God called him out of the pubs to the pulpit

Peck Sim // April 16, 2024, 6:05 pm

Shaun Chong

Pastor Shaun Chong was appointed Pastor-in-Charge of Christalite Methodist Church after a 10-year journey of wrestling, discerning and following God. All photos courtesy of Pastor Shaun Chong.

At 17 years old, Shaun Chong was leading his cell group at Christ Methodist Church with cigarettes in his pocket.

During a cell group meeting one day, he glanced down and spied the sharp corners of a packet of Kent poking through the pocket of his Bermuda shorts. 

“This feels wrong,” he thought.

But Shaun shrugged off the voice of conscience and continued the smoking and boozing that was so integral to the partying lifestyle he was living outside of church. 

At one Sunday service, he felt God calling him into full-time ministry during a sermon by Pastor Edmund de Souza, then the Pastor-in-Charge of Christ Methodist.

But Shaun put God on hold and kept partying.

On the third call from God, Shaun (left) put away his party life and put on the new robes of a pastor.

When Shaun heard the call again a year later through the same pastor, he again put off any action. 

It was only at the third nudge from God shortly after that he finally obeyed. 

That was how Shaun, 38, went from the pub to the pulpit and became the Pastor-in-Charge of Christalite Methodist Chapel.

Young and rebellious

At 12 years old, young Shaun knew he had a gift.

He had a keen eye for detail, a skill he leveraged to steal money at home and shoplift outside of his home. 

“I was very good at it,” he admitted. “It was terrible.”

Unlike his brothers  – one elder and the other, his younger twin – who did well in school, Shaun struggled through primary school. Though his mother never gave him grief about his grades, nor did she ever compare him to his brothers, Shaun bore plenty of guilt and discontentment with himself.

He would hole up in the room at home with his twin and pray in tongues for long stretches of time. 

Secondary school for Shaun was a reprise of primary school. Discouraged and unmotivated, he found himself hanging out in school or going out with friends instead of heading home to study.

It was on such a day in school playing carrom that he first heard the gospel from a senior schoolmate.

Prior to that, Shaun and his brothers had had some Christian influence from their aunt, who often invited them into her home, told them about God and prayed with them.

“We all wanted to be Christian but we didn’t really know what it meant or how to be one,” he said.

So when his schoolmate, as part of the ministry of Hope Church, offered to tell the younger boys about Jesus, Shaun readily agreed.

The older boy had them draw on a piece of paper all their misdeeds that came to mind. “And I was just going on and on as I remembered the stealing and all sorts of stuff,” Shaun recalled.  

The young evangelist then threw out the paper and gave them fresh sheets, explaining that that was what happened when Jesus gave His life for them and washed them clean with His blood.

“The weight of all I had done fell off me,” Shaun said. This was the week before Easter, the year he was 14. 

When Shaun heard the Gospel for the first time in school, the weight of his misdeeds fell off him.

Together with his twin, who also accepted Christ that same week, Shaun started going to Hope Church. The boys would gather almost daily with the people from church for discipleship. “We would just talk and hang out after school,” Shaun recalled. 

Shaun was on fire from his early days of conversion. He received the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the gift of tongues within two weeks of going to church. He would hole up in the room at home with his twin and pray in tongues for long stretches of time. 

“That period really laid a great foundation for my faith,” Shaun said.

However, the teenager left Hope Church after five months, in rebellion against counsel to break off a relationship because of his youth.

After he left Hope Church, Shaun’s interest in his studies dwindled further. He played truant often, hung out all day at Orchard Road and shopping malls, and picked up smoking.

He was just 14 years old. 

Shaun (right) in his turbulent teens sporting the pair of shorts in which he hid his cigarettes during Bible study.

Despite his penchant for these vices, Shaun never severed ties with God. He ended up going to Christ Methodist Church with his classmates shortly after he left Hope Church. 

Nevertheless, when Shaun graduated from secondary school and entered polytechnic, his party life kicked into overdrive.

His course of study in hospitality gave him plenty of opportunities to hit the pubs and clubs every Friday – and sometimes even midweek. He frequently snuck off from class as well to smoke with his buddies. 

Yet, Shaun loved God and was eager to serve Him. At 17, he stepped up to lead a teenage cell group of 14-year-olds.

Torn between two loves, Shaun staggered under the guilt of his duplicitous life.

“I was on fire for God but there was so much duality in my life,” he confessed. “Every time I responded to an altar call, I would be dying at the altar because there was such much gunk inside.”

God calls three times 

One Sunday service in 2005, during a sermon by Pastor Edmund de Souza, 20-year-old Shaun had a vision where he was no longer seeing Pastor Edmund on stage but a generic preacher figure.

At that moment, Shaun felt God call him into full-time ministry as a pastor.

After the vision, he planned to get counsel from four people whom he knew had discerned the call of God in their lives. However, the self-confessed procrastinator failed to connect with any of them.

“I was on fire for God but there was a lot of duality in my life. There was such much gunk inside.”

He brushed the call aside as he occupied himself with an internship at a luxury hotel. The six-month internship dried up his spiritual life as shift work kept him from regular attendance at church.

Shaun made it to church just twice in those six months and had to step down from leading the cell group.

When the internship ended, Shaun took up a part-time job at Paulaner Brauhaus, a microbrewery that offered free beer and food to staff every night. “I would just be drinking during work, and sometimes after,” he said.

But God’s finger was already firmly on Shaun’s heart.

At the end of his three years in polytechnic, Shaun questioned himself at a church service: “What am I going to do with my life?”

When he heard the song “Because He Lives” played during worship, he felt profoundly assured that his life was in God’s hands.

Following the worship at that same service was a message on Moses and full-time ministry. It was preached by Pastor Edmund, the very same pastor who had been preaching when Shaun first heard the call to go full time just a year prior.

“I immediately knew the Lord was speaking to me,” Shaun said.

But just as quickly as the call came, doubts rushed in. “I was very fearful. I don’t like to speak, I’m a bit shy and I can’t study.”

But for every doubt that pounded Shaun’s heart that morning, God used the preacher to provide assurances and allay his fears. “It was amazing,” he told Salt&Light.

Shaun determined then that he would connect with the four people he had wanted to talk to. But partying got in the way again.

Still, God was not about to give up.

When God called him the third time, Shaun resolved to leave behind his life of duplicity and turn wholeheartedly to Him.

One morning after another night of partying, he suddenly thought of one of the people he had wanted to meet, Pastor Joel Yong.

Shaun dismissed the thought. But on a train home that same morning from his friend’s house, Shaun bumped into Pastor Joel.

Convinced it was no coincidence, he followed the pastor back to his office and spent two hours with him talking about God’s call to him.

This time, Shaun heeded what he knew was the unmistakable call of God. He lost no time in seeking out the remaining three people, one of whom was Pastor Juliette Arulrajah, Shaun’s mentor at the time.

Finally, Shaun resolved to leave behind his life of duplicity and turn wholeheartedly to God.

A resolve challenged

On May 4, 2006, just before he enlisted in the army, Shaun stopped smoking. 

“It was overnight,” he told Salt&Light. “I made the decision, planned for the day and I did it.”

Shaun, then 21, also stopped partying. “I just didn’t enjoy it anymore,” he recalled.

As he wrestled with God, the verse that came to mind was: “Better is one day in His house than a thousand elsewhere.”

Instead, on the advice of Pastor Juliette, he signed himself up for a programme in which he was exposed to different areas of ministry, including home visitations and leadership development.  

During that journey, however, he met with an unexpected challenge.

Shaun’s mother made him a proposition so attractive he was almost enticed. Knowing it had always been his dream to become a chef, she offered to pay for half of the tuition fees of a new culinary course launched by the Singapore Institute of Management, where she worked. 

It was back to the drawing board for Shaun. “Do I go into full-time ministry or do I pursue the dream?” he wondered.

As he wrestled with God, the verse that came to mind was Psalm 84:10, “Better is one day in His house than a thousand elsewhere.”

Shaun knew then he would give up his dream of being a chef and pursue God instead. “I don’t need a paper qualification. I just need to pursue Him,” he decided. 

Once Shaun (fourth from left) answered the call to go into full-time ministry, God paved the way for him to attend Trinity Theological College.

Another watershed moment came when Shaun’s mother challenged him to confirm that the calling to be a pastor was from God and not his emotions.

Though he initially dismissed his mother’s challenge, Shaun pleaded with the Lord for an answer.

The Bible passage for his devotion that day was John 15:15-16, “You did not choose me but I chose you to go and bear fruit that will last.”

Guided by what he believed were confirmations from God’s Word, Shaun applied to Trinity Theological College. Once he committed himself to answering the call, God paved the way for him.

To be approved for the college, Shaun had to explain before a board how God was leading him. As he stood on the steps leading to the boardroom, he prayed: “God, wouldn’t it be cool if I went up there and it’s already decided?”

When he appeared before the board, who had rejected many applicants before him, he heard a round of applause and hearty congratulations.

“I didn’t have to answer anything!” Shaun exclaimed. Pastor Juliette had championed his case.

After completing his National Service at 23, Shaun enrolled in Trinity Theological College. The kid who used to score three out of a hundred points on a test in school breezed through Bible college with straight ‘A’s in his first year. 

During that year though, Shaun faced a crisis of faith when his 55-year-old mother was hit by an early onset of Alzheimer’s.

“We are always on a redemptive journey where God is constantly working in our lives.”

But God used the adversity to build the faith of Shaun and his brothers. “In spite of everything – which was really painful – we said to God ‘I will still choose to worship you’ and that forged our faith,” he recalled.

Following his graduation from Bible college with a Bachelor of Divinity, Shaun finally became a pastor in 2011, at the tender age of 25.

After a two-year stint at Christalite Methodist Chapel and five years at Christ Methodist Church, he was assigned back to Christalite Methodist Chapel in 2019 as its Pastor-in-Charge. He was 33 years old. 

The lifelong journey of transformation 

Now in his 13th year as an ordained minister, Pastor Shaun realises that full-time ministry was not the end goal of God for his life. Rather, it had just been the beginning. 

“God’s just transforming us in the journey,” he said.

The turbulent years of wrestling with God has taught him much about authenticity, he added.

When Shaun became a father, he finally understood what the Bible meant when it said: “God delights in you.” He is pictured here his wife Rulin and their children Kate, Adam and Elijah (left to right).

“Authenticity is not about playing church but realising that things are not black and white,” he clarified. “We will have to keep wrestling and living for God. Take it to God – you can’t hide from Him anyway – and ask Him for help. He is a friend of sinners.

“Sometimes we are guilty of laying the responsibility to change on God and expecting Him to make us over in one take,” Pastor Shaun continued. “But that’s not the real story. We are always on a redemptive journey where God is constantly working in our lives.”

He urged mentors to youths: “We need to give them space to work through their struggles.”

He urged mentors to youth: “We often easily get to a place where we just want them to snap out of it. We need to give them space to work through their struggles.”

The former rebel is now husband to wife Rulin and father to three children aged nine, seven and four. Fatherhood has opened up Shaun’s understanding of God the Father, he said.

“Your kid could just be lying there doing nothing and he can make your heart full,” Pastor Shaun explained. “I began to understand what it means when we say God delights in us.”  

Even as a pastor today overseeing a church, Pastor Shaun has not lost sight of his core identity. 

“If you sum up our role as a pastor, we’re still a child of God and nothing more.”  


“After all that you have done, I still love you”: The audible voice of God changed him from gangster to pastor

On fire for God: From hard partying rebel to storyteller for churches

“I was a hardcore party animal”: Paid sex, gambling and drinking every night but he was empty inside

About the author

Peck Sim

Peck Sim is a former journalist, event producer and product manager who thankfully found the answer for her wonderings and a home for her wanderings. She now writes for Salt&Light and also handles communications for LoveSingapore.