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How should we read the Bible?

by | 18 September 2017, 3:06 PM

Twenty-nine years ago this month, I received the best present I’ve ever received. I was 8 years old then and I still have it today. If you can’t make out the date in the picture above, my mother gave it to me on September 9, 1988.

Thanks, Mum.

To be really honest, I didn’t appreciate that gift for almost two decades after I got it. I look at it now and there’s not that much wear and tear – it was barely read, back then, as I spent years wandering in the wilderness – another story for another day.

But eventually, at 26, I started going back to church, and taking God seriously. At 26, I was finally, finally reading the Bible for the first time in living memory.

There is a passage in the Bible which describes a similar situation: Nehemiah 8.

At that time, Israel had been so messed up for so many hundreds of years that many of those alive at the time of Nehemiah hadn’t heard the Book of the Law of Moses – their Bible, at that time – publicly read out in their lifetime, because they were always under some foreign king who hated the Jewish God.

In Nehemiah 8, the nation finally had a public reading of their Holy Book. They gathered with a hunger and desire for the Word not seen in that country for many generations.

What can we learn from the Israelites about how to approach God’s written Word?

HOW DO WE READ THE WORD OF GOD?

1. WITH THE RIGHT ATTITUDE

All the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel. (Nehemiah 8:1)

The hunger of the Israelites – their thirst – was evident. They wanted to hear the Word of God. They were hungry for it! They told Ezra, come out, we’re waiting, we want this.

If you’re a coffee addict, you may have said this before/daily: I need a coffee or I don’t feel alive. I need a coffee or I can’t function. I need a coffee NOW.

What if we took out these passions and replace them with the Word of God? I need the Word of God or I don’t feel alive. I need to hear from Him or I can’t function. God, I need you NOW.

Why can’t we do without our daily caffeine shot, but not without our creator’s voice?

That’s the attitude that would really please God: Where we can function without our coffee, our caffeine shot, but not without our creator’s voice. Not without the Word.

The Israelites came hungry and expectant; one principle that’s repeated throughout the Bible is that a hungry Christian will be fed (Matthew 7:7-8, Proverbs 8:17, Jeremiah 29:13, Deuteronomy 4:29-31).

In Psalm 14:2, it says that “the LORD has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men to see if there are any who understand – who seek after God”.

Does this describe you? When God looks down from heaven upon the sons of men, looking for those who seek after Him – will He find you waiting, or will He find you wanting?

2. WITH THE RIGHT ARRANGEMENT

He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. (Nehemiah 8:3a)

There was a when, a where, and a who about this arrangement. The setting is important!

1. The people prioritised the reading of the Word. They set aside the best time for everyone, while they were still fresh, and there was sunlight to read off.

2. They gave it sufficient time. I know many people whose daily Word intake is reading the Verse of the Day that pops up on their YouVersion app. I suppose that’s better than nothing, but the truth is, if that’s all you’re hearing from God, that is your loss. He’s got so much to say about everything you’re facing in life – He gave you this life, remember? – and you limit Him to 1 sentence?

3. They found the right place. Now, the right place will differ between people. Some people are early birds, some are night owls. Some prefer being indoors, some outdoors. Kinesthetic learners may want to read on the move, while auditory learner might want to consider an audio Bible.

I’ve written previously about my personal arrangement – my happy place.

Not because of the teh, or the toast, which I love, but that’s just the supporting cast. The main act is that book in the middle. The kopitiam isn’t your traditional recommended QT spot – but it works for me.

I don’t want to be prescriptive – the key is you find the right time and place, where you have minimal distractions, and then just get started.

3. WITH THE RIGHT ATTENTION

And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law. (Nehemiah 8:3b)

Each time you open the Bible, God is clearing His throat to speak. Pay attention! Turn off the TV! When you’re doing your QT, put down your phone, turn it upside down, turn it off!

Also, from my personal experience, I’d advise you to read the Bible slowly. How slow? As slow as you need to fully absorb and understand what’s going on. Don’t rush through it. Enjoy it. Like fine dining, or a good wine. Soak it up. Chew on it. Savour it.

And reading with the right attention means that when you find something that catches your attention – a verse that speaks right into your situation in life, a word that jumps out at you – don’t let it go. God is speaking!

Grab a pen and dirty your Bible. Highlight it. Underline it. Put an asterisk***. Whatever it takes to remind you that THIS IS IMPORTANT.

I know the OCD in you is appalled. Your poor pristine Bible! But here’s the truth: The worse shape your Bible is in, the better shape your life is in.

4. WITH THE RIGHT ASSISTANCE

The Levites … instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there. They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read. (Nehemiah 8:7-8)

Sometimes, the Bible just completely stumps you. Befuddles you. Confounds you. Parts of it are just way too cheem – especially when you read Paul’s letters.

Even Peter says about Paul, “his letters contain some things that are hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16). If Peter, who walked and talked with Jesus, has trouble understanding the letters written by Paul, what hope do we have?

From the example of Nehemiah 8, that’s where the Priests came in. Find a spiritual elder – a cell leader, a pastor, or just someone whom you trust correctly handles the Word of God – and wrestle with the truth. Find someone who can help you make God’s Word clear, so that you understand what you’re reading.

As iron sharpens iron, be part of a fellowship of believers that sharpens each other on right understanding and grasp of the Word.

5. WITH THE RIGHT AWE

Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. (Nehemiah 8:9)

You might think this is a slightly strange response. The Word is being read out and everyone’s crying? Kinda awkward.

But the truth is, this was the fulfilment of a prophecy issued in Jeremiah 50:4. Hundreds of years before, Jeremiah had released a Word from God that Babylon would be captured, and Israelites return to their Promised Land.

“In those days and at that time,” declares the LORD, “the sons of Israel will come, both they and the sons of Judah as well; they will go along weeping as they go, and it will be the LORD their God they will seek.” (Jeremiah 50:4)

This is why the Israelites were crying: They were finally realising the fullness of the true goodness and glory of God. As they hear His Word – Genesis, about the promises made to Abraham, through to Deuteronomy, and the concept of obedience bringing blessings and disobedience reaping curses – they are realising how God’s promises always come true, and that His love and faithfulness reach to the skies.

In the revelation in the Word, comes reverence – awe – for the power and sovereignty of God.

They were kept alive as a nation by the grace of God alone.

In the revelation in the Word, comes reverence – awe – for the power and sovereignty of God.

When you read the Bible, be conscious of who is speaking. Not merely a Very Important Person. Not merely a king. The King of kings is talking to you!

So take His love letter out of the bottom of the drawer where it’s been buried, brush off the dust of the years, and peel it open. God is speaking – are we listening with the right attitude, amid the right arrangement, paying Him the right attention, guided by the right assistance, and with the right degree of awe?

/ edric@thir.st

Edric has spent a lifetime in mainstream and digital newsrooms, and has the waistline to prove it. He is a lapsed divemaster, a father to four and husband to one. Could use more sleep.

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Nobody said it was easy

by | 22 October 2017, 1:27 AM

Pain, porridge and mashed potatoes.

If you’ve ever had braces for your teeth, you might know what I’m talking about. It’s been 7 months since I got mine, little metallic pieces glued permanently onto my teeth. 

Friends warned me of the wires and the ulcers, but I had decided that the other side of pain and suffering – straight teeth – was worth it. There are days when even speaking is hard, but I’ve never thought of quitting. Straight teeth and my impending jaw surgery to correct my underbite will be worth it!

Doesn’t that paint a picture of the hope of transformation of our Christian walk itself?

We go through pain and suffering when we realise that what’s on the other side — being made more like Christ — is worth it (2 Corinthians 3:18).

When we make that decision to get aligned with His will, we don’t have to be discouraged when the growing gets tough – and sometimes downright impossible to endureInstead, we choose to rely on God’s grace to ultimately transform us into His likeness, if we stay the course (Philippians 1:6).

It will be daily hard work not to give free rein to our sinful nature – the natural way things are. But it’s always worth letting God do His work to change our carnal habits and straighten our slanted thought patterns.

Having grown up in a cage, it feels safer to remain a slave to our sin rather than be free in the wild. Left on our own, I believe most of us would rather take the path of least resistance than to fight.

In the holding room between slavery and the Promised Land, the Israelites sought the familiarity of a full stomach (Exodus 16:3). In bondage, they could eat all the meat they wanted. And after days and weeks and months of God-given manna out in the wilderness, they suddenly found themselves craving the “comforts” of slavery over their freedom.

Sound familiar?

When we make that decision to get aligned with His will, we don’t have to be discouraged when the growing gets tough.

It was in the uncomfortable desert that the Israelites’ true nature — their preference for temporal comfort and instant gratification — was brought to light. They had cried out for years for deliverance, yet had somehow forgotten God’s divine intervention and mercy in granting them exactly what they wanted (Exodus 3:9-10).

For as long as we refuse to let God’s Word convict us of our sins (James 1:22-25) and anchor our hope in His faithfulness to have our best interests at heart always, we will remain unchanged, unrepentant and ungrateful. To yank open the curtains and let light expose the truth about us, that’s scary. But we’re doing it for the God of love (1 John 4:16).

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24)

I believe God has a bigger plan for you than to let you remain in your old ways.

Our old self is corrupted and deceitful. We must abandon it for good, putting on the new self as God’s blood-bought children.

God promised the Israelites ownership of an entire land flowing with milk and honey, yet the Israelites would rather be slaves for meat. But we are no longer slaves. When we’re inclined to grumble as the Israelites did, let’s remember that God can give us more than we can ever hope for ourselves (Ephesians 3:20) – even if we do not see it yet . 

Don’t lose your faith in the holding room. Grace began the work in us and Grace will see us through. Our inheritance is on the other side of faith and patience (Hebrews 6:11-12), and it will be worth it.

Nobody said it was going to be easy. But neither does it have to be that hard.

/ fiona@thir.st

Fiona is secretly hilarious. One of her dogs thinks so too. She loves a good chat with strangers, store assistants, and fluffy dogs.

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Of shattered dreams and broken shins

by | 21 October 2017, 2:26 PM

I had my life all planned out. I was going return to Singapore, get into Officer Cadet School (OCS) and use that as my foot in the door to a local university.

During high school in Beijing, where I stayed because of my parents’ jobs, I had big dreams to study film in America. But due to a sudden financial situation in my family, my plans were scrapped. The next best choice was a business degree back in the nation I barely knew as home.

Since I’d studied abroad most of my life, I didn’t have any local certifications like the rest of my peers. Part of the reason why I wanted to get into OCS was because I figured the training would hone my leadership skills and put me in good standing to get into business school.

Sounded good, right? But God had a different plan.

ALMOST THERE BUT NOT QUITE

In Basic Military Training (BMT), a few others and I were put in an “enhanced leadership” batch. We were chosen because we were very fit and and had leadership qualities. During a particular field camp, I was appointed as an In-Charge (IC) for one of the days.

I found out later on that the ones who got picked as IC’s were those that the Platoon Sergeants identified as having exceptional leadership quality. Word also went around that if you were chosen, being selected for OCS was pretty much a done deal.

There was no reason for me not to get posted to OCS.

Everything seemed to be going according to plan, until a bout of Hand-Foot-and-Mouth Disease started spreading in my platoon. I caught it at the worst time possible, resulting in me missing the highly important Situational Test – the last hurdle to pass before OCS.

I thought I had lost my chance and prepared myself for the worst. But the day we got our posting, I read the words, “Your vocation is: Officer Cadet (CBT)” on my letter and everything aligned again. I had somehow gotten a second chance at realising my OCS dreams.

But things took yet another drastic turn. Within a few months of my OCS training, I started experiencing a lot of pain in my legs. It was so bad I could no longer endure it and found my way to the clinic.

The news was devastating. The doctor revealed that both my shins had actually been broken by all the stress they had been put under over the years, due to my sporting activities. I would have to leave OCS.

The feelings that welled up inside me were hard to control. I was disappointed. Shattered. And so, so angry. Why had God given me a second chance at something I didn’t even have a shot at in the first place? 

I was left with nothing! I’d already given up my American aspirations. Now even this one lay in a broken pile along with the rest.

RISING OUT OF THE ASHES

After I dropped out of OCS, I was posted to the headquarters, where it was decided that I was to join the Training Development department. My new job was to take pictures in OCS, which were to be used as documentation for official training purposes. This sounded like a fair consolation.

Photography had always been a passion of mine, but it was only when I started shooting again in camp that I realised this was something I could do for a long time. 

I’d long left my dreams of film for the practicality of business school, but in this unlikely detour I’d found my way back to the art I enjoyed. Even when I’d put my creative passions behind me, God remembered.

I was really starting to enjoy my time in the Army. But after about six months as a photographer, I was suddenly assigned to a different department. It was a secluded corner of the camp where there was no cellular signal. I couldn’t even WhatsApp my previous department mates to complain and there was no one else around other than one unfortunate Sergeant.

The solitary nature of my new posting was starting to get depressing. All I could remember was the mundanity of the work: Putting things into boxes and arranging them neatly in the storeroom. That was all we did for days on end. I felt like I was slowly losing my mind.

Why did my NS journey resemble a never-ending rollercoaster ride? I was tired of getting my hopes up, only to have them all crash down eventually.

This miserable life went on until one day, a colleague from my former department told me to meet him at the canteen as he had something important to tell me. I found out that my previous Captain had offered my current supervisor two men in exchange for my return.

I was so relieved. I went back to the Training Development department and happily served out 7 more months until I completed my NS term.

HE ORDERS OUR STEPS

Thinking back, it was as if I had to see the death of my officer dreams in order for my passion for the arts to be revived. So after I left the Army, I applied to NTU’s School of Art, Design and Media in 2012. It was my one and only application, and I got in.

Having graduated last year, I am now working as a professional filmmaker.

Man. Even if I tried my hardest, I could have never conjured up a journey like this for myself. I set out with all my plans, but God really had something else in store for me.

There were many highs and lows in those two years. Yet in His grace and perfect timing, I was shown how everything works out for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

/ timothy@thir.st

Timothy is a filmmaker who sees the world in black and white. He loves drinking tea and taking long walks.

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So you just became a Christian

by | 20 October 2017, 6:20 PM

Dear New Christian,

Welcome to the Church family! I’m glad you’ve chosen to follow Jesus and committed yourself to growing alongside a community. It takes tremendous courage to plug yourself into a new environment, but now you’re probably wondering – what next?

I’m not sure what your impression of the Church is, but some common impressions I’ve encountered are that Christians are “holy-moly” and spend a lot of time together. Maybe you think Christians are a bunch of “nice” people, or maybe you’re still convinced Christians are out to convert everyone they see. I hope this letter gives you a more accurate picture of the church life that awaits you.

UNCOMMON PEOPLE WITH A COMMON GOAL

For starters, it’s good to note that church life does not limit itself to the physical location of the church building. Instead, church life happens when people are assembled around Jesus and His Word (Matthew 18:20). Yet, the people who gather in His name are not perfect – in fact, we’re all far from it!

The Bible tells us that God reaches out to all kinds of unlikely people – some of Jesus’ followers included fishermen (Matthew 4:18-22), a Samaritan woman (John 4:7-41), a tax collector (Matthew 9:9, 10:3), and prominently, the “ex-Pharisee” and apostle Paul (Acts 9:1-19).

Likewise, be prepared that your church will probably be filled with “unlikely” Christians. Perhaps you even count yourself one too.

Imperfect as we all are, we are on a common journey with the same end in mind – we have thrown off our old selves and put on our new selves,

If you still have your doubts: The Samaritan woman had five husbands (John 4:18-19). Tax collectors in Jesus’ time were regarded as the worst of sinners, often categorised along with prostitutes (Matthew 21:32) because they often charged extra taxes and took the money for themselves (Luke 19:8). Paul, prior to his conversion, was a persecutor of the church (Acts 8:3, Philippians 3:6) – the man was recorded to be “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” before his conversion.

Nonetheless, imperfect as we all are, we are on a common journey with the same end in mind – we have thrown off our old selves and put on our new selves, and are on a journey of renewal as we grow to know our Creator (Colossians 3:10), and to be conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29).

SHARED IDENTITY IN OUR SAVIOUR JESUS CHRIST

You’ll meet Christians who have grown up in church since childhood. Hence, you may be wondering whether second-generation Christians have it better, having grown up in the faith and being familiar with Christian life since young.

On the contrary, having attended Sunday School even as a preschool-aged child, I’ve wondered if you have it better – you have come to faith out of conscious choice and understanding. While I have come to own my faith for myself, my first exposure to church as a young child meant I didn’t fully understand the Christian faith then.

Hence, there have been times when I wondered if those who come to faith in adulthood are more aware and appreciative of God’s grace in their lives when He called them to Himself.

In Christ, old divisions and wrongful attitudes of superiority and inferiority no longer exist – we are all united in the common identity as children of God.

In reality, the length (or lack thereof) of our Christian journey does not matter as much as the fact that we are on this journey of faith together as a family. I may have been in the faith longer than you have – nonetheless, God shows the same generosity towards us as we persevere in faith (Matthew 20:2, 13-14).

Furthermore, in Christ, old divisions and wrongful attitudes of superiority and inferiority no longer exist – we are all united in our shared identity as children of God, despite our apparent human distinctions (Galatians 3:28). None of these affect a person’s qualification for salvation and service – God does not judge significance as the world does!

WE ARE ALL WORKS-IN-PROGRESS

Though I have been a Christian for a long time, I am still a work-in-progress just like you. The work God has been and continues doing in both my life and yours, will only be completed when Christ returns again (Philippians 1:6).

Because no one is 100% Christlike (yet), you may be surprised to discover in the course of interacting with your new family that we are all 100% human. There might be moments of tension or disappointment in someone. I find it useful to separate my faith from the people who embrace it – whether they exemplify Christ in their actions should not affect my belief and trust in Him.

In view of this, we are both called to hold firmly to God’s Word as we await Christ’s Second Coming (Philippians 2:16). Meanwhile, regardless of when we have accepted Christ as Lord, we are not to continue it in our own strength (Galatians 3:3), but to continually follow Him in steadfast love and faith (Colossians 2:6).

Love and blessings,
Me

/ eudora@thir.st

Eudora found herself writing on public platforms by chance. Apart from writing, she likes many random things, including spoken word poetry, adult colouring books, tea, stationery and fresh, clean laundry.

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The grand old man and his treasure

by | 20 October 2017, 5:23 PM

“Yes, boy, you may pick the most expensive toy in the shop, and I’ll give it to you.”

The owner of the toy shop, a grand old man, came beside the boy, crouched down, and asked him: “Would you give up all your other toys in exchange for it?”

He saw the boy’s excitement quickly fade when he said this. He had seen the same look in the eyes of the other children who had come through his doors before.

“Thank you sir, that sounds like a nice offer, but I will pass.”

They couldn’t see how even the most expensive toy in that shop was worth giving up all their toys for.

And that’s how the grand old man’s prized treasure remained on the highest shelf. No one was willing to give up all their toys for it.

Until one day, another young boy wandered onto the street where the toy shop stood.

For the first time, someone realised that the old man was offering him something quite extraordinary, to someone so undeserving.

The grand old man saw him from afar, and beckoned him over.

In a kind voice, he said what he always said, “Boy, you may pick the most expensive toy in the store, and I’ll give it to you. Would you also give up all your other toys, in exchange for it?”

“But even if I gave you all I have, it won’t be enough,” the boy said.

For the first time, someone had realised that fact.

The grand old man beamed, “Yes, boy, I know, but that’s why I’m giving it away – to you.”

“But why would you do that? Why would you give me your treasure?”

Again, for the first time, someone realised that the old man was offering him something quite extraordinary, to someone so undeserving.

“I’m looking for someone who would treasure it,” the old man said. “And you, my child, are someone who understands what I’m saying here.”

“Yes, sir, I do understand what you’re saying. Please wait for me, I will go home at once to gather my things.”

The story of the grand old man and his expensive treasure is the story of God and us.

In our story, yours and mine, God offers us Jesus Christ (John 3:16).

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Roman 6:23)

The gift of God – Jesus Christ – doesn’t seem terribly extravagant, or even necessary, until we feel the sting of sicknesss, disease and death.

The gift of God – Jesus Christ – doesn’t seem that desirable and precious to us, until we taste the bitterness of sin.

God’s gift of eternal life is not one for polite display, casual entertainment or back-of-mind remembrance.

To receive Jesus – God’s treasure – is to receive forgiveness for our sins and mistakes. To receive Jesus is to know our Maker and to spend our lives with Him – it’s life as it should be, life as it can be.

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” (Revelation 3:20)

The giving up of our personal treasures – all that we have – can never be the key to receiving God’s gift that He freely gives.

From the moment we can even begin to understand what the gift of Jesus Christ truly means for us, as the second young boy in the story did, it will show:

“But why would you do that? Why would you give me your treasure?”

God’s heart for us is that we understand His heart for us:

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.”

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” 

(Matthew 13:44-46)

The gift of salvation, of Jesus Christ, of welcome into God’s kingdom – cannot be bought; it can only be received.

Therefore, the giving up of our personal treasures – all that we have – can never be the key to receiving God’s gift that He freely gives.

It is but an indicator (Matthew 6:21) that we have indeed realised – and now see – the surpassing worth of having God in our lives:

“Yes, Sir, I do understand what You’re saying. Please wait for me, I will go home at once to gather my things.”

Everything else pales in comparison.

And God waits for us, as the grand old man did at the doors of his toy shop, for His children to come to Him, in joy, so that He may give us the very Kingdom itself:

“But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:31-32)

As A.W. Tower led his readers in prayer in The Pursuit of God: “Father, I want to know You, but my coward heart fears to give up its toys. I cannot part with them without inward bleeding, and I do not try to hide from You the terror of parting. I come trembling, but I do come. Please root from my heart all those things which I have cherished so long and which have become a very part of my living self, so that You may enter and dwell there without rival.” Amen.

/ fiona@thir.st

Fiona is secretly hilarious. One of her dogs thinks so too. She loves a good chat with strangers, store assistants, and fluffy dogs.

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Welcoming others into the church family

by | 20 October 2017, 4:45 PM

I was at a planning meeting for small group evangelism recently when someone posed the question of integrating new believers into the main church community. After all, she reasoned, even with short-term follow-up programmes, new converts can’t stay in their new convert silos forever – church life happens in community, hence integrating them into church family is important.

These thoughts struck a chord – looking back when they first joined our church as a new Christian, many of my friends muse that while the community was diverse and friendly, being rooted in community was not easy. They didn’t know the members who were rooted in church community, nor were they familiar with aspects of church life.

How can the Church help them integrate with ease into the larger church community? Here are some thoughts on the matter.

4 WAYS TO INTEGRATE NEW BELIEVERS:

1. EXPLAIN “CHRISTIAN TERMS”

This is a small step, but it goes a long way when churches explain Christian ordinances that take place during a church service. I know some churches who do – before the offering is taken, before Holy Communion and when the pastor says a corporate prayer, the process and significance of each of these ordinances are explained publicly.

This has the dual benefit of acquainting the new Christian with the procedures of the ordinances, while being a fresh reminder to the mature Christian on the significance of the ordinances. With a clear understanding of the meaning behind these new encounters in the Christian faith, I envision that this helps the newcomer feel less alienated as they observe it happening.

2. PUBLICLY WELCOME AND FOLLOW-UP

I’ve visited other churches before, and it can be distressing for a first-time visitor to be unable to find the way to the church gathering.

In the effort to retain newcomers to church, a number of churches I know distribute welcome cards to first-timers – they hope to get the contact details of the newcomer for follow-up and to build contact. I see the value of these cards for keeping record of first-timer numbers, but note that they should be used in a manner that keeps newcomers at ease.

When I first joined my church, the norm was for the presiding pastor to read out the names of newcomers for the congregation to welcome them. Observing that not everyone likes to be welcomed in such a conspicuous manner, the welcome card has since been tweaked to include an option of not being publicly introduced – this might be helpful for introverted guests, like me.

3. INTENTIONALLY INVITE TO EVENTS

I have a friend who had been exploring the Christian faith over the past couple of years before outwardly expressing a desire to follow Jesus over this year’s Good Friday season. My friends from young adults’ ministry and I wanted to get him plugged into the young adults community, hence invited him to our Trivia Night social event.

Over pizza and random trivia, my newly converted friend was able to get to know the rest of our community. While he now joins us for regular Bible study as his work schedule permits, I am glad his first experience with us was informal.

I imagine that integrating into a church or cell group with Bible study as the first encounter would be daunting, given the dual challenge of grappling with Bible study while acquainting oneself with the new faces. Having new converts join in a social event as initial exposure helps make things less daunting, as they only need manage one issue at a time.

4. CONNECT WITH COMMUNITY

About five years ago, my church began holding newcomer lunches every couple of months. These lunches are two-fold – intended for the church staff to get to know the new person better, and at the same time, for the newcomer to get to know the various ministries and platforms of discipleship.

While it may not be feasible for every church to replicate this, I see value in meetings of this nature – through this, the church leadership discerns suitable next steps for the new convert, such as plugging them into an appropriate platform that encourages an active participation in church life. At the same time, new converts find out more about suitable discipleship platforms for continued growth.

BY THIS THE WORLD WILL KNOW

Why, though, is it important to do all these things? The Bible tells us that community serves a purpose – our love for one another is the distinguishing mark that we are Jesus’ disciples (John 13:34-35).

Explaining these new experiences to newcomers is a way of loving them, so that they do not feel alienated in a new environment. This love for one another stems from the knowledge that we are going to be with other Christians throughout eternity – and we are called to start living in that light, beginning now. In Hebrews 10:24-25, we are called to mutually encourage each other to persevere, until Christ comes again.

As these newcomers join the family, they are included in this exhortation to obey the command to love and encourage the church family too. As the local Church loves and encourages them in this manner, may they pass on this love to others someday, too.

/ eudora@thir.st

Eudora found herself writing on public platforms by chance. Apart from writing, she likes many random things, including spoken word poetry, adult colouring books, tea, stationery and fresh, clean laundry.

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