Contributed By Glynisia Yeo
ON HIS SALVATION EXPERIENCE
“I was 15 years old when I came to Christ. I had no Christian background growing up and am a first generation believer in my family. Back then, I was attending Earlsheaton School and the school teacher of religious education, (which was a compulsory course in English schools at that time), Keri Jones, was a very devoted Christian man. He shared about God in a way I never heard before, as if God was a Person you could talk to and have a relationship with. Somehow as a 15-year-old coming from a non-Christian background, it had an appeal to me, his life and quality of life.
A few months into this talk with him, I remember praying one day in school, “God if You’re real like this guy says You are, I’m gonna give it a shot!” That was my first-ever conscious prayer to God and I’ve never turned back since. It is very strange because I had no church experience and no Christian friends. I’m still the only person in my family who is a believer, more than 35 years later till today, so I must have been searching and not have known it. Today, my ex-teacher, Mr. Jones, who is now in his late 60s or early 70s, is still serving in ministry.”
ON ABUNDANT LIFE CHURCH
“Our church has changed over the years. Ten years ago, we reinvented the church because it was inward looking, comfortable and safe, and I knew that that was not how we were supposed to be building the church.
So we started to become more outward-looking, reaching the poor, becoming more relevant to society, connecting with a range of people we never had in our church before. That created a lot of problems. I call it “crossing over” and I wrote a book about that—about the reinvention of our church 10 years ago. Socially our church was one type of people; people feel comfortable with those who are like them and I understood that. We needed to deliberately try and decide to not just “do life” with people like us, and not just build churches for people like us.
We broke beyond the comfort zone in our church, and began to reach the poor, those in the red light district, the working girls, the drug community, the homeless, refugees in our city, inner city, high crime areas, and into schools. So 10 years ago we began to get involved in the city and that has made a huge difference to our church.”
ON THE UNSAVED
“Many times we talk a lot about what we, the Church, can do for our city but we don’t talk about what the city can do for the Church. I think unsaved people change the Church—if you let them—in a good way.
Over time, our church has grown in compassion and become deeper in our understanding of what people need, our language has become more relevant in how to connect with people in the city. We’ve realized that it’s not as simple as we used to think it was; that people are complex and life is complex. This has changed how we do church [in ALC] and it’s changed our staffing.
The gift of the unsaved is huge to us. That’s why a growing church to me is not just about growing in numbers and getting people saved. We mustn’t miss what these [unsaved] people are bringing to our church; they are bringing gifts of their life stories, their experiences with them that many of us have not been through. We need to recognize that God is sending them to us, not just He sending us to them. This perspective has helped changed our church in a great way.
Reaching out to people starts with an ‘in-their-shoes’ approach to the church rather than an ‘in-your-face’ approach because sometimes our evangelism has been so judgmental and in people’s face. If you step in people’s shoes, you could learn how best to approach people, how best to speak to people. There must be someone else in the church that understands their language.
It’s been a great journey for us the last decade and it was because we radically reinvented our church. Ten years ago if you were to come to our city and got lost in finding our church building and you asked a stranger, “Do you know where Abundant Life Church is?” no one would have heard of us. But now, thousands of people who visit our church each year tell us that they got lost, stopped and asked for directions. Ninety-nine percent of them say that those people they approached would say that they know us and give them directions and will often add, “Is that the church that helps people?”
In a short span of time, we’ve grown from not being known to being known all across the city. Moreover we are not being known for what happens inside our church building on Sunday; we are being known for what we’ve taken into the city—our love and outreach and all the ministries we do to help people.”
ON THE CHALLENGE OF THE CHURCH
“Christians need to think of others and build a larger circle of love with our life. The challenge of the Church is that we default to self; we default to safety, we default to the 99 sheep instead of the one sheep that’s missing. So the biggest challenge still is to turn our hearts outward to those who are not yet reached—that would be my biggest concern about the Church around the world.”
ON THE IMPORTANCE OF FAMILY
“I think it’s important in society, not just in the Church, to have strong family units because the definition of the family has changed a lot [over the years] and we have to allow for that too. There are a lot of single parents in the church and they’re as much a family as any “regular” family would be. It has changed the dynamics in the church because we’re not just fathers to our own kids anymore; we’re also fathers to other people’s kids who don’t have a dad at home. So it has changed our responsibility to think wider than our own families. Hence, we need to reach out to people, even in our own church, who may not have a dad or a stable upbringing.”
ON THE HEART OF GOD FOR THE WORLD
“God’s heart hasn’t changed for the world since the beginning. I believe God loves the world and we must keep that on the forefront of what we do. God loves people; He’s not judging people and He’s not against people. He is for people and I think God’s been very misrepresented all around the world because much of the Church is not for people, it’s not loving people. Instead we judge people, and we point fingers at people.
God loves the world but He can only express that through His Church. We are God’s address, we are God’s hands and we are where God lives. So we should express the love of God to the world. There are many churches that live separately from their community and exist only for themselves; it doesn’t exist for those who are not in the church. The Church is usually for the 99 or those who are already saved—we love our fellowship, we love our worship, our Bible studies and that’s great. But what about the ones who are missing?
The one main word for me is: Others. This is what should drive us because that is God’s heart, it is always for the missing one.”