Study on the Renewal Lutheran Church's Approach to Spiritual Formation

 

 

 

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Study on the Renewal Lutheran Church’s Approach to Christian Spiritual Formation

Sheila Ann Shamini K Satkunasingam

 

 

Introduction

This purpose of this research paper is to examine the approach to Christian spiritual formation adopted by an independent, Pentecostal metropolitan church in Malaysia.

Spiritual formation in Christians is a process and is the responsibility of every individual believer in Jesus Christ. In 1 Timothy 4:7, Paul told Timothy, “Train yourself to be godly,” so certainly, it is the duty of every Christian to aspire for inner transformation to become Christ-like.

However, balanced Christian spiritual formation cannot happen in isolation and always occurs in community, says Dr Alex Tang, founder and director of Kairos Spiritual Formation Ministries.[1] This view is supported by psychologist and pastor Dr Siang-Yang Tan, who says the role of the local church in spiritual formation in Christ should be the primary or major role or goal of every local church.[2]

Regent University School of Divinity associate professor of Christian Formation and Leadership Dr Dianne J Chandler states that the spiritual formation of church members should be the very impetus of the church’s vision and mission to glorify the Lord Jesus and to be the heart, hands, and feet of Christ in the world. Without members being spiritually formed, the church becomes more like a social club than the very body of Christ, wavering through various winds of change and remaining immature and impotent.[3]

This study focuses on the spiritual formation practices of the Renewal Lutheran Church (RLC) in Petaling Jaya, a fast-growing city church with a strong focus on being Christ-centred and rooted in the Word of God. Information-gathering was conducted through interviews with a designated representative of the church, Pastor Sally Kan, authorised to speak on behalf of its founder and senior pastor, Reverend Dr Joshua Yee.

Christian spiritual formation in the context of this study is based on the definition by Dr Alex Tang as “the intentional and ongoing process of inner transformation to become like Jesus Christ himself, to become with others a communal people of God, and to become an agent for God’s redemptive purpose.”[4]

The following are the broad areas covered in this paper:

1.   Background and purpose of RLC’s establishment

2.   A review of the church’s formative programmes with regard to person-in-formation; persons-in-community formation and persons-in-mission formation

3.   An evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of the spiritual formation approach of RLC


 

 

Renewal Lutheran Church: A brief background

RLC was established in 1988 by Rev Dr Joshua Yee, an ordained Lutheran minister, in a response to what he believed to be God’s calling to spearhead revival amongst Lutherans around the world and to minister to unbelievers. 

The church is modelled along the lines of the Antioch church of the Bible, which was characterised by the following qualities: apostolic, entrepreneurial, evangelistic, multi-racial, Christ-centred, community-minded, prophetic, espousing thoughtful teaching and dynamic worship and equipping disciples and leaders to do God’s work.[5]

Assisting Dr Yee in this mission is his wife and co-pastor, Rev Dr Carey Yee, and a number of pastors placed in charge of the various “zones” where members of the congregation dwell in the Klang Valley.

The church started out on the second floor of an office building, occupying 2,000 square feet of space and with a congregation of 60. Today, this has grown 60-fold to a membership of almost 3,600 and is housed in its own premises comprising a converted factory that sits on 1.25 acres of land.

While loyal to its Lutheran roots in its philosophy, the metropolitan church is also essentially Pentecostal in nature. There is a strong emphasis given to baptism of the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues. However, it still retains some of the identity of a mainline church in a bid to remain relevant to mainline churches around the world.

The founders of RLC and its pioneer group of worshippers believe that one of the purposes of the church is to support missions around the world. The church has a strong evangelistic slant and currently supports and partners with several churches and pastors in South East Asia, the United States and Germany, home of Lutheranism, with the aim of spreading the gospel and planting churches.

At the same time, the senior pastors believe strongly that its members should have a thorough grounding in the Word of God, and many of its activities are focused on drawing the congregation to an appreciation and understanding of the Bible and its applications to work and life. There is also strong emphasis on ministry in the marketplace.

                 

 

Review of RLC’s formative programmes

According to Dr Diane J Chandler, the best practices for implementing spiritual formation in the local church should be both at a personal and corporate level.

In other words, because spiritual formation must not be relegated to church-related initiatives alone, it is incumbent upon the church to encourage, model, and teach personal and corporate rhythms and practices and clearly exemplify why they are important. Regarding personal rhythms, the church should encourage the development of a personal devotional life where worship, prayer, Bible reading/ study, and other practices serve as cornerstones. If spiritual input occurs only on Sunday morning, then believers risk becoming overly dependent on the church for spiritual nurture. [6]

In this respect, RLC has taken quite seriously its responsibility for the spiritual formation of its congregation.

“RLC is a cutting-edge church with the aim of building a congregation of vibrant faith and growth where everyone is released into ministry, reaching out, making disciples, to multiply the church and break through new frontiers,” Pastor Kan says on being asked the church’s approach to Christian spiritual formation.

The church’s addresses this through a combination of formal, pedagogical programmes and practical, on-the-job training through internships, service, mission trips, small group meetings and specialised ministries.

Key activities in RLC’s spiritual formation approach echo those of other mainstream churches in Malaysia. They include:

·         Worship services

There are two worship services for adults on Sunday mornings and one on Saturday evenings, titled Ablaze: Vibrant Youth Service (VYS),  primarily directed at youth; all three are conducted in English. There is also a service for the Mandarin-speaking congregation and another for the Cantonese-speaking members, both on Sundays. The services are structured, with praise and worship, prayer, a sermon and Communion. A short performance may be included on special occasions.

 

·         Care Groups

These are held fortnightly. Members meet to review the senior pastor’s Sunday sermon and to discuss how to apply it to their daily lives. These interactive and often lively sessions include practical sharing of members’ experiences as well as corporate prayer and fellowship over a simple meal and have been successful in building strong supportive relationships between members.

 

·         Prayer Meetings

These are held amongst various groups during the course of the week. At one level, each care group holds prayer meetings fortnightly. At a corporate level, the church holds a prayer meeting for entrepreneurs every Wednesday, as well as a monthly anointing prayer, prophetic in nature, for its professionals. Intercessory prayer is also held weekly.

 

·         Children’s Ministry

“CHAMPS” is RLC’s nod to Sunday School and is conducted for children aged 2 to 12 concurrently with the Sunday services. In addition to this, the church also has a Boys’ Brigade, which trains young boys in service and leadership.

 

·         Youth Fellowship Groups

These include care groups specifically for youth, young adults’ gatherings (YAG) and regular youth camps.

 

 

Additional Activities: In addition to the above, RLC also has the following activities targeted at various groups within the church:

 

·         Kingdom Keys Series

These are a series of tailor-made studies designed by Rev Joshua Yee to provide a structured process to spiritual growth through a focused study of the Bible and how to apply it to various contexts of the believer’s life. It is also a means of aligning RLC members with the church’s vision and mission. All church members are exhorted to attend the Kingdom series of classes. Each level comprises 12 lessons focused on different topics and strongly rooted in the Word. Classes are held on Wednesdays and Sundays (See Appendix A for more information). Members can collect credits from attending the various levels of Kingdom Keys and use them for degree programmes at Vision International University.

 

·         Youth Internship Programme

In this activity, teenagers and young adults between 15 and 22 years of age are invited to be part of an internship programme where they are trained in various aspects of ministry.

 

·         Missions Exposure

Youth are trained in worship, prayer, gospel-sharing and other ministries and taken on mission trips to evangelise and minister to other youth in Malaysia and other countries.

 

·         Vision Hour

This is a regular fellowship event involving dinner and a presentation from the founding pastors to introduce new members to the vision of the church and to familiarise them with its activities.

 

·         Praise month

The church recently introduced a programme where members were encouraged to attend daily praise and worship sessions and to visit the church prayer rooms, named “grottos” for a month. The programme succeeded in teaching members how to lead praise and worship sessions and how to utilise praise and worship in the strengthening of their faith. There are plans to hold repeat the programme at regular intervals during the year.

 

·         Manna Ministry

This is the sharing of the Bible verse of the week with all church members through the WhatsApp platform. This is cascaded down from the senior pastor through the network of pastors, zone leaders and cell group leaders.

 

·         Oasis of Care App

This a custom-designed app that can be downloaded into smart phones and essentially contains all the church announcements, sermon podcasts, sermon notes, Bible reading plan, the whole Bible, Bible verses for different applications, a list of the various ministries and how to sign up and lots more information such as the church’s weekly activities, bulletins, testimonials and such.

Aside from activities initiated by the church and conducted on its premises, RLC also encourages its members to take full-time or part-time courses at the Lutheran School of Theology. The church also has plans to conduct off-campus courses affiliated to Vision International University, California in the United States of America.

Pastor Kan said RLC fully encourages its members to take a personal interest in their own spiritual formation through reading and self-education. The church has a resource centre and regularly invites members to participate in various ministries that will hone their skills in prayer, intercession, serving, worship leading, teaching, the performing arts, multi-media and other areas. All members are exhorted to serve in at least one ministry in church.


 

 

Evaluation of RLC’s spiritual formation approach

Alex Tang, in his book Till We Are Fully Formed: Christian Spiritual Formation Paradigms in the English-speaking Presbyterian Churches in Malaysia, outlines some of the formative action plans for person-in-formation, persons-in-community formation and persons-in-mission formation that are essential for a spiritual formation community.[7]

In the table in the Appendix B, Pastor Kan outlines RLC programmes that fulfil the various formative action plans.

An assessment of RLC’s spiritual formation activities indicates that they mostly fulfill the elements of spiritual formation essential to the formative strands of for person-in-formation, persons-in-community formation and persons-in-mission formation outlined by Tang.[8]

These elements are: growing in Christ-likeness, building relationships, being missional, enhancing spiritual learning, developing community, intentionality and dependence on the Holy Spirit.

However, in this writer’s opinion, some limitations do exist in the spiritual formation of members; they are outlined below:

1.    The spiritual formation activities have been largely initiated by the church and many members still depend on the church leaders, considered to be the primary authority and source of wisdom, to facilitate their learning and growth.

 

2.    A lack of critical thinking and theological reflection as described by Tang. He defines critical thinking skills as having the ability to identify and challenge assumptions, examine the context of a situation, imagine and explore alternatives and reflective scepticism. RLC members are happy to accept a pedagogical approach to their learning, where they are “fed” the Word by their pastors and teachers without much recourse to active dialogue and discourse.[9] 

 

3.    The tradition of spiritual direction or mentorship that exists in more traditional Christian disciplines is absent in RLC as most of the spiritual formation activities are largely communal in nature. Thus if an individual Christian requires the one to one relationship with a spiritual director to pay attention and respond to God’s personal communication and grow in intimacy with God, he or she has no other recourse than to go elsewhere.

 

On the plus side, the following characteristics mark RLC’s spiritual formation approach as being sound and sustainable:

1.    It is an intentional and ongoing approach, as all church members who wish to serve in a ministry are required to go through all the stages of the church-designed Kingdom Keys Series of programmes to align themselves with the vision and mission of the church as well as to receive a sound knowledge of God’s Word and its transformation into Christian living.

 

2.    It contributes towards healthy church growth as outlined by Rev Dr Steven Gan at a Growing Healthy Church Initiative Symposium held in Singapore in 2008. Rev Dr Gan opined that the four principles of healthy church growth are (1) led by diligence by spiritually healthy leaders, (2) equips the saints to do ministry, (3) anointed by the Spirit and (4) disciplining by the Spirit[10].

 

3.    It fulfils the following elements: growing in Christ-likeness, building relationships, being missional, enhancing spiritual learning and developing community.

 

4.    Dr Siang-Yang Tan says that the work of spiritual formation in becoming more like Jesus is ultimately the work of the Holy Spirit and the grace of God, and not by our programmes or self-effort but by our surrendering to the Lord.[11] It is therefore heartening to note that RLC’s approach is Christ-centred and has a strong focus on the anointing and presence of the Holy Spirit. This is important, as the Holy Spirit dwells in all believers and plays a major role in their spiritual formation. John 16:13 says “When he, the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.”

 

In conclusion, RLC has a healthy and reliable approach to spiritual formation. Its senior Pastor, Rev Dr Joshua Yee, is personally involved in the conceptualisation of all related activities, which are implemented after much prayer and meditation, and after taking into consideration the needs of the people and the feedback from church elders. 

The programmes are Christ-centred and Spirit-led and have, over the past three decades since the church’s establishment, succeeded in producing formative actions for person-in-formation, persons-in-community formation and persons-in-mission formation.

 

Bibliography & Sources:

1.    Interview with Pastor Sally Kan of RLC.

2.    Alex Tang, Till We Are Fully Formed: Christian Spiritual Formation Paradigms in the English-speaking Presbyterian Churches in Malaysia (Malaysia Bible Seminary, 2014)

3.    Alex Tang, Christian Spiritual Formation, Kairos Spiritual Formation Ministries

4.    Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care, 2014, Vol. 7, No. 2, Spiritual Formation in the Church, 296

5.    Thurlow J. Switzer, The Apostolic Model at Antioch, Living Grace Ministries


 

 

APPENDIX A: KINGDOM KEYS SERIES OF CLASSES

 

KINGDOM KEYS  TITLES

CONTENT

Kingdom Dynamics

Eternal life

Who is Jesus

Forgiveness

Power of His Righteousness

Experience His Resurrection Power

Power of His Word

Your Worth in Christ

Radical Transformation

Belonging to a Local Church

Care Groups

Your New Nature and Developing Your Gifting

Kingdom Grace

Record-Breaking Favour

Overcoming Guilt and Condemnation

Supernatural Wisdom, Power to Forgive

Lay Hold of Opportunities

Overcoming Fear

Supernatural Peace

Overcoming Sin

Renewal of Body, Soul and Spirit

Experience His Favour in His Presence

Kingdom Inheritance

Comforted in Distress

Power of the Holy Spirit

Dynamics of a Gentle Spirit

How God Guides

Receiving Your Healing

Renewal of Your Mind

Being Peace Makers

Reaching Out

Jesus as our Senior Partner

Kingdom Shine

Power to Bear Fruit

Discerning Love, Power of Joy

Peace in the Midst of Storms

Listening Skills

The 11th Hour Generation

Grace Faith Offering

Types of Seeds

Faithfulness and Self-Control

World Missions

 

Kingdom Cell Leadership

Practical Care and Ministry Skills

Learning to Walk in the Spirit and having discernment

Motivating Leaders

Counselling skills: caring for others in crisis

How to be renewed and refreshed

Turning leadership challenges into opportunities

Walking in the Spirit

Kingdom Relationship & Family

Choosing the Right One

Roles in a relationship

Friendship, Intimacy

Communication Skills

Resolving Conflicts

Parenting

Developing wholeness

A vision for every season

 


 

 

APPENDIX B: FORMATIVE ACTIVITIES AT RENEWAL LUTHERAN CHURCH MALAYSIA

Spiritual Formation

Formative Action Plans

Type of Programme

 

Person in formation

Helping members develop a personal relationship with Jesus Christ

Kingdom series, Care Groups, Pastoral visits, CHAMPS, Sunday sermons

Helping members understand the Bible in depth

Kingdom series, Sunday sermons, CHAMPS

Helping members to develop a prayer life

 

King series, Praise & Worship programmes, Care groups, CHAMPS

Helping members to know and practise spiritual discipline

Kingdom series, Sunday sermons, Boys Brigade, VYS

Helping members in times of emotional, spiritual and physical need

Care Groups, Pastoral Counselling,

Providing a clear pathway to guide spiritual growth

Kingdom series, Service in ministry, CHAMPS

Dealing with personal trials and challenges

 

Care group mentoring, Pastoral care

Persons-in-community formation

Embedding the Bible in community culture

Kingdom series, CHAMPS, VYS, Sunday sermons

 

Making learning an important part of community culture

Kingdom series

Challenging members to grow spiritually

 

Kingdom series, VYS, CHAMPS, Sunday sermons

Empowering and training church leaders

Kingdom series on Cell Group Leadership, Missions exposure

Empowering and equipping members to serve the church

Kingdom series, Service in ministry

Empowering and equipping members to serve the community

Kingdom series, Service in ministry, Missions exposure, Boys brigade

Strong ministry programmes for children

 

CHAMPS, Boys Brigade

Help members feel they belong; inspire a sense of church ownership

Care Groups, Pastoral visits, Kingdom classes, Vision Hour, YAG

Modelling for members on how to grow spiritually

Cell Groups, Kingdom series, VYS

Training to provide compelling worship

 

OJT in Worship Ministry, Praise & Worship programme

Setting clear expectations on members’ participation

Kingdom series, Care groups

Providing opportunities for members to minister to one another

Care groups

Christian practices

 

Sunday sermon, Kingdom Series, VYS, CHAMPS

Dealing with trials and challenges in the environment eg marketplace, economy, politics etc

 

Kingdom series, Entrepreneurs’ prayer and Anointing prayer, Praise & Worship month

Persons-in-Mission formation

Promoting a strong serving culture to the community

Missions exposure

Training on evangelism

 

Missions exposure

Providing a chance to serve the less fortunate

Youth internship, YAG

Promoting an outward-looking missional community culture

Mission exposure, Sunday sermon

Alex Tang, Till We Are Fully Formed (Malaysia Bible Seminary, 2014), 254


 

[1] Alex Tang, Christian Spiritual Formation, Kairos Spiritual Formation Ministries, available on

http://www.kairos2.com/spiritual_formation_individual.htm; Internet; Date accessed: 18 November 2017

[2] Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care, 2014, Vol. 7, No. 2, Spiritual Formation in the Church, 293; available from

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Diane_Chandler/publication/269698731_Spiritual_Formation_in_the Church/links/5492fc630cf22d7925d58942/Spiritual-Formation-in-the-Church.pdf; Internet; Date Accessed: 17 November 2017.

[3]  Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care, 2014, Vol. 7, No. 2, Spiritual Formation in the Church, 296 https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Diane_Chandler/publication/269698731_Spiritual_Formation_in the Church/links/5492fc630cf22d7925d58942/Spiritual-Formation-in-the-Church.pdf; Internet; Date Accessed: 17 November 2017.

[4] Alex Tang, Till We Are Fully Formed: Christian Spiritual Formation Paradigms in the English-speaking Presbyterian Churches in Malaysia (Malaysia Bible Seminary, 2014), 6

[5] Thurlow J. Switzer, The Apostolic Model at Antioch, Living Grace Ministries, available on http://www.lgmweb.org/12-point-model-of-the-antioch-church.html; Internet; Date Accessed: 17 November 2017.

[6]  Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care, 2014, Vol. 7, No. 2, Spiritual Formation in the Church, 306 https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Diane_Chandler/publication/269698731_Spiritual_Formation_in the Church/links/5492fc630cf22d7925d58942/Spiritual-Formation-in-the-Church.pdf; Internet; Date Accessed: 17 November 2017.

[7] Alex Tang, Till We Are Fully Formed: Christian Spiritual Formation Paradigms in the English-speaking Presbyterian Churches in Malaysia (Malaysia Bible Seminary, 2014), 254

[8] Alex Tang, Till We Are Fully Formed: Christian Spiritual Formation Paradigms in the English-speaking Presbyterian Churches in Malaysia (Malaysia Bible Seminary, 2014), 259

[9] Alex Tang, Till We Are Fully Formed: Christian Spiritual Formation Paradigms in the English-speaking Presbyterian Churches in Malaysia (Malaysia Bible Seminary, 2014), 271

[10] Rev Dr Steven Gan, Growing Healthy Church Symposium, Singapore 2008; quoted by Dr Alex Tang in Alex Tang, Till We Are Fully Formed: Christian Spiritual Formation Paradigms in the English-speaking Presbyterian Churches in Malaysia (Malaysia Bible Seminary, 2014), 40

[11] Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care, 2014, Vol. 7, No. 2, Spiritual Formation in the Church, 308 https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Diane_Chandler/publication/269698731_Spiritual_Formation_in the Church/links/5492fc630cf22d7925d58942/Spiritual-Formation-in-the-Church.pdf; Internet; Date Accessed: 17 November 2017.

 

|posted 20 Dec 2017|

 

               

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