Saturday, July 15, 2017

“Building a Kingdom-minded Small Group” (Revised Edition, 14 July 2017) – Benjamin Lau

(My farewell speech to God's Clay 1 Small Group on 14 July 2017)

Introduction
Some of you here will know by now that today will be my last day with this God's Clay 1 small group. After much prayer & counsel with some leaders, I believe God has led me to come to this decision that the season has come for me to officially pass on the baton to the new leadership of God's Clay 1 small group. Please give your full support to Peiqi (Paige) & Jabez (who has willingly agreed to step up & replace me as the new ASGL), together with their core team who will lead you all to the new vision and plans that God has for this small group. 

This leadership transition has been on my mind since we started as a new God's Clay 1 (GC1) small group when we multiplied into 3 small groups during the ACTS2 Church campaign back in Feb 2015. I knew then that my season will only be a short time, as my role was to assist peiqi in the transition until I can find a new leadership team and a successor. Today 2 years on, God has been leading Claire & I to find a new small group which we are still praying about, either a new group that we can be a part of or even lead together since we got married. 

Another reason, why I felt I needed be leave this small group, is personally believe that the new GC 1 leadership need to have the space to lead freely without the predecessor leader around. It is not an easy decision for me as this small group has been a huge part of my life first being part of the transition to this new group and also being part of the original group that was formed 15 years ago in 2002 just before the Youth Ministry (YM) started. I believe God has new plans for this small group in GC 1 moving ahead, with a totally new group of people coming together to fulfil God’s kingdom purposes in the new season ahead.

But before I hand over to the new leadership, I felt led to share some of my burdens on what I see a small group should be one last time. Some of you here know by now that I have this deep conviction that a small group or I prefer the term "cell group" should always be Kingdom-minded, which embraces a vibrant discipleship culture where members in the group will live out being that witnessing community in and outside the church impacting the world for Christ.

Few years ago in TTC, I wrote this paper, “
Building a Vibrant Kingdom Minded Cell Group“ which I have rewritten in the context for this last sharing with you all tonight.

1) Catching God’s Kingdom vision for the Small Group
The first step every small group should go back to is going back to the core of God’s vision and mission for this world and that is knowing our place in light of God’s Kingdom plans. God is constantly calling us into a redemptive relationship with the divine community and to each other. We need to see the broader picture beyond the four walls of the church that this kingdom vision is not just for the concerns of the “souls” of people, but how we are bodily present in creation.[1] If we follow Jesus’ model, he began a discipleship group within the context of their culture and society where they were disciples following and obeying his leading to be like-Christ.[2] This group was an enactment of the divine community where Jesus brought the realm of God into the lives of this people to one another.[3] 

The purpose of such a group was also to prepare leaders, where Jesus modeled the art of influence, taking initiative to lead and to be a living example for them to follow.[4] Jesus led this group so that they could be an example to the church that would change the world for Christ.[5] After Jesus ascension, he sent his Holy Spirit to empower and prepare these disciples to lead the early church, where it began to grow and many were added to the church.[6] Since than the church have grown in numbers and multiplied throughout the world.

However, when a church grows bigger, there will be less space for everyone to experience such “openness, acceptance, earth, and personal growth” which can only be experienced in a smaller community.[7] This is where we go back to the concept of how a small group should be like, it is like a mini church; which allows one to grow in spiritual maturity and fully experience what church life is intended to be. I say "church" here not as a building but as a united body of Christ coming together.[8] In a way it is like experiencing the vibrant life in the fellowship of believers in Acts 2, where members met together in homes, to break bread, worship God, study His Word, share their possession & give to the needy.[9]  Scott Boren describes this with a  missional aspect, he shared, "Instead of doing groups for the sake of experience community, groups experience community for the sake of participating in God's redemption of creation."[10]

2) Knowing the Context and the Curriculum of the Small Group
I would like to also establish that a group will consists of people of varied walks of life,
personalities, social status, different level of spiritual maturity and perhaps God would put some in our midst that will really "sharpen" and test our patience. We cannot have the mindset that we can always be this "holy huddle" who are just of the same spiritual maturity or social status that are comfortable with one another and would only focus inwardly at our own needs every time we meet. That is one of the biggest and likely danger a small group can fall into, and we need to have an education that brings us to see the wider context and content in our curriculum that will bring the small group to focus beyond the four-walls of the church in the context of mission and service.[11]

Such an education would incorporate Diakonia as the central focus in its curriculum as that will bring forth the group to be Kingdom-minded.[12] With such a context being in place, by having the starting point of learning the “compassion” of Jesus, it will transform us to be incarnational who desires to serve and proactively welcome and reach out to the least, the last and the lost into the faith community of the group.[13] Such a “Kingdom-minded” focus will bring forth a new vibrant cell life that will inevitably grow and multiply. This is why I prefer the term "cell groups" as it is meant to have life and to multiply to impact others in this world.

1) Firstly, the curriculum has to be experiential, as it requires the active engagement of members within the small group. We need to experience such fellowship, which demonstrates the “Spirit of grace in action” within the group.[14] James Dunn describes this shared experience as the “Koinonia of the Spirit”.[15]

2) Secondly, the curriculum must be reflective as it encourages the members to not only rationalize with their heads, but also use their hearts and emotions.[16] When we reflect on why we serve within the group, we realize we serve because Christ came not to be served, but to serve, and to set an example for us.[17]

3) Thirdly, the curriculum must be relational, where we acknowledge that every learning endeavor entails a communal learning from one another in our relations with one another.[18] When small group members mutually relate to one another it brings about this attitude to serve and to encourage one another, this is where it also creates such mutual-discipleship to take place as well. 

4) Fourthly, the curriculum must be inclusive where we need to consciously consider the involvement of everyone.[19] This aims for the small group to model out what the church who reflects the world of the all-inclusive nature of God's love as we reflect the truth of Jesus' prayer that we are indeed all one in God.[20]

5) Fifthly, the curriculum must be integrative where it has to be comprehended as one unified whole.[21] In reference to Icenogle’s concept of “One-Anothering in Christ”, we learnt how the house church modeled the life Jesus had with his disciples.[22] Here we can learn how he integrate this “one anothering character of mutual ministry” into all aspects of life, which creates an environment for a discipleship culture within the small group.[23]

3) Practical steps forward as a Small group
Adopting the Wesley SGM strategy of “Gathering, Nurturing and Flowering” it gives a good depiction of a small group life in a church. This model works as a logical “road-map” of progression in a linear method, however, we need to be aware that this model is not as linear as it appears, in fact I believe a healthy small group should have the goal of having all three environments right at the beginning instead of just a natural progression of point A to B.

The core team needs to develop a shared vision of small group with the biblical vision and mission purpose. And this shared Kingdom vision should not just stay within the core group but translated and amplified to the entire small group. Having established this I will be sharing some practical steps that we can take forward in this model of “Gathering, Nurturing and Flowering”.

Gathering
Beginning with the first step of the “Gathering” process. I believe when the group gathers together, the small group leader and core team needs to create an environment in the group with an “open chair” concept, if possible right at the beginning of the first gathering of the small group.[24] This “open-chair” vision is to invoke a clear picture to the group of the mission of the small.[25] The group need to have the consensus to authentically engage and accommodate the seekers.[26]  
                                                                            
Nurturing
The “Nurturing” environment establishes such a discipleship culture, where I believe a small group should start discovering, growing and learning to exercise the different Spiritual gifts within the group. It should be an environment that has such a culture of honor for one another that allows one to serve one another mutually. An environment where we can experience the manifest presence of God and just allow the Holy Spirit to fill us & empower us to exercise our gifting’s for the common good.
                                                                                 
Flowering
The “Flowering” environment is where the small group can be that "Witnessing Community", that can live out the mission of "Missio Dei", God's heart for the people. We are to be intentional about being "missional". We are not only to feed ourselves as part of a Christian life as a community but to reach out to others as well. A group that is generally touched by God will naturally touch others too.

As the small group expands and experiences the fruit of their efforts, the group needs to be prepared for small group multiplication for it to continually be effective in keeping such a vibrant Kingdom-minded group and for relationships to be maintained within the small group.[27] When such a stage is reached, every member in the group will be discipled, people are coming to Christ, and every individual can live out to be that Kingdom-minded believer that are witnesses for Christ in and outside the church.[28]

Concluding Remarks
Imagine this picture of such a vibrant small group, if every single member in the group is mutually, loving, discipling, caring, serving, giving, encouraging and ministering to one another.
A group that will integrate the gospel in all aspect of their lives, a group that will look out for the least, the last and the lost who bless others along the way. I believe such a group will embrace and fulfill the church small group ministry vision of "Growing groups that bears lasting fruit".[29] This is my ideal picture of what a vibrant Kingdom-minded small group look like, and I believe is a vision that God’s Clay 1 small group can become as you all participate together as that witnessing community in God’s kingdom plans for this world!




Bibliography

Boren, M. Scott. Missional small groups: becoming a community that makes a difference in the world. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2010.

Boren, M. Scott, and Don Tillman. Making Cell Groups Work: Navigating the Transformation to a Cell-Based Church. Houston, Tex: Cell Group Resources, 2003.

Donahue, Bill. The Seven Deadly Sins of Small Group Ministry A Troubleshooting Guide for Church Leaders. Zondervan, 2005.

Dunn, James. Jesus and the Spirit. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975.

Foster, Charles R. Educating Congregations: The Future of Christian Education. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press 1994.

Harris, Maria. Fashion me a people: curriculum in the church. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1989.

Icenogle, Gareth Weldon. Biblical foundations for small group ministry: an integrative approach. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1994.

Kirkpatrick, Thomas G. Small Groups in the Church: A Handbook for Creating Community. [Bethesda, MD]: Alban Institute, 1995.

L.Maddox, Randy and Theodore Runyon. Rethinking Wesley's theology for contemporary Methodism. Nashville, Tenn.: Kingswood Books, 1998.

Neighbour, Ralph Webster. The shepherd's guidebook: A new approach to the cell group church. Houston, Tex.: Touch Outreach Ministries, 1990.

Reid, Clyde H. Groups Alive--Church Alive; The Effective Use of Small Groups in the Local Church. New York: Harper & Row, 1969.

Steele, Les L.. On the way: a practical theology of Christian formation. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1990.

Susanne Johnson, Christian Spiritual Formation in the Church and Classroom. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1989.

Tye, Karen B. Basics of Christian education. St. Louis, Mo.: Chalice Press, 2000.

Tye, Karen B. Christian Education in the Small Membership Church. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2008.

Wesley SGM. Wesley Small Group Ministry Handbook 2010. Singapore: Wesley Methodist Church, 2010.




[1] T.S. Eliot, “Chorus from ‘The Rock’,” Complete Poems and Plays (New York: Harcourt and Brace, 1952), 24.
[2] Ibid., 117-120.
[3] Ibid., 117-121.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid., 199.
[6] Acts 2:41(ESV) “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.”
[7] Thomas G,Kirkpatrick, Small Groups in the Church: A Handbook for Creating Community (Bethesda, MD: Alban Institute,1995), 17.
[8] Gareth Weldon Icenogle, Biblical foundations for small group ministry: an integrative approach, 309.
[9] Acts 2:42-43 (ESV) “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.”
[10] Scott M.Boren, Missional small groups: becoming a community that makes a difference in the world (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2010), 23
[11] Karen B. Tye,  Basics of Christian education (St. Louis, Mo.: Chalice Press, 2000), 43.
[12] Maria Harris, Fashion Me a People: Curriculum in the Church,146–147.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Gareth Weldon Icenogle, Biblical foundations for small group ministry: an integrative approach, 309.
[15] James Dunn, Jesus and the Spirit (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975), 259-60.
[16] Karen Tye, Basics of Christian Education, 95.
[17] Diakonia Group Paper, (Singapore: TTC, 2014), 2.
[18] Ibid.
[19] Karen Tye, Christian Education in the Small Membership Church (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2008), 141.
[20] Diakonia Group Paper, 3.
[21] Karen Tye, Christian Education in the Small Membership Church,143.
[22] Gareth Weldon Icenogle, Biblical foundations for small group ministry: an integrative approach, 291-292.
[23] Ibid.
[24] Bill Donahue, The Seven Deadly Sins of Small Group Ministry A Troubleshooting Guide for Church Leaders (Zondervan, 2005), 129-139.
[25] Ibid., 143.
[26] Ibid.
[27] M. Scott, Boren, and Don Tillman. Making Cell Groups Work: Navigating the Transformation to a Cell-Based Church, 378-380.
[28] Ibid.
[29] Wesley SGM. Wesley Small Group Ministry Handbook 2010, (Singapore: Wesley Methodist Church, 2010).

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Reflections of 2016- “The Year of Transitions"

Decided to spend some time this afternoon on my thursday day off, aka “my sabbath day” to reflect back my faith adventures with the Lord for the year of 2016. The words, "a year of transitions” immediately comes to my mind, which are the same words that my wife would resonate as well. The year 2016, has certainly been one of the most challenging, yet most exciting years of our life crossing so many new milestones together.
As I look back 2016, there are 4 major Milestones in my life, from graduating from TTC, to purchasing and renovating our matrimonial home, to starting full-time work at Wesley and than finally getting married. I cannot be more grateful and thankful for the Lord for bringing us through the many transitions that has happened. Even as I reflect through each of these milestones, I am still learning on what it means to die to my self daily, so that I can truly embrace the Christ-directed life and live a life worthy of the calling of the Lord. So this is my 2016 at a glance!

1) 14 May 2016- Graduated from Trinity Theological College (TTC).

  • Spend 3 wonderful years of full-time theological studies at Trinity Theological College (TTC) and finally graduated with a Bachelor of Divinity and many life long lessons. 
  • As reflected in my previous post after graduation, "Reflections of a Fresh Seminary Graduate", made many life-long spiritual friendships, developed some basic theological framework for ministry and experienced many side curricula from the Lord as I grew in Spiritual formation.

















2) 9 June 2016- 18 August 2016 - Purchased a Resale HDB flat and began renovation works to our matrimonial house.
  • From first applying for a Sale of Balance Flat (SBF) in November 2015, too changing to the resale market later in February-March 2016. As we visited many potential houses before we made a bold step of faith to purchase our first flat together which we definitely believe the Lord has led us too. 
  • It was also our first time working together as a couple, making many major decisions in the renovation process and preparations of our new matrimonial house together. Visited many places around Singapore just to get the best fittings and furnitures for our new home.


3) 4 July 2016- Started full-time ministry work at Wesley Methodist Church. 
  • Began a new ministry in Wesley, as the Lord gave me this new opportunity to experience the heart of the pastoral ministry. Started serving in this new position as a Pastoral Associate in the Pastoral Care Ministry, where we serve communion to the home-bounds, visited the sick at hospitals and conducted wakes and funeral for the bereaved. Certainly a big transition from ministering to the youths for many years and today the Lord has led me to a new season ministering mainly to the seniors. 
  • It has also been a great privilege to serve alongside many experience Pastors and Pastoral team members who has served the Lord for many years. Been learning and still learning a lot from each of them as I serve alongside each of them here in Wesley today. 


4) 8 October 2016- Got Married to my sweetheart! (: 
  • The biggest and most exciting milestone of 2016, is of course getting married to my beautiful wife, Claire Chong. We certainly had quite an eventful journey this year, learning to adjust to one another personalities and working styles as we began preparing our wedding and new home together. 
  • Also wrote my reflections in my final year of TTC on a framework of Marriage, titled, “The Orthodoxy, Orthopraxis and Orthopathos of Marriage” to prepare myself for this new exciting season of my life. 



As Soren Kierkegaard would say, "Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards”. So as I prepare for the new year of 2017 and continue this new season of faith adventure with the Lord, a verse that I will continue to cling on would be, Psalms 37:4, "Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.”. That was the verse that the Lord impressed upon my heart way back on 7 October 2008 at a CRU world-wide day of prayer meeting, which eventually led me to take that step of faith to respond to the Lord to serve Him in full time ministry. 


And 8 years later on 8 October 2016, God led us to this same verse again to be used as our Scripture text for our wedding and our marriage ahead as well. As Rev Raymond Fong shared at our wedding exhortation, as we begin this new journey together, may we "Delight in His design for marriage, His roles for the both you in marriage, His purpose through marriage and His empowerment for marriage”, and may we make it our utmost priority to continue to delight ourselves in the Lord and continue pursuing the Lord, growing in his Christ-likeness each day as we bring the presence of Christ with us wherever we go!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Reflections on Pokemon Go

Reflections on Pokemon Go in response to this article: "A possible guide for Christians"
http://aldersgate.sg/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/POKEMON-GO-REAL.pdf

Been musing about this whole Pokemon Go craze for awhile, and thought this article contributed by a few methodist pastors and leaders gave a very good balance christian response on the pros and cons about it.

If you ask me, I've been pretty intrigue about this movement, especially since this is one of my childhood games that I enjoyed playing with on the old school gameboy more than 15-20 years ago. I can also understand why so many people from the young to the old are playing it again with this augmented reality twist to it. One of my peers said, playing this game brings back a lot of nostalgia seeing those familiar creatures again. Although, I was once a fan of this game and I think I can still remember all 151 pokemon today, I personally decided not to download the game as I would want to be a good steward of my time and not risk the chance of getting fixated on "catching them all" everyday.

At the end of the day, I will not condemn this game, nor advocate it, but agreeing to this article, "Those who can clearly separate REALITY from FANTASY – play if you wish", and here are a few selected points raised from this article worth considering.

1. Do not be addicted to it. Stop and ponder regularly even as you play. As Wendy Chiang-Cheong suggest, Ask yourself regularly, “Does my time, invested in this game, help me please the Lord? I would add: “Does it help me grow in holiness of heart and life (which is the calling of all Christians and in particular, Methodists…)? 1 Corinthians 6:11-12 reminds us: “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. Everything is permissible for me, but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.”

2. Be aware of the world view and values you might embrace as you play the game.

3. Consider the implications of playing such games in church, as a pastor shared, "God’s house is a sacred place, set aside for reverent worship of Him, gamers are asked not play it in church."

Do read on for the full context of this article in the link below:
http://aldersgate.sg/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/POKEMON-GO-REAL.pdf