The sermon by Rev Darryl Chan on PSPC’s 173rd Anniversary Service last Sunday
was a follow-up to a more extensive analysis on what PSPC needs to address as a leadership and congregation. This pastoral letter is a summary of that analysis.
Since my appointment as Senior Pastor in 2013, I have sometimes asked God, “If people matter to God, why is it that regardless of who was on staff, regardless of who had served in leadership, regardless of what we had done, PSPC couldn’t surpass the congregation size of 700?” This question surfaced again during my 3-month sabbatical from June to August and especially during the 5-day silent retreat in July. In the book, “Under the Unpredictable Plant – An Exploration in Vocational Holiness” that I brought into the silent retreat, Eugene Peterson, often known in Christian circle as “a pastor to pastors”, wrote the following words (page 138):
But we forget that growth is a biological, not an arithmetical, metaphor. Growth in biology has to do with timing, passivity, waiting, proportion, maturity. There is a proper size to each thing. There are proportions to be attended to. It is an exceedingly complex and mysterious thing, this process of growth. Every congregation has proportions, symmetries, and a size proper to it. Different congregations in different places and conditions will have different proportions and sizes. No one from the outside can determine what that size is, but a wise pastor will be mindful and respectful of limits.
Growth is indeed a mysterious thing. A few weeks ago, my older girl Rachel came back from school with some sunflower seeds, a pack of soil and a pot. As part of the science lesson, she was instructed to plant the sunflower seeds, water them, put the pot under sunlight and monitor its growth stages. The days turned into weeks, but there was no sign of any growth. So the teacher suggested that she tried some other seeds instead, so we decided to have tomato for dinner, sowed the seeds, watered and sunned them in the exact same way. Within a few days, the seeds sprouted. Growth is indeed a mysterious thing.
Barring the possibility that God has imposed sovereign limits on PSPC, I emerged from my sabbatical determined to identify and resolve any limits that we – as a leadership and congregation – are responsible for. I called for a special Session meeting and asked the elders to each discern the top 3 factors that – humanly speaking – could possibly be limiting PSPC. Several patterns surfaced:
1. Leadership Instability – Such instability is likened to a “stalled engine” that resulted in the loss of long-term vision, lack of sustained focus and dysfunctional team dynamics.
Response: Since 2013, we have zeroed in on leadership instability as the most urgent issue that we need to address lest we continue to suffer from gridlock. Considering how fragile leadership unity can be, Pastoral Staff, Elders and Deacons are constantly urged to always “keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3).”
2. Lack of Personal Evangelism – There is an observation that we have a tendency to rely on evangelistic programmes and events, rather than personal evangelism, to reach out. However, evangelistic fervor will dissipate if it is just a programme.
Response: The main segment of my sermon on Anniversary Service was to address this factor (the audio recording of the sermon is available on www.pspc.org.sg). The lack of personal evangelism is not unique to PSPC because it is actually an indicator of spiritual health, vitality and discipleship. Since 2014, PSPC has taken the first step towards being an intentional disciple-making church. This is the right step in the right direction which needs to be sustained over the long-haul. In addition, PSPC’s church theme for 2017 will focus on outreach and evangelism. Let us pray that God will rekindle our spiritual fire, renew our evangelistic passion and revive our compassion for lost souls.
3. Church Culture – PSPC is often perceived to be a multi-generational family-based church. This presents an “initial impression” which visitors and newcomers need to overcome before they can be plugged into the relationship networks and connections to experience a sense of belonging.
Response: Every church has its own particular history, culture and demographics; PSPC’s situation is not unlike many established churches in the city area. We will continue to tap on the strength of the Alpha Course that “people belong before they believe”. We are also in the midst of raising PSPC’s Hospitality Quotient (3 “R”s of Hospitality – Receive, Reconnect, Repeat) so that every congregant is a befriender; the Welcome Team will continue to step up its recruitment. The stepping up of cell group involvement and fostering of 3-2-1 spiritual friendship groups will help address the sense of belonging, smoothen transition from one generational ministry to another as well as through life stages.
Each of these 3 factors by themselves could have limited most churches, but when all 3 factors worked together, the compounding effect can be debilitating. However, as stated in the respective responses, PSPC has already put in place various priorities and initiatives to address these factors. But these are not guarantees for church growth at all, for as one commentator on “Christianity Today” website wrote, “There are no guaranteed steps to church growth. Because the church is people. And people don’t come with guarantees.”
Ultimately, we need to be cognizant of Eugene Peterson’s reminder and the Apostle Paul’s exhortation: “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow (1 Corinthians 3:6-7).” As we press on to sow the seed and water the plant, to faithfully and courageously catch the wind of God’s Spirit, we pray that God – in His time and season – will revive PSPC so that we will fulfill what He has in store for us. Amen.