Why do we serve? The editor of City News reflects on this question and the lessons she has learned through serving, and the truth of Jesus’ “easy yoke”.
When I came to City Harvest Church, I was a new convert. Although I grew up in a household that worshiped the Lord, it wasn’t till I was in my mid-30s that I met Jesus and declared Him to be my personal Lord and Saviour.
I wanted to be a cell group leader—it just seemed to me a good thing to help Christians grow closer to God, to be there for them through hard times, basically to “be Jesus” to them and show them His love.
I joined CHC initially as a part-time staffer around 2008, launching City News to serve the church by reporting on all the various activities conducted by different arms of the church. One of my chief duties was to train and give writing opportunities to young people who wanted to write or to improve their reporting or writing, and serve God with their talents.
A LEARNING JOURNEY
I became a cell group leader in the early 2010s. My group was made up of members from other cell groups that were looking for a change. It was a motley group and remains so to this day: we had older married couples with kids and without kids, divorcees, single older ladies, single moms, single younger men, young dating couples…
Gathering them to attend service together was a weekly routine. Sometimes we ate meals together. Once in a while, we would meet at an indoor playground so the kids could play together and the adults would sit around and chat. It was a nice social gathering a few times a month. To be honest, despite our best efforts, the relationships tended on the superficial.
Until crises hit. It was in those times that the importance of this spiritual family became obvious.
One member going through a difficult divorce faced many obstacles. One of the most trying periods was when her daughter ran away from home. For days, our cell group members would camp out at various locations in the middle of the night, waiting for the girl to appear. Today her daughter is all grown up, completed her university studies and is about to get married.
Another member came to our group when she decided to keep the baby her then-boyfriend wanted her to abort. She was depressed and needed to be closely watched. Our cell group did our best to be there for her through those really rough times. And God was faithful – today her baby is a healthy, brilliant funny young man.
We’ve had members marry, give birth, and move overseas. We’ve had a member go to prison. We’ve had members lose their parents. We’ve had members adopt. We’ve had members discover their child has special needs. We’ve had members go through nerve-wracking health and financial trials.
God’s goodness has triumphed countless times over the years: children successfully qualifying for the school of their dreams, jobs opening up after a season of fruitlessness, couples getting pregnant after fasting and praying, legal battles settled.
The first four years of leading this group were challenging—not because things were more difficult then, but because I was doing a lot of it in my own strength. I believed that God had given me this group and I had to do everything in my power to help them and solve their problems and keep them as spiritually sound as possible. Except, of course, these are humans we are talking about, the chief one being me.
I fasted for them. I prayed for them. I showed up at their doorstep at the first call of distress. I prepared the messages, I printed the song sheets, I handled the admin (until today, not my strength). My husband, who co-leads the group, has a deeply consuming job and so we agreed I would do most of the cell group “duties”.
After a while, as you can probably guess, I was ready to call it quits. I felt under appreciated and overwhelmed. I was tired of giving advice that would be cast aside like used tissue, only to have to show up again and encourage the same member when his or her disobedience landed him or her in trouble. I was sick of members not responding when I sent out WhatsApp messages. I was just tired.
Being somewhat dull witted it took me about a year of feeling like this to enter into a season of fasting and praying. Praying for God to release me, actually. My heart wasn’t quiet enough to hear from Him, and so I expressed my frustration to my husband who then told our group that I was ready to quit, and they would have to find other cell groups to go to.
Of course, they “bucked up” temporarily, and for a while our cell group had full attendance, and everyone was on their best behaviour.
But that wasn’t what I was after. You don’t lead by threatening people or making them feel insecure. This “obedience” was not going to be a long term state of affairs. People are people. Life happens. That very dedicated member today will be the very busy and hassled young mother tomorrow, with no time to eat a proper meal much less prepare refreshments for cell group. And reminding her to do her quiet time seems insincere because I remember I hardly had time to brush my teeth when I was a young mother myself. The more I nag her, the less I would see of her.
So what had to change? Me and the way I led this cell group.
TAKING UP THE EASY YOKE
When Pastor Kong preached his series this year on “The Easy Yoke” it really resonated with me as a cell group leader, and also to some extent as a ministry leader.
He explained that the Holy Trinity existes in a circle of love and that Christians are invited to enter into this circle, where we encounter the fullness of God’s love. It is only out of this overflow of love that we are able to serve God and others without burning out.
While I had not understood it as precisely as this before Pastor’s sermons, I recognized the truth of this in my heart. One time, it became too hard for me to continue caring for one of the members who, despite my best efforts—late night emergency calls, constant advice and encouragement, the sacrifice of time and finances—continued in self-defeating behaviour.
I had gone to God and told Him I had had enough, and that He had to help me find another cell group leader for her. Then I said this, “If You want me to love her like You do, You’re gonna have to give me that love because I don’t have it.”
I went to bed. When I woke up, my heart was filled with love for this member. When I thought of her, I smiled. When I heard her voice, my heart was filled with the willingness to help her again and again. It was supernatural. It was God.
I had inadvertently discovered the secret to leading this cell group. When I felt cross with my members, I would ask the Lord to give me that love, and He never disappointed me. Often I was amazed at what I could endure when I asked for His help – even my husband was astonished at how much long-suffering I was able to take, especially when I didn’t exhibit such patience with my own family!
It is His love that made it possible for me to make time to go and fetch the elderly parent of my incarcerated member, drive her to Changi and wait with her to see her son. It broke my heart that she had to climb so many stairs and walk such a long distance just to spend a few minutes talking to him. People say to me “you’re so kind” but I will be honest, it‘s not my personal desire but this love God has for this woman and her son that He has placed in me. Do I fight it? Sometimes I do, when my flesh argues that this member lacks gratitude or that member lacks willpower. But when I remember to stop whining and take up His yoke, the burden is indeed light, and sometimes, even joyful.
BEARING FRUIT FOR GOD
Ours is not a cell group of rapid multiplication. I love watching the Emerge groups embrace and integrate new members with such agility. But ours is a “tortoise cell group”: slow and steady, and tough as nails.
During Covid, I was so proud of my members when they adapted to Zoom cell group meetings so quickly. Attendance was almost full too. Not only that, a couple stepped up when I asked them to be the second worship leader and guitarist for our group, as our first worship leader had been serving tirelessly for years and was about to become a new father.
Despite the lack of physical meetings we actually became closer as a cell group. Apart from two cell group meetings a week, we added a prayer meeting every other week. So most months we were meeting every week.
The prayer meetings seemed simple enough at first: we shared our obstacles and kept one another in constant prayer. But as the months went by we began to see God moving.
Of course, things like Covid infections were healed, and we saw some unexpected jobs made available to our members. But we also began to see miracles happen.
God healed one member who was diagnosed with prostate cancer—the tumour was slow growing so he was told to continue with six-monthly checkups to keep it in check. But within 12 months of his diagnosis and constant prayers of the cell group, he was told by his doctor that the cancer was completely gone!
We also began seeing friends getting saved. My member had been putting her good friends, a couple, on the weekly prayer list: the husband was diagnosed with a debilitating disease. The wife struggled to cope with his infirmity and keep the household and their two teenage children going. Week after week we prayed for these two names on our list, while my member continued sharing with them about the goodness of God.
Suddenly earlier this year, the husband asked my member to lead his family to Christ. At the same time, my member reached out to their son, who seemed open to the Lord. Within a month, the husband had received salvation, and when we went to visit and pray for them, the wife and the son also gave their hearts to Jesus. I asked for help from my young colleague who leads a vibrant youth cell group and very soon after, the daughter of the couple also came to church, was touched by the Lord and responded to the altar call.
At the same time, other members in my cell group seemed to have developed a new boldness to share Christ with their relatives, and led many to the Lord.
All this may seem normal for another cell group, but for our “tortoise cell group” 2022 was a wonderful season of miracles. For me, it is seeing God move that touches my heart. I cannot lie: there have been times I have asked Him if He has forgotten about us, but His gentle answer is always “Fear not, for I am with you.”
TRAINING SCRIBES FOR THE KINGDOM
When City News first began, I found myself with more than 30 volunteers, mostly young and energetic students who were eager to serve God with their writing.
We went from being an online platform to printing physical papers for nearly two years, before returning to solely online again.
Throughout this time I had trained a number of writers. Some went on to become writers in the secular magazine trade, others grew up and became lawyers, economists, property agents.
Over the years the volunteer numbers have ebbed, as the needs of the church have also changed. During the years of the trial there was little else that the volunteers could help us with. When we came out of that, we had to rebuild our content as the church began rebuilding itself.
Unlike some other ministries where one shows up and serves for those three to six hours during the service, City News requires much more of its volunteers.
I am always touched by the willingness of our volunteer writers to put in time and effort to write. Writing for City News is nowhere as simple as it looks. One story can take up to a few weeks to complete. There’s researching, drafting, fact checking, and looking for images to be done before it goes to editing.
Having seen this ministry from the time it was super busy and volunteers were very active, to the time when there was just a handful because many of the categories we used to cover didn’t exist anymore after the trial, it has been a rollercoaster ride for me and my team.
However, it comes back to serving out of love again. Many years ago, God gave me a word that each person who serves in City News has a distinct purpose to play here. Ephesians 2:10 says “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ for good works which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”
No matter how small a part someone plays, it is an essential part in our ministry. Some come to us unable to write more than a paragraph but leave us after writing some of the most-read stories City News ever published. Some have surprised us by volunteering stories written from their heart – I’m glad City News has given them a platform to share their thoughts and gratitude. I believe their serving has also benefitted them: many who have “graduated” from City News tell me that the skills they learned volunteering here have served them well for many years and in their jobs.
Most of all, it is the church this ministry has sought to serve. It has pivoted several times to meet the needs of CHC and its members, bringing hope in desperate times, reminding the people of God’s goodness during good times, sharing the wisdom of our pastors and friends of our church with every member who clicks on the link to read that interview.
Jesus’ easy yoke applies here too, although I admit in my humanity that many times I have been discouraged, when times are good and people don’t read our stories (it’s true: when times are bad people read our stories more!) or when I realize reading an Instagram post is so much easier for the average church member than visiting the link to read the full story which we have poured our blood, sweat and tears into. That is when the Lord brings me back to the first days when He gave me Isaiah 52:7 and told me “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news.”
As Pastor Kong so aptly said, “You serve because you want to, not because you have to.” It is a truth I now apply to myself and to my volunteers and cell group members. If my volunteers don’t want to serve, I am unlikely to force them. I will however try to engage them and find out what is happening in their lives that is perhaps robbing them of their love for serving. Likewise there are times I don’t feel like serving, and that is always the beginning of a journey I take with the Lord to find out what has happened to the love He gave me for my ministries, if I have stepped out of the circle of love.
As 2023 begins, my prayer for myself and for all of you who are reading this is: may you step into that circle of love with God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit, and may you stay in that love until it fills you to overflowing all the time. When you then serve, may you experience the easy yoke and the light burden that Jesus offers no matter how difficult your experiences may be, and may joy reside in your heart.