North of the border

Tress and I had dinner with a couple friend last night. It was good catching up, especially given what these friends have recently experienced in terms of local church. It was similar to ours and caused also by similar factors. The local church here in Melbourne is a funny one. Maybe we make it that way too.

I’m in the office for maybe ¾ of the day today, after which I leave for Sydney for a law conference the next couple of days. I am a reluctant traveller these days, unless of course, I travel with or to see my family. Travelling away from family for any reason other than to see family, is something I’m not inclined to do these days.

The conference however, will be a very good one. I hope it would be anyway. The speakers will be recognised experts in their fields, including a number of judges. One of them – Ron Sackville – was a professor in my uni and a co-author of a major text I used back in law school so I’m looking forward to getting in touch again with pure law stuff. It would be a full on two-days but it would be good. Away from home and family notwithstanding.


Foie Gras in Church

That’s right bro – most pastors in eastern suburbs independent churches want their shop to be like most high street shops so they can attract the largest possible crowd thus maintaining their job security.

And so, pastors put on the usual menu items. Missions make you look sincere and serious so it is a must-have on menus. Sort of like a foie gras – makes the church looks serious and like “a player”. The more serious and “a player” a church is, the more the pastor is likely to secure his job. Never mind that to feed and clothe the congregation with a diet of Great Commission obedience, a different model of missions is probably there for the taking. Foie gras is more fashionable for a high street church wannabe.

If one is ignorant it is almost excusable. But when the alternative model – one that is biblical and more responsible – is presented clearly but rejected or sat on, I can perhaps be excused for saying: “he just wants a good looking prominent cornershop.”… LOL

Do the right thing over time and people will come. Pretend often enough and people will leave.

How to keep church growth constant la like that…




From: [ ]

Sent: Tuesday, 26 February 2013 11:35 AM
To: Teh, Ian

[ ] 


On Tue, Feb 26, 2013 at 11:07 AM, Teh, Ian wrote:

HE HOR, HE HOR, HE HOR, he hor … cannot speak one leh…

 I remember writing to TF more than a year ago, about missions from a different perspective. Missions in Melbourne churches is often supporting one or two FT workers overseas and then sending a short term team every year or every other year, have a missions week or month, etc.

 I said to him all these are nice to have to-do list but for a church in Melbourne to galvanise and move the whole congregation, something like reaching out to the harvest field which have come to our shores, is a more relevant and necessary pitch. Reading a book (JD Payne) exactly on this point recently confirms this view as a valid one. Alas, the Cornershop people don’t particularly like to be known as a migrant church (remember Melissa’s remark that she could not bring a friend to church because it is a migrant church??!!!)

 So yes, concentrate on mission but if one insists on doing ministry through the local church, that insistence can only be supported if the local minister demonstrates diligence, humility, communication and hard work otherwise he forsakes the right to ask that ministry be conducted through the local church.

 In other words, JY’s advice needs fleshing out as to how mission should be worked out. Can you have TF provide leadership on such matters? Shudders.





From: []
Sent: Tuesday, 26 February 2013 10:57 AM
To: Teh, Ian

On Tue, Feb 26, 2013 at 10:44 AM, Teh, Ian wrote:

Post partum blues is a difficult condition to manage bro. LifeGate is something you helped birth. To leave its nurturing and growth in the hands of people we have little faith in, is challenging but like we said constantly, God is in control (it is His church) and the ever relevant story of Balaam should also make it less difficult to leave it all behind us.

 Walk away from the issues of planning, governance, management, structure, vision etc etc. We only need concentrate on the people we come into contact with, who care to hear what we have to say.




Fergie Flies On

Andre Villas Boas’ team now sits pretty on 3rd place in the English Premier League. That’s one place above the team that sacked him not that long ago. Spurs, for so long a sentimental favourite amongst many Malaysians, is now within striking distance of no. 2, the team they beat in the 1981 FA Cup final.

I remember betting against them in that Cup final, in favour of the underdogs, Manchester City, when almost every single one of my classmates had their money on Tottenham. Glenn Hoddle was drifting around in Spurs’ midfield in those days so it was easy to fall in love with that team. I was secretly supporting the other team from Manchester, then managed by Ron Atkinson who had more form than susbstance. It would soon be the days of Atkinson and his good-on-paper squad with names like Bryan Robson, Frank Stapleton, Remi Moses, Arnold Muhren. Strangely, the player I liked then was Arthur Albiston and maybe had a soft spot for Kevin Moran as well.

I lost my money of course, as Manchester City lost in a replay, with eye-catching performances from Osvaldo (Ossie) Ardilles and Ricardo Villa, the Argentinian duo who might have well paved the way for foreign players who have since flooded the English game.

Other than money, I lost a lot of talking points in those days. It would be 10 years before United started on a renaissance under Ferguson, which continues today I am very pleased to say. I remember rocking up to a supporter’s club in PJ Section 14 in either 1992 or 1993 – couldn’t wait to sign up and look at mags, videos, posters, jerseys etc.  It’s now 20 years later. United still has Ferguson in the cockpit and so continues to fly high. I wonder though, when Ferguson will be “pushed upstairs” and whether United will continue to enjoy the same level of success.

Harlem Shake and Yee Sang

Heard of the Harlem Shake?

A couple of extracts from what Kate Shellnutt writes in the Christianity Today website:

Christians – whose faith relies on the context of its own teachings and symbole – generally need to take interest in where cultural phenomena come from and what they mean…. Our lives as Christians are all about the story of the Gospel, and we dont want our traditions distanced from that story – by us or anyone else.”

She rightly pointed to this practice of abstraction and shallow engagement which encourages churches to take on commoditized cultural symbols and adopt them as vehicles of “clean fun” which apparently allows us to takes ourselves less seriously and identify better with those around us/outside the church.

Balanced and thoughtful? Or just a pining for the fjords moment?

I recently suggested the small group I have been meeting with, which is a small group of my previous church (LifeGate Church in Glen Waverley) should think about refraining from making all those statement which preceded an yee sang meal. Or more accurately, sayings which accompany the tossing of yee sang.

Someone said to me that yee sang was served in a church lunch, which was well and good, except that church leaders lead in the act of tossing yee sang.

I doubt it is wrong to say like churches in the US adopting the Harlem Shake, Asian churches tossing yee sang are likewise into abstraction and shallow engagement when they take on a commoditized cultural symbol of yee sang – that of pursuit of material wealth – as a vehicle to apparently “identify with the world”.

The Harlem Shake and Yee Sang have something in common – neither of them have anything to do with the culture and tradition that underpins Christianity. The Gospel narratives provide these frameworks and a happy go lucky attitude in shallo engagements of these cultural icons do nothing but please our pining-for-the-fjord- idiocy. 

Melbourne Churches

The Chinese congregation of LifeGate Church has been asking for a minister. It was turned down when I was there, because the board was pressured into making a rushed decision and the board rightly resisted such an approach. The candidate couldn’t wait – apparently his passion for the Chinese congregation of LifeGate church went as far as the board’s willingness to make a quick decision in his favour.

Everyone wants to be ministered to. The way for that to happen in a fair and equitable way however, is to go and join an established Chinese church. Don’t come and want a little clubby 30+ congregation but demand a full-time pastor which would be funded by someone else. That is a “give me” mentality and as long as we nurture that, we are doing absolutely nothing to cure Melbourne of the disease of having a plethora of self-serving churches.

The church scene in Melbourne is too fraught with self interest and self preservation. Too often it is about jobs for those in the club. The tribal instinct is to protect members of the tribe. In this instance, a pastor’s instinct is to protect another pastor. Why have a part time position when a pastor can secure a fellow pastor a full time one? After all there is money in the kitty. Never mind that money is God’s and should be used not for the better of the local congregation but the universal church. Securing a job for a fellow pastor often comes at the expense of consideration of what’s good for the flock. And I mean what is really good – not just the self serving feel good factor of the typical Melbourne congregations.

The call to do ministries through the local church, can only be upheld if the minister demonstrates fair dinkum commitment by working hard and diligently. A minister who fails to do this gives up the right to demand that people do ministries through just the local church.

There and back again (well sort of… )

As usual, I was dead tired last Friday night when I left work and headed home. Friday nights have seen me washed out in recent years.

Tress was up really early on Sat morning – 4.30 – and soon after we all got up and just a bit after 5.30, we left and headed towards the middle ring road, northbound.

We arrived in Canberra a bit after noon, and went straight to Burton and Garran Hall. Kiddo checked out her room and we unloaded her stuff which we brought up from Melbourne. After dropping LBJ at the house in Campbell, we went grocery shopping and then to Florey, where kiddo had left her stuff in Dec when she left Canberra. There were a few chunky items and we loaded them onto the car. Tress was particularly heroic in retrieving stuff from a cellar in the house in Florey.

Back at B&G, we unloaded the Florey consignment by tracking up and down the four flights of stairs to kiddo’s second floor room. Thankfully, some of the stuff went to the kitchen and pantry so we didn’t have to lug it up the stairs.

All unloaded, we began unpacking her stuff. It was a bigger job than we expected and by the time it was all done, it was almost 7.30pm. We were tired, especially when we discovered some missing pieces (pillows and quilts) which were still at Florey and so we had to head back there.

For dinner, we went to a little restaurant called Leong’s kitchen, just a couple of hundred meters from the house in Campbell. We were so bushed we didn’t care where we ate, although the food was not too bad. We went back, watched a little bit of tv, then crashed in bed.

The next day we had a late brunch in town, before dropping kiddo off at B&G and taking off back to Melbourne. Somehow, despite it being something we’ve been through before, it was still difficult to say goodbye. Even as we pull out of the uni grounds and drove along Northbourne, Tress and I felt sad and we missed her already.

We got home just on 7pm, and after unpacking a little bit we went to bed early – all in preparation for a busy week at work.

Summer’s come and (nearly) gone. Kiddo’s summer holidays are over, and she’s started a new academic year. Summer will be over in 9 days.

Tress and I haven’t yet settled into a church. The church we’ve been attending recently (Edge) isn’t a bad one, but it isn’t one you leave your old church for. The expository preaching I’ve been searching hasn’t yet shown up in that church and the apparent lack of small groups doesn’t help. The website suggests only the youth and women’s groups are active, and the few people we spoke to so far don’t go to small groups. It isn’t a big church but neither is it small. It has easily 150 people and without cells, relationships will be harder to build. Maybe we need to be the active initiators of this relationship building exercise. So if we continue on at Edge, it would be nothing but church attendance – at least for now.


Free to act now I guess

I wrote this in July 2012, about a month after an incident which precipitated my departure from LifeGate church.

I wonder if it would go anywhere near this again…


(dear TF)

 I write this reluctantly, and out of necessity. These recent weeks have been some of the most challenging in my church life. I sincerely hope you have not had the same experience.

 I hope this note will pave the way for us to have a normal brotherly relationship again, as much as possible. I sense, and therefore assume, that you too have had to struggle through this issue, if not more than me then at least as much as I have. I have not been able to look at you as a brother in the Lord the way I used to and I need to stop this.  I need to know very clearly that I am no longer grieving the Spirit. I am guessing we both have to. If I have assumed wrongly and this is a unilateral matter on my part, then I apologise.

 Whatever the outcome of the church leadership changes in the months ahead and whatever the church ends up practicing, adopting or becoming is a matter for you and the leadership to come. I only hope you do not shy away from forming a team that is not simply “not disagreeable” but that will assist you to shape this church to be the shining light it needs to be and can be.  I will remain an ordinary member after the next AGM, if not sooner. You will be free of my presence and input but I hope you will never be free of ideas and opinions that continue to challenge you.


I guess maybe he really didnt want to be challenged to much, and he’d much rather avoid such challenges. Maybe then the calling is somewhere else, not a local church with clear thinking adults who invariably will require constant and deep and meaningful engagement.

Battle at Bernabeu; Battered at (by?) LifeGate Church

It’s supposed to reach 31 deg today and when I got out of the house this morning it was already about 20deg.

So, my decision to hop on the treadmill when I got into the gym this morning, wasnt the best. Everytime I run, i dont stop sweating for easiliy an hour. So I might have stopped at about 7.20am, but I was in the office about 5 to 8, but was still sweating for the next half hour.

It’s also not the best day for a run because of course, United was playing Real Madrid. It was a long anticipated match and though I caught the last 30 minutes or so in the tea room at work, I could only watch under very unpleasant conditions – I was still sweating…

The 1-1 draw was obviously satisfying in a way – being an away tie of a 2-leg context. But when I started to look at work after the match however, the sweating became the least of my challenges.

A few emails were in my inbox, all of which had chunky attachments with swathes of mark-ups I had to plough through. The bigger issue appears to be a couple of other emails from a mate of mine. He sounded really tired and maybe disillusioned. How a pastor can have such effect on a normally positive and rallying, gathering sort of lay leader, has been an eye-opening lesson for me.

The fact that the church this pastor came with, tipped in a paltry $80+k into the collective kitty – less than 40% of the total reserve, not to mention zero contribution to the multi-million dollar asset base – was the furthest issue in my mind when the merger took place. Now, with this pastor and the bulk of his people from the Cornerstone church calling the shots (and missing the mark) I’m beginning to wonder how far off my mind this issue should have been. The pastor (Tham Fuan) said something about this in the early days, apparently in jest. That he said this (in jest or otherwise) without any prompting or cause, should have been a giveaway then.

I was too naive to think because it is church property, no one would begrudge new believers sharing in the benefits.

There were so many things we gave the pastor the benefit of the doubt for. I wonder if we should have been stricter with him and apply the same standard of probity. The lesson from TA Securities in Malaysia and their purported Christian business ethics should have been remembered. Fool me twice… guess I’m the fool.

LifeGate Church – State of the Union Address?

A US president makes the State of the Union speech every January or February to “give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” In other words, a status report – of the union of the United States of America.

I reckon the self-labelled chief executive of a local church should likewise be asked to account to the congregation the “state of the union”, particularly a union of two churches. It has been more than 2 years since ICC Church and Oakleigh Cornerstone Church came together to form the LIfeGate Church of Christ in Glen Waverley. I wonder what the state of that union is.

At the board level, I am gone. My mate is on his way out, unless those of us who have been trying to persuade him otherwise, succeed. Strangely, Tham Fuan the pastor, who sees himself as the chief executive, was also given the prerogative to appoint the Board and the Chair. Disingenuously, he made a mate his Chair. The youngest of all board members and the most tied up with 3 young kids, a young and inexperienced chair was exactly not the sort of chair an enigmatic and reclusive “chief executive” needs but there it was – a Chair and “CEO” combination that wreaked havoc on the board for the next two years – not by any careless or reckless act but the opposite.  Inaction and non-responsiveness seems to be the order of the day. Even when plans and “strategies” appear to look good on paper, such inaction and unresponsive mantra meant much of what was tabled and approved just got ignored, only to be “reviewed” months later. I haven’t got a clue how to review something when no action has been taken.

 Initially, my mate the Chair of ICC and de facto pastor of ICC for 5 years before that, was omitted. He may have expressed a desire to be left out to have a rest but leaving aside the Asian tendency to be self-effacing, surely that expression needs to be countered – as not only good manners but also wisdom dictates – and cajoled if necessary, so that the preceding “pastor” and chair, continues to serve in a senior role. I discussed the matter with Tham Fuan at length at that time, and he finally invited my mate to be part of the Board. This was more than 2 years ago. Since then, he has all but by-passed virtually one half of the adult congregation. He does not engage the board and sits and mulls things either by himself or in some other forum – anything but before the board. In fact the board was discouraged from even getting involved in ministry matters. Ministry leaders appointed by him eventually formed the view that the board has no place in terms of providing input on ministry matters. He was to be their source of input. So the board is told to go sit in a corner and just approve what the ministry leaders ask for, nary a question to be asked.

Anyway, here I am… without a church and not knowing where I will find fellowship. My mate is unmotivated and disillusioned. We both feel betrayed and lied to. A third person feels even worse but that is another story. We were at his house for CNY last weekend and he regaled all his unhappiness with Tham Fuan and it is just incredible how many similar accounts I have now heard, all of which he seems to show no interest to engage the injured party to address the matter in a deep and meaningful way. “Touch and go” I once called it, meaning superficial touching on the surface and hurrying along, not dwelling to attempt a more engaging and meaningful outcome but skirting over things. Lazy mind, maybe. That appears to be his MO

State of the Union? Shudders. All the right appearance maybe, but dig deeper and you’d find mangled remains – wounds and scars everywhere.