Blessings Reel – May 2012

May has been a big month! I was so busy that I hardly found any time to write any new posts. But it’s been a great month, part of the continuum of this year of Unceasing Fruitfulness.

May was also a month when I learnt to rest in Christ’s strength.

Certainly, being part of Converge has been a great ministry blessing. I was blessed to see so much of the Church in the city of Perth coming together in unity, particular worship ministers at a grassroots level. Relationships have been formed which I think will endure into the future, forging unity through the pillar of worship which will play a critical role in the transformation of the city.

It was also great just to work with worshippers hungering together after God’s presence and to meet some new people.

Someone said to me today that God was increasing my influence in this city. I’m not sure whether that is true or not. But what I am sure of is that this is not the goal. The goal is to see the increase of the influence of the church in the city. I’m just one part of that process.

But the process has also involved a lot of hard work.

And in the midst of it all, I was so busy at the office with two of the partners being on holidays. It was busy during working hours, and it was busy after working hours!

There were times I felt completely out of my depth and thoroughly inadequate for the task I was assigned. In all of it however, I learnt Paul’s lesson in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (MSG):

And He said to me, “My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.”

Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.

The weaker I get, the stronger I become; or rather, the greater Christ’s strength in me.

So many times, those who counselled me told me to relax, not to stress, to take it easy. In principle, I agreed. But in reality, I struggled. But it was a lesson they’ve already learnt through their many years of ministry. And now, it was a lesson I had to learn for myself as well.

I am so grateful for the counsel and prayers of my leaders and mentors. And I’m grateful for Christ’s strength, shining through in the moments of my greatest weakness that allows me to keep in good cheer, to take limitations in my stride and to let Christ take over!

One of the Craziest Weekends Ever

I would have to describe it as one of the craziest weekends ever.

It began with an 8 am start for the Asian worship session of Converge 2012, kicking off an entire day of non-stop worship for the city of Perth with different teams coming in to lead worship at Wesley Church, right in the heart of the city.

It was a wake-up call for the city of Perth, probably because Clement played his drums ultra loud and Darren pumped up his amp. The acoustics of Wesley Church probably amplified everything by a factor of 4. But it’s a sound of praise that needed to be heard in the city.

Even though there was probably only about 40 or so people attending, there was a real sense of the presence of God as we worshipped. The band (consisting of worshippers and musicians from different churches) just flowed together beautifully, like we had played together for years instead of having only had a couple of rehearsals beforehand. It was an inexplicable synergy between the team members, all of whom are friends and worshippers I deeply admire.

I didn’t realise it at the time, but the music was also being pumped out through external speakers. We were filling the streets of the city of Perth with the praises of God!

After an extended time of free worship, we began to pray (as it was Pentecost) for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all the different churches represented by the people who were in attendance. Clem started prophesying on the drums, which I interpreted as the sound of breakthrough for our churches – that God would bring fresh anointing, strength, vision and growth.

We ended with the prophetic song “Did You Feel the Mountains Tremble”. I really sensed that spiritual mountains were shaken that morning. I sensed that the darkness over the city was trembling because the saints had joined in one song. The darkness was trembling because all the streams were flowing as one river: the Catholics, Charismatics, Uniting Church, Presbyterians and Anglicans. The brokenness of the church was being washed away.

After that session, quite a number of people came up to me to say that they thought something quite special happened that morning. As Pastor Yoy describes it, heaven and earth had converged.

Clem was especially blessed. It was his birthday and the Lord marked him with favour. You will see in the picture above that as we were praying, the cross at Wesley cast a shadow across his back. What a picture (thanks to Darren!).

After the session, we gathered outside the church to celebrate Clem’s birthday and Wendy Yapp had us wrap the week’s knitting (which was symbolic of the knitting together of prayer) around us and then around the building. The knitting went about half way around the church. Here’s a picture of the band “knit together”:

Here are some photos of some of us spreading the knitting around the church:

After that, the sound of war cries and congas filled the church as the African team led by Arlene Gregory began to worship. It was vibrant in colour, sound and spirit.

We came back in the evening for the last session of the Day of Worship called “Hear the Nations Worship”. During the session, we wove into our worship elements of Gospel-style (led by Stephanie Truscott), Messianic (led by Kathy Susnjar) and African worship (led by Arlene), declaring the words of Revelation 5 that every tongue, tribe and nation will be represented before the throne of God. We finished the evening singing How Great is Our God in English, Indonesian, Chinese, Tagalog and Zulu.

Here is a picture we took at the end of the evening:

We were told later that tens of people were coming into the church throughout the evening, drawn to the sound of praise!

After that night, I was exhausted.

But the weekend was not over yet. As I was attending the Friday night session of Converge, Patrick Chen of Zion Praise Harvest invited me to lead a worship slot during the Global Day of Prayer (on Pentecost Sunday), which his church was hosting. He was bringing together 35 to 40 different churches and ministries to participate. I was told to pick a song, get to the service half an hour earlier to do a sound check and… that was it. Mentally, I couldn’t picture it.

So I just chose the song “Come Holy Spirit”, a song I love and I thought captured the Pentecost theme.

When I got to the meeting this afternoon, I was given a runsheet that had planned the meeting (incorporating the 35 odd ministries) right down to the minute. Zion’s administration and planning skills are second to none.

But it was amazing how God orchestrated unity even though I came into the picture quite late in the piece. It just so happened that I was given the slot just before the Transformation session, the opening Scripture passage of which was Luke 4 (“the Spirit of the sovereign Lord is upon me”). The song I had chosen (quite in isolation of the planning) fit perfectly. I was amazed at how God brought unity even in the programming!

So it’s been an amazing, action-packed weekend.

When I went to Global Day of Prayer, I was asked “what ministry do you represent?” It seemed that everyone had come representing a church, intercessory ministry, marketplace ministry or some other organisation. I didn’t really know what to say. I couldn’t say I was representing my church because I wasn’t even part of the church worship team.

In the end, I just left it as “Lester Ong”.

As we were preparing for Converge, I had said to the different worship teams that we shouldn’t see ourselves as working towards the end of Converge; rather, we should see Converge as a time for the birthing of new destinies. And I think that’s probably where God is leading me. This Converge weekend has been the beginning of something. There is not yet any designation for it. It doesn’t have a cool ministry name, logo or constitution. It is the beginning of worshippers gathering together to lift up the name of Jesus in the city of Perth and for no other name. I can’t wait to see what that will look like.

If Only All Rehearsals Were Like Today’s

I have just come back from an amazing rehearsal with the Converge Asian Worship band at the Hen House rehearsal studios.

It was an interesting evening. As I was collecting the six pizzas for the band, Darren had gotten to the studio early and sent me a picture of the studio. Apparently, one of the walls was painted with a fairly confronting mural of a topless female angel. I wasn’t really sure how the team would feel about it, so I was stressing out a bit.

To my relief, we all laughed it off and thought it was a pretty funny situation, almost slighty ironic. But for the protection of the wider church, I don’t think I’ll post a picture of the room. Here is a “safer” picture of Darren, Yvonne and Ling on the “clean” side of the room.

And here’s another shot taken at the end of the rehearsal of the whole team, courtesy of Darren Woon (from Lto R: Darren Woon, me, Jun Wee, Gabriel Tan, Addie Choon, Derwin Bong, Yoy Alberastine, Yvonne Mohan, Ling Chua, Clement Ch’ng), and also taken from the “clean” side of the room.

I did come with plenty of faith however, to the extent that I thought that maybe, just maybe, as we were worshipping, the mural might supernaturally melt and all the other bands in the surrounding studios would come and see. They would be amazed and say “what God is this who dissolves unholy murals?” and we would then lead them to Christ.

Okay, so that didn’t eventuate, but every now and then, as we were deep in worship, I would just peek out of the corner of my eyes just to see whether perhaps some of the paint might start to come off.

Anyway, after we had eaten some pizza and introduced ourselves to each other, I told the band that it was great to work with anointed worship musicians whom I have admired and for whom I have the highest esteem. In fact, when I looked at the band, I realised that I had worked with most of the musos and singers before and I had longed to work with them again – so today was the opportunity!

I then wondered what it would be like if Converge wasn’t what we were working towards? What if, like Pentecost, it was the birth of something? What if it was the beginning of more times of worship together across churches, at a grassroots level? What if it sparked a movement of passionate worshippers and psalmists joining together across the city?

With that thought, we started running through the 15 songs on our songlist.

One of the songs which Derwin had chosen was “One Thirst” by Jeremy Riddle (good choice, Derwin!). When I first heard that song earlier last week, something had clicked and I somehow knew that that song would capture the heart of what we were trying to do.

Most of the band were pretty unfamiliar with that song, however. As we listened to it on my iPhone, Pastor Yoy said that we should approach it more pensively and prayerfully, almost in an “IHOP” style. What he said rightly set the tone for that song.

As Derwin began to lead that song, the music started to take on a life of its own and the various worship leaders began to sing over the top of the song. We must have gone for about half an hour of the most amazing worship I’ve experienced for a long time. It was like we were soaking up the presence of God and God’s weighty glory somehow descended. Alas though, no melting mural. Instead, we just experienced wave after wave of God’s presence as intercession and prophetic singing flowed.

In times like these, you are just too scared to do anything because you don’t want to be the one responsible for ruining the move of God. That was how real the presence of God felt. I understand more why the “fear of God” is associated with His presence.

And Yoy began to pray that there would be a convergence of psalmists, priests and prophets in this city.

And I prayed that as the church stood in visible unity, there would be a breakthrough atmosphere in our city that would affect our society and transform its values. That all our churches would experience the intensity of God’s presence that we experienced just then.

I don’t think we really wanted to stop.

And I wondered if it would be like this on the actual day itself. I wondered whether our worship would keep flowing like a mighty torrent that can’t be stopped. Whether God would break free from our programs. Whether the whole day would just be seamless. Whether the other bands that came on the day would simply fold into this one. Whether worship would just start and never end. Whether Pentecost would really come like it did at Azusa Street and change the face of the church and the city all at once.

If only all rehearsals were like this one. If only all worship services were like this one! I can feel the mountains tremble, the singers roar. I can sense the time of jubilee coming, when all the streams flow as one river, when the brokenness and fragmentation of the church are washed away, and young and old will turn to Jesus. Tonight didn’t feel like just another rehearsal. It was a prayerful prying open of the windows of heaven over our city.

Converge 2012 – One Heart, One Voice

It’s been a pretty full-on couple of months for me helping out with the Converge organising committee. Never in my life would I have thought that I’d be trying to bring in worship teams from all over the city for the one purpose of exalting the name of Jesus over our City.

There have been times when I have wondered whether we could ever get teams from different churches to lead worship from morning to night, but I am glad to say that between Wendy Yapp, Shaw, Judy and myself and a good deal of help from the Lord, we’ve finally gotten there!

Last week, I was still looking for an African team. I tried calling one guy but never got any response. Then out of the blue, Stephanie Truscott called me and said that Arlene Gregory (who was experienced in leading African worship) really wanted to participate. Within minutes of hanging up the phone on Stephanie, Arlene called me and asked if she could bring a team! I didn’t even need to do anything, but God orchestrated it all!

The idea of bringing worship teams together from different churches in the city is spiritually significant.

Romans 15:5-7 (NIV) says:

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

Check out the Message version:

May our dependably steady and warmly personal God develop maturity in you so that you get along with each other as well as Jesus gets along with us all. Then we’ll be a choir—not our voices only, but our very lives singing in harmony in a stunning anthem to the God and Father of our Master Jesus!

So reach out and welcome one another to God’s glory. Jesus did it; now you do it!

This is why we are calling the Converge Day of Worship on 26 May 2012 “One Heart, One Voice”. As I have said before in previous posts, throughout history, the Church has found reason to divide itself over worship styles and theologies. And yet, Jesus was determined that His church would be one to glorify the Father. As Paul puts it, may we be as “one heart and one voice” to glorify God.

In this sense, God is not just exalted in the songs we sing and the words we say. He is also exalted (and moreso) when the body of Christ can look past their differences and unite, for no other sake than for the sake of unity and the glory of His name.

So my prayer for Converge 2012, and for the Day of Worship, is that the church may join together as one big choir, not just our voices only, but our very lives singing in harmony in a stunning anthem to God.

Check out the program that’s just about to be released (the fruit of the labour of many people on the organising committee over the last couple of months)

Converge Flyer

We’ve got an African team led by Arlene Gregory, Flame Ministries, an Indigenous Team led by Eric Wynne, Salvation Army, Stephanie Truscott and the Garments of Praise doing American Gospel, Without Walls, Indonesian Worship led by Aflame Community Church and two inter-church teams as well! It’ll be an awesome day!

Converge 2012 Day of Worship on Saturday 26 May 2012 – Save the Date

I’m excited about the Converge 2012 Day of Worship.  From 6 am to 10 pm, teams from different churches will gather to exalt the name of Jesus in the centre of Perth at the historic Wesley Church. 

We’ve got on board teams from a wide-spectrum of the church, including an American Gospel team, the Salvation Army, Flame Catholic Youth and the Nations Worship Team.  We’ve only got a couple of slots left to fill!

It will be a day of joining our hearts across denominational and methodological lines in concerted praise in answer to Jesus’ prayer:  that we might be one so the world will know.

Put down the date 26 May 2012 in your diary.  Invite your churches, cell groups, friends and family to witness and participate in the unity of the body of Christ in the city through worship.  The day’s program will be released shortly so watch this space!

Converge 2012: Knit Together

It’s been amazing how God has led me here.

About 7 years ago, I met Pastor Yoy Alberastine in a cafe to talk about worship and the city. We must have sat there for about 4 hours just dreaming about what it would be like if worship leaders across the city connected together. The spiritual implications would be huge. Yoy had some personal involvement in something like this in the Love Singapore movement, but could it be done in Perth?

As things go, I got too busy with my own ministry to even pursue that dream. The dream got shelved like those books you buy but never get around to reading, but every now and then it catches your eye as a gentle reminder that it’s still there.

Last year, I had the privilege of being part of the Commonwealth Prayer Initiative which saw a huge number of churches get together in a 24/7 prayer movement (known as Converge) over the week that CHOGM came to Perth. It was a foretaste of what could be achieved when the church of Perth stands in unity.

This year, I found myself on the organising committee of Converge 2012 to help organise the program for one of the days: an entire day devoted to worship and magnifying God in the city. On the one hand, I’m excited because it’s like God reminding me to finally dust off that dream and start getting into it. But to say I’m daunted by the task is to put it mildly.

The theme for this year’s Converge is “Knit Together”. It takes its inspiration from Colossians 2:2:

[For my concern is] that their hearts may be braced (comforted, cheered, and encouraged) as they are knit together in love, that they may come to have all the abounding wealth and blessings of assured conviction of understanding, and that they may become progressively more intimately acquainted with and may know more definitely and accurately and thoroughly that mystic secret of God, [which is] Christ (the Anointed One).

True unity in the church can only be achieved when the hearts of God’s people are “knit together”; intertwined. It is the key not only to abounding wealth and blessings (which in this context is secondary), but ultimately to knowing and being intimately acquainted with Christ. As John says, we can’t really say we love God unless we love our brothers and sisters.

Christ and His grace is the mystery of God hidden through the ages, but revealed through His body – the church. Paul says in Ephesians 3:8ff:

Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms…

Through the church, united and knit together, God displays His manifold wisdom to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realm.

I believe that as the church joins together in apostolic worship and intercession, God will make a statement to the spiritual realm of this city that Perth belongs to Jesus and that the gates of hell will not prevail against the church.

So seven years later, it seems that God is leading me to take steps of faith towards seeing the dream of the church being united in worship. It’s not going to take just one event to make it happen, but at least the process has started and the future is glorious.

Church (S)hopping

“Church hopping” is a phenomenon, particularly prevalent in the early Charismatic movement, when Christians would move from church to church, conference to conference, to chase down the best teachers and the most, well, charismatic speakers. As a result, many Christians became dislocated; whilst they heard great teaching, there was no space for them to apply that teaching and experience spiritual formation in the context of community.

Consequently, one of the most insidious aspects of the Charismatic movement was allowed to spring up, now documented by most church historians as the “Shepherding Controversy”.

The central message was that everyone should be connected to a leader above themselves and in turn disciple others. Vinson Synan describes it this way in his book The Century of the Holy Spirit:

This “shepherding” system was considered to be an answer for the thousands of charismatics who were drifting from conference to conference and at times receiving questionable teaching and leadership. To these rootless and wandering masses, the [teachers of the movement] offered “covenant relationships” between a “shepherd” or “covering” who would direct the spiritual lives of his “disciples”.

What began as a good intention was a first step on a slippery slope. Soon, shepherds were dictating to their disciples things like what clothes to wear; what they did with their spare time; even who they should marry! And the shepherds continued to propagate that culture through a theology of fear which went something like this: to be blessed by God, you needed to be under the spiritual covering of a shepherd. Move out of that covering and you move out of the sphere of God’s protection.

By the late 70s, the movement had begun to wane as prominent Charismatic leaders began to teach against it. But a thread of the Shepherding Controversy continues to live on, particularly in churches today where lines of authority are emphasised. Instead of spiritual covering from shepherds who were outside the local church structure, the spiritual covering was now provided by the local church pastor. The dire consequences of not remaining “under the covering” remains.

Now don’t get me wrong: I’m all for accountability. I am spiritually accountable to my wife (she might disagree!), some leaders of the church in the city and my close Christian friends who speak into my life. But I’m not accountable to them to the extent that they will dictate the small details of my life (maybe my wife is an exception!). Why? Because God and I are on speaking terms. If a person in authority says to me “I believe God is saying this and this about your life”, I also expect God to tell me Himself!

Anyway, I’ve gotten myself sidetracked now, because what I really want to explore in this post is “church shopping” which is a much more enjoyable activity. It is what happens when you leave a church and you get the privilege of finding a new one to belong to.

Ling and I visited over 15 churches in the last 7 months as we prayerfully considered where God would have us settle. It was a great experience because when you have belonged to one church for 21 years, you never really get to see what other churches are doing. So as we visited some of these churches, we went out with a shopping list of essential items – things we wanted in the church that we would call home. In my next post, I will highlight some of the great things about some of the churches we visited, but here, I want to share my shopping list with you:

1. Vibrant worship

As a worship minister, this was non-negotiable. We wanted to be in a place where we could sense the presence of God in worship. Now, how each person gets that sense will be subjective, but we sensed this more in some churches than others. You might feel differently about this, so that’s why I say it’s subjective. Importantly, we wanted this sense of God’s presence married to musical excellence as well because more often than not, the two aspects go hand in hand. God’s presence operates independently of musical excellence; musical excellence without God’s presence is sounding brass and clashing cymbals. But when the two come together, it’s heaven on earth.

2. Inspiring sermons (that don’t go for too long!).

Okay, so this is a composite of two related items. First, the sermon must be Word-based and challenging. The Word of God must be what inspires transformation. I’m over those sermons where you can take out the opening Bible passage and the rest just sounds like a motivational speech.

The second aspect is sermon length. The older I get, the less I retain. I just need the main point of the message to penetrate my heart and linger in my thoughts: three points (each containing three subpoints) are just too much to process. And after 45 minutes, I really need a Kool Mint to stay awake (Joseph Prince is the only exception here. He can preach for 1.5 hours and it’d still be okay).

Actually, and ironically, I have a third subpoint to this main point: the sermon should be anchored in God’s grace. I don’t need grace theology rammed down my throat every week, but messages based on what God has done are definitely more biblical (and inspirational) than those which emphasis my need to do things to gain God’s approval.

3. Warm Fellowship

When you are a visitor to a church, it can be really intimidating. The shoe moves to the other foot and you realise what it must have been like for those visitors who step foot into your church for the first time. You start worrying whether you stick out like a sore thumb (especially if you are Asian and the church ain’t), and you wonder whether you should draw attention to yourself when the chairperson asks for newcomers to stick up your hand if you are there for the first time. (I’ve decided now that whether I put my hand up depends on how good the newcomer’s gift is: in Influencers Church, you get a Paradise CD which retails at $21.95, so I happily stuck my hand up there).

A strong community on a Sunday can actually draw you deeper into the life of the church. But importantly, we wanted strong discipling communities that would foster accountability, encouragement and spiritual growth.

4. Outward Focus

We wanted to be part of a church that had a strong outreach program; and even better, a strategic (rather than an ad hoc) outreach program. The intent of the church was always to mediate between God and the unreached: apart from that, there really is no other impetus for Christians to exist in the world.

But apart from the function of witness, we also wanted to be part of a church that was connected to the body of Christ in the city, generous in resources to other churches and willing to sacrifice to answer Jesus’ high priestly prayer: that we might be one so that the world may know that Jesus was sent of God.

5. Supernatural in Orientation

Strangely, the supernatural and me are an awkward marriage: I know that the Christian life must be supernatural, but I think I’m very much a carnal, rationalistic creature. So a supernatural bent is important to challenge me in my faith, to believe God for greater things, to dabble in the impossible.

My wife is really into healing ministry, so as part of this “must have” item, we wanted to be part of a church with a strong healing ministry. For her, it’s an avenue to serve. For me, it’s to remind me that God is still doing incredible things in our world.

6. A Strong Vision

This is the last item on our shopping list and an important overarching one at that. I actually believe that the church most resembles the original model in the book of Acts when it is organic and flat-structured. But for now, I have to accept that most people do church based on an organisational model. And under that model, what makes the church successful in carrying out its mission in this world is strong (inspiring but not controlling) leadership and a strong vision.

Vision is like the first shirt button. Get that one right and all other activities will be referable to it and fall into the right place. Get the vision wrong, or have one that’s too vague, and everyone ends up doing whatever they want with no follow-through.

I like a vision that thinks big and acts big: one where together, a church will strive for the impossible, even if it means that at best, we achieve the nigh-on-impossible!

So that’s my church shopping list. And I’m glad to say that we’ve found a church that checks all the boxes!

Keeping It in the Family

Today, we see another phase of our journey closing off as Ling and I visited one last church before settling in to our new church. And what a great way to end this chapter!

We visited Churchlands Christian Fellowship and were really impressed by the worship: very Spirit-led and engaging with a “mosh pit” full of older people expressing their praise to God. It was simple, yet we sensed the reality of God’s presence in that place. And we were blessed to hear a message by Ned Davies who had returned to Perth (after 20 years in Sydney including at Hillsong) to lead the worship ministry at Churchlands. Ned Davies wrote the song “Awesome in this Place”, amongst others.

But that’s an aside. Over this week, I want to round off with some thoughts about our journey to find a new church home before announcing which church we’ll be joining from the first week of March.

One of the things I want to explore is the concept of the local church as family. This was something we grappled with as early as three years ago leading up to the time we left our church at the end of July last year. When we first canvassed the thought of leaving all that time ago, one of the things which people said to me was: “you can’t leave the church. The church is your family”. (No wonder people argue so much and get into conflict: because the church is a family!)

But what our counsellors were really saying was that we were so intertwined with our local church, to leave it was tantamount to breaking familial bonds which will never form again anywhere else. It was kind of like divorcing your wife or emancipating from your parents. The local church, in effect, was your family for life and you couldn’t go anywhere else.

I used to think this too, but I now see some problems with that line of thinking. For example:

  • What happens when you relocate interstate? Why is it that you can go to another church and belong to a new family then?
  • What about if God calls you to simply move to another church in your city?
  • What if you no longer feel like you are growing? Or what if the church you attend doesn’t have a particular ministry you feel called to serve in?
  • When do you ever get to choose your church? If there is a permanence to being part of a local church family, why don’t they tack an extra bit to the end of the sinner’s prayer to warn you, such as “now that you’ve received Jesus, you’d better think carefully whether you will attend this church because you will be stuck with us for life”.

I think this concept of church as family is a major hindrance to the purposes of God in a city because it actually makes it harder for the local churches to be unified in the city. It leads to pastors becoming extremely protective of their flock so that people movement between churches is seen as taboo and therefore to be discouraged. It creates tensions between churches. And yet, when you think about it, there is absolutely no net loss to the kingdom of God! In fact, there is just the same number of Christians around except that instead of fellowshipping in one place, they have moved to a different place.

Now, I definitely believe that to be effective in the Kingdom of God, Christlike character is best formed in community, particularly in a local church. However, that shouldn’t make that one church a life sentence.

We should really look at the local churches in the city as one church, comprising of many congregations. Then we don’t really have to worry which local church people move to, as long as they remain vitally connected to God and the body of believers and keep serving Him.

So by all means the local church is a family, but only in the sense that we share in community with fellow believers; we encourage one another; we speak into one another’s lives; we admonish one another; we correct and reprove one another; we build each other up.

If we are able to see the church in the city as one big family, then the possibilities are limitless. Imagine local churches reaching across institutional/organisational boundaries to share resources; imagine the churches in a local area partnering together to deliver meals to the poor; imagine their standing side by side to host worship events or evangelistic crusades; imagine their transforming their communities together, rather than on their own. There would be synergy.

God was concerned about wicked people being united in the common cause of the Tower of Babel. In Genesis 11:6, God says “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them”. But now, imagine righteous people, speaking the same language of brotherly love, executing a common God-given vision. Would it be impossible for them to transform their communities?

In the last 7 months, I have learnt that the family of God is so much bigger than any one local church. In fact, we have connected with people in the different churches we have visited; we have friends both in our old church and those who have moved on to other churches who continue to speak into our lives and (we hope) us into theirs. We have served together with people from other churches to advance the Kingdom of God. And we have come to see that we have lots of family, located in different congregations, all over this city.