A New Year. A New Season. Stepping Down As Pastor.

Stepping Out Prayer

When Senior Pastor announced my decision to step down as a pastor of CVCC this morning at the very first service of 2014, it probably came as a surprise or shock to many. Understandably, it is no small thing for a pastor to relinquish his position, let alone one who holds the position of Deputy Senior Pastor. I can only imagine the many questions and/or speculations in the minds of people as they process this development.

After the service, quite a few came to shake my hand, expressing their surprise and sentiments. I am thankful for these who cared enough to approach me and to clarify what stepping down as a pastor meant. I am glad I had the opportunity to share with them so that there would be as little of a chance of any misunderstanding. Even so, I am well aware that word will get round rather quickly and conjectures will also abound. By this evening, a sister-in-Christ from another church had already heard about it. And the standard reaction, as expected, was, “Why? Were there problems? Are you leaving the church? What are you going to do?”

I’d like to address these FAQs in this post ūüôā

This decision is not my own. It is a step of faith in obedience to how the Lord has directed me; and not just myself but also Serene. This is not a small decision and I am so thankful that Serene and I are in unity and in agreement, the Lord having spoken to the both of us.¬†What seemed like a sudden announcement is really a culmination of two years’ of seeking, intensified in the last six months. Finally, sometime end-Sept-early-Oct, the Lord’s directive came so clearly.

Immediately, I shared with my Senior Pastor so that we could process this together. And that’s what we did over the past three months. In December, this was shared with the pastoral team, followed by ministry and discipleship group leaders, before today’s announcement to the congregation.

Officially, as of 1 Jan 2014, I am no longer a pastor of Covenant Vision Christian Church; no longer on staff. I am, however, still the Dean of Covenant Vision School of Ministry (under Covenant Vision Centre), for which I receive some financial support from CVCC. Serene and I remain members of the church and we continue to worship and serve there as a family.

We believe that the Lord has asked me to step down so that I can step out to step into a ministry He has prepared for me, to minister on a broader front across churches and organisations. What this ministry is and what it will look like, I only have a vague idea at the moment. As such, being released from my pastoral role and duties, I now have time to seek the Lord more intently for the next steps, and then to develop this ministry as He leads. Along the way, I will teach and preach as and when I am given the opportunity and privilege to do so.

And in case anyone is wondering … no, I am not starting another church ūüôā

That’s pretty much what I am able to share at this point … until the Lord reveals the next steps. Please help us share this with others so that there will be as little speculation and negative talk as possible. Pray for us too. The way ahead is very exciting but it is also very scary, not really knowing what is around the bend, with seven children in tow … talk about leaving a comfort zone! That said, Serene and I are just so awed by the Lord’s love and grace, affirming and assuring us of His presence and faithfulness. In that and in Him, we rest.

To all at CVCC, thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve you as your pastor these past five years. I have learnt a lot and this experience will be put to good use to bless even more. We look forward to your continued support as we enter a new season of ministry that the Lord has prepared for us. To God be all glory!

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Beware of Satan’s Thorns: Seven Ways the Enemy Weakens Pastors

Beware of Satan’s Thorns: Seven Ways the Enemy Weakens Pastors.

A Facebook friend shared this article on his wall. Great reminders of the wiles of the devil. How tempting it is to succumb to each of these enticements, only to discover that these are but the enemy’s entrapments to distract, derail and even discredit God’s ministers.

If you are a pastor, or someone in fulltime ministry, heed these warnings seriously. If you are not a pastor, this is an invitation for you to pray for your pastor — he/she needs and appreciates your prayer support and encouragement.

Am I A Pastor Or A Teacher?

“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists,
and some pastors and teachers” Eph 4:11

Does Ephesians 4:11 describe a five-fold or a four-fold ministry? Without having to conduct a survey, we can safely assume that the five-fold ministry is the more popular and accepted notion. That was my understanding and position too — until more recently.

There is little argument concerning the separate offices of apostle, prophet and evangelist. However, it is not nearly as clear when it comes to the terms of pastor and teacher. Depending how you read it, it can very well go either way. To this end, I have no intention of getting into a hermeneutical discourse nor debate. That said, I would go as far as to point out that the structure does suggest the twinning of pastor and teacher, thereby making the four-fold ministry position a very plausible consideration.

Speaking FGAOver the years in ministry, it has become very apparent that my gift is teaching. This has been affirmed over and over again by different people from different churches. For me, the conclusion is very straightforward — in the context of the five-fold ministry, I am thus called to be a teacher. I may at times display certain apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic and pastoral traits (and anointing). But I am primarily a teacher.

I was very comfortable with this until I was commissioned as a pastor of a local church. Not only am I a teacher by gifting,¬†I am also now a pastor by appointment. It didn’t take very long for me to realise that these two roles are quite different. And the members made it a point to let me know that too ūüôā¬†Over time, I started receiving feedback like “Rev Henson is a good teacher but not really a good pastor.” or “I agree that Rev Henson’s teaching is biblical, but his standards are so high that I feel I cannot attain it.”¬†As a teacher, I am used to presenting concepts and principles clearly and precisely – in black & white, as it were. As a pastor, however, I quickly learned that there are so many shades of gray! And whilst the flock may agree with me in principle, they did not necessarily desire the same in practice!¬†Trust me, I learned this – and am still learning – the hard way.¬†

Holding to the five-fold ministry position, I have the perfect answer (excuse?) to this conundrum: “I am called to be a teacher, not a pastor.” In other words, pastor is merely a title given to me to fulfil a function in the local church, since there is no such title as teacher. Unfortunately, the Holy Spirit wouldn’t allow me to get away with it so easily; hence His prompting for me to ponder more deeply the possibility of the four-fold ministry position.

As I did that, taking my own experience into consideration and that of others, I am personally coming to a conclusion that it is not pastor or teacher, but pastor and teacher; not two offices, but one that embraces the dual roles of pastoring and teaching. Simply, a pastor must teach, and a teacher must pastor. You just cannot divorce one from the other.

Speaking ASPCConsider this: How does one pastor [shepherd] if he does not first teach? What parameters or boundaries does one govern by or within? In the absence of proper teaching, pastoring becomes extremely subjective if left to merely broad-stroke Christian terms like love, grace and forgiveness. Things get even messier when a pastor hopes to shepherd according to another’s teaching! ¬†If Paul had to teach and straighten out theology and doctrines for the churches then, this is even more critical today¬†when so much teaching is available everywhere! Clearly, pastoring involves teaching.

Conversely, teaching involves pastoring too.¬†I must admit that since becoming a pastor, it has broadened and deepened my perspectives and ministry as a teacher. Without the practical experience, dealing with church leadership, administration and people, much of what is taught can largely remain academic and theoretical. This can easily result in spiritual pride and self-righteousness, as in the case of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. They prided themselves as the best teachers but Jesus labelled them as hirelings when they should have been shepherds [pastors], clearly demonstrating the need for these two critical roles to function together when ministering to people.

So, am I a pastor or a teacher? The answer is “yes” because I now see it is one office with two roles that are critical and inseparable. Admittedly, for me, the more dominant trait is still that of teaching at the moment. But embracing the four-fold ministry position helps me remain open to develop and grow in the pastoral aspects. This is not necessarily easy for me, nor does it come naturally to me given my personality and inclinations (besides, it’s easier to deal with books than with people – haha!)

Even so, I am reminded that¬†God didn’t merely issue rules and regulations but also desired relationship with His people. For this reason,¬†Jesus, the Word, became flesh and dwelt among us. As such, my eyes are fixed on Jesus, pastor-teacher par excellence, that in time, I too may grow to minister as He did, “full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

As with all aspects of transformation, this will not happen overnight nor by my own strength but only by His grace and the power of the Holy Spirit. In the meantime, all prayers (and encouragements) are appreciated that I may be faithful to fulfil my ministry as pastor-teacher alongside apostles, prophets and evangelists —

“[to equip] the saints for the work of ministry, [and to edify] the body of Christ till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Eph 4:12-13

Related Post: Being a Pastor

Jesus be the Santa of My Life?

I guess¬†it’s safe to assume that everyone is familiar with the hit worship song by Israel Houghton “Jesus At The Centre”, or the slightly older one, “Jesus Be the Centre” by Michael Frye.

We sing it with gusto, and at times, with tears too. But really, is Jesus the centre? Or do we just want Him to be a Santa to us? Hey, in this day of commercial and convenient Christianity, I can’t assume anything. Of anyone. And of myself.

Is Jesus the centre of your life? Don’t say “yes” too quickly if all you mean is that you desire Jesus to be the centre. That wasn’t the question at all. Once again, the question is, “Is Jesus the centre of your life?” In case this appears or sounds confusing, consider the following …

Take me, for example. I am one who serves in a full-time capacity. As a¬†servant of God. I teach, preach and lead a ministry. By all counts, in the eyes of many, I have given my all to Jesus, so He must be the centre of my life. Accurate? Not necessarily. If I neglect the needs of my wife and not love her as Christ loved the church, if I do not parent my children in God’s ways, then Jesus is not the centre at all! Ouch!

How about the faithful volunteer each Sunday morning? He or she comes consistently to church and serves dutifully. Is Jesus the centre of his or her life? Well, we’d have to see more of his or her life to know, wouldn’t we? How does he conduct his business? How does she relate to her peers or relatives? What does he do in his private time when no one is watching? How does she respond in times of difficulties and challenges?

Then, there is the Sunday Christian who appears each week – 30mins into the service. He is perpetually tardy. But when a crisis hits, or a need arises, this dear brother is quick on the dial (smartphone keypad) to contact a pastor for prayer or counselling and – surprise! surprise! – comes perfectly on time for the appointment. Hmmmm … is Jesus really the centre?

Of course, what is the Christian walk without faith? So, there is the faith-filled believer who asks so he will receive – after all, that’s his entitlement. So, Lord, give me a job, give me a promotion, give me a baby, give me a husband, give me a house, car, an iPad, … How nice, when Jesus is the Santa of your life.

As with most blogposts, I have observed and so I write. But more than a post that gripes against what I have observed in others, it is one that provokes myself to evaluate if there might the presence of something larger in my eye than the speck I see in theirs.

Is Jesus really the centre of my life, my marriage, my family, my ministry as reflected through my thoughts, my words and my actions? Or have I too approached Him with a long list of gimmes based on a self-righteous view of myself having been good and faithful, and deserving of all I have asked for? If so, I have only made Jesus the Santa of my life. And however loud I sing and declare, Jesus is not the centre of my life at all … I am.

Related Post:
Santa? Or No Santa? Can We Please Make Up Our Minds?
Jesus be the Corner of My Life?

A Positive Church Experience Is Nice But Not Enough

Worship-Background_crop1

This has become a concern as I interact more with various Christians facing challenges and difficulties in their situations and spiritual walk. In the course of our conversation, I would always ask them where they worshipped at. This would indicate at least three things to me: one, if they belonged to a local church; two, if they are regular in their attendance at this community; and, three, if they are actively involved in the life of this community.

Without prompting, these would proceed to describe their church experience, and it would usually sound like this: “Oh, I enjoy the fellowship. The worship (referring to the time of singing)¬†is wonderful and touches my heart. The messages are really good and I am always blessed by the preaching of the Word. The pastor is very nice and friendly.” In other words, on the surface, everything sounds ok to me … you are blessed and having a great time in this church.

And so, I ask the next question, “Why aren’t you talking to your pastor or church community about this problem you are facing right now?” And almost always, the reasons given do not necessarily line up with the positive church experience described, ranging from “I don’t feel a connection or belonging,” to “I don’t think it would be right to discuss this with my church,” to “My church doesn’t teach us to handle such challenges.”

As I thought about this, I realised something about this rather common occurence: All these may have had a nice, positive church experience. But the main question that must be asked is, “Have these grown in the Lord at all?” Sadly, from what is shared and observed,¬†I don’t think so.¬†This may sound overly harsh, but it is the truth. The scary thing is that these can quite readily¬†quote Scripture and spew Christian slogans as well as any other believer. But they go on living compromised lives, basking in the feel-good messages of God’s love and grace. They are deluded and deceived into thinking¬†that as long as the church experience is positive, they are ok. NO, IT IS NOT!

I believe these are not isolated cases that I have come across in my limited sphere of ministry. Given today’s consumer culture that has crept into the Christian community, more and more are going to church for that feel-good factor. This explains the musical-church phenomenon that is so prevalent amongst believers as they scout for the best speaker, the message, the ambience, the experience, the goose bumps, the worship team, the children’s ministry, the youth ministry, and the menu for Sunday lunch. If they feel good about it, they stay. And if they don’t feel good, it’s time to be ‘led by the Spirit’ to look for another church.

In case anyone misunderstands me, or the point of this article (rant), I am not begrudging anyone of a great time in the community and fellowship of believers. As a pastor, I definitely do not wish for my congregation to be dragging their feet to church, or dreading another Sunday morning, or another sermon preached by yours truly (God forbid!). But more than just a positive church experience, my deepest desire is for each to grow and mature in Christ.

To this end, I am challenging and provoking us all to reflect and ponder more deeply what our faith is really about. Is it just about having a good time, being entertained and feeling good about ourselves? I think not! We have been saved from sin and judgment for a plan and a purpose! Hey, Jesus paid a high price for that! The spiritual journey is about growth and maturity towards the image of Christ. Along the way, we must be meaningfully engaged in the ministry and mission for the sake of Jesus and His Kingdom.

Don’t be fooled that everything is fine just because your church experience is fun and happy-clappy, or if¬†bank accounts are¬†full and life¬†appears good. The Pharisees and the rich of Jesus’ day were all deceived into thinking they¬†were the ones more favoured and blessed of God.¬†We could as easily fall into the same trap.

All said, praise God if you are really enjoying church and Christian fellowship! But don’t stop there. Ponder the following questions, and allow the Holy Spirit to search deep to reveal what is truly in your heart …

  1. Is it primarily all about you, your emotions and your desires?
  2. Have you placed church experience above your relationship with God?
  3. Do you worship God for who He is, or only for what He can do for you?
  4. Is worship defined as a good song that brings tingles and tears, or a response to the awesomeness of God?
  5. Do you know and agree with the vision and mission of your church?
  6. Are you contributing, with God’s help,¬†to the fulfilment of this vision and mission?
  7. Is it just between you and God, or are you connected with others who truly love Jesus?
  8. Are you willing to be held accountable, allowing others to speak the truth into your life?
  9. Is confession and repentance something you do regularly?
  10. Are you a taker or a giver?
  11. Do you ask “what’s in it for me?” or “who/what/where have you called me to serve, Lord?”
  12. Do you enjoy church only for yourself, or do you derive joy from serving God and others?
  13. Do you get upset and think of leaving when things don’t go your way in the church?
  14. Are you following the crowd, or truly being led by the Holy Spirit?
  15. Do you read your Bible? Do you know and abide in the Word?
  16. Are you a hearer and a doer of the Word? Are you applying all you are learning?
  17. Are you one who professes faith with no works to show for it?
  18. Do you only talk Christian but not live Christian?
  19. Are you growing and maturing spiritually?
  20. Are you pursuing a life of holiness by His grace, or presuming upon His grace with a life of compromises and excuses?
  21. Do you love Jesus as King and Lord of your life?
  22. Are you one of the multitude, or are you a disciple of Jesus Christ?
  23. Are you willing to surrender, to yield, to deny yourself, to take up your cross and to follow Jesus?

Being A Pastor

I was having dinner with a pastor-friend and he asked, “So how? Being a pastor?”

When I stepped out into fulltime ministry on 1 Jan 2004, being a pastor was not on my radar screen at all.¬† On my mind was only¬†theological studies at TCA College, coupled with the excitement of serving God wherever He would send me.¬† In¬†the days that followed, doors opened for me to preach and teach in various churches.¬† Without trying at all, relying wholly on God’s grace and favour, I found myself launched into an itinerant ministry.¬† In this capacity, I gained exposure and insight into different congregations and worship settings.

Then, on Saturday 18 October 2008, I was commissioned as a pastor of Covenant Vision Christian Church (a new community birthed out of Covenant Vision Ministry).  Sunday services began soon after on 1 Nov 2008.  Over the past 7 months, I discovered that the key difference between being an invited preacher and a pastor is that one can preach it and leave it whilst the other has to preach it and live it.

As a guest speaker, my job is done when the service or church camp is over.¬† I have preached it, and I now leave it to the pastors, leaders, elders and people of the church to decide what they want to do with the Word.¬† If I preached badly or they don’t like my style, I don’t get invited back.¬† If it’s theologically or doctrinally controversial (not that it shoud be … just ‘if’), the pastor gets to clean up the mess I make.¬† If it’s a tough word, they can choose to ignore the message.¬† If they have been blessed, I get complimented and encouraged … and possibly¬†invited to speak again.¬† My task is to preach the Word of God accurately and without compromise and the rest is left to the church.

Ah, but as a pastor … it is not as straightforward.¬† My job is not done when the benediction is pronounced.¬† I wish it was, but it isn’t!¬† I may have preached it but I now have an added role to help my congregation live it even as I first strive to live it myself.¬† If I preach faith, then my desire is to see the congregation live faith.¬† If I preach obedience, then I must help my people live a life of obedience.¬† Jesus didn’t just teach His disciples and sent them away with a “go figure” attitude.¬† Not at all!¬† Instead, He walked with them, led them, corrected them and guided them.¬† He preached it and He lived it, that they too might live as He did.

And that’s where the challenge is … it’s a journey filled with ups and downs, laughter and tears, joys and disappointments.¬† How nice it is to be an external consultant, to point out the weak points and to list out the to-do’s.¬† And if the company accepts the report and diagnosis, but chooses not to do anything about it, the consultant still gets paid!¬† But as a pastor …?

“So how? Being a pastor?”¬† I looked at my pastor-friend, smiled,¬†and said,¬†“Like that, lor.”