The 5th General Assembly of the Asian Methodist Council (AMC) brought together 104 delegates from Methodist churches in the 12 countries comprising the AMC. Organised by The Methodist Church in Singapore, it was held from 18 to 23 Sep 2018.
The AMC’s purpose is to strengthen solidarity, improve cooperation and facilitate information sharing among its churches, so as to maximise the vocation of evangelism, education, fellowship and service in Asia, through cooperation in missions, leadership training, education projects, social services and ecumenical solidarity. In keeping with these goals, the programme for the General Assembly included services, plenary sessions and some meals hosted by Wesley Methodist Church (MC), Paya Lebar MC and Short Street Tamil MC. Wesley MC sponsored all the meals, as well as hotel accommodation for the overseas bishops and pastors. The General Conference WSCS was involved in organising outings for spouses of AMC delegates and a half-day tour for all delegates on the last day of conference.
Striving side by side, with one mind, for the gospel
The Opening Holy Communion Service at Paya Lebar Methodist Church began with a procession of each country’s representatives, each carrying their church banners.
Outgoing AMC President, the Rev Dr Lam Sung Che, then preached on the challenges of Christianity in Asia. The world’s biggest continent, Asia, houses two-thirds of the world’s population, but only 9% identify with the Christian faith even after 400 years of evangelism. Moreover, Asian Christians live in some of the world’s poorest countries and their faith is not well-tolerated, he said. Their ability to practise their faith is under constant threat from governments and other religions, while spiritual needs are being sacrificed for money, sex, power and success.
While churches in Asia may seem weak and small compared to other religious institutions, the Rev Dr Lam exhorted Methodists not to be discouraged by the apparent magnitude of the task of reaching the lost in Asia. He encouraged the Church to emulate the Apostle Paul, whose life had a singular focus—to share the gospel. “Great and high goals and dreams are important, but it is more important to divide a great goal into smaller goals, and concrete actions that can be seen and achieved within a shorter period of time,” like the Olympic hurdler who runs his race one hurdle at a time to win the gold medal.
The Rev Dr Lam advised against attempting too many things and not doing them well. Instead, he said, we should go and share the gospel in a localised way, among the communities and groups who have never heard the gospel and need it the most, without waiting for an invitation. We should also work together closely and regularly pray for one another.
Challenges and opportunities for Asian churches
The keynote address was delivered by the Rev Dr John Chew, the retired eighth archbishop of the Anglican Diocese of Singapore. “With great challenges come overwhelming opportunities,” he reminded his hearers. Crisis, he said, begets opportunity, and the pressing question is: “What then?”
Asia, the Rev Dr Chew noted, is in the heart of the storm and we are in its eye, where things seem peaceful, but so much turbulence is swirling around us. He took the participants to the book of Acts, which does not end happily—Stephen has been martyred, Paul is in semi-custody, and the disciples have been pushed outside their comfort zones. Similarly, some of us in the Asian Church will have to undergo great transformation under the hand of God, just as Paul did, in order to be useful.
He cautioned against denominationalism, because no one knows who is leading the charge. We should all take responsibility for spreading the gospel—“it is not your church or my church, but the flock that has been bought by the blood of Christ”. One way to win souls is through good works—when we do good to non-Christians, they are more likely to protect the Church.
Leadership and its pitfalls
The morning of 21 Sep saw Bishop Emeritus Dr Robert Solomon addressing the topic of “The Leader and the Self”—a matter that not only strikes at the heart of what makes certain parishes more successful than others, but also one that has rarely been thought about or even discussed amongst the clergy who might feel that such a notion belongs to the corporate world rather than an ecclesiastical one.
Casting a constant shadow upon what would otherwise be sound and effective leadership is the notion of the “self”—a major inner opponent that can stymie even the best of leaders. The Christian narrative is one that is rife with such examples, and denying the self is a topic much emphasised by Christ and His disciples.
Referencing American best-selling author and entrepreneur, Ryan Holiday (author of Ego is the Enemy), Bishop Emeritus Dr Solomon pointed out that the unconquered ego is the biggest problem in leadership. He reiterated Holiday’s observation that while history is filled with stories of visionaries who remade the world in their image with sheer, almost irrational force, it is at the same time made by individuals who fought their egos at every turn, and put their higher goals above their desire for recognition.
Bishop Emeritus Dr Solomon highlighted five key potential pitfalls to effective church leadership:
- sinful ambition
- dangerous entrepreneurship (the tendency to pride oneself as a go-getter and a trailblazer)
- stardom and celebrity
- professionalism (the overemphasis on skillsets rather than the importance of character and being right with God)
- discouragement, doubt and depression
These pitfalls have a common root in the “self”—when worldly values and perspectives overshadow the imperative to follow God. Possible solutions to steer church leaders away from such traps range from a deliberate effort to pursue humility in the case of sinful ambitions, to open oneself to others’ counsel and encouragement when church leaders feel discouraged or mired in self-doubt and depression.
Bishop Dr Solomon concluded with a quote from Methodism’s founder, John Wesley: “Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them together stronger than God? O be not weary of well doing!”
On engaging persons facing same-sex attraction
Dr Roland Chia, Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College, was the second plenary speaker. He shared on the collective efforts of Singapore’s Christian community to engage with persons facing same-sex attraction.
The debate over whether Section 377A of the Penal Code, which criminalises sexual relations between men, should be repealed was revived in Singapore following the decision by India, a former British colony, to legalise gay sex in September.
Dr Chia detailed episodes which occurred in the course of Singapore churches’ engagement with the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) community since 1997. He also presented statistics that highlighted how various local and regional public and governmental institutions have responded to the LGBTQ community’s drive to achieve social recognition, as well as graphs showing the results of a survey by the ETHOS Institute for Public Christianity that looked into top-of-the-mind issues amongst local Christian communities concerning LGBTQ issues.
A deeper commitment to the Great Commission
The Closing Service and a farewell lunch was held at Tamil MC at Short Street. Bishop Rodolfo Juan from the Philippines, who serves as the Resident Bishop of the Manila Episcopal Area, gave the sermon in place of the new AMC President, Bishop Dr Chong Chin Chung, who had to leave for an overseas engagement.
Bishop Juan preached on humble obedience to the Lord. He cited the example of Simon Peter who, though a fisherman by trade, still took instructions from Jesus, a carpenter, to lower his nets once more after a night of fishing without success. Peter’s obedience was rewarded with a catch so huge that it threatened to sink his boat.
Bishop Juan also called for a deeper level of commitment to fulfilling the Great Commission—though it was Jesus’ last command, it has to be the Church’s first priority.
“Even as we claim the world as our parish, there is still much to do… Let us cast our nets deeper and with greater reach for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
The 6th AMC General Assembly will take place in 2021.
Jason Woo is the Editorial Executive, and Sheri Goh, Editor, of Methodist Message. They were present at the 5th AMC GA.