CHC’s senior pastor sets the tone for how Christians are to engage the world.
|CN PHOTO: Jere Chong|
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, Dr. Kong Hee delivered a pulsating message to rouse the faith of Christians and churches alike: to recapture leadership in influential areas of society by engaging culture effectively.
As the CHC music team led the hall in song, the evening opened with an exuberant Parade of Ministries preceded by a video encapsulating the history of City Harvest. Members and ministries 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. Then, a live showcase of the many congregations in the church—the Hokkien, Chinese and Indonesian church, JAMs church, Children’s Church and more followed. Trishaws circled the floor, followed by 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.
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 fervent in the faith.
Engaging Culture Effectively
“For too long, churches have adopted wrong mindsets that have 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 an 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, noting the high possibility that the members of The Beatles might have converted to Christianity given Wimber’s evangelistic fervor. 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 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 it was equivalent to submitting to their pagan idols. Daniel knew where to draw the line and did not compromise his faith,” explained Kong.
He cited two-time Oscar winner, Denzel Washington, a Christian and a modern-day “Daniel”, who has made no secret of the line he draws—he may play a villain in a movie but either redemption or justice must be communicated by the end of the film.
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 ways that count, be 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, Washington epitomized what a culturally-savvy Christian ought to be in the entertainment industry—an artist who is deeply Christian.
Building On Spiritual Disciplines
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 your life on spiritual disciplines. 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 Kong, the gap between one’s upward mobility and lack of spiritual disciplines is called character deficit. The wider the gap, the greater the pressure exerted 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 our 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.”