Building bridges, breaking walls

Nov 2019    

The structure of The Methodist Church in Singapore (MCS) was instituted 44 years ago, with a General Conference and three Annual Conferences (ACs) along language lines. The demarcation was useful to help focus work, ease communications, and deploy pastors, ministry staff and other resources effectively. This structure has remained unchanged.

Four decades later, there are now more sub-divisions—by age, by function, with many new ministries initiated over the years etc. These have sometimes been helpful as some of the compartmentalisation could have been for efficiency and effectiveness. Over time, however, strongly guarded territories have emerged, with people identifying their lives with the work.

Our pastors and laity agree on the importance of diversity in language and culture, especially for outreach and evangelism. This enables different people groups to draw near to Jesus. People can encounter God within their own cultural context but they must also be ready to cross into other cultures as Jesus did in the incarnation and on the cross.1 To grow as Christians and serve the Lord, we cross boundaries and comfort zones all the time.

On the possibility of merging the three ACs, a pastor said, “We are not ready to get married yet.” He was of course being cautious. The Christian view of marriage is a lifetime commitment from which you cannot quit. In the same way, Christians cannot quit the body of Christ.

Christina Cleveland writes, “To be a follower of Christ means to care deeply about and pursue the other followers of Christ. As followers of Christ, it means that we identify as members of the body of Christ above all other identities.”2 The primary problem is that we tend to identify more with our smaller cultural identities and ignore our common identity as members of the body of Christ. Cleveland points out that our culture may cloud our judgement, unless we learn to “relativise our cultural identities and adopt an inclusive group identity”.3

This sums up the philosophy of the Work Groups (WGs) formed to review the current boards in terms of their effectiveness and relevance in meeting the needs of local churches. It is important for the members not to see themselves only as representatives of their own AC but also as members of the larger MCS. As they share about the strengths and weakness of the ministries in their ACs, they are learning from one another, discovering erroneous perceptions and opening themselves to positions of vulnerability.

In his final address as the IFES General Secretary, Daniel Bourdanne, who served from 2007 to 2019, spoke about being vulnerable like Christ, and warned against power games. He said, “When we think we have more say than our brothers and sisters, that we have proven methods, we know better—our record speaks for itself. I don’t need you—you need me… My plans before your needs. And if we play power games, then unity is impossible.”4

Working alongside members from other ACs has helped break down the wall of unfamiliarity, and built bridges into each other’s communities and traditions.  It has also created the realisation that together we can do better. There are already many instances of shared events and invitations to members from other churches and ACs for training and seminars. We look forward to closer collaborations that will enhance relationships and generate shared passions so that as we “partake in the sacrificial love of the Trinity, [we will also] participate in sacrificial love with all others”.5

1 Christina Cleveland, Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces that Keep Us Apart (Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP, 2013).

2 Ibid., 97. of the body of Christ. Cleveland points out that our culture may cloud our judgement, unless we learn to “relativise our cultural identities and adopt an inclusive group identity”

3 Ibid., 147.

4 Daniel Bourdanne, “A Broken Organisation of Broken People for a Broken World,” Perspective (Special Edition, September 2019), http://online.pubhtml5.com/vnmq/cnij/#p=38.

5 Cleveland, 35.

By the Structural Review Task Force
Picture by Rawpixel.com/Bigstock.com


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