This is not just a restart, but a new start: COVID survivor and Grace Assembly’s Pastor Wilson Teo
Photos by Marcus Chow.
“No seminary can prepare you for what happened during that phase of my life,” said Pastor Wilson Teo, Senior Pastor of Grace Assembly of God, during the opening session of the annual LoveSingapore Pastors’ Summit earlier this week.
In February 2020, Grace Assembly became one of the first local COVID-19 clusters at a time when not much was known about the virus. The church also had to be shut down to slow down the spread of the virus.
“It was like a death sentence.”
At the same time, Pastor Wilson’s wife and his second daughter were also hospitalised due to higher than normal temperatures, leaving his eldest daughter and youngest son at home.
Describing it as the most challenging year of his life filled with fears and tears, Pastor Wilson shared how he felt about the diagnosis: “It was like a death sentence. What was going to happen to me, my family and my church?”
Then a newly appointed senior pastor, Pastor Wilson said: “I had only taken over Grace Assembly one month ago, and here I was fighting for my life, going through a personal crisis, a family crisis and a church crisis.
“The first 100 days of my leadership was spent leading through one crisis after another,” he continued. “Half of the leadership team was in the NCID with me managing the crisis from the hospital bed.”
Pastor Wilson jokingly added: “Everyone’s backgrounds were the same because we were in hospital beds, and we were all wearing the same gown.”
He might be able to laugh about it now, but back then, it was “really scary”, Pastor Wilson admitted.
While nothing could have prepared him for the crisis that happened, Pastor Wilson believes that there are lessons that we can all take away from what we have experienced over the past year.
Addressing pastors and leaders from 107 churches and 36 Christian organisations who had gathered across the two venues, Victory Family Centre in Tampines and Sembawang, he turned to Isaiah 43:16-17.
Pastor Wilson highlighted how the prophet Isaiah was recounting past miracles that God had performed when delivering their ancestors out of Egypt as he spoke to an Israel that was in exile once more.
“They shared all the past mighty acts of God to encourage each other. They probably believed that if God could deliver them out of Egypt when they were slaves, God would do it again and deliver them out of Babylon,” he pointed out.
“But the prophet Isaiah did not stop at verse 17, reminiscing the acts of the past.”
Reading the next two verses, Pastor Wilson described how Isaiah reminded the people not to limit God to the past, but to look forward to the new thing that God would do among them (Isaiah 43:18-19).
Drawing the context back to Singapore, Pastor Wilson proposed that God is also doing “a new thing” among us.
“As a body of Christ, we must not miss what God is saying to us today,” he continued. “We must never put a lid over the new thing as we step into a new year.”
Encouraging the participants, Pastor Wilson shared 4Rs from his experience that can help us prepare for a post-pandemic world: reframe perspective, rekindle learning, reinforce essentials and redefine success.
“We all have been through a tough 2020. But have we allowed adverse events to affect our spirit where we have become negative?” Pastor Wilson asked.
“Discouragement and negativity will drag you down to depression,” he went on. “So instead of entertaining discouragement and negativity, let’s reframe with God’s word and God’s truth.
Instead of finding a source to blame for the virus, Pastor Wilson said a more helpful perspective would be seeking to understand what God is trying to do.
Constant reframing will enable us to move from the negative to the positive.
Referencing the story of the man who was born blind (John 9:1-3), Pastor Wilson demonstrated a powerful reframe done by Jesus when he was asked if the predicament of the blind man was caused by his own sin or his parents’ sin.
“They were looking to fault someone, but Jesus said it’s none of that. It’s so that the glory of God can be seen – what a revelation!”
“The constant reframing will enable us to move from the negative to the positive. And we need to partner with God to see Him doing new things among us.”
Not only did 2020 test our mentality, it also challenged the capability of churches as on-site services were shut down and everyone had to go online overnight.
Giving an example, Pastor Wilson shared that he initially took 50 hours to do a five-minute recording because of the many technical challenges. He also realised that that he had a tendency to make more mistakes if the filming process was long.
That was when he decided to pick up video editing skills so that he could take shorter clips and stitch them together.
“I had to learn it myself because I could not be stopping and restarting the filming with every mistake I made.”
The pandemic is a disruption – not an interruption.
The pandemic has shown that we need to keep evolving, Pastor Wilson continued, stressing that this pandemic was a disruption – not an interruption.
“Interruption means you can go back to what it was before. But disruption doesn’t take you back to where it was. It will take you to another path,” he noted. “Interruption is temporary. Disruption is permanent.”
Pastor Wilson urged: “We cannot afford to stop learning and growing given the significant disruption around us.”
“I began this year – 2021 – determined to grow myself as a child of God. In my relationship with God, as a spiritual leader of my church, and as a father and a husband,” he elaborated.
Recognising the need to accelerate growth, Pastor Wilson shared that he has been setting aside at least two hours a day to learn something new, whether it is through reading, listening to podcasts or watching videos.
“I cannot give what I don’t have,” he said. “To prevent short-changing God’s people and my family, I need to have input and growth.”
Pastor Wilson also encouraged the audience to reinforce the essentials that the pandemic has highlighted to us.
“God used the pandemic to strip off all excesses for us to see what’s really essential and critical,” he said, likening it to how Singaporeans suddenly realised the importance of hair salons and – for some of us – bubble tea shops during the circuit breaker.
In the church context, small groups were what kept Grace Assembly going when people couldn’t gather in churches.
“It became the primary source for emotional and spiritual support for our members,” Pastor Wilson described, adding that this is one of the essential ministries he wants to reinforce and strengthen to prepare for future challenges.
Finally, going back to the core also applies to our measurement of success.
“We need to redefine success as we emerge into in a post-pandemic world,” advised Pastor Wilson.
Speaking to church leaders, he compared the common definition of success in pre-COVID days – weekend attendance and weekly offerings – to what happened when the virus hit – preaching in an empty hall in front of a camera.
“I had to talk myself out of potential depression, and then I realised that there was something wrong with my reaction,” said Pastor Wilson. “I was trying to take a past measurement of success and impose it on a new way of ministry.”
How engaged or involved are we in our local church life?
But he also gradually came to realise that success in the new normal was not found in online viewership numbers either.
“Success is not about how much time someone spent watching online sermons, but how much they are involved in the local faith community,” Pastor Wilson explained. “We need to move passive viewers to engagement, and to involvement in the local church.”
“This is not just a restart to pre-COVID days, but a new start,” he said. “And in this new start, we must redefine success.”
Wrapping up the sermon, Pastor Wilson concluded: “God is doing a new thing among us as we emerge in a post-pandemic world.”
“In 2003, we had SARS. Less than two decades later, we had another outbreak,” Pastor Wilson reminded the audience. “Is the body of Christ ready for more disruptions?”
This pandemic is a reset, an accelerator and a dry run of what is to come in the future, he believes.
The question for all of us is: Will we be ready?
FOR MORE STORIES FROM THE PASTORS’ SUMMIT, READ:
THINK + TALK
- What do you miss about the old way of doing things? Allow yourself to grieve over what you might have lost in the past year.
- Are there any attitudes or ways of thinking that you need to reframe as you enter into this new year? Allow your heart and mind to be shaped by the Word of God.
- What new things do you see God doing in your life and in your church? How can you partner with Him?