Kong Hee: “Let us (Christians) be both Savvy in Culture and Serious in the Faith”
Delegates at CGI-AC 2010 who were anticipating an explosive evening plenary session on the first day were not disappointed as founder and senior pastor of City Harvest Church, Kong Hee delivered a pulsating message to rouse the faith of Christians and churches alike, in recapturing leadership in influential areas in society by engaging culture effectively.
As the CHC music team led the room in song, the evening opened with an exuberant Parade of Ministries preceded by a video encapsulating the history of City Harvest Church. Members and groups from CHC and its affiliate churches making an impact in the marketplace—from celebrities to top businesspeople—walked the stage as a precursor to Kong’s message that followed that evening. Then, a live showcase of the many ministries in the church—Hokkien, Chinese and Indonesian church, JAMs church, Children’s church and more. Trishaws circled the floor, followed by toy floats and a bevy of girls wearing balloon outfits.
All of it culminated in a brilliant lightshow and the full praise and worship session that brought down an electrifying presence of God. Dr. John Avanzini took the offering with a powerful message about visualizing as one sows, preparing the hearts of the congregation for the night’s main word from Kong Hee.
Before Kong began, he shared what he believed was the battle cry of the Holy Spirit; to raise up a generation of Christians in Asia who would be both savvy in culture and serious in the faith.
Engaging Culture Effectively
“For too long churches have adopted wrong mindsets that had led us in disengaging our culture,” said Kong. “No doubt popular culture has risen but church culture has decreased.”
Citing the story of John Wimber (1934 – 1997) who was a famous producer in the music industry in the early 1960s before he became a pastor as a classic example, Kong revealed how The Beatles had at one time approached Wimber to become their producer. However, due to the advice of the church that Wimber was attending as a young believer, he turned down the offer.
According to Kong, that church was against the association of the secular or popular culture. And he believed that things might have panned out differently if Wimber had accepted that offer as there would have been a high possibility that the members of The Beatles might have converted to Christianity given Wimber’s evangelistic fervour. It might have been that Christianity lost a potentially powerful and influential force in The Beatles.
Kong presented three types of thinking that account for the failure of churches to engage culture effectively. They are:
- Cocooning—withdrawal and isolation
- Combating—fight, resist and oppose
Being Culturally Savvy
Kong illustrated how it was possible for the Church to engage culture effectively without compromising the faith through the biblical example of Daniel, who was a highly favored servant of the king of Babylon during Babylonian’s reign over Israel.
The preacher explained that Daniel was successful and experienced upward mobility because of his maturity in learning the Babylonian culture, language and fashion. He even adopted a Babylonian name and took on a job in Babylon. In his time, Daniel was contemporary yet consecrated. He was serious about culture yet serious about his faith.
“When it came to learning the culture, arts, fashion and language of Babylon, Daniel accepted these outward practices. However, when it came to accepting the Babylonian’s diet of food, he rejected it as he understood that that was equivalent to submitting to their pagan idols. Daniel knew where to draw the line and not compromised his faith,” explained Kong.
Calling two-time Oscar winner, actor Denzel Washington a modern day “Daniel”. A Christian, Washington has made no secret of the line he draws—he may play a villain but either redemption or consequence must be communicated by the end of the movie.
In order for Christians to be savvy, Kong listed three things they can do:
- Counter culture. Be aliens: in the world, but not of it. Look and perform like everyone else but within and in the ways that count, consecrated to the Lord.
- Communicate in culture. Be ambassadors. Show genuine care and interest for people and their culture.
- Create culture. Be artists. Be passionate about excellence and creativity in one’s art.
In Kong’s opinion, Denzel epitomised what a culturally savvy Christian ought to be in the entertainment industry—an artist who is deeply Christian.
Building On Spiritual Disciplines
With much of the beginning portion of his message firstly addressing the concerns of the conservative group of Christians, Kong turned his attention to the contemporary group of Christians.
He said, “The only way to become a successful Christian in the marketplace is to build (his or her life) on spiritual disciplines. These spiritual disciplines such as reading the Bible; prayer; fasting; praise and worship and thanksgiving; solitude; confession, repentance, forgiveness; and going to church—these are the spiritual undergirding support of one’s upward mobility.”
According to him, the gap between one’s upward mobility and lack of spiritual disciplines is called character deficit. The wider the gap, the greater the pressure exert on one’s character which will lead to burnout or to moral failure. In other words, failure in character is a failure in maintaining one’s spiritual disciplines.
“If we’re not careful in maintaining our spiritual disciplines, we will start to compromise on the faith,” said Kong. “Instead of us influencing the world, we in turn become vulnerable and get influenced by the world.”
In closing, Kong encouraged conservative Christians to engage the world and contemporary Christians to learn spiritual disciplines. He also explained that the intent of his message was not to undermine either conservative or contemporary Christians, but to marry both of their strengths to produce a successful ministry in bringing the gospel to the world.
“Let’s live in balance,” exhorted Kong, “being culturally savvy Christians who love God and His word.”
Pre-Service Event: Word Power Challenge
In the session leading up to the winning team for the finals of this year’s Word Power Challenge had been decided after emerging among the three teams with the highest scored points.
This year’s winner was an all-Indonesian team: Bernard Ricardo,Yoanna Arlina and Lusiana Saptura from Team 3. They had to pit against two other teams in two rounds of games before clinching the top spot.
The first round was based on memory power which all team members had to memorize a total of 100 Scriptural verses and had to be prepared to recite any three of them. The recital had to be done word for word (including punctuation) with each member taking one word. And the second round was a test of general knowledge of the Bible with 10 multiple choice questions that had to be snatched in order to get a chance to answer.
Leader of Team 3, Ricardo, a 25-year old teacher said, “It was not easy to win this. We had to manage the stress and nervousness competing live on stage and more importantly a lot of preparation was required for the team had to work together to memorize the verses.”
Each member of the winning team walked away with a Hewlett-Packard mini netbook. The other two teams who came in second and third were awarded a Canon digital camera and Apple iPod Touch respectively.