Features, Highlights

Stories, rituals and relationships: building the next generation

“Don’t think of the ‘good old days’ when things were much more simple, because they’re not coming back!” advised Dr Calvin Chong, key presenter at the Next Generation seminar held on 28 June at St James’ Church. “Get to grips with it and think: ‘How?’ ”

Dr Chong, Associate Professor of Educational Studies at Singapore Bible College, discussed “The Role of Stories, Rituals and Relationships in Discipleship” at the second in a series of three follow-up seminars to the historic National Children & Youth Survey conducted in 2014-2015 (previously reported in Methodist Message Oct 2015, P15). Several Methodist churches had participated in the survey.

Discipleship today, said Dr Chong, is happening in a much more complex environment, where identities, values and worldviews are no longer shaped primarily within the bounds of one’s home. The factors are many: both global and local, geographic and digital, social and psychological, what’s happening in the world and in the church.

In view of this multi-faceted situation, Dr Chong cautioned that “there is no single ‘silver bullet’ solution”. Quoting from Ivy Beckwith’s book, Formational Children’s Ministry: Shaping Children Using Story, Ritual and Relationship, he noted: “Humans live by story, order their lives through habitual ritualistic behaviour, and are highly relational beings. Shaping children’s hearts and minds in Christian discipleship will thus require church communities and families to understand the dynamics of formation and be actively involved in the process of Christian nurture.”

Stories, he clarified, are the narratives one listens to and lives out. Rituals do not necessarily refer to liturgy, but are the habit-forming, everyday things that one does. “There is a big distinction between everyday formational activities, and a once-off event,” said Dr Chong, going on to quote from his conversation with a media professional: “It’s not a media platform unless it builds habits!” He went on to query: “In this digital global village, who is raising your child?”

Media and secular worldviews, however, cannot bear all the blame. Dr Chong pointed out that there are competing lived-out stories, rituals and relationships right where the children and youth are – in their schools, homes, etc. He left the audience with this reflection: “What are the compelling narratives, rituals, and relationships that will draw the next generation to and keep them with the Lord?”

Responding to his presentation, a panel of four guests shared comments from their respective perspectives as a children’s ministry leader, a church leader, a parenting advocate, and a youth ministry leader.

Ms Christina Ong, Vice-Chairperson of the Board of Children’s Ministry in Trinity Annual Conference, agreed that personal storytelling and testimony are effective in ministry. “Unless we have experienced it, we don’t have a story to tell,” she said. “They’re very interested in our stories.”

The Rev Dr Christopher Chia, Senior Pastor and Moderator at Adam Road Presbyterian Church, noted that storytelling is at the heart of Christian life: “The Gospel and the Christian life is the greatest story!” He also spoke of the need to equip parents, noting that many could themselves be suffering from disengagement with Christian stories, rituals and relationships.

Mr Yuen Chee Onn, head of outreach at the Centre for Fathering, echoed the need to equip parents in spiritual formation for their children. “In the Bible,” he noted, “fathers are given the mandate to lead the family spiritually, but they often don’t know how to do it.” He advocated encouraging fathers to attend parenting conferences, assuring them: “There’s help for fathers!”

Pastor Joey Asher Tan, assistant head of the next-generation ministry and youth pastor of Grace Assembly of God, emphasised building relationships, relating his experience of how spending one-to-one personal time in the transition from youth to young adult ministry led to a 60-70 per cent retention rate. “You can’t substitute hours spent for knowledge gained,” he asserted.

The next seminar in the series will be held on 3 Nov 2016, 7.30 p.m. at St James’ Church (register at www.bible.org.sg/nextgenseminar). This series is jointly organised by The Sower Institute for Biblical Discipleship and the Evangelical Fellowship of Singapore.


See also: Sep 2016 ‘THINK’ article on “Where are our young people?” (P24)


In Photo: L-R: Panellists Mr Yuen Chee Onn, Pastor Joey Asher Tan, the Rev Dr Christopher Chia, Ms Christina Ong, and panel facilitator Ms Gwen De Rozario.


Photo courtesy of The Bible Society® of Singapore


Grace Toh –

is Assistant Editor of Methodist Message and has been a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church for most of her life.