Who Do You Think You Are? Basis for Identity and Values

Looking at recent events in the UK and hearing how varying segments within the church needs to be addressed differently, I thought the following article useful in providing some clues in a search for the way forward in an increasingly pluralistic society.
The global church needs to ground youth in their true, deepest identity.
A Christianity Today editorial | posted 2/23/2009 10:27AM

About a year ago, Kenya exploded in post-election riots that resulted in a thousand deaths. Many of the killers were unemployed young people who were “hanging out and feeling people were looking down on them,” says Muhia Karianjahi, the Nairobi-based director of Tanari International, an international youth outreach ministry.

This basic storyline repeats itself around the world, and is arguably to blame for much ethnic violence in other 2008 hotspots such as Jos, Nigeria, and eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

One sobering reality in these conflicts is that they are happening in very Christianized regions. Kenya is, like the U.S., about 80 percent Christian. The DRC is 95 percent Christian.

“There are churches all over the place, and Bible schools, and everything else; and planted right on top is this horrific conflict,” says Wheaton College professor Paul Robinson, who grew up in eastern DRC. “Christianity doesn’t make a difference—that’s not your primary loyalty. Christian leaders need to ask: Isn’t there a higher, deeper loyalty?”

For many young people raised in the worldwide church, the answer is no. Ethnicity is their default identity. Karianjahi says Kenya’s “kids are frustrated that life is not working out.” When their options fail, so does their allegiance to Christian principles. A similar dynamic seems to be at work in the U.S. Recent Barna Group research found that a majority of American youth raised in the church have left it by age 29. The issue for American Christians is less about rioting youth and more about a rising generation whose commitment to Christ may not stand when shaken. And it doesn’t take much to shake it before they abandon Christ for lesser loyalties.

While we know that not all who are in the pews are in Christ, we should be concerned enough to take a second look at how we go about making disciples within the church.

Throughout Christian history, this task has been known as catechesis, the Greek term for systematic religious instruction. David Kinnaman, president and strategic leader of the Barna Group, says, “Leaders are realizing that it’s not just that we need more catechism for youth but a different kind.” He says more personalized, intergenerational teaching for youth is in order, to avoid giving them the impression that theology is unrelated to life outside the church.

Many young adults have gotten past questions of morality and now need answers from the church about Christian identity, how to follow their calling no matter the challenge, and how to have a positive impact on the world. The church has answers to these questions, but teaching them to the next generation is not easy. Karianjahi has wracked his brains over this issue, and has developed a ministry to begin addressing it. Tanari International uses church-based rites of passage, based on tribal rituals, to help young people journey into the fullness of Christian faith.

At Kenya’s Moi University, Emily Choge, an ethics professor and a John Stott Ministries Scholar, is doing something similar. “Instead of teaching the traditional African values or the values that separated one community from another, [we] are now using that time to instill Christian values,” she says. They use ceremonies to tell youth what they are to become (in this case, full members of the church), set out expectations, and give them the community’s affirmation.

While personalized teaching and rites of passage can help many young adults, it will take more than a program to develop a commitment to Christ. The church needs to reaffirm regularly in its teaching, preaching, and example that loyalty to God and identity in Christ leave all other allegiances in the dust.


Why We “Fought”

For posterity, and as a reminder of why we pursued what we did, quite strongly, more than a year ago.

Hi everyone

I like to share my personal thoughts with you as home group members, concerning the integration.

I don’t think the questions (which were raised yesterday) about what is the will of God for ICC and whether Pastor TF engagement fits that will, are questions which bother us in our home group. In any case I would like to share my thoughts with you, so that we have a (somewhat) clearly articulated position.

If you agree, then we can at least be clear in our mind about why we are doing this. We will also be better placed to share this with others in ICC.

My apologies for being “cheong heh” but if you can spare 10-15 minutes please read through. If you agree, you are welcomed to share this with others.

Finally, if you can, try to attend the prayer meetings. Apart from the integration, it is always good to pray together and to meet specifically to pray. For this integration, come together to pray as a church if you can. This is just so we can commit the matter to Him even as we plan and do the detailed work of implementing these plans.


Why integrate? What is the will of God? Is it simply to plan and do our best for Him?

1. ICC has not had a pastor[1] since late 2005/early 2006. In the second half of 2009, efforts to find a pastor escalated and a number of candidates were identified and considered at length.

2. Prior to 2009, efforts to find a pastor were confined to limited number of candidates namely, Rev Jeremiah Yap and Rev TT Quah. Both these candidates have current and extensive portfolios in Australia as well as overseas. They are often overseas and their current commitments preclude them from responding to our needs in the manner we expect them to.

3. The candidates we have considered in 2009 have now been narrowed down to just one, namely Pastor Tham Fuan. I will refer to him as “TF”.

4. TF graduated from the Bible College of Victoria in 1994. BCV is a seminary accredited by the Australian College of Theology. Prior to 1994 TF was serving as a lay leader in his church in Malaysia and served as a leader in student ministry in Tasmania. From 1994 to-date, TF has been serving actively as a full-time servant of God. He continued his seminary training and obtained post graduate qualifications – an MA in Ministry from BCV in 2002.

5. TF has served as a pastor (in chronological order) in Canaan Church in KL Malaysia, FGA Melbourne in Box Hill and Cornerstone Church of Christ in Oakleigh East. He has been with Cornerstone since 2006.

6. We have heard TF preach in ICC for maybe 6-8 times now. Some of us have also had the opportunity to spend time with him socially a number of times. I believe many (if not all) share the view that he is a godly man who is committed and has a passion for the work of fulfilling the Great Commission and building His church. His pulpit messages have been godly biblical expository teachings which challenge listeners to take life changing actions and decisions.

7. TF was a board member of Wycliffe Malaysia and has participated in mission work both on-field and as a support mobilising intermediary. In fact ICC first initiated contact with TF as a result of Alex’s mission network which included Beram Kumar and STAMP, whom TF also knows and worked with.

8. Additionally TF is a sole pastor in Cornerstone, a church which shares the same statements of beliefs as ICC.

9. On a personal level, TF is married to Suan Choo and they have 2 daughters, Danica who is in Year 12 and Elysia who is in Year 7. We have been to his home for meals and they are not unlike any ordinary lively and loving family making their lives in the suburbs of Melbourne. Suan Choo works as an accountant in the city and Danica and Elysia attend Oxley College.

10. In all respects therefore, there is nothing about TF, his beliefs, teachings, work ethics, values, family lives and commitment to God and His work which creates any concern for me. To me he is as good a candidate as ICC can be blessed with.

11. As with all good candidates, he is presently serving in another church – Cornerstone Church of Christ. Cornerstone renewed the engagement of TF last year and under TF, the church has settled, stabilized, grown and is seeking to be even more effective for God.

12. I am glad TF is not seeking to resign from Cornerstone to come to ICC. This demonstrates his commitment to the flock he has been entrusted with. He is looking to ICC only as an expansion to provide both Cornerstone as well as another church (namely ICC) in Melbourne, with a common and enlarged platform for even greater effectiveness for God, so that we can better obey Him and be better agents of the gospel for Him.

13. We are therefore looking at engaging a pastor who has been and remains committed to the work of God as a full time pastor. There is neither any question about TF commitment to do this on a dedicated full time basis nor has there been any event in his life to render continuation of this work problematic.

14. Obviously TF will have his flaws. He is shy – we all know that. There have been remarks that he has a strong character and while I don’t see that as a flaw, let us just accept that it may be at this stage. That makes him human. However it is his good traits I am more interested in and all of these which have been identified, have no doubt been seen by Cornerstone as well. They too want him to continue serving as their pastor.

15. This brings to a logical question of whether ICC and Cornerstone can come together as one, with TF as the pastor for a new merged church.

16. To me, this requires much harder work than just engaging a pastor who doesn’t “come with a church”. However. I’d rather wear this hard work than engage a pastor who has for example, just left a church (making it necessary for us to consider why he left) or just joined the ministry (he would then lack the experience of TF) or any other circumstances which makes him available readily. The only other scenario is to get someone from overseas. This may not be the best route as such a person would have to acclimatise himself with the way churches function in Melbourne/Australia. As a relatively fresh migrant I see very different setting between churches in (say) Malaysia and in Melbourne/Australia.

17. And so we consider merger. Even as I looked closer, I begin to see why this can be a good thing.

18. Churches in Melbourne are a fragmented scene. The average number in a church in Melbourne is about 65. Every week thousands of churches some as small as 20-30 persons and most with less than 100, replicate resources and stretch what we have in order to carry out the most basic of church functions.

19. In each of those thousand of churches, we all replicate and invest time so that a church will have basic Sunday worship, prayer meetings, weekly or fortnightly bible studies and some (often annual) outreach programs. For a church of under 100 persons, these activities alone will keep most members busy.

20. Additionally, if you consider the 80-20 rule, you’d have pockets of 20 persons across Melbourne all doing the same thing – attending to the bare necessities for a church to function. Few have spare time to do more than the basic functions. If someone gets sick and needs visitation or attention then that stretches the resources of the church. If someone is moving house that stretches resources. If there is a wedding that really stretches the church resources. If a newcomer comes and needs follow up – ditto. Someone needs a lift – ditto. Someone has emotional needs – ditto. We spend our time tending to the most basic of needs to keep the church running (floating?). This is especially true in a church such as ICC, which has had no pastor for a number of years.

21. These are important functions but they must not erode the role the church has to play to fulfil the Great Commission.

22. Size isn’t everything, but it does tend to provide more resources so that efforts can be pooled and deployed more strategically. Resources must be targeted at outreach and mission work, at work which builds disciples and at work which teach and edifies members.

23. As someone has already mentioned (I think it was Pauline) Cornerstone also provides a plug to a critical demographic gap. Cornerstone comprise of a large proportion of young adults and young families. This complements the demographics of ICC. This age group is critical because it is a bridge between the 40/50+ and the youth (primary and high schoolers). Without this age group, primary and high schoolers may not have the required handles as to what sort of role models they can focus on, relate to and/or aspire to become.

24. As a merged church, I hope to see ICC (or whatever our new name may be) become better resourced to do the work of God which matters the most – outreach, evangelism and mission, and teaching each other the Word of God.

25. Pastor TF will be able to provide us with sound, biblical teachings with life changing challenges and do this consistently and systematically and members will be better placed to grow and become agents of the Great Commission and make disciples of those God place in their lives.

26. I cannot see how the above scenario can be against the will of God. I often say to others that God doesn’t lead us just by the weird and unusual stuff – ie dreams, visions, “word” etc.

27. God by and large leads and guides us by providing us with logical thoughts and preparing us to put those thoughts into perspective by making us go through a range of experiences. God is an orderly and logical being as evidenced by His creation. Why would He lead us in ways other than in an orderly and logical fashion? Why are we not confident that when we think logically and plan in an orderly fashion it isn’t being lead by God? Against those thoughts and plans, I’d pray and search the scriptures. The Word of God ultimately has to be the arbiter of whether it is against the will of God for us to be doing something.

28. If what we have logically and orderly sought the Lord, planned and determined – and therefore confident God has lead us in an orderly and logical way – cannot be refuted by any biblical principles, then we should be confident to move on. We cannot orderly and logically plan for example, to kill, steal or hurt our neighbours. Where what we have committed to the Lord and thought and prayed through and considered all facts and circumstances in a responsible, engaging and wise manner, and there has been no biblical principle adduced to suggest otherwise, we should be confident to move ahead.