One for the album! Group photo of the participants.

By James TC Wong

MIRI – Church Growth was the central theme for the SCAC English Forum organized in Miri from Feb 7 – 8.

Held at a local hotel, the event drew participation from Trinity Methodist Church (Kuching), Faith Methodist Church (Kuching), Wesley Methodist Church (Sibu), Nyelong Park Methodist Church (Sarikei), Emmanuel Methodist Church (Bintulu), Senadin Methodist Gospel Campus Centre and the host church, Grace Methodist (Miri).

The SCAC English Forum is a biennial event for the English-speaking Sarawak Methodist churches congregation with the purpose of discussing and implementing church growth plans and strategies, training and developing leadership, providing ministry skills and the election of office bearers.

An election was conducted during the closing session of the last day. The newly-elected office bearers for 2014-15 are:

Chairman Rev. James Chin Wesley MC, Sibu
Dy. Chairman & Auditor Dr. Wong Sung Ging Emmanuel MC, Bintulu
Secretary Dr. Gracia Tiong Trinity MC, Kuching
Treasurer James Law Trinity MC, Kuching
Committee on Worship & Music Bryan Hii Wesley MC, Sibu
Committee on Christian Education Lau Mee Ting Trinity MC, Kuching
Committee on Lay Activities Jason Siew Nyelong Park MC, Sarikei
Committee on Missions Rev. Lenita Tiong Trinity MC, Kuching
Committee on Christian Social Concerns Pastor Tiong Huong Ong SMCGC/GMC, Miri
Committee on Evangelism Rev. Samuel Law Emmanuel MC, Bintulu

Top LR Rev. Lisa Ting, Rev. Dato’ Dr. Su Chii Ann, Rev. James Chin. Bottom LR Rev. Dr. Lau Hui Ming, Chang Jih Ren, Dr. Wong Sung Ging.

In her welcoming speech, Rev. Lisa Ting warmly thanked the participants for their attendance. She then commended those from outstation for taking the effort to attend the Forum in spite of their busy Chinese New Year schedule and festivity.

The pastor-in-charge of Grace Methodist Church also commented on the Forum’s theme, Church Growth. “The theme chosen is timely as we now live in uncertain and unpredictable times.”

“I do pray that these sessions will have an impact on all of us and when we return to our own respective churches, we shall able to convey and put into practice what we have learned during these two days,” she added.

Rev. Lisa concluded her speech by thanking the Organizing Committee , praising them for a job well done.

SCAC President Rev. Dato’ Dr. Su Chii Ann was invited to give his exhortation to the participants.

“We should be mindful of our purpose on why we are attending this forum,” he began.

The SCAC President gave pointers on how to accomplish the most for the event. “We need to evaluate what we are doing for the Lord and be accountable,” he told the participants.

“I hope the three talks will empower you, and you in return will encourage one another to do better. Enlist the right people for the right job. The elected committee will have to fulfill our Methodist quadrennial theme, that is – Spreading Scriptural Holiness, Transforming the Nation,” said Rev. Dato’ Dr. Su.

SCAC English Committee Chairman Rev. James Chin in his opening message gave a background on the formation of the English Ministry.

He recalled that in the year 2000, a group of Pastors from the English-speaking churches got together with the mutual purpose to network, support, encourage one another, and to share resources.

This led to the formation of the English Liaison Committee and eventually, the English Ministry Committee was formed under the umbrella of SCAC.

The good Reverend also fondly reminisced that the first Forum was hosted by Emmanuel Methodist Church in 2008 held at the Sibu Methodist Centennial Park.

Rev. Chin also mentioned the subsequent Forums and the acknowledged the respective serving Chairmen of the English Ministry Committee. Following that, he presented the report card of events initiated or organized by the English Ministry Committee.

“We have produced the Connection, a fortnightly station of the Chinese Methodist Message. We also organize the biennial Youth Convention, the Methodist Heritage event, and initiated the Short Term Missions (STM) Course in English at Sibu Methodist Theological School,” he summed up.

SESSION 1 – Equipping disciples in our churches; growth from a clergy’s perspective by Rev. Dr. Lau Hui Ming. Reference – Streams of Living Water (Richard J. Foster), Invitation to a Journey (M. Robert Mulholland Jr.)

“Is the issue here that we have not done enough to disciple our congregational members for church growth? asked Rev. Dr. Lau.

“The goal is about being conformed to the image of Christ. Growth is the outflow of this transformation and maturity in Christ,” explained pastor-in-charge of Trinity Methodist Church Kuching. “Life transformation is not just informing of minds but transforming of lives.”

Rev. Dr. Lau also quoted Mark 1:17 to illustrate the meaning of sitting loose to the world and forsaking everything that is against our duty to Christ.

Other main points of Rev. Dr. Lau’s talk included maturity of the church members, confusion by congregation over the word Discipleship, congregation’s eagerness for instant growth and resistance to long term growth, holistic spirituality, and finally total obedience and surrendering to God.

“We must let go our ego and follow the Covenant Prayer of John Wesley,” concluded Rev. Dr. Lau.

Session 2 – Equipping disciples in the marketplace; growth from a Lay Perspective by Chang Jih Ren.

Chang Jih Ren began his session by quoting The Great Commission (Matthew 28: 19-20).

He then showed the statistics of 2013 SCAC church attendances, various ministries and fellowship groups attendances. “Though there is a slight increase in the overall figures, the data shown in these slides are worrisome,” he warned.

“There is good reason to be greatly concerned because of the drop in numbers in some of our church-based ministries and fellowship groups.”

“What is discipling? Is it teaching a new believer? Holding his hand? Showing him how to read the Bible? Telling him how to overcome temptation? Teaching him how to obey God?” Chang asked the attendees.

He went on to explain why discipling is so difficult.

“Not only you must know the know-how; you also need time, commitment and sacrifice.”

“Jim Peterson (Author, Lifestyle Discipleship) says America has 40 years of Discipleship programs and yet they are not discipled,” Chang said.

Chang also showed a chart of Marketplace Culture versus Disciple’s Counter-Culture and bemoaned about today’s Christians’ attitude.

“You know when we are too comfortable, we think we don’t need God. Many Christians today don’t have compassion for the lost soul which means God’s salvation is no longer important to them.”

From Relativism to Marketplace Lifestyle Trends, Chang touched on Faith Privatisation and Detached Behaviour which are obstacles to getting closer to God.

Chang then showed the steps of how Jesus discipled his followers by showing His intimacy with God, integrity and love for them.

His session ended with a touching story of Taiwanese Cardinal Paul Shan Kuo-Tsi (1923-2012) who in the face of life and death, showed great foresight, turning a difficult time in life as an opportunity at the service to all.

SESSION 3 – Facilitating the Two: Christian Growth Strategy from EMC Perspectives by Dr. Wong Sung Ging.

For the opening, Dr. Wong asked the floor: “Many are Christians but few are disciples? There is no difference between a Christian and a Disciple? There is a real difference between a Christian and a Disciple? All disciples are Christians? All Christians are disciples?

“Our objective is to understand the challenges we face in disciple-making today, to confirm our focus on growing people with a process and to introduce Christian Growth Strategy and share our Christian Education experiences,” said Dr. Wong.

Dr. Wong also reiterated that disciples are made in all spheres of life, within and outside the church. Christlikeless is the true mark of Discipleship, he declared.

“Disciple deficit, losing the next generation, materialism, secularism, consumerism, relativism and syncretism are challenges we face today and in the future,” warned Dr. Wong.

He also touched on spiritual growth, saying that it has to be an intentional effort.

“It requires developing habits. It is a process and is demonstrated more by behavior than by beliefs. It also needs relationship and takes a variety of spiritual experiences.”

The Associate Lay Leader of Emmanuel Methodist Church Bintulu outlined the Christian Growth Strategy into Basic, Intermediate and Advanced.

Under each category, growth objectives, expression in Life and Ministry, Short and Long Term programs were given with suggested curriculum.

After the Forum, feedback were sought from the participants on the two-day event.

Daniel Cheng from Sibu said, “It reinforces again the importance of a Christian transforming a life. Discipleship is a journey with Christlikeness attributes; it’s not about programs but relationships.”

Medical doctor from Kuching Simon Wong commented, “The Forum has allowed me to catch up with my friends. It was well-organized. More importantly, it helped me to re-ponder on the issue and the cost of discipleship at the marketplace.”

Chairman Rev. Chin summed up the Forum by reiterating on the importance of disciple-making. “We need to get back to the basics that are so important.”