Connect & complete, love & be loved
By Anthony Lee
“I HAVE A DREAM.”
Borrowing those famous words from Martin Luther King Jr, it is my dream and prayer that we, The Methodist Church in Singapore (MCS), will truly live out what it means to be the body of Christ on earth. We call ourselves a connectional church, but what does connectionalism mean and what does it take for us to be truly connected?
Connectionalism does NOT mean uniformity. The Apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13:8a, says that we are all members of Christ’s body because we are all connected in Christ (12:13). But he goes on to say that the body does not consist of one member but many (12:14). “As it is, there are many parts, yet one body” (12:20).
The concept of DNA was not known to Paul back then, but it is a beautiful illustration for our purpose. We now know that every human cell contains the same DNA structure but this DNA expresses itself differently in different body parts. For this reason, we have hands, feet, ears, nose, etc. Identical DNA but different expressions.
In the same way, each church should be identical in that we should all reflect and represent Christ but because of our different contexts, the expressions would differ. A Methodist church in the heartlands, for example, should be different from a church seeking to reach out to foreign migrant workers.
This brings me to my first prayer. “Lord Jesus, help us not to compete but to complete.”
I am not sure if you notice the almost sarcastic humour Paul used in 12:15-17 and again in 12:21, but he is basically stating that just as it is ridiculous to imagine our body parts at enmity with each other, it is ridiculous for us to compete with each other as local churches. We are simply not meant to compete, we are created to complete.
This means that the diversity of the Methodist churches should not undermine our connection. There is a place for English-speaking, Mandarin-speaking, Tamil-speaking, dialect-speaking congregations, etc. This is because the plurality of congregations allows for greater participation and service from the members of the body of Christ. Imagine a large church of 10,000 worshippers. How many will get the opportunity to serve? But if these 10,000 worshippers were split into 35 churches of 300 each, the opportunities for service and participation are greatly multiplied.
One example of completing each other took place last month. At our regular pastors’ fellowship, one TRAC pastor freely shared a Mandarin Wedding Liturgy complete with Hanyu-pinyin with the collegiate. (You have no idea how much we TRAC pastors appreciated that!) This desire and eagerness to share resources – and not hoard to ourselves – is one practical aspect of connectionalism.
Of course, resources are not limited to software and materials. We should also learn to share financial resources – not so much as in having a common fund, but in blessing each other when another church is in need.
Hence, connectionalism does not mean uniformity. Yes, there must be unity – unity founded and rooted in Christ, but there should also be diversity – a diversity which allows a spectrum of expressions so that we are connected like the colours of the rainbow.
This leads me to my second prayer. “Lord Jesus, help us not only to contact but to truly connect.”
12:24b-26 tells that God designed the body such that there might be care for one another. To connect, therefore, is to enter into the pain and joy of others (v.26). If one local church suffers, the whole Methodist Church suffers. If one local church is honoured, all rejoice together!
As MCS, we have many platforms to stay in contact – General Conference, Annual Conferences, events like YMLC, FUSION, etc. These are all opportunities for us to go deeper. Still, there are limitations to big-scale events simply because of their sizes. Across churches, perhaps the best avenues for deeper connection are networking platforms organised by the various agencies and boards.
I recently participated in a Youthworkers’ Retreat organised by the TRAC Board of Youth Ministry where clergy, full-time youth workers and lay youth leaders came together to connect. It was an intimate setting with only 28 of us and that gave us the opportunity to mingle freely and connect more deeply.
What does it take for connectionalism to be a true blessing? While connectionalism is theoretically good, theologically and biblically grounded, I am aware that ground realities are far from the ideal.
Hence, this is my final prayer. “Lord Jesus, help us to love as we are loved.”
We are often exhorted to love. Paul says that the most excellent way is love (12:31b-138a). We hear it preached all the time, we are not just to be loved, we are made and called to love. But I think the converse is equally important – enjoy being loved.
This is surprisingly a lot harder than you would expect. Are not people naturally selfish and crave all the love?
I know many Christians who have poured out their lives onto others but have asked for few rewards in return. God bless them! Yet, to receive love and reward from others is also a ministry because it allows others to exercise love and compassion.
Some of us think that love is only unidirectional. Parents are to love their children. Pastors are to love their congregation. Big churches are to bless smaller churches. But love goes both ways. Children and youth want to express their love too. Congregations ought to love their pastors. Small churches have much to teach big churches too.
We live in a world where kindness, goodness and favour bestowed on people are often viewed with cynicism and branded as having ulterior motives. Let us not bring these worldly mindsets into the body of Christ. Instead, let us learn to be loved and learn to love.
When we open the doors of our hearts and allow others to pour their love in, we connect. When we empty our hearts and pour our love into others, we connect. That is when we go beyond making contact, that is when we stop competing and start completing, that is when we become truly connectional.
Anthony Lee, Assistant Pastor at Christalite Methodist Chapel, is also an Assistant Youth Director of the TRAC Board of Youth Ministry.