City Harvest Church’s 26th anniversary marks the first year in the next phase of its development. Senior pastor Kong Hee shares his passion and prayers for the church with City News Weekly.
This weekend, City Harvest Church will celebrate its 26th year as a church. While the church celebrated its Silver Jubilee last year, this anniversary is no less significant, says CHC’s senior pastor Kong Hee.
“Every anniversary is always a time for us to reminisce, give thanks and celebrate what God has done among us,” he says to City News Weekly. “When a church goes through a difficult season that spans many years, it is very easy for the members to lose sight of their future. As we continue to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, we must not only look back at what He has done for us, but also lift up our eyes to see what He will do through us.”
To this end, Kong has been already preparing the church the last few months. Two months ago, CHC also held its first Chinese Conference to empower the leaders of Chinese-speaking churches in the region, while a mandate has been set for the local church to reach out to Chinese nationals living and working in Singapore. In August alone, Kong has preached about the spiritual journey of CHC, conducted a three-part Bible study series on the end times, and started a series of messages on the paradigms that define this church.
“I want to use this anniversary celebration to paint a picture of ‘City Harvest 2.0’’—a church that is wiser, stronger and spiritually more mature,” Kong explains. “We are a few months away from the court verdict. I cannot predict the court’s decision but God is sovereign and I fully trust His providence. He is in control of my life and our future. While I am praying and believing for the best possible outcome, I must also be a responsible leader to ensure that the church I co-founded with my wife Sun 26 years ago can carry on, with or without me.”
This anniversary weekend is significant, Kong adds, because “we want to introduce the leadership team God has put in place to take us into the future. They are proven leaders who love God passionately, and understand how to preserve His vision, values and purpose for us as a people. They will lead us into CHC 2.0.”
PURPOSE AND PARADIGMS
The story of CHC’s beginnings is an oft-told one: Kong was a computer science graduate who had a desire to become a traveling missionary. However, in 1989, God gave him an assignment: to lead a group of young people and start a church that would take their generation by storm.
“With more than four hundred churches in Singapore back in 1989, I often wonder why God birthed us forth as another new congregation? He must have His reasons to raise us up as a people,” notes Kong.
“The Bible says that David ‘served the purpose of God in his own generation’ (Acts 13:36 ESV). After 26 years as a church, we must be able to crystallize and clearly articulate that divine purpose. Over the past few months, I prayed and wrote out the spiritual convictions that have uniquely defined us as City Harvest Church. I ended up listing out paradigms like ‘the pursuit of God is the whole purpose of life,’ ‘the Word is the means to abiding in Christ,’ ‘love is the divine essence,’ ‘prayer is the key to revival and miracles,’ etc.”
A paradigm is a distinct way of thinking or viewing life in a community or generation. Paradigms have the power to shape the values and beliefs of a people and direct the way they conduct life.
Kong says, “Over the years, God has given us a set of paradigms that have become the distinct way we think and reason, the lens through which we view life and ministry, and how we follow the inner leading of the Holy Spirit. These are the special ‘distinctives’ that uniquely define us as a people.”
The senior pastor underscores the importance of keeping these paradigms. “When we put them all together, no matter what our situation may be or where we may go, God’s special ‘CHC anointing’ lives on. But the moment we lose these spiritual convictions, then while we could still be ‘good’ Christians or a ‘nice’ church, we will no longer be the City Harvest Church God has called us to be.”
Kong’s messages covering the paradigms began two weeks ago and will continue weekly till he completes all 15. The teachings have been well-received. Says cell group leader Kenny Low, 40, “I’m very encouraged to see my members plugging into the paradigm series and the end times Bible study.”
THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS
Kong says that this anniversary, he has three prayers for CHC.
“My first prayer is that our members will never lose their pursuit of God,” he says. “We must never lose our fire and spiritual hunger for God—in all His fullness—His presence, power, kingdom, righteousness, wisdom, revelation, etc. Most of all, we should pursue His heart for us. When it comes to love, there is no limit as to how deep or how far we can go. Let us go as deep into God as we possibly can, and He loves it when we do that. Let’s love Him, be like Him, and live for Him.
“My second prayer is that members will grow in our love for one another. God is love. The first and great commandment is about love. When Jesus gives us the new commandment, three times He urges us to love one another as He has loved us. Jesus accepts us, values us and believes in us. Jesus serves us, and laid down His life for us. Most of all, He always forgives us. Love and forgiveness are synonymous. There is no love without forgiveness. The older we grow as a church, the more loving and forgiving we must be toward one another. We must easily and quickly let go of any anger, frustration and disappointment whenever they surface. Without a forgiveness that is genuinely from the heart, there can be no true unity among us.”
Kong points out that if the church can mature in this area of love and forgiveness, “we can truly be the Bride that Jesus has called us to be. By our love and forgiveness, the world will know that we are Jesus’ disciples.”
He shares that he recently referred to The Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire, published in 1776 and widely considered the greatest historical work in English. Its author, Edward Gibbon, was considered the premier historian of the Enlightenment.
“Gibbon gave the five reasons for the rapid growth and influence of Christianity within the Roman Empire,” notes the senior pastor. “The Early Church had one, uncompromising zeal; two, a view of eternal rewards; three, supernatural miracles; four, moral purity; and five, unbreakable unity. In spite of the severe persecution meted out by the Romans, Gibbon estimated that by the end of the third century, there were at least one million Christians in Rome. The extreme difficulties didn’t stop them. Christianity kept growing until it became the official religion of the Roman Empire in 380 AD.
“When I shared these five reasons to a member of the church staff recently, she immediately said, ‘Pastor, isn’t that exactly how City Harvest was like in the early days? We were all so devoted to the Lord!’ I was pleasantly surprised and humbled by her very enthusiastic and sincere response.”
As the church celebrates its 26th anniversary, Kong’s final prayer is “that we will never lose our zeal for God, our love for Jesus’ second coming, our expectation for miracles, our moral purity, and the unbreakable unity among us, because we truly love one another.”
TRIALS & TESTIMONIES
The legal case involving six City Harvest leaders and members broke in May 2010. Following an investigation, the six were accused of conspiring to misuse church funds. Hearings for what has come to be called “the CHC trial” began in May 2013, and for 137 days over a two-year period, the court heard the testimonies of the six defendants, 14 prosecution witnesses and three defense witnesses. Next month, both defense and prosecution will make oral submissions to the court.
Many interesting points came up during the hearings, including how the Crossover Project of CHC reaped nearly 140,000 salvations during Sun Ho’s concerts, how member Wahju Hanafi underwrote the Crossover Project, and senior counsel N Sreenivasan’s argument that the church did not suffer the apparent loss of S$50m but recouped all its investments with interest.
But what is perhaps more interesting and encouraging to the church is that hundreds of people have come to CHC and made this their home church since the trial began. When Goh Songyu, 22, was invited to CHC for its opening service at Suntec in 2011, he declined the invitation. “I was reluctant to come due to the news I heard about the church. Even though I didn’t come, I watched the service via online streaming. It was the first time for me and during the praise and worship, I was touched by the presence of God. I was amazed God’s presence can travel through the Internet to touch a reluctant person like me. The following week, I decided to come and give my heart to Jesus. Now, I am serving as a connect group leader and in altar call ministry,” he said.
As the Bible says, God works all things together for good. Even with the negative press that the trial attracted, one couple was drawn back to church. Jeff Tong, 34, and Vinny Tan, 31, used to attend CHC when it was located at Hollywood Theatre, but they backslid and forgot about the church. It was because of the trial and the media coverage surrounding it that the Tongs heard about CHC again. “We felt that we had to be back to support our family in this time of adversity,” they said. “To us, a family must stay together in tough times. When we came back, we immediately felt that this truly is home.”
CHC’S SPIRITUAL JOURNEY
1989-1995 – Spiritual Formation
Kong Hee: “Through our formative years, God was deepening our devotional life.”
The young congregation was hungry for the Word, and learned to pray loud and strong. It was common for members to experience mass deliverance and with the great move of the Holy Spirit, many received inner healing. Kong’s passion was to build up a strong local church. They received teaching from the late Dr Edwin Louis Cole (on manhood) and Dr John Avanzini (on Biblical economics). In 1995, the church moved into its first “permanent” location: the former Hollywood Theatre on Tanjong Katong Road.
1996-2001 – Revival & Church Growth
Kong: “In everything we did, we never let go of our love for God’s Word.”
Revival broke out in CHC in Feb 1996 after Kong and his wife Sun Ho returned from Hawaii, having been given a revelation from God to go beyond the four walls of the church and reach out to the lost. The Caring System was taught to the congregation, and the quest to win souls saw tens, and later, hundreds coming to Christ. CHC grew to 10,000 members. Kong strengthened the people with the Word, doing studies of the Ten Commandments, Hebrews, Revelation and more. Dr AR Bernard came for the first time to CHC and preached about “Christ in culture”. The church moved into its own “miracle” building at Jurong West Street 91 in 2001.
2002-2009 – Global Missions & Expansion
Kong: “The Great Commandment is the motivation of our mission. The Great Commission is the goal of our mission. The Cultural Mandate is the strategy to fulfill that mission.”
The Crossover Project was launched and everywhere Ho performed, hundreds came to Christ. CHC was becoming a “missions church”. Emerge (youth conference) was launched in 2003. Throughout all this, Kong continued equipping the people with the Word, leading them in the study of the books of the Bible such as the two books of Samuel, Daniel, Psalms, Zechariah, Isaiah, and topics like “Law and Grace” and “Making Marriage Work”. In 2005, Kong preached about engaging the marketplace. This dovetailed into the Cultural Mandate series of sermons in 2007 which linked marketplace ministry with the Crossover. To ensure that the members not only live out the Cultural Mandate but at the same time keep their focus on Jesus, Kong preached a long series on the Sermon On The Mount. In 2008, CHC held the first Asia Conference.
2010-2015 – Trials & Tribulations
Kong: “I want to commend to you to God and to the whole counsel of His Word … Heaven and earth will pass away but His Word for you will never pass away!”
The first half of 2010 could not have gone better for CHC: it became a co-owner of Suntec Convention Centre, the US Crossover album was almost ready for launch, and the second Asia Conference saw 25,000 delegates from 70 nations. But on May 31, 2010, investigations on Kong and his team began. Through the trauma the leadership and the people endured, God sent His Word to help them deal with crisis, to put their hope in Christ, to remember the Father heart of God, to walk in the Spirit of faith, and to enlarge their inner capacity.