BISHOP DR ROBERT SOLOMON has made a clarion call for “younger, godly and able people” to step forward to serve in strategic leadership roles in The Methodist Church in Singapore and to take on ministry responsibilities.
In a farewell interview with Methodist Message (MM), Bishop Dr Solomon, who retires this month, said: “We have many able people in our churches, but not too many of them have made themselves available to serve in leadership roles.
“We need to challenge people to take up not only leadership but also ministry responsibilities.”
Everyone has got a part to play in the kingdom of God, he said, and the challenge is to renew leadership at Annual Conference and General Conference levels.
It is understandable that many people prefer to serve in the context of a local congregation where one can see direct connections with ministry and the community.
“But we also need younger, godly and able people to step forward to serve in strategic leadership roles in the conferences – at least for a season in their lives,” he stressed.
“The key is that whatever we are called to do, and wherever we are sent, what is of utmost importance is that we are to be with Christ.
“I believe that God calls us to serve Him not so much to change the world but to change us,” he said.
Bishop Dr Solomon added that in all of this, the Church must also focus on making disciples and all that it entails through Bible studies, developing dynamic small groups and mentoring relationships in church.
He warned: “We must be careful not to lose our focus and end up doing nothing more than pushing forward our institutions and worshipping our methods. It is possible to be full of programmes and activities without becoming disciples of Jesus Christ.”
In the interview, the Bishop also touched on several points, with emphasis on the directions The Methodist Church in Singapore should take.
Here is the full interview:
MM: You have served as Bishop for 12 years. Looking back, how would you describe those 12 years? Would you say those 12 years were a memorable phase of your vocation? at they have a special place in your heart?
ANSWER: The key is that whatever we are called to do, and wherever we are sent, what is of utmost importance is that we are to be with Christ. “Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant will be” (Jn. 12:26; cf. Jn. 17:24).
To be a bishop is a great privilege and responsibility. Having preached at the worship services of all our 46 local churches, I have had the opportunity to uniquely experience (and to have a bird’s-eye view of) our wide connection and to witness God’s grace at work in a larger arena, not only in Singapore but in a global sense.
For this I am grateful. I have gained awareness and valuable insights on the challenges and opportunities faced by the church both locally and globally. But I am most thankful that in this ministry I have learned many things about God and have drawn closer to Him. I believe that God calls us to serve Him not so much to change the world but to change us.
MM: How much were you able to meet the targets you had set for the MCS since you assumed oﬃce in 2000?
A: I think directions are more important than targets. Directions have to do with ends while targets are secondary, and without directions they may be unhelpful.
I preached on the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus (John 17) at our 125th Anniversary anksgiving Service in 2010. In that prayer we see three specific directions Jesus gives to His church: Growing in sanctification, growing into complete unity, and the completion of the worldwide mission of God – all for the glory of God.
It is in this light that I pointed out in my Episcopal Address to the General Conference in 2004 [Methodist Message Vol. 106 No. 12, December 2004] that the episcopal ministry is essentially three-fold: As a teaching oﬃce (because Jesus said that we are sanctified by God’s Word – Jn. 17:17), as connectional work, and as missional leadership. With the help of God, I have tried to function within this biblical rubric shaped by the Lord Himself.
MM: What would you consider is the high point of those 12 years?
A: Many things come to mind. I think of a youth service in one of our churches where I preached, where there were about 120 young people. At the end of my sermon, 60 of them came forward to commit themselves more deeply to God. After the benediction, two young men approached me and I had the joy of leading them to Christ as they knelt down to receive Jesus into their lives.
The next time I spoke in that service, something similar happened when a young man also knelt down to accept Jesus after the benediction.
I think of the day when I had the privilege of leading someone who came to visit me in my oﬃce to Christ as he knelt down to become a child of God. He never fails to remind me every year on the anniversary of his salvation and the joy He has in Christ.
Then there were times when I preached in India to crowds of almost 200,000 people and saw tens of thousands of people stand up to commit themselves to the Lord.
I remember the joy of seeing Methodist money and eﬀorts brought together to help the poor and needy. In particular, one highlight was surely our 125th Anniversary Community Outreach project when we mobilised 2,000 Methodists to regularly visit and help more than 1,000 families suﬀering from chronic poverty.
Another highlight was delivering a keynote address at the World Methodist Conference in Seoul in 2006.
One more highlight is the annual Aldersgate Convention which saw Methodists coming together to explore and experience our Wesleyan emphasis on scriptural holiness. We have had some of the best preachers and teachers in the worldwide Methodist family.
MM: What do you think are the main challenges the MCS will face in the coming years, and how best can we meet those challenges?
A: I have addressed this in my last Episcopal Letter [Episcopal Letter No. 33, September-December 2012] and in my Episcopal Address delivered at the recent 10th Session of the General Conference.
In my Episcopal Letter I highlighted that the worries that Wesley had in his old age concerning the Methodist movement were also apostolic concerns in the Bible and have continuing relevance for us today. In particular, we face the challenge of nominalism (with hearts growing cold and people settling into comfortable forms of churchianity – playing church), the dangers of growing wealth: materialism and arrogance, and (with growing self-interests and self-suﬃciency) the growing possibility of disunity and breaking of ranks. We have a better chance of overcoming these challenges when we seek to be true disciples of Jesus, with a faith that is always fresh, faithful and fervent. We must make sure we really know the Lord, His Word, and His desperately needy world – and respond accordingly.
“I have gained awareness and valuable insights on the challenges and opportunities faced by the church both locally and globally. But I am most thankful that in this ministry I have learned many things about God and have drawn closer to Him.”
I believe that God calls us to serve Him not so much to change the world but to change us.”
MM: Many of our church leaders are in their 60s. Is leadership renewal in our churches moving at too slow a pace? Do you think leadership renewal is a major challenge for the MCS?
A: I have seen a fair number of younger leaders in our local churches, and there are local churches that are intentionally ensuring that younger leaders take over responsibilities and that leadership renewal is an on-going process. is is good. Nevertheless, we need to challenge people to take up not only leadership but also ministry responsibilities.
The Christian faith is not a spectator sport, and we must resist religious consumerism at all costs and teach that to be a child of God is also to be a servant of God. Everyone has got a part to play in the Kingdom of God.
In terms of leadership, our challenge is to renew leadership at Annual Conference and General Conference levels. We have many able people in our churches, but not too many of them have made themselves available to serve in leadership roles. It is understandable that many people prefer to serve in the context of a local congregation where one can see direct connections with ministry and the community. But we also need younger, godly and able people to step forward to serve in strategic leadership roles in the conferences – at least for a season in their lives.
MM: With the benefit of hindsight and the knowledge gleaned from your service as Bishop these past 12 years, are there certain projects or programmes that the MCS should pay special attention to in the immediate future?
A: Organisationally, our educational mission through our schools, our mission work through MMS [Methodist Missions Society], and our social outreach to the poor and needy through MWS [Methodist Welfare Services] are important and will continue to be important ministries that require our attention, prayer and full support.
We must also focus on making disciples and all that it entails through Bible studies, developing dynamic small groups and mentoring relationships in church. We must be careful not to lose our focus and end up doing nothing more than pushing forward our institutions and worshipping our methods. It is possible to be full of programmes and activities without becoming disciples of Jesus Christ.
In terms of ministry to people, we need to focus on the young and the growing population of seniors. We need to help shape the young in biblical faith and values, and help our seniors find avenues of ministry and service and end their journeys well.
There is also an urgent need to minister to families and strengthen family life. We must teach our people more deeply about how to live faithfully as the disciples of Jesus in a fallen and rapidly changing world.
MM: How can we move to a higher level in our service, ministry and mission as a Church?
A: The Lord’s answer to the question is encapsulated in Lk. 9:23 when He calls us to follow Him as His unwavering disciples. It calls for self-denial. e less we give place to self, the more the life of Christ can flow into us and through us. is is what I call the “exchanged life” – the life of Christ exchanged for the life of the self. When we overcome self-centredness and self-indulgence, then we can rise to new levels of commitment, intimacy with God, and eﬀectiveness in life and ministry. Too many of us are trying to recruit God for our own purposes and agendas when in fact the Christian life has to do with being recruited for God’s eternal purposes.
A self-denying church will tend to focus more on the unfading glory of God rather than on the transient organisational glory of human organisations and achievements. A self-denying church will spend more time and resources on others than on itself, and will be prepared to suﬀer for being faithful. To follow Christ, we have to carry the cross and deny the self.
MM: What is your hope and prayer for the MCS?
A: My prayer for MCS is the prayer Paul prayed for the church in Philippi (Phil. 1:9-11) – that God will be glorified and praised through the maturing of the church and its members as they display the splendour of the character of Jesus and continue doing His ministry among the lost, least, and last.
MM: Finally, any parting word of advice?
A: Grow in holiness. Stay united. Finish His work. And remember all the Lord’s promises and His all-suﬃcient grace.
Peter Teo is the Editor of Methodist Message.