How one man’s obedience and obscurity led to an international disciple-making movement
by Tan Huey Ying // September 14, 2019, 2:12 pm
The IDMC conference was first initiated by Rev Edmund in 1994 to share what he had learnt about discipleship through his own journey of faith. It was guided by his foundational philosophy towards his ministry in preaching and mentoring: Think big. Start small. Build deep. Photo by Stanley Eo.
Effectiveness is the name of the game today. Scale and productivity are natural companions. We have become so pragmatic that the question we ask is: Tell me, what works?
“I want to know what works. I want to make it work.”
But Rev Edmund Chan, leadership mentor of Covenant Evangelical Free Church, cautions: “We cannot sacrifice what ‘works’ on the altar of ‘what’s true’. Because if you compromise truth and wisdom, then whatever ‘works’ may not have sustainability.”
He was speaking at the closing plenary session of the Intentional Disciple-Making Churches (IDMC) Conference in Singapore. The conference itself is no flash in the pan, concluding its 25th annual run last weekend.
First held in 1994 at the church in Bukit Panjang with just over 300 attendees, the conference drew over 5,200 participants from 26 countries to the Singapore Expo this year.
Now regularly conducted in more than 10 countries worldwide by Rev Edmund and several speakers whom he has personally trained, the conference has its roots in the humble beginnings of an obedience to God and the Great Commission mandated for every Christian (Matthew 28:18-20).
“God, use me to change the world!”
Back when he was 21 years old, Rev Edmund prayed: “God, use me! Use me to change the world!’”
Then he heard the Lord say: “I will.”
Discipleship is not about building large ministries, but about investing in lives.
But the Lord had conditions: “I’ve given you speaking abilities, don’t go around the world speaking. I’ve given you writing skills, don’t write books. I’ve given you leadership skills to lead large organisations, don’t do that. I’ve given you a good mind, don’t go for your PhD.
“Stay in obscurity.”
How long, Lord?
20 years, God said.
Recounting the life-changing moment, he said: “Then He led me to the smallest church in the slowest growing denomination in Singapore – so slow, it was documented in a book!”
Rev Edmund joined Emmanuel Christian Fellowship (ECF), which had less than 30 members, and took on the leadership role in 1987.
“I had so much latent energy!” he recalled but he stayed put to nurse the church to health and invested his life in several mentees such as Rev Tony Yeo, Rev Tan Kay Kiong and Rev Dr Chua Chung Kai – all of whom are key leaders in the 6,000-strong Covenant EFC today.
He learnt then that discipleship is not about building large ministries, but about investing in lives.
“My whole vision shifted. There was a rethinking of discipleship and I was weaned out of a desire for a large ministry,” Rev Edmund shared.
When he turned 40, doors started opening, he said. And God brought to mind his encounter as a 21-year-old.
A birthday gift
After 40 years of ministry, as he turned 60 last year, Rev Edmund asked God for a birthday gift – that God would crystallise what he had learnt in the last six decades into fundamental principles that would become a steady compass for the rest of his life.
God answered him with two short statements. The first: Worship. Surrender. Serve. Bless.
“I worship God in Christ Jesus who died for me.
The older I grow, the more I realise how weak I am.
“I surrender to the Lord who teaches me: ‘Come and pick up your cross and follow Me’.
“I serve because the Servant King did not come to be served but to serve.
“And I am blessed because my life is blessed in Christ.”
Rev Edmund came to the conclusion that it was not about depending on his intellect, his wisdom, his eloquence, his leadership ability to try and extend the kingdom, adding: “This is not about me, it is not about the Church, it is not about the ministry – it is about Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God!
The second principle God told him was: Life is short. Needs are many. Man is weak. But God is great.
“The older I grow, the more I realise how weak I am. When I was young, I thought, ‘I’m strong.’ Now I realise: No, I desperately need God,” he explained. “Therefore, I need to learn to live a God-dependent life. By God’s grace, I want to live and walk by divine appointment by divine timing, by divine principles of the wisdom of the world of God.”
“It’s not rocket science”
Expounding on a topic close to his heart, Rev Edmund summarised discipleship in its essence.
“Discipleship is not rocket science. Discipleship is very, very simple,” he said. Discipleship is all about the Word – the written Word of Scripture, and the living Word of Jesus Christ.
God’s work in us precedes God’s work through us.
“If we are founded upon and rooted in the Word and we abide in Christ, then we are ready to impart life, to share that wisdom from our own pilgrimage.
“It doesn’t mean we are perfect. But we learn from the ups and downs of this life, we learn from our mistakes and failures even how to live life.”
It is a matter of reorienting of hearts towards Christ and saying, ‘Lord, let your work start within me.’ So that all that is within me will bless the Lord (Colossians 1:28-29).”
Open your heart to allow God to work mightily with you, Rev Edmund exhorted. Let Him bring you back to the wonder of the Word, the path of wisdom, and the passion for Christ, because God’s work in us precedes God’s work through us.
“The starting point is not what God will do for us for the next generation. The starting point is what God is doing within us! With all His energy. Mightily. Powerfully.”