Bishop's Message

Quick fixes and slow solutions

Oct 2014    

The modern obsession with success and the desire to develop it quickly – in fact, instantaneously if possible – has robbed us of developing well-rounded and healthy individuals, families, churches and organisations.

As I write this, I am in the midst of the Annual Mission Conference of The Methodist Church in Cambodia (MCC). The MCC was birthed from the union of five missions of Methodist churches from other parts of the world, that had earlier started work in Cambodia independent of each other. Last year, we handed the superintendency of the Mission to a Khmer local, in a process whereby the MCC would eventually become an autonomous national church.

The process of reaching autonomy was a journey that we in The Methodist Church in Singapore experienced a few decades ago. It is very tempting to tell the Khmer Christians what they should do to overcome the challenges they are facing, based on our experience. That would be a quick-fix approach to the task, like simply pumping in funds to deal with their financial shortfall.

The other approach is to adopt slow solutions. The latter will require the Khmers to learn the fundamentals from which they can devise their own solutions.

Borrowing an analogy from technology, it is like we are the ones who have developed a software application to be used in growing the church. The Khmer Methodists have downloaded this application and are learning how to use it, with some coaching from us. In time they will know where the bugs are, and which aspect of the software is not working well for their situation.

We continue to coach them so that they know how to design their own software applications. We will then pass on to them the codes for them to upgrade the software to an edition that is suited for application in their context.

There are many areas in life where quick fixes are detrimental in the long run. Leapfrogging into a situation where we cannot adjust well to the environment can choke us to death, or cripple us for life should we be rescued in time. We end up never being able to rise to our fullest potential.

Slow solutions have always been around: raising children, learning skills, making wine, cheese and other traditional delicacies, educating the young, changing the culture. For slow solutions to work, there are a few essentials to bear in mind.

First, we have to resist the urge to intervene unnecessarily. The rice will not cook well if we keep lifting the lid of the cooker to check, because by doing so we unnecessarily release the steam essential for the cooking process.

Second, we must give allowance for failure. Stumbling and falling are part and parcel of learning how to walk. Failed ventures can become great teachers. If improvement and refinement follow, then progress will take place.

Third, we must be willing to endure the pain experienced in the two above. Bite our tongues, grit our teeth, and shed tears should they come.

The modern obsession with success and the desire to develop it quickly – in fact, instantaneously if possible – has robbed us of developing well-rounded and healthy individuals, families, churches and organisations.

The wise man in Ecclesiastes reminds us that “for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1 ESV). There is room for quick fixes too, especially in crisis situations. Yet one wonders, if slow solutions had been in process, whether so-called ‘crises’ could have been handled in stride.

Returning to my Khmer brethren, when I heard a little about their ‘plight’, my discomfort with slow solutions triggered ideas of how I might organise events, get sponsors, etc., in urgent response to the situation. Then as I talked more with a few of them, I realised that they were contemplating possibilities to deal with their situation. This slowed me down and helped me see that they were not all that helpless.

After all, when we are building the church, we are merely workers in the construction team. The architect and contractor is Jesus Christ Himself. He has been at it for more than 2000 years. He is the Master of slow solutions.

Bishop Dr Wee Boon Hup was elected Bishop of The Methodist Church in Singapore in 2012. He has been a Methodist pastor for 29 years.

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