“Serve, but not be served” was the theme of Bishop Dr Chong Chin Chung’s sermons at the opening services of the recent three Annual Conferences of The Methodist Church in Singapore (MCS).
Bishop Chong delivered his message first at the Holy Communion service of the Emmanuel Tamil Annual Conference (ETAC), a community of eight Tamil-speaking churches. The service, which kicked off the 43rd ETAC session held at Tamil Methodist Church (TMC) at Short Street, was supported by the exuberant Emmanuel Praise choir with accompaniment by both traditional and modern musical instruments.
In his sermon, Bishop Dr Chong referred to the question Jesus’ disciples James and John asked Him: if they could “sit at [His] right and the other at [His] left in [His] glory” (Mark 10:35–45, NIV). They were supposed to have left behind, along with their nets, their lucrative careers and even their families, to follow Jesus. But, as Bishop Dr Chong pointed out, all the disciples could see and expect then was Jesus receiving glory, which, to them, meant authority, status, power, wealth and honour. The disciples did not realise their true purpose, which was to serve, just as their Master did.
Emphasising the servant leadership that he believes church leaders, both clergy and lay, ought to demonstrate, Bishop Dr Chong noted that the Book of Discipline describes pastors who have been ordained as elders, as “ministers”. The original meaning of the word “minister” is “someone who serves; a servant”. As ministers of the church, pastors are thus servants of believers.
The ultimate standard of servant leadership, said Bishop Dr Chong, was set by our Lord Jesus Christ, who came to serve, not to be served, and to give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). We in Singapore are blessed to live in a country where it is safe to practise Christianity. While we may not have to give up our life, our service will require some sacrifice, e.g. of time, lifestyle, plans and relationships.
The Bishop also paid tribute to the pioneers of ETAC, which was formed 132 years ago. “We want to remember our forefathers, our missionaries, our pastors, who […] laboured and became good examples for us as leaders and ministers, who served the Lord through serving the Church and its people,” he said.
The Rev James Nagulan, President of ETAC in the 11th Quadrennium, followed with his President’s Address. Noting that the Annual ETAC Thanksgiving Service had brought together about 300 members and friends from the local churches, he said, “The co-operation and unity of the churches is critical for this annual thanksgiving service to grow and bless our Annual Conference.”
Reiterating ETAC’s theme of “Renew, Revive, Reorganise and Rebuild”, one for each year from 2017 to 2020, the Rev Nagulan noted that the 2018 theme of “Revive” underscored the need for revival in ETAC. He highlighted that while ETAC is the only Annual Conference that still has the Methodist Youth Fellowship, it struggles to get the participation of the youths for the programmes which are organised for them.
Likewise, ETAC has only six elders and one deacon in active ministry to provide pastoral care to the eight churches. He is, however, thankful that there are those who have retired, such as Bishop Emeritus Robert Solomon and the Rev George Baratham, who continue to serve in the Board of Ministry. The Rev Nagulan said that it is his prayer that more young people will receive the calling to enter the ordained ministry.
“The theme for the year ahead is ‘Reorganise’ […]. We […] look forward to God rebuilding us as a Conference,” said the Rev Nagulan. He was referring, in part, to the MCS Structural Review Task Force, chaired by the Bishop Dr Chong, who shared an update at the session. The goal of the task force, set up to review MCS’s organisational effectiveness and efficiency, is to restructure and streamline the organisation of the Church. The task force appealed for feedback from the Annual Conferences and for volunteers to join working groups to look into the final details.
After two days of intense sharing and discussions among ETAC’s clergy and lay leaders, the 43rd Session ended with a Closing and Elder Ordination Service. The Rev C Saravana Kumar, who pastors Seletar Tamil Methodist Church and Bedok Preaching Point as well as participates in the ministries at Christalite, Bethany and Yew Tee Homes, was ordained as Elder. Mr Anton Moses was installed as ETAC Vice President, a role traditionally occupied by a lay leader.
The closing service saw Bishop Emeritus Solomon preaching from Ezra 7:1–10. In his sermon entitled “The Hand of the Lord Was Upon Him”, Bishop Emeritus Solomon said that Ezra was divinely called to his ministry and God gave him all he needed to serve. Similarly, to all whom He calls to serve, God will provide knowledge, needful ministry, courage, a community of servants and protection.
To illustrate the importance of both clergy and lay leaders in the expansion of God’s Kingdom, Bishop Emeritus Solomon asked: “How many of you were brought to Christ primarily by a pastor? And how many of you were brought to Christ by a lay person?” Seeing that more hands went up in response to the second question, Bishop Emeritus Solomon explained: “The pastor’s role is to train, equip, mobilise, motivate and encourage the lay people. […] We are the salt of the world, and we have got to get out of the four walls of the church, to go wherever God has placed us to do our work for Him.”
In short, we—clergy, lay, and Christ’s followers—are to serve, and not to be served.
Sheri Goh is the Editor of Methodist Message.
Photos courtesy of the Emmanuel Tamil Annual Conference