Monday, September 27, 2010

What's a Pastor to Do?

This article is food for thought. For Church members and those who go to Church on a regular basis, one of the questions most often asked is: "What does the pastor do during the week?"

I have heard many different expectations of a pastor. They are expected to:

  • conduct marriages for couples;
  • Do funerals or conduct house blessings; 
  • visit the sick in hospitals;
  • Take care of the Church office administration;
  • Preach and teach the Bible;
  • Administer the sacraments;
  • Take charge of the Sunday services etc;
  • Participate in board meetings and leadership groups in the Church;
  • Link up with neighbouring Churches when doing outreach or community projects;
  • Take care of the flock entrusted to their care;
  • Answerable to the higher authorities in the Church hierarchy (if any?)
  • ..... 
In some churches, especially some Korean ones, the senior pastor is expected to preach every morning and to visit all in the Church. It is not surprising for such a pastor to be labeled a 'spiritual superman.'

The list goes on to include different aspects of spirituality as well as counseling, prayer, exposition of the Word of God, and of course home visitation. If there is any indication, the list of responsibilities tends to grow longer over time. This article provides a laser-like focus on the special calling of pastors. I would venture to include Church leaders like elders, deacons, committee chairpersons, group leaders and others in strategic places within the fellowship. In "What's a Pastor to Do?" Bob Kellemen focuses on equipping the saints. 

He says that instead of the primary role of pastors being the 'preacher, care-giver, and CEO," which is what most congregation members expect, we need to focus on what Christ expects pastors to do. In a nutshell, he says:
"Christ’s grand plan for His Church is for pastors/teachers to focus on equipping every member to do the work of the ministry."
The idea sounds good to me. However, it lacks the pointed question of 'how?' To his credit, he offers a suggestion as:
"Your spiritual craft or gift is to help others to scout out their spiritual gift, identify that area of ministry, and empower them to use that gift."
That itself is potentially superfluous. Isn't that a calling to all within the Church? It is like discipleship. We are all called to practice discipleship within the Church. When everybody is expected to do everything, the potential is that nobody will desire to do anything. 

Perhaps, the role of the pastor is to be an example for disciple-making. Pastors lead the way on what it means to disciple one another in Christ. Thankfully, Kellemen adds the example of Paul:
"He made making disciple-makers his personal ministry description—Colossians 1:28-29. He made equipping equippers his personal ministry practice—Acts 20:13-38. Christ’s grand vision so captured Paul’s ministry mindset that at the end of his life he passed onto Timothy the vision of equipping equippers of equippers—2 Timothy 2:2. The baton of equipping passed from Christ’s hands, to Paul’s hands, to Timothy’s hands, to the hands of reliable disciple-makers who passed it on yet again."
Having said this, the idea of equipping is certainly a good one, even a necessary one. Perhaps the way Kellemen ends the article is enough to get us going. If you are currently a leader of a group, think about the role of equipping others to take over as your primary goal. That changes the way we do ministry. That changes the way we understand discipleship. In fact, equipping one another in the Lord is discipleship at its core.

Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20)
This calling is not just for pastors, but for all who call themselves disciples of Christ. May the pastor lead the way by example.


Friday, September 24, 2010

WQRP - A Quiet Time Tip

MAIN POINT: Ever had problems about Quiet Time? Troubled because you are not sure how to do it? Perhaps, this article is for you. Enjoy using the WQRP method as you spend a quiet moment with the Lord. Enjoy a cuppa with God.

What is that one thing that distinguishes earnest Christians from nominal ones? I believe the single most defining feature is their faithfulness in doing their "Quiet Time." I first learned of this term when I joined a Christian Fellowship during my undergraduate years. People would carve out a few minutes to an hour to spend time reading the Bible, praying, writing and conversing with God during quiet moments of the day. It is a discipline of a believer. It is the mark of a Christian disciple. It is the tending of the heart toward spiritual growth.

I have been doing various kinds of quiet time during these years. I admit it has not been very consistent in terms of my formula. In fact I do more QT moments during busy years working in a full-time job as an engineer. These days, I have more time to reflect due to the nature of my job. After all, I am a pastor. More than that, I simply love the Word of God, that my Quiet Time become a 'Quiet Day' as I pray at each opportunity throughout the day. I recall verses I memorize, and when I write I use the Bible and apply its truths in my articles. This is indeed a privilege to be able to be in a position like the man in Ps 1:
"But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night." (Ps 1:2)
My Personal Tip - WQRP
Maybe, let me share with you a particular formula that perhaps can assist you in your Quiet Time with the Lord. Some of us may have devotional materials. Feel free to use them. For me, I recommend a Bible and a song/hymn book. After allocating a regular time per day, and a suitable place, remember the acronym WQRP.

Start with singing a hymn or a chorus. It does not need to be long. Pick a passage from the Bible. Read it at least twice. The first time is to familiarize yourself with the passage. The second time is done with an eye to understand the meaning of the text. Then read it a third time, this time more meditatively. For example, let's read Ps 1:2. I will read through the entire Psalm quickly the first time. This way, not only do I familiarize myself with the passage, I get to know the context. Then in my second reading, I will slow down as I approach verse 2. I note the word that begins verse 2: "BUT." Then I feed on the entire verse, slowly, surely and meditatively.

In this second part, I must not be too quick to assume I understand what God is saying straightaway. That will be like pressing the answer bell prematurely before the teacher asks the question. Let the Holy Spirit guide. Context is important. Often, understanding the context will resolve a lot of our questions. Patient and accurate reading will illuminate more.

Continuing the example in Psalm 1:2, I ask:
  • What do you mean by 'delight?'
  • What is meditation?
  • What does the Psalmist mean by 'day and night?'
  • How is this verse linked to the former verse in the beginning?

Here is where things become interesting. In fact this is increasingly my challenging part. Here what I do is to link what I am reading with a challenging thought on how the passage can be applied to me in modern times. Do not worry if you do not have the answers. Keep the questions alive throughout the day. Asks questions that are meaningful at your point of your spiritual life.
  • If this spiritual man is the holy yardstick, how close am I to achieving it?
  • Is this kind of a spiritual life possible for us in busy societies?
  • How on earth is it possible to meditate 'day and night?' We have to work too right?

Simply because I place prayer at the end, does not mean it should be the last thing to do. In fact, prayer and meditation on the Word goes hand in hand. I pray throughout my devotional time. When I read the Word, I pray for the Holy Spirit to guide me. When I asks QUESTIONS, I let the Holy Spirit guide my focus toward grappling with the Truth in the Bible. When I probe my heart with a challenge, I pray that the Holy Spirit will guide me gently to find the most appropriate teaching moment. For example, you can conclude by praying:
"Dear Heavenly Father, Thank You for this intimate moment with You. Thank You for showing me a man whose delight is in pursuing after You. I pray that You give me this delight constantly, that I can be a blessing to people around me. Show me how to be Christlike in my day ahead.

I'll see you tomorrow, same time and same place. But if I bump into You during the day, I'll be most happy. I ask in Jesus's Name. Amen"
 For a start, do the WQRP if you do not have any particular Quiet Time method. Adapt it to your situation and once you have the momentum going, derive your own QT styles and methods and share with others.

May this spark off a WQRP moment for you. Remember, it does not have to be long. Just make it delightful, no matter how short it is.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Tribute to Vernon Grounds

Not many of us will know who Dr Vernon Grounds is. If you are like me, you will probably have heard more about Denver Seminary than this past president of the esteemed theological institution. This man of God went home to the Lord on September 12th, 2010 at the age of 96, after having touched many lives.  I myself am moved by the tributes of how this man has brought along a positive influence for many. Though I have not met this man, the way that people have praised his work and his warm personality is enough to touch heart strings.
Photo Credit: Denver Seminary

A) Dr Bruce Shelley's Tribute
The late Dr Shelley calls Grounds as one who lives:
"By stressing the centrality of Christian love and its role in life and ministry, Grounds helped to reshape the movement’s outlook and central mission in the world. “A fellowship of love,” he once said, “is the goal of human life.  God made man to live in love with Himself and his neighbor.” And since men and women are made to live in love, they experience self-fulfillment only as they achieve human relationships which give them “a secure feeling of ‘at-one-ment.” In such relationships, he said, they are understood, accepted, and valued, but apart from such relationships they exist in loneliness, insecurity, and frustration." (excerpted from his tribute here.)
Shelley writes about how Dr Grounds engages the intellectual challenges during his time. A trained psychologist, he tries to see the world through both Christian as well as non-Christian eyes. As honest as he can, he finds that the latter view as depressing and hopeless. Yet, instead of dismissing people who hold atheistic views, his response is to pray. This is the gem of a response. Too often we are too quick to debate and to argue our points of view. Do we not know that spiritual things need to be handled by the Spirit? We can only show the way. The chief organ is prayer. In that mood, the way our words flow out will be that of grace and peace.

B) Gordon MacDonald's Tribute
This tribute is a lot more personal, from one of the most renowned authors in the Christian publishing world. MacDonald paints Grounds as personal mentor, a good friend and a wise man who patiently were there for him in his hour of need. He writes:
"He never seemed to give up on anyone because he so strongly believed in both mercy and fresh starts as the essence of Jesus' gospel. I know this because, years ago, I was one of those who crawled to that door. When I went through a time of personal and catastrophic failure, he was there to remind me of this "gospel of the second chance." (Excerpted from ChristianityToday's article here)
My Comments
Having recently lost my father, eulogies and tributes have become especially meaningful for me. It tells me about the way we can honour those who have passed on, especially those who have demonstrated Christlikeness and godliness in their own lives. Dr Vernon Grounds' life will stand out as one godly man who has lived a life in such a way that people can see Christ in their lives.

Perhaps, this is the goal of all disciples of Christ. Live in such a way that people can readily tell the Christ that is in us. In fact, the biggest tribute anyone can give me will be the following:
"When I see you, I see the Christ in you."

May the Lord grant me grace to be more Christlike each day. God bless Vernon Grounds.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Visualizing Our Own Funeral

As a little boy, one of the taboo topics is to talk about our own funeral. The superstitious avoid them like a plague. The fearful cover their ears and many prefer simply NOT to talk about it. When an argument gets unruly, it is common to say nasty things to each other. Phrases like:
  • "Go to hell!"
  • "Get lost."
  • "Go and prepare for your own funeral!"
Telling people to go and end their life is perhaps one of the most disgusting things to say. Even today, it remains an avoided topic among many cultures to talk about death and dying.

Why Visualize?
The CEO of Thomas-Nelson, Michael Hyatt blogged about something I remember reading about many years ago. He asks the poignant question: "What Will They Say When You Are Dead?"

Eeek! That is gruesome, but is it out of touch with reality? No. There is a place. I believe that it is never too early to prepare for retirement. Likewise, it is never too ridiculous to talk about our funeral as well. This is how Hyatt justifies for the self-preparation. Firstly, he highlights Steven Covey's first habit of highly effective people. Hyatt calls this the ultimate 'end.'
"Begin with the end in mind."

Hyatt leads by example, saying that he tweaks his 'last words' every year about our own eulogy, and suggests the following 5 tips in writing them. Let me paraphrase them.
  1. Individual Time slotting ourselves a solid 4-hours of 'Me-Time' each year, that is, time alone with self.
  2. Look for a place where one is not distracted, preferably a place private and serene.
  3. Identify the list of people who means a lot in our lives;
  4. Imagine in our heads our own actual funeral;
  5. Think about what our loved ones will say about us;
  6. Make ourselves rethink our present lives in order to achieve what we want others to think about us;
  7. Planning our own funeral is a constructive way of living our present.
The last point of Hyatt's notes is an exceptionally practical one. This reminds me of kingdom living. Disciples of Christ need to learn to follow Jesus' footsteps. Remember how frequent Jesus talks about his own death? Even the disciples then were not able to accept that and the brash Peter even tries to protect Jesus from getting arrested.

Death is a very real thing. This truth is recently brought close to home with the passing of my father. During that time, there is simply so much to do, logistics and administration wise. If there is one thing certain about my own future, it is I will eventually die. This is why talking about funerals is increasingly not taboo, but necessary. If that is so, why not make the best of it?

What about my own obituary? For me, I suppose I need to spend some time to think about that. One thing is clear. Christ will be in it, and may my life reflect one of faithfulness to God, in wisdom and discernment. Perhaps there is something very positive about dying. It teaches us how to live better.

"The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time." (Mark Twain)


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Wrestling with God

"Can I get a driving license, please?" she pleads.

Sigh. Sign of the times. My daughter is growing up. I hesitate to say 'no' because I understand the tremendous peer pressure she goes through during this delightful stage of her life. I procrastinate in saying 'yes' because of the uncertainty I have about her ability to handle the added responsibility of driving. Give and take another 2 years, I think to myself, even as I hover between the two choices. Each choice has their share of advantages and disadvantages. 'Maybe' has an expiry limit that wears away the patience of my teenage girl. Let her wrestle with waiting while I wrestle with God.

This week, I came across a touching book written by Mary Beth Chapman, wife of the famous Christian song-writer, Steven Curtis Chapman. She describes how her adopted daughter Maria was accidentally killed by her own biological son. The teenager drove a car into the 5-year old girl. It is a double-whammy for Mary Beth. Her son killed someone. That someone is her own daughter.

Choosing to SEE: A Journey of Struggle and HopeIn an interview with a provocative title, (Mary Beth Chapman vs God) with ChristianityToday, Mary Beth shares her inner thoughts about the book, "Choosing to SEE: A Journey of Struggle and Hope." Letting go of her daughter is hard, and that causes her a long journey of struggling and wrestling with God. It is strange that as the President of the organization "Show Hope," she herself struggles with finding hope. How can she show others hope when she cannot seem to find hope at all?

I must say that is a tough situation to be in. Using Jacob as a guide, Mary Beth identifies with this biblical character, together with others like Job, David and Paul. Indeed, when one is searching for hope, no stones are left unturned. Bring them on, bible characters. Bring them on!

My Comments
I like the title of the book, which demonstrates boldness and courage in a mood of depression and darkness. It is so easy to let ourselves linger in hopelessness during times like these. Yet, the Chapmans show us that life is very much a choice. We need not be victimized by circumstances. We need not moan in our powerlessness. We can make a conscious decision to see.

I suppose each of us will have to wrestle with God during moments of heartache and despair. It is a part of life. Somehow, it is only during moments of tragedy or extreme difficulty we become true wrestlers with our feelings and with God. We argue. We debate. We fight. We rebel. At the end of it all, God lets us fight him with all the emotions in our fallible arsenal. Like Jacob, He allows us to advance as we hurl accusations at Him. Up to a certain point. At that point, when God deems us ready, He will touch our 'socket' at our hip.

We do our spiritual wrestling in prayer. In prayer we seek God. In prayer we ask Him for answers and for relief. In prayer, we wrestle with words, with sweat and with utter honesty. If only God will bless us again. If only He will give us an inch. Perhaps, at the end of the wrestling, as we bathe in the grace of God afresh, we will start to marvel at how gracious God is. Then we will shudder and pull back in shock.

"I have wrestled with the living God, and my life was spared."

There is a time to wrestle. There is a time to grief. There is a time to battle. There is a time to pull back. At the end of it all, we will realize that God is in our wrestling, in our grieving, in our battling and in our retreating. God is in the midst of our wrestling. You can be sure about that.

Meanwhile, I wrestle with my daughter's request.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Renewing Discipleship in the Church

TITLE: Renewing Discipleship in the Church
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 20 Sep 2010

'Discipleship' is something many talk about, but few people have any idea what this means. Some will scratch their head to define discipleship. Others will be clueless when it comes to leading others toward deeper discipleship. Discipleship is simply put, growing deep in Christ, following Christ. Some likes to call it as knowing Christ, and making Christ known. I think one of the first steps in any discipleship program is simple: Friendship. When Jesus calls his disciples friends, he is showing a clue in discipling one another.

"I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. " (John 15:15)
Too often, we approach discipleship like a program. That is wrong. We need to approach discipleship on the basis of relationships, in particular friendship.

Yesterday, I stood with a small group of men as we start to publicize the upcoming Men's Fellowship programs to be conducted every 1st and 3rd Thursdays each month beginning next October. Each of the leaders take turn to share poignant parts of the program. The first talk about what we will be doing. The second share about the people will be facilitating the course. I share about the schedule. There is nothing very theological or intellectual about the sharing. It is pure and simple an invitation to meet. We want to provide an opportunity for men in the Church to come together, to meet as they are and to learn together as a band of brothers. More than that, I think it is a chance to foster a brand of friendship that men can identify with. I think in any discipleship within the Church, building networks of friendship is one of the most unintrusive ways. We may not be comfortable with programming per se. We may not see eye to eye with regards to what kinds of topics we will be discussing. However, the moment we are able to see each other not as objects to be worked on, but as people to share our lives together with, we are well on our way to developing spiritual friendship.

Spiritual friends are important. I learn it first-hand as I mourn the loss of my father. Friends and family members alike walk with me. They talk and they pray with me. They eat with me. These are simple ordinary tasks that anybody can do. The only requirement is time. I suppose time is one of the greatest gifts we can offer to each other. Sometimes I feel the phrase "we are all very busy people," has become overused. It is becoming to me an irritating cliche that I prefer to avoid using. Thus I share Marva Dawn's response to busyness with the following retort.

"The practices by which we might become more thoroughly engaged in our focal concerns of loving God and the neighbors instead of coveting persons and what or who attends them again include gratitude, contentment, rejoicing, and weeping. With people, we might extend those with the additional practices of friendship, hospitality, and solidarity." (Marva Dawn, Unfettered Hope, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003, p178)

Coveting vs Focal Concerns
 I think Dawn helpfully makes a clear distinction between 'focal concerns' and 'coveting.' In fact, our modern brand of busyness appears more to be another form of 'coveting' rather than 'focal concerns' about loving God and neighbour. For instance, we say we have no time to meet up. What are we actually doing with that time? Are we piling up chores upon chores, activities upon activities that are simply another race to the finish with our neighbours? Are we rat-racing with our neighbours or are we loving our neighbour? Are we running circles around our selfish tracks or are we allowing ourselves to walk with friends through their ups and downs of life?

I have heard far too many stories of people who regret spending too much time in their office instead of their home. One example is author and speaker John O'Neil. In "The Paradox of Success," O'Neil shares how he was rocked into reality about the way he has managed his high flying career over his family matters. After his first marriage collapsed, he realized that he is living the paradox of success. He might have been a successful executive flying and living a life of high influence and affluence. Unfortunately, the cost of such success is painful. Fortunately, he recovered well to salvage whatever remains in his family relationships.

I think the biblical commandment against coveting is so applicable in our busy lives that we need to ask ourselves the question again.

ARE WE COVETING or are we living our focal concerns as Christians? The clue is in terms of how we are giving more than we are receiving. Ever wonder how Jesus is able to do more despite having only 3 years of ministry? One reason is because he observes people. He notices how people are needy and he carefully makes himself available to those who needs him, and stays away from the people of influence and power. He spends his time with the poor, the lame and the marginalized in society. Ever wonder who were the people who mistreated and persecuted him? They are the people in power. The religious leaders, the political rulers and the military regime, whose soldiers hurt him.

When we say that we are busy, be careful. Ask ourselves first: Are we coveting or are we putting our resources toward our focal concerns of life? May I suggest that when we are in doubt, come together. When we are not sure whether we are coveting or doing the will of God, gather with fellow believers to pray, to study and to discern together our life goals. After all, meeting up once or twice a month may not be a lot. Unless of course, we are coveting our own time to pursue our goals for the benefit of self and self alone.

Renewing Discipleship Via Friendship
Come and renew our commitment to discipleship. Come and refresh one another's friendships. Meet together. Pray together and let us enjoy the remaining years of our lives, to sharpen one another's focal concerns. When this happens, our desire to covet will grow strangely less and our ability to focus on the important will grow brighter and clearer each day. Thanks to the simple availability of open friendship. This is the first step to renewing discipleship in the Church.

Remember. True discipleship is not a program. It is the cultivation of relationships. Let us take a leaf from the wisdom of Robert Coleman.
"Better to give a year or so to one or two men who learn what it means to conquer for Christ than to spend a lifetime with a congregation just keeping the program going."



Monday, September 06, 2010

Brief Recess

My father passed away on 31st August 2010 (Pacific Time). Yapdates will take a brief recess.


Friday, September 03, 2010

Book Review: Permission to Speak Freely

Title: Permission to Speak Freely
Author: Anne Jackson
Published: Nashville: Thomas-Nelson, 2010.

Permission to Speak Freely: Essays and Art on Fear, Confession, and GraceIt is easier to cover ourselves under a jacket of niceness, than to reveal our inner shirt of honesty. Following the trend sparked by Adam and Eve, we hide under the fear of being exposed. We run away from our true selves by being less than truthful with others. We flee away from authenticity and bury ourselves under the mud of less than honest living. Our inner thoughts and feelings we conceal, choosing to display only a fraction of who we are. One question proves to be an effective key to unlocking the inner struggles of many people:

About the Book
“What is the one thing you feel you can’t say in the Church?”

This one question posted on Anne Jackson’s blog ( sparks a flurry of responses. Strangers and anonymous people write in to share. Old wounds are revisited. Past hurts are revealed. It resurrects past pains. It sends one struggling to decide whether to open up or to continue clamping down on sharing. For those who choose to share, out of this openness, flows an amazing river of opportunity to heal and to exorcise past demons.

Anne touches our hearts about openness and brutal honesty. Beginning with her own traumatic growing up years as a pastor`s kid, Jackson dives into her past encounters with Church. The Church culture she lives in prefers an idealistic but artificial lifestyle over a broken but real life. By doing so, she tells readers that it is not only possible but ok to be open about our own past. Nothing is impossible, like a recovery from past hurts such as sexual abuse, and ridiculous expectations from church people.

Purpose and Style
The purpose of the book is to remind readers that honesty is still the best policy. Secrets can only be kept for a certain amount of time. It will eventually be revealed. If that is the case, why hide? Why keep things to yourself? Why allow yourself to be tormented if you can be freed from the chains of the past? All it is necessary is to know in the heart that it is ok, and very ‘Christian’ to speak freely. The Church has to be a place for people to share their authentic selves, and not only the choicest part of one’s life. God calls the whole being, and not only a part of a person. Jackson observes Jesus’ life on earth and concludes that "the truest things in life must be discovered . . . through wrestling, . . . through blood and sweat and tears.” (185)

An experienced writer herself, Jackson avoids the conventional self-help book structure and opts for a different format.
You’ve challenged yourself to think outside chapters that seamlessly flow in and out of each other and instead jumped into a messy combination of art and story and Scripture.” (183)

She combines her confession with stories her fans reveal to her. She pieces her broken expectations with a firm belief in God. She highlights her learning moments with a dosage of cold revelation of her addictions, her struggles and her periods of depression. A porn addict, she was able to relate particularly to people who experience the same.

My Comments
The book is indeed a messy combination but with a purpose: Fighting Fear and Sighting Hope. Pages of notes and snippets of people’s lives are printed at the end of each of the three parts. These are heartbreaking notes of despair and shocking revelation of brokenness. There are questions regarding why people in the Church behave so un-Christianly. Incidentally, I feel that the way Jackson lets people communicate the way they feel is brilliant. There is no better way than to let people speak for themselves in ways they choose to be authentic. The way to healing begins by recognizing we are first of all broken people. As we meander through the ups and downs of bad memories and stunted hopes, together with Christ as our Guide, then and only then can we embark upon a journey of healing and growth.

This book is not difficult to read, length and language-wise. It is not very heavy or intellectually challenging. Instead, the most difficult part about the book is how we let our heart be honest with God, with people and with ourselves. Perhaps, this book can encourage us to practice honesty beginning with ourselves. Let both the reader and the listener read this book for maximum understanding and benefit.

Jackson ends the book to invite the reader to participate as rescuers of hurt people.

"We often ask God to show up. We pray prayers of rescue. Perhaps God would ask us to be that rescue, to be His body, to move for things that matter." (164)



"Book has been provided courtesy of Thomas Nelson and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available now at your favourite bookseller."

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