The last 12 months have been a time of spiritual feasting and a return to doing church as we have always known it, but with a deeper focus on God. City News takes a look back at the most important lessons we have learned from the pulpit and what we can look forward to in 2023.
Stepping into 2022 was, quite literally, a breath of fresh air as Singapore government eased its mask mandate. As a church, we inched towards normalcy and started preparing for what God has in store for us.
For the last few years, City Harvest Church has been in a season of rebuilding the church. The years of the pandemic slowed things down, but this past year, the easing of restrictions has allowed the church to pick up the momentum in its rebuilding efforts.
While rebuilding does involve creating new initiatives, the senior pastor of CHC, Kong Hee has relentlessly emphasised that rebuilding of the church begins with the rebuilding of the individual’s faith journey. He has spent the last two years bringing every City Harvester back to what is truly important—to seek after God first. It is only out of that that the believer can grow in the fruit of the Spirit, taking on the character profile of Jesus.
After God comes family, and work and ministry follow—areas where one needs the power, love and holiness of the Holy Spirit. Pastor Kong reminded the church that without love and holiness, a believer will strive in his human efforts to serve. He urged the congregation not to lose the joy of serving—it is only when the members’ priorities are right that rebuilding can begin.
THE IMPORTANCE OF KNOWING THE HOLY SPIRIT
Pastor Kong spent the first half of the year teaching about the Holy Spirit. He first taught on His love, holiness and power, then on how to welcome the Holy Spirit into one’s life and the importance of speaking in tongues.
The first thing the pastor taught was that the Holy Spirit is a Person and without Him, spiritual union with God is not possible. He also asserted that the Holy Spirit did not just show up during Pentecost; rather, He is embodied in the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelations.
“If you only have the Word without the Spirit, you cut the Bible away from its source and your Christian life will become very dry and cold,” he added. There is no experience without the real presence and the power of the Holy Spirit.
As God is love, the Holy Spirit is love. The whole purpose of salvation is for mankind to live and walk in God’s love and to be in a love relationship with Him. The love of God fulfils, satisfies and completely changes them. However, when Christians think about the Holy Spirit, they usually think of power, instead of love.
“God’s power is always grounded in love,” the pastor asserted. “If you seek the power of God without love, then you are totally missing it.”
While being hungry for the power of God and seeing the spiritual gifts of the Spirit manifested in the church is important, one cannot progress into the fullness of the supernatural until he is saturated with God’s love.
“Only when we are fully soaked in God’s love from our words, actions and countenance can we grow and mature into the greater powers of the Spirit,” he continued. “The more loving you are, the more powerful in the Spirit you become. Because He is the Spirit of love.”
The pastor went on to explain that as a believer grows under the love of God, holiness will grow as lasting changes begin to take place in his life. The more one’s love for God grows, the more one will hate sinful passion. The more one loves God, the more he will want to be like Him, with a desire to live a pure life that is pleasing unto the Lord.
Holiness is not following a religious list of dos and don’ts; rather, it is to become more and more like Jesus. As a believer reads and learns about the Lord Jesus in the Bible and meditates on Him, the Holy Spirit gradually changes him into Christ’s likeness (2 Cor 3:17).
“What is Jesus like? He’s full of love, and joy and peace and long-suffering and kindness and gentleness and faithfulness and gentleness and goodness and self-control,” Pastor Kong said, listing the fruits of the Spirit. “This is what true holiness is.”
Preaching from the parable of the prodigal son and the Beatitudes, Pastor Kong taught on the importance of repentance and showed the church what a true follower of Jesus looks like.
He then went to preach that speaking in tongues is the first step to being empowered by the Holy Spirit; it is the gateway into the supernatural. He gave the church five reasons—among many—why Christians should speak in tongues, and he encouraged them to speak in tongues in their daily prayers.
Finally, Pastor Kong reminded the church that the power they receive from the Holy Spirit is “on loan” and they need to exercise it as faithful stewards of God. Jesus is the perfect example of how one should steward the power of God perfectly.
“Jesus knew where He came from, where He was going and who was His Source—this is what He models for us,” Pastor Kong taught. “Your value is not based on fame, how many followers you have on social media, or how well known you are in the marketplace. You need to be secure in who you are in Jesus Christ!”
THE EASY YOKE
In August, CHC launched into a ministry recruitment drive and Pastor Kong started his series on “The Easy Yoke”. It was a teaching that resonated with the many ministry members in the congregation.
Jesus said in Matthew 11:28 and 30, “Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest…For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” However, Jesus also called His disciples to be holy, to win the lost, to help the poor and needy and to serve Him—all these seems contradictory to attaining the “rest” that He promised.
Pastor Kong unpacked the reasons why some find it hard and tiring to serve God. It could be that their motivation comes from earning God’s love and blessing, or it could be because they do it to impress others. Or they might think that Jesus needs them to serve, and that they can do it without Jesus.
“So, while you think that Jesus expects you to serve Him, He actually came to serve you,” Pastor Kong taught, quoting Mark 10:45. He shared that over the course of his 36 years of full-time ministry, he has come to understand that even if he does not so anything else for Jesus, Jesus will still love Him.
“Only when I’m fully and utterly convinced of this, will I willingly surrender my heart to Him and serve as I have never served anyone before, and live for Him as I have never lived for anyone,” the pastor shared openly. “Not because I have to, but because I want to. There is absolutely no pressure in this.”
That is what the easy yoke is. “A life with Jesus Christ must be a life of rest—resting in the knowledge and assurance that you are a friend of God, a bride of the King, adopted into His family as a son and daughter, and an heir of all His inheritance,” the pastor taught. “You are not serving because you have to, but because you want to. Then, you will discover His yoke is really easy and His burden is light.”
He ended the series talking about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. God’s gifts are meant to be enjoyed together and used relationally. “The place of agreement is a place of power,” Pastor Kong said. “The moment you become angry and offended and you don’t want to work with others, then the gift becomes a burden.”
The gifts are also meant to help Christians develop Christlikeness. One’s calling from God—even the really tough ones—are designed to draw a believer closer to Jesus. Unlike money and other earthly riches, God’s gifts have eternal significance. Even when one feels that no one sees the good works that he does, God sees and He will remember for all eternity.
To cultivate Christlikeness is to follow Jesus, which means to take action and imitate Him in His way of life. In his series on “Spiritual Disciplines”, Pastor Kong explained, “When you study Jesus’ way of life, there were certain things Jesus did that prepared Him for every crisis and trial, that kept Him in a constant loving attitude and in close fellowship with God and the Holy Spirit. Jesus practised spiritual disciplines.”
Exercising spiritual disciplines is very much like exercising physically. “At first, you may not be used to it—you will struggle a little bit because all the ‘spiritual toxins’ are coming up to the surface,” Pastor Kong analogised. “The first day you fast will be the toughest day of your life.”
However, to fully relate to God, Christians must be spiritual and live a spiritual life, because the only way to commune with God is in spirit and in truth. The more a Christian’s life is led and ruled by the power of God, the more spiritual a Christian becomes. In other words, a believer’s spirituality depends on the degree to which they are being transformed by God.
“This is where the spiritual disciplines come in,” the pastor preached. “There are exercises you do to build up a spiritual life. Paul calls them ‘exercises unto Godliness’ (1 Tim 4:7).”
“The secret to spiritual disciplines is that they involve your body, not just your mind,” the pastor emphasised. “Reading more about it is not going to help—it simply gives you information but it’s not going to change you.”
Directing the church to the creation story, Pastor Kong noted that God created everything with His spoken word. However, when it came to creating Adam, it was different. First, he formed a body, then He imparted something of Himself into Adam. Genesis 2:7 records that when God breathed into Adam, he became “a living soul”.
The living soul came about when the divine came into contact with the body. This allows humans to become spiritual and communicate directly with God, who is spirit. “It was designed in such a way that every time we come into contact with God in the life of His Spirit, inner growth is stirred up and inner transformation happens,” explained Pastor Kong. “Every time there is contact, we become a little bit more like Christ.”
In 1 Corinthians 9:26, Apostle Paul taught Christians to discipline their bodies to achieve godliness. This was how Paul himself experienced the easy yoke and light burden of Christ. Even though he was busy planting churches, he had supernatural joy.
“This has been a core message of Christianity for the last 2000 years: that there are certain spiritual practices designed to strengthen your spirit inside,” Pastor Kong taught. “They will build you up and transform your inner life and make you more and more like Jesus—practices like solitude, fasting, prayer, coming together for worship and study serving one another, and giving.”
However, because the soul is closely attached to the body (Rom 12:1), the body is a fierce battlefield, with cravings for food, sleep and approval. “This is the constant frustration for all of us, the cravings of the flesh which fight us daily. However, the good news is that this is not the story of Jesus Christ.”
Practising spiritual disciplines is not easy and those who try it will soon find themselves in spiritual warfare. “This is harder than casting out demons!” the pastor quipped. To engage in spiritual warfare, Pastor Kong advised the people to deny themselves, pick up their cross, follow Jesus daily, and present their body as a living sacrifice unto Him regularly.
“The Holy Spirit will transform your deadness to life, your brokenness into holiness, and your bondage into the freedom of Christ,” said Pastor Kong.
REBUILDING FOR THE FUTURE
In 2022, CHC began to rebuild and strengthen the church and its members through a series of updates and new initiatives.
For many years since the church was founded in 1989, it had been known as a church of youth—indeed, CHC began with 20 youths led by Pastor Kong, who was just 25 at the time. But now, Pastor Kong reminds the church that he is in his late 50s, and CHC is no longer a youth church but a mature church.
To meet the needs of the maturing congregation, a Young Adult service was launched on 23 September this year. This service is for those who were passionate Emerge youths, who have now grown up, entered the workforce and some have even started their own families. This is the cohort that Pastor Kong and his wife and co-founder Sun call the future of the church.
Sun told the young adults at the YA meeting in September, “Soon, the baton is going to be passed into your hands. Whatever God is doing in our church today, the future of Christendom, that baton is soon going to be passed to you. Pastor Kong started the church when he was 25. I was 19 when I joined him to build the church. Don’t say to yourself that you are too young, or too old, or too busy. We were very busy. We prioritised. We considered it a great privilege to be used by God, to partner with Him to change the world and to change lives one at a time. The future of Christendom in our part of the world is in your hands.”
Another group that has grown in CHC is the family unit. While the church has always provided support for parents and children, the creation of CityFamilies, or CFAM allows a wider spectrum of family matters to be addressed. CFAM not only caters to parents and children (CFAM Parenting), it also address the needs of the husband and wife (CFAM Marriage) and single individuals (CFAM Connexion).
In 2022, the first ever CFAM Conference was held in August at CHC, comprising of a CFAM Family Devotion held online, followed by two days of CFAM online workshops that covered the three areas of singlehood, marriage and parenting, as well as bonus topics like mental health management.
The conference highlight was two question-and-answer sessions featuring Pastor Kong and Sun, held during service times during the weekend of 6-7 August. The no-holds-barred nature of these two sessions helped to demystify some long-held beliefs about marriage, parenting and singlehood from a spiritual and also practical point of view.
In the area of education, CHC’s School of Theology, which halted its annual intake of students in 2021 and 2022 due to the pandemic, introduced new opportunities to learn. Two alumni courses were offered for graduates of SOT, covering the topics of Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism. During the pandemic, the SOT faculty has also been updating its curriculum, with the new and updated materials to be revealed when the school welcomes its 2023 cohort to Singapore.
Church Without Walls, which was relaunched in 2021, with a plethora of fresh ideas and initiatives to reach out to find hurts to heal and find needs to meet. This year this movement gained momentum with Covid restrictions lowered and the various groups being able to conduct face to face gatherings and to extend physical help to the needy.
The Marketplace ministry held its first closed-door meeting on 18 September with special speaker Pastor Margaret Court of Victory Life Centre, Perth. There are plans to expand into a series of meetings in 2023, to strengthen the church members whose callings lie in the areas of business.
There is much to look forward to in the coming year, and there are also plans for The Harvest Network, a community of churches and ministry leaders connected to CHC, and for CHC’s youth movement Emerge. But first things first—all our doing must be birthed out of love, a love that comes from God, a love that is divine and Christlike. As Pastor Kong explained, “Automatically, you’d want to serve God because serving is loving. Love will naturally want to express itself in wanting to help people, especially the poor and the needy, to build up the church to advance the Kingdom of God.”