A 2013 Low Point – Losing an “Old Friend”

I wrote the below piece back in April this year, when I still considered David Chiang “an old friend”. I guess he was an “old friend” only in the sense that I had vaguely known him from our days in Klang. I remember seeing him take Ben his son, then a dark little chubby boy, to and from Sunday School. I rarely talked to him. When he was coming to Melbourne however, we connected and Ben and his mum came first and initially stayed with us in our home, before the rest of the family joined them later. They went to ICC Church in Glen Waverley, partly because we went there then. It was only from that point on that we came to know each other better.

He might have commenced planning moves against Jason around that time (April this year), if not earlier. I had left ICC months before and other than an anniversary party at his home, we barely spoke to each other since I left ICC. So the call came really out of the blue and the events against Jason some 4 weeks later put it into context I guess. Jason and I talked about this soon afer the Lifegate AGM fiasco and guessed this to be the case.

Needless to say, I have since been very angry with David for what he did to Jason and his (and his then fellow board members’) continuing refusal to face up to what he and they did. I was harsh against him and told him what I thought of what he did. He reacted badly and became feral with me. He hurled personal abuses while continuing to defend what he did. While I focused on his deeds, he called me names and made personal accusations. He did not pinpoint what I did despite my repeatedly telling him it was his act to remove Jason – specifically– which caused me to be angry against him. I have refused to have anything to do with him, not until he acknowledges that what he did to Jason was wrong from any perspective. Not just a procedural error, but a grave wrong against a brother.

I guess he would continue to deny what he did was wrong. Maybe he wouldn’t. I hope he wouldn’t. But there has been nothing to suggest he now thinks what he did was wrong.

So I guess I need to say that if I were to write him a similar email today, I would no longer say nothing has changed when I talk about our “old friendship”. I cannot continue to call someone so apparently obstinate, a friend. Things change of course and the day when he sees and aknowledges what he did against Jason was wrong, will be the day I would consider what I wrote below in April this year, to continue to hold true. Until then, I’m afraid one of the low points of this year is to completely disengage – on a deliberate and willed basis – from someone I once considered “an old friend”.

An Old Friend Called


From: Teh, Ian

Sent: Thursday, 4 April 2013 8:09 AM

To: [ ] ([ ]@yahoo.com)

Subject: Thanks – appreciate the contact

Hi [ ]

Thank you for your call last night, I appreciate that. Please be assured what has happened in recent months had nothing to do with you. You (and [ ]) are someone I knew from Malaysia so I guess that makes us old friends. Nothing has changed on that front.

Returniing to lifegate is out of the question for me. I cant be in a church where I am restrained from serving. As long as I don’t understand Tham Fuan’s statement that I only acknowledge the church leadership when it suited me, I can never serve freely. That statement means I am not to be trusted, that I am a fake. How can I remain in a church where the pastor accused me of that?

Tham Fuan has “apologised”  – it may sound ironic but that is taking the easy way out. What I needed wasn’t an apology, but understanding. One needs to spend time talking through things like that. Not a quickly blurted apology. I have said that to him before. But that is ok now because I no longer expect anything from him. He has shown nothing to suggest he is capable of, or wishes to, talk through that. I also no longer want to listen to him. No one should be expected to wait indefinitely – if the months following the event didn’t see any interest on his part, I should “cut my losses” and leave an organisation headed by someone like him. He has been that way from day one – uncommunicative and unresponsive. When it comes to personal relationships, being uncommunicative and unresponsive is a guarantee for failure.

Theresa and I continue to look for a church to call home. That has been very difficult for the reasons I said to you last night. But at least there is rationale for hope. Staying in lifegate does not provide that, as long as Tham Fuan carries on in the same way. There is nothing to suggest he won’t.

Thanks again [ ].




Voting – What Happened in my church

· Thankfully, voting is not done very often in most churches. This is because the matters the church is principally concerned with have very little to do with the democratic process. When members of a church are asked to vote, it is often driven by extraneous and unusual (i.e. infrequent) reasons. Voting therefore cannot be a tool to communicate any principles or a medium to promote any characteristics. It does however provide an opportunity for members to engage each other in a manner which best reflects what a church is, which is the family of God.

· The church is called to be holy – “called out”/”separate” because God is holy. The manner in which a church seeks to use every opportunity to demonstrate its “separateness” or difference, will set itself up to live in obedience to the scriptures. We are asked to not conform to the world but be transformed by the renewal of our mind. It is a constant challenge to look at everything we do and ask ourselves if as a church, we ought to be choosing options which best reflects who and what the church is and demonstrate this difference.

· The process of identifying persons to serve as members of a church board varies and depends on factors which range from very fluid considerations (such as the state of relationships between members) to very objective ones such as legal and logistics requirements or considerations. In our church, we are required to elect our board members in a members’ meeting. This election requires every member to be given the opportunity to “personally” vote. There are no prescriptions beyond that.

· Hence as a board member I have a duty and discretion to consider the manner of electing board members. In so doing, I looked at the normal voting process adopted by (1) churches; (2) comparable organisations in terms of size and activities; and (3) generally for organisations which require election of board members. I also looked at what a church is and what it can do to best reflect the nature and characteristics of a church.

· Historically voting is by a show of hands. This convention has continued to this day. Companies, sporting and community clubs, associations and political parties all practice this method of voting. However, as this manner of voting is transparent, it is subject to threats and intimidation, coercion and such other elements where voters come under the undue influence of parties with an interest in the outcome which may not be shared by the voting members. To overcome such influence, secret ballot is often adopted. It allows voters to vote free of such undue influence. Secret ballots are particularly useful and effective in Australia at union elections, where the practice of undue influence abounds.

· There are pros and cons for either process. As a board member, I recognised that secret ballot provides members with greater confidence in expressing his or her choice. This however, comes at the cost of engagement by the voting member with the person being elected as well as with the general body of members. The Board considered the advantages of providing members with confidence of expression and the challenge of using an opportunity to facilitate an engagement which reflects what the church ought to be, i.e. a family where there is a genuine relationship and members seek to build each other up.

· In particular, I urged the Board to encourage members to put aside the comfort which secrecy provides, in exchange for a truthful engagement with the aim of building relationships. In some ways, this can be considered a step up in the sense that it challenges members to engage the candidate and other members at large, should his or her choice entail that.

· The Board recognises that a member faced with a show-of-hand form of voting, may vote in a manner which does not truthfully represent his or her choice. Such a member however, has a choice of either voting in a manner which avoids the issue (by voting contrary to his or her true intentions) or remaining true to his or her intention and proceeding to engage the candidate as to the reason for his or her choice.

· This may cause many other levels of interaction such as between the voting member and the candidate’s family or members close to that candidate. Such interaction however, can be a positive thing which ought to be encouraged. The alternative is to rely on the protection of secrecy and ridding the need for engagement. Just as importantly, a showing of hands also allows the candidate to approach the voting member to seek engagement with a view of correcting any flaws the candidate has but may not have seen for himself. It allows the member to share his or her view with the candidate in this regard. The secret ballot also denies the candidate this opportunity.

· In making preparation for the general meeting, the board considered the above matters and decided to adopt a show of hands as the form of voting. Unfortunately there wasn’t the opportunity for the above matters to be shared with the other leaders of the church, prior to the general meeting. This meant the very real challenge of open engagement as a core objective, was not presented to leaders to be shared with members, prior to the general meeting.

· At the general meeting, some members chose to exclude themselves from the voting process altogether. I do not know if this was because they did not like an open expression of their choice. A leader expressed her opinion in that general meeting that she didn’t agree with the process adopted.

· The board in reviewing the general meeting, felt that as a result of that opinion expressed in that general meeting, there was a need to respond to members generally. Following that meeting cell leaders were asked to invite feedback from cell members. This feedback extracted more opinions of preference for the secret ballot method. The board’s reason for adopting the show of hands method was never presented outside the board safe for some explanatory comments made in response to the leader’s question raised in that general meeting after the voting had taken place.


One chapter closes…

Kiddo, Tress and I spent the whole of Saturday doing stuff together. We went to the Dandenongs in the morning and did the Kokoda Memorial Track (“1,000 steps”). Kiddo has been really fit and was the first one up. I was next and a surprisingly fresh looking Tress was in tow, a few minutes later. We took a longer but more gradual route down and when it was all done, we felt good and had a good brunch at Olinda. We did the unpardonable and had pies at Pies in the Sky. A bit of warning – the pies appear to have lost some of their attraction. They don’t taste as yummy as they used to and the “floater” (in pea and ham soup and a scoop of mash on top) certainly wasn’t the extra $9 or so – it was very dry and bland.

After leaving the Dandenongs we went to get some dried foods for Kiddo to survive on in the next few weeks when crouching in the trenches that are the tiny rooms in the halls of residence in the ANU, as well as some storage containers and packing boxes from Bunnings in Vermont. We got back just after 1.30pm, I took a short snooze before cleaning the house for the dinner party in our home on Sunday night.

Tress did some cooking, as well as the usual rounds of laundry and Kiddo went about packing and placing all her stuff in the spare bedroom to help us all gauge how much space she needed in the car. Kiddo did as much of the packing as possible and we all have a much better idea now, of the stuff we would be carting up this weekend.

That night Kiddo went for an 18th birthday party in Bulleen – that of Sammy her best mate. We took her to the dinner and went to Box Hill ourselves.

Church yesterday was in really hot and windy conditions and the cell leaders meeting in the arvo was a bit testing for that reason. I got home around 3 and got ready for the dinner party at home for Kiddo’s church friends. We had a Sri Lankan lady do the catering and we picked up the food (from church). It was a longish night but I think Kiddo enjoyed the time with her friends from church, that she has made in the last 8 years here in Melbourne.

It was the last weekend of this chapter in Kiddo’s life. Next weekend a new chapter begins.

Cleaning and Waiting

With kiddo away for her version of schoolies Tress and I have been filling our time with stuff that revolves around people in church and food.

Last Wednesday night after my brief appearance in a board meeting at work we went out to a Chinese dumpling place. Then on Thursday we were at an Indian place with a couple o families and on Friday we met with about half a dozen other families in Brian and Doreen’s home for a break up dinner. On Sat it was at Alex and Li Har’s, this time for a farewell for a family who was relocating to WA.

Finally last night another half a dozen or so families came to our home for a roti and curry dinner.

Tress parents are coming to visit in a little over 2 weeks and together with the dinner last night, we had good reasons to go on a cleaning spree over the weekend. Following on from the previous weekend, we continued to sweep, wipe, mop, wash, vacuum and dust. The cool weather helped heaps and kept us going till it was time to get ready to get to Alex and Li Har’s.

We haven’t got anything else lined up for our home the next few weeks. Things have come to a halt now and like someone said to me last night, it would be a really good time of just reflecting on what to do, next year in particular that’s for sure but also from a more general sense, for the next ‘x’ number of years. In a sense, all that cleaning is to be ready for the waiting which must happen now.

Time’s Up With Church Board

After a false start, I decided yesterday, to leave the church board. It has been 4 years now. The last time I tried to leave was over 2 years ago but it was in the context of leaving the church then.

Back in 2009 I thought the church was all over the shop in its teachings and these were dished out not just over the pulpit but also during bible studies and even a funeral service. After that service in question, some leaders were standing around where the casket had stood and conducted what was called a cleansing ceremony. Other than being spooky it was also very worrying to say the least. I was starting to think there may be cloaks and candles to be pulled out next. The leader who was leading the ceremony had also started preaching funny stuff – statements like some songs were anointed and would therefore last but others weren’t (so maybe Rod Stewart and Queen were anointed) and that houses with spiders and insects meant the occupants had issues with their lives – they were “unclean”.

When leaders also allowed circus like The Elijah Challenge to excite its congregation I decide I had enough and decided to leave.

As it turned out, events unraveled and before I could formally inform the Board, other leaders were creating little tsunamis and things got hostile and the whole thing started to break down. I could not leave when it was in that state so we hung around. One positive thing out of that episode was I decided I needed to have formal training in a bible school – I’m still at BCV (MST) now.

Things have stabilised much better now and I think we have a normal healthy church with sound teaching and well intentioned leaders.

I am however, tired of being the one to raise issues. I have always envisaged a church board to be one which identifies issues, discusses them through on an open, robust and unreserved manner, so that everyone has a clear understanding and rationale for where the church is, where it wants to head, and what it needs to do. When for the most part people appear uninterested, non-engaging and greet matters raised with muted responses (at best) I am less inclined to raise issues. If that is to be the case, I might as well not be in the board.

I no longer want to be the one which raises issues, the one to ask uncomfortable questions and the one who sends long emails which people either don’t read, think they’re a nuisance or don’t respond to. They may react to these months later, without addressing the context and points raised (because they were raised long ago). Most importantly, I don’t want to be unhappy at home because of these issues.

Remove the cause early

Reading to discover gems is often fun and stimulating. Sometimes it jolts a realisation of a need for action.

Re-reading early developments of Christology and events surrounding the Nicene and Chalcedonian creeds, Constantine’s statement had this effect on me. He said: “Disorder in the Church, I consider more fearful than any war”.

Like the loaded dog I loathe, I may well be the cause for such disorder – best to remove this cause and the earlier the better. I have drafted the necessary letter to be handed in for the next meeting.

Time with friends and family – what is the cost?

This is a busy time for most people. Periods leading up to Christmas is a hectic time for work, and prevalence of school exams  plus end of school terms also add up to mean a busy period for kids and parents. At such times, the church becomes an important source of respite, refreshments and affirmation and encouragement. Given the centrality of Sunday services, church at this time is an important factor.

This is also a time for planning for the coming year. Ministers generally embark on the planning process at this time and often lend support and momentum to the process and all who are involved in it.

Notwithstanding a long weekend (Melbourne Cup Day) therefore, the question of everyone counting on everyone else to be around on Sundays is one all church goers need to think about at this time. We cannot exhort each other, hand on heart, and expect to prop each other up, build each other and encourage each other if we are consistently away on Sundays. It becomes even more difficult when Sundays are often the only times we have where we can otherwise expect to see each other.

Maybe I am old schooled. Maybe my expectation that when I go to church I want to see everyone there – especially the shepherd – is misplaced, in this day and age. There is now so much emphasis on family time and time for good friends, that the cost is that of the wider community. Maybe out of necessity we focus on increasingly small groups to build relationships, especially with family, relatives and close friends. Hence if we are with these people, being with the wider community of faith becomes less important. Maybe that is acceptable now.

I guess if that is the situation it will take more effort than ever before, to build a community of faith, because the cost – that of giving up exclusive recreation time with family and close friends – gets increasingly higher and such sacrifices and priorities become increasingly harder to bear.

More on Stott

I was just reminding myself of something I read on the views of John Stott on gifts, as reflected in his interview with the publication Christianity Today

On Gifts:

The most important gift today, measured by Paul’s principle that we should excel in those that build up the church, is teaching. Nothing builds up the church like the truth, and we desperately need more Christian teachers all over the world. I often say to my charismatic friends, “If only you would concentrate on praying that God would give teachers to the church who could lead all these new converts into maturity in Christ, it would be more profitable.

Objectivity and clarity of thoughts and expression is always important.

Church can be relevant and alive

There is a current stream of discussions concerning the decline of evangelicalism. A number of factors have brought the steady flow to a head. Recent missteps by prominent evangelical leaders, political leaders’ alignments with evangelical groups and the increasing disconnect of the twenty-something generation from evangelical churches have all conspired to paint a stodgy, out of touch and irrelevant and even hypocritical image of the evangelical church.

I have colleagues here in our very own Melbourne who when they start a family and want to return to church, look to orthodox churches instead of evangelical ones. These are couples in their late twenties to early thirties, educated and bright and have the world at their feet. They will soon be leaders of society. Young people in evangelical churches have also voiced their frustrations with too many instances of church leaders, pastors and teachers who don’t provide a good grasp of the bible and theology and have sought orthodoxy as a solution. So while the discussions may be taking place mainly in America, the experience and phenomenon that is the crossroads of evangelical churches is a real issue here in Australia too.

The evangelical churches of today are not attracting young people and the young who grew up in these churches are leaving – either for other (orthodox churches) or the church altogether. They would deny that they have left Christianity – they still profess the faith and still have deep connections with that part of their lives which seek to have a relationship with God, and it is the institution of the evangelical church which they are turning away from. One can convincingly argue that such apparent connection is flawed as a real relationship would compel fellowship thus church attendance but the disconnect experienced by this group is very real. They would probably want – long for – fellowship with other believers but would probably loathe association with any element of the institutional church.

One therefore is often confronted with groups of young people who don’t like anything which smells of large church. They would be happy to be meeting in small groups in homes or small school halls or anywhere informal. They don’t like the building, the boards, the governance structure, the legal and financial baggage, the governing theology, tradition and creeds and all the ensuing rules and regulations which come with this stodgy sounding components.

I think it is the duty of those who have been trained, not to discard these components but to unpack them in a way which is honest, vigorous, relevant and applicable to them. The gospel of the saving grace of God is and will always be relevant because it is real, it is necessary and it is entirely within the plan and purpose of God.