be the ideal ticket to help my family out of all our monetary problems,” explained the Rev Dr Goh.
It was indeed an alluring path towards financial security but one that God was adamant for the Rev Dr Goh not to take. While he was preparing to send out job applications to the major banks, God made Himself heard in asking him pointedly: “Where am I?”, clearly wanting him to seek Him more wholeheartedly.
From then on, the Rev Dr Goh had no peace. He found himself grappling with God’s direction for his life, which he sensed was to become a pastor. God continued to impress His will for the Rev Dr Goh to put aside his qualifications in Economics and pursue a theological degree instead.
“Predictably, I started to bargain with God,” chuckled the Rev Dr Goh. “I told Him that this path was not possible because as the only Christian and the only son in my family, I had a responsibility towards my family.” He pleaded with God to give him a decade, later reduced to five years, in banking to get his family financially stable before returning to serve God. He also tried to convince God that he could serve Him in other capacities, like as a social worker.
At his wits’ end, the Rev Dr Goh approached his pastor for help in discerning God’s direction for him. Surprisingly, the pastor affirmed it and even offered monetary support for his theological education.
But this still did not sit well with the Rev Dr Goh, even though he realised that he was just making excuses and God’s patience was wearing thin.
“Here comes the dramatic part—God actually scolded me,” said the Rev Dr Goh, recalling his experience near the end of his final term. When alone on the rooftop of the National University of Singapore library, the Rev Dr Goh heard the Lord yet again, except this time it was anything but a gentle reproach: “You, who have a hand on the plough but an eye that constantly looks back, are not fit for My kingdom.”
Stung by the Lord’s words, the Rev Dr Goh immediately prayed for forgiveness and decided to go to Trinity Theological College (TTC). After registering at TTC, he was offered a place in the Economics Honours degree programme.
But this time, the Rev Dr Goh knew there was to be no turning back.
Challenges for ministry in the new quadrennium
2021 marks the 29th year of the Rev Dr Goh’s service to the Lord.
Embarking on his second term as the CAC President, he is mindful of the challenges ahead of the CAC. In particular, there is the urgency to formulate a framework for the CAC churches to engage in a consistent and sustainable programme for disciple-making and evangelism.
Evangelism is an area close to the Rev Dr Goh’s heart. He is constantly thinking about how CAC’s Chinese churches can best reach out to the non-Christians in their respective communities and not just work in silos.
“I think the Church is doing very well in reaching out to the least through our extensive social concerns arm but much more can be done in engaging the lost because you cannot win souls through social concerns,” mused the Rev Dr Goh. “You have to spend time and effort to build relationships with them.”
Praying for the CAC
Please pray for:
- The effectiveness of the Central Pooling initiative kickstarted last quadrennium, that it will be a conducive platform for CAC churches to come together more closely as a family and for greater synergy in their collective ministries.
- God to bring in the right talents and minds, especially from the youths, to serve as fulltime pastors in order to sustainably replace outgoing members of the clergy.
- An effective strategy to be drafted to create a cohesive disciple-making process so as to help CAC produce more disciples, thereby leading to the growth of the Annual Conference.
- God’s wisdom, discernment and strength to rest upon the Rev Dr Goh as he leads the CAC.
Jason Woo is the Communications Executive at MCS Comms. / Photos courtesy of the Rev Dr Goh Nai Lat.