MCS youths: The ones who stayed

MCS youths - The ones who stayed
Some of the PLMC youths with Rev Wendy Tay

It is often said in Christian circles that the Church is always a generation away from extinction.

For The Methodist Church in Singapore (MCS), the need to engage and retain the youth in our churches has become more urgent, particularly as many appear to be moving to megachurches that are generally non-denominational, or leaving the faith entirely.

Enter the “Why I Stayed” social media campaign.

Initiated by the General Conference Communications team and launched in May on the MCS Instagram page, the campaign featured Methodist youths and young adults sharing how issues and challenges in church and in life made them question their faith. Despite this, they chose to remain in their respective churches. Three of the stories are highlighted here.

“God kept showing up!”

Caitlin Foo, 26, Paya Lebar Methodist Church (PLMC)

Caitlin came to Christ at 13 when she found a God who “kept showing up” in her life and became real to her. However, growing up at PLMC in her formative years did not shield Caitlin from experiences that caused her to question her faith.

“There was a time when many friends and people I grew up with decided to leave for another church or Christianity altogether. That was a huge period of testing for my faith. The youth ministry was something that meant a lot to me, and I had to witness it unravel,” said Caitlin.

“I felt abandoned, lonely and quite bitter. I was disillusioned about the Church, and there was not much guidance to help me navigate this. The main issue I struggled to reconcile was the disconnect between what the Church was supposed to be (a loving and welcoming community) and the reality surrounding me (that many of my friends had deserted).

“During these times, I was still involved in church activities, but my faith was not growing, and there was no joy. There were lots of painful prayers and just grieving over what was lost.”

Still, Caitlin chose to remain and serve God, mainly because of the leadership responsibilities she was given.

“Through those responsibilities, I had the opportunity to witness God restore a broken community. At that point, I was dependent on God’s direction, and He showed me people and solutions for the problems around,” Caitlin explained.

“Leaving the Church at that point of time would have been disobeying Him.”

God brought people to minister and engage her through different seasons of her life. She counted among them the fellow leaders who faithfully stayed the course, pastors who connected her to a healthy and consistent cell group whose members treated her warmly despite not knowing her well.

“What helped was simply their fellowship, sincerity when listening, genuine prayer and their availability,” she shared.

Today, Caitlin continues to work with the youth in church. She actively engages them in honest conversations that constantly point them towards an unfailing God who is deeply interested in their lives.

To those who may be disillusioned by the Church, Caitlin says, “Ultimately, the Church is made up of broken and sinful people. So do not be surprised when there is conflict and pain within its walls. At the same time, do not withdraw from the Church, because Jesus Christ gave His life up for it,” she said.

“If you have suffered hurt from the church, honestly seek God for restoration. Ask Him to reveal the beauty and necessity of the Church. While I have seen people leave the Church, I have also seen people return to it.”

“The Church is a family that restores”

Andre Chan, 25, Barker Road Methodist Church (BRMC)

Andre Chan spent his entire childhood worshipping in BRMC where, in his words, he “continuously imbibed Christian culture in [his] mind and spirit for many years”. Everything seemed peachy for the young Andre.

That his Christian worldview would be upturned seemed impossible until he entered Yale–NUS College at 21. There, Andre was exposed to a melting pot of peers of various religious and spiritual backgrounds.

“One of my closest friends came from Tunisia, which has Islam as its official state religion. Another came from Serbia, which is predominantly populated by Eastern Orthodox Christians. Yet they were not religious,” described Andre.

Studying in an institution that so prized reason and open-mindedness to other philosophies also meant that Andre had to contend with a plethora of ideologies that threatened to undermine and subsume his Christian worldview. Andre witnessed many giving up their faith, whether temporarily or for good.

The prevailing sense around Andre that religion stood in the way of rational thinking slowly chipped at his own faith. Andre found himself drifting away from Christianity, seeing it as a way to exercise independence to feed his desire for self-sufficiency. After all, his contemporaries’ reasons for moving away from their own religions seemed logical.

“My friends did not see the objective truth in the faith they had grown up with. Rather, they saw belief as a cultural norm that ties society together. However, when Christianity/Islam becomes a cultural norm, it can lead to judgement against people who do not fit into such norms. This makes faith quite unattractive,” said Andre.

The dissonance within Andre gradually grew unbearable. Things came to a head when Andre went through a painful breakup. He felt constantly distracted and could feel the devil urging him to commit suicide. Hoping to find some solace, he attended a church service.

“That day in church, I was overwhelmed by a desire to escape my hurt with death. So I put on my bag and got ready to leave the sanctuary, till something the worship leader said stopped me in my tracks. I cannot remember what he said. Then one of my friends who was sitting beside me noticed that I was troubled. We had grown up in church together so he hugged me. I broke down as I experienced God’s love in my friend’s arms.”

Through this, Andre came to an important realisation: “I believe that Christ saved us to be a part of a body of believers. Through our love for one another, He is bringing restoration to our lives so that we can bring healing to the world. I am still in church because I want to bring gospel renewal to my church in terms of our life together as the body of Christ. This means carving out time to support and love one another.”

Spurred by his experience, Andre is now actively involved in journeying with fellow young adults whom he used to lead in his youth group. “I aim to be someone who they can turn to whenever they need help. I also want to help them to read the Bible and comprehend how it all points to Jesus who redeems the world.”

“The gospel of Christ teaches us that no matter how far we run or how much we doubt, we are equally saved by grace through faith in Him. Go ahead and question the sturdiness of Christianity so that your faith is not built on how much conviction you have, but on the historical proofs and the robustness of Christ’s gospel that renews all things.

“I was not committed to taking questioning seriously [before] and used my doubt as an excuse to push for my own sovereignty. To avoid this trap, I encourage youths to take Christ seriously and to question Him,” advised Andre.

“God never stopped chasing down my heart”

Thaddeus Lee, 23, PLMC

Even though he has attended church since he was seven, the gospel never really made an impact on Thaddeus until he came to Christ in 2013 when he was 15, while attending PLMC.

While a young Christian, Thaddeus wrestled with many questions surrounding his new faith. He delved into deep topics such as the conflicts between pre-determinism and pre-destination and that the God in the Old Testament seemed different from the one in the New Testament. However, these questions were not the ones which made him choose to leave the Church later on. In fact, Thaddeus was blessed to have many people in church who journeyed with him faithfully and gently in his search for answers to his questions.

It was while doing National Service that he decided to leave the faith. “I left because I was unrightfully angry at God and the church community I was in. It was not any theological dissonance but rather one that was very emotionally driven. It began when I started to battle anxiety attacks along with feelings of loneliness and abandonment,” recollected Thaddeus.

“I felt like I was in a rut from being physically and mentally exhausted from training while also being spiritually and emotionally drained from all that I was feeling. I snapped and turned away from everything I knew.”

Yet although he walked away from God, God Himself never did.

What ultimately led to his return to the fold was when Thaddeus sent off a longtime church friend, Joseph, at the airport. Meeting his ex-church friends was awkward for Thaddeus as he had previously severed ties with them on an angry note. Despite this, Thaddeus found himself welcomed by those whom he had spurned in a fit of anger.

Just before leaving, Joseph turned to Thaddeus and asked him to speak to his mentor about his spiritual struggles. Thaddeus found himself agreeing to do it. God then made His move on Thaddeus.

“[The conversation was] what God used to really reach out to me, helping me understand my hurts and bring me back to His side. God helped me realise that I had been drowning in pride, bitterness and allowed self-centeredness to control me. As a result, it affected my relationship with people and God,” said Thaddeus.

After the talk, when Thaddeus decided to return to church, he was surprised and overwhelmed by the positive reception he received. He likened his experience to that of the prodigal son. He felt comforted by the very church friends who had every right to be angry with him for his lashing out at them prior to his departure, yet chose to forgive and rejoice at his return.

“It was so clear in hindsight how everything was orchestrated so that I could come out of the battle having learnt more about myself and Him. I am nobody special—just an ordinary guy with an extraordinary God who never gave up on him. The only thing I had to do was stepping in and trusting Him; He’s already done the rest.”

Thaddeus is now mentoring peers who are rising up as new cell group leaders as well as a 16-year-old boy, all the while juggling his university studies. He is keenly aware of the struggles that youth have with their Christian faith and the reality of teenage angst.

Thaddeus has this encouragement for young people who may be fighting their own internal battles: “Dear brother- or sister-in-Christ. I know that what you are going through is tough. I am in no way undermining or belittling how you are feeling through this struggle. I know that the thoughts and the hurt can be overwhelming at times, even going so far that you cannot hear God. But I want you to know that you’re so very loved. Your heavenly Father has seen you through the worst of it and He will do it again.”

Anthony Lee
Pastor-in-Charge, Ang Mo Kio MC

No two journeys are identical, and what is probably most helpful for young people is to have honest and open conversations about their thoughts and struggles throughout the various seasons in their lives. While these conversations can happen at the peer level, it is also crucial to have these conversations with mature Christians who are further along the path.

Truth be told, most—if not all—Christians have struggled with their faith at some point in their lives. And because no two journeys are identical, open and honest conversations are where we can deliberately expose ourselves to, and experience the power, love and grace of God silently and yet strongly at work in all our lives.

Jason Woo is the Communications Executive at MCS Comms. / Photos courtesy of Caitlin Foo, Andre Chan and Thaddeus Lee