It was a historic occasion. Almost 250 pastors and leaders from the three Annual Conferences (ACs) gathered at Toa Payoh Chinese Methodist Church to listen to the perspectives of three bishops’ on the MCS Structural Review on 4 May 2019. Each shared his personal and independent views.
Unity of the Church was very much on the bishops’ minds. Their messages were candid and full of wisdom.
Bishop Emeritus Dr Robert Solomon, who served from 2000 to 2012, said that the unity that Jesus prayed for in His High Priestly prayer was based on truth and holiness. It has missiological importance (Jn 17:17–18, 23).
Bishop Emeritus Dr Solomon also pointed to different models of unity in Church history. Biblical unity is more organic than organisational. It refers to having one heart, mind and voice. He thus asked those gathered to pray for a revival first, from which the unity for an exercise like this can then be found. He recommended all task force members to read Earnest Lau’s book, From Mission to Church, to better understand our current system, which has both episcopal and presidential components.
Pointing out the many practical considerations like assignment of power to leadership and ACs, the need to strengthen “connectionalism”, and the concerns of minority groups, he noted the tendency of some towards being territorial. He also suggested that younger leaders be involved more as the restructuring concerns the Church that they will have in the future.
Bishop Emeritus Dr Wee Boon Hup, who served from 2012 to 2016, shared that his sense of a lack of mutual trust that made him a “sceptic”, although earlier he had been an advocate and supporter of coming together to avoid duplication, to increase resource sharing and to enhance unity. He said that the purpose should be about church growth (usually a bottom-up phenomenon) and not just organisational restructuring (which tended to be a top-down phenomenon). His challenge to the task force was for them to be clear on the purpose and the process as well as to listen to the people before formulating plans. The restructuring must come with attendant strategies for growth in order to benefit the local churches where growth really matters. The priorities must start with where the people are in the local churches, and how they can grow with the sharing of resources.
Bishop Dr Chong Chin Chung, our current bishop since 2016, was concerned that with regards to direction for the Church, the leaders must make the right decisions at the right time, before it becomes too late. The Government’s language policy has wrought an irreversible trend in our churches. Many mother tongue and dialect services have already disappeared from other denominations.
Bishop Chong brought up many issues the Church is facing, including how the young are shunning religion, family issues, and the fast-growing proportion of seniors among our members. He highlighted how some of them may be better tackled through an integrated approach by the Church as one body rather than separately as three ACs.
There is much for the Structural Review Task Force to digest, reasons to pause and take stock of, and to once again clarify God’s will. Do continue to pray for Bishop Chong and the other task force members as they seek the Lord’s direction, for there they will find unity of spirit and purpose.
All glory to God.
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28 )
By the Structural Review Task Force
Photos courtesy of Hon Chee Seng