Su Chii Ann:We need all three types of worship

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Wong: What is your view of this current pandemic?

Su: I believe this COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented catastrophe. It is even more horrifying than the last two world wars, because it is worldwide. It is a war that transcends country, race, gender, social status, and age. Not only has it affected politics, religion, education, and economy throughout the world, it has also directly harmed human lives. This is a disaster concerning life and death, a battle between humans and the coronavirus. No one can predict whether they live or die when they meet this virus. Everyone is equal before it. So the first priority for everyone is to protect themselves, and take others into consideration.

For the church, this is an opportunity to reflect. Because of the Movement Control Order and in consideration of the lives of church members, the church has to close physical buildings. All original activities such as praise and worship, teaching, training, evangelism, and social care ministries are stopped until the MCO is lifted. So pastors have to think about how to pastor their congregation, and church members also have to consider how to continue their lives of faith, even when doubting God for allowing this pandemic. So, now the church has the “online service” way of pastoring.

Unexpectedly, it is only under these circumstances that church members begin to do some heart-searching. They realize that in the past, they did not properly appreciate worship, fellowship, learning, and serving with everyone. They then hope that during this pandemic, they can build a good relationship with God and prepare themselves for the future. This counts as a good thing.

Also, the church should reflect: is it only during a pandemic that we suddenly think we need to do some social care work, in case others criticize us for not doing works of mercy? I am attached to Tian En Methodist Church. Since 2014, we have had ministries helping the poor. Even until now, every month we give food to 32 families, support 1 dialysis patient, provide education expenses for a few poor families and monthly school fees for 3 children in kindergarten. Besides helping the poor, we also help with funerals, blood donation, cleaning up public spaces, recycling, etc. Material and financial support come from all kinds of people and methods – personal donations from church members, social care church offering, promoting church members to join the “a dollar a week” campaign, funds from the Dorcas ministry (which the adult fellowship helps to run), donations from members of the public (last year a non-church member donated 20 bags of rice every month, another donated 26 bags of fresh fish) etc.

The pastor-in-charge, Rev Clement Yek, said, “During this pandemic, our ministry has been commended by some members of the public. They would buy food and send it to the church for us to distribute, and even expand this ministry to other parts of the church district.” As far as I know, at least 6 churches are participating, taking care of over 100 families. Thus I believe that social care is a ministry not only during pandemics, but an extension of the normal social care ministries.

Wong: Now that churches are put on hold, is there any meaning to the church buildings?

Su: First of all, I want to say that the
Bible emphasizes both corporate and personal worship. From the Old to New Testament, the tabernacle and the church is built for a physical and corporate form of leading people to know and worship God. But on the other hand, God does not live in the sanctuary. He is Spirit, so we can worship him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). The early church not only encouraged believers to worship in the sanctuary, but also at home (Acts 2:42-47). Thus, whether we worship in a sanctuary or church building, or at home by ourselves, God is pleased.

Now, our problem is that since activity in the church building has stopped because of the pandemic, is there any meaning left to these buildings?

I believe the church building will continue to exist, only that it is not in use right now because of the pandemic. But Christian worship does not stop! The church is a group of believers in God gathering together. Humans need independence, but also a need to be social, how much more so with us Christians! Only that some are still not used to the lack of fellowship in person.

Our church has always emphasized family worship. Whether it is a couple at home, or parents with children, the whole family can gather to read the Bible, pray, share, sing hymns, show concern to each other and pastor each other.

At the same time, we cannot only emphasize corporate worship and family worship, and neglect personal worship, which is also personal devotion. Personal devotion is the firm foundation and basic step of our relationship with God. Without this foundation, family worship is meaningless, and even corporate worship cannot reach its peak.

So we need all three types of worship.

Wong: Is online worship the trend for the future?

Su: Actually, when we face a pandemic or any other difficulty, we should adjust our attitude and way of church life: In extraordinary circumstances, we should show concern for one another. What I mean is this: pastoring a church does not happen in a single direction, where all the pastoring is done by the pastor alone. It should be a team pastoring together. For example, when this pandemic prevented us from meeting in person, the pastors and church members of Masland Methodist Church stepped up to be responsible for recording worship services and to serve the Methodist church in all of Sarawak (of course churches around the world also benefited).

In fact, using online worship, or other online methods (Zoom, Voov) for Bible study, equipping, training, caring for brothers and sisters, and sharing the gospel with unbelievers, is already a popular way of pastoring and evangelizing. I believe it will continue in some capacity, especially among the younger generation. The methods may differ, but the gospel is the same.

Wong: During this pandemic, how can the church continue to minister in the midst of trouble?

Su: Bob Johansen in his book “Leaders Make the Future: Ten New Leadership Skills for an Uncertain World” said that this pandemic shows us that we face an age of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. It has caught pastors, church leaders, and members unprepared and uncertain of what to do or how to minister.

In our Methodist church system, pastors lead and church members follow. But this is not to say that pastors lead in everything. Pastors should build teams to discuss, plan, and act.

Bob proposed 4 ways for pastors and leaders to respond: vision, understanding, clarity, and agility. This can be a direction and action of leadership and pastoring for our church’s response to the pandemic.

Vision: During uncertain times, people are anxious. Leaders need to affirm the main purpose of the existence of the church – is it worship? Social care? Training? Evangelism?

Understanding: During unpredictable times, pray and understand the situation. Though there are difficulties and restrictions, use the easiest, most approachable, and fastest way to accomplish the mission.

Clarity: In complicated times, find a unified method. For example, there are too many online services. Church members need clear directions on how to differentiate between true and false messages. Provide correct web addresses and join the headquarters worship service etc.

Agility: In unclear situations, be decisive. Move quickly to adapt and provide different media for online worship. Take the opportunity to make prayer meetings, Sunday School, discipleship training, and Bible studies more “family oriented” or “personal” to attain the effects of pastoring.

Wong: How do we face the shadow of death?

Su: As I said before, this pandemic
affects lives. Some people take up a careless and unsympathetic approach to the pandemic, but most people still care for their own and their family’s safety.

The questions of life concern these three major topics: source, meaning, and the life beyond. The Bible gives us the truth clearly. Romans 11:36 tells us that humans are created by God, so life is from God. After death we return to God, and life goes back to God. So between life and death, humans depend on God to live. Only life with God has meaning.

For Christians, death is a door that leads us back to God. Death is going home: we came from God, so we return to God. But the most important thing is that while we are still alive, we need to confess that we are sinners. We cannot go back to God on our own, we need to wholeheartedly trust in Jesus Christ as our Saviour. He died for our sins on the cross and used his precious blood to wash away our sins, so that we can be reconciled with God and become His children. Then in this life we glorify God and bless others, and in the future we go to where God is to enjoy eternal bliss.

When we know life’s source, meaning, and future, then even under the threat of the pandemic, we can still face death as normal, with joy, courage, confidence, and faith.

Wong: Does the pandemic mean the end of the world is near?

Su: Speaking of the end of the world,
normally, even without a pandemic and just some slight disturbance, everyone starts talking about the end of the world. But until today, the world is still here. We must be careful when talking about the end of the world.

Usually, we use Matthew 24:3-14 to explain the end of the world. Matthew records the 7 signs of Jesus’ return, but he will return only when the last sign is accomplished. That sign is the gospel preached in all the world. The other 6 signs indicate that he will return one day.

In Luke, one of the signs of Jesus’ return is plague (Luke 21:11). This is a disease that will destroy both the environment and human lives. It may be an epidemic, which is spread in a particular community at a certain time. The Bible does not talk about the coronavirus, but this virus is a pandemic, which is spread throughout many countries or all over the world. This is a disaster that is destroying both the earth and humans. The present coronavirus can be considered as one of the signs of the end of the world. It is a grave reminder that the Lord’s return is near.

I often wonder: humans are so terrified of the coronavirus, and yet, they do not care about God. May God have mercy, may we rediscover our fear and reverence of God and be alert for his return.

So how should we be alert for the Lord’s return? Being alert does not mean paying more attention and working hard only when pandemics or troubles come. It should be lived out and exercised in our normal daily lives.

I myself am doing discipleship training in these 8 areas:

Spiritual: Read Bible and pray, build up spiritual life, share the word of God.
Life: Make good use of time, grow personally, live a disciplined life.
Health: Regular exercise, balanced diet, stay calm emotionally.
Finance: Increase income and decrease expenses, regular offerings, social care.
Family: Love between husband and wife, communication between parents and children, family worship.
Church: Worship service, fellowship, training ministries.
Work: Be dedicated, live out beliefs, do what you say you will do.
Community: Socialize, serve the community, bring people to God.

Whether during or after the pandemic, let us continue to be faithful as disciples of Christ, so that on that future day when we give an account of our lives and present our fruit, we will share in God’s glory.

Interviewer: Menglei (Wong)
Interviewee: Rev Su Chii Ann
Recorder: April Lu
Translator: Joy Tie
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