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While leaders need to be agile in learning and adapting to new circumstances, they also need to identify the essential services of their church, said Pastor Wilson Teo. All photos by Marcus Chow.

Pastor Wilson Teo has learnt a thing or two about surviving and adapting, having been one of the earliest survivors of Covid-19 in Singapore.

Now he has one word for marketplace leaders and pastors who want to lead well in our rapidly changing, post-pandemic world: Agility.  

“This pandemic is not an interruption but a disruption,” said Senior Pastor Wilson Teo from Grace Assembly of God, who was speaking at the LoveSingapore Pastors’ Summit today (Jan 12). 

“It is not temporary and things will not go back to how it was before once the pandemic is over. It is permanent and will take us down another path of doing things.”

Three crises at once

Pastor Teo had tested positive for Covid-19 in February last year. Together with 17 other staff members from his church who were also infected with the coronavirus, Grace Assembly of God became the largest religious cluster for the virus in Singapore and was promptly shut down to contain any possible spread of the disease.  

“It was the toughest year of my life … no seminary can prepare you for that,” he told the audience of pastors and leaders on the first day of the Pastors’ Summit 2021. 

Not only did he face a personal health crisis and a family crisis, he also faced a leadership crisis. 

Back then, little was known about the virus and, being one of the first few to come down with it, it felt like a death sentence to him, he said.

His family was split three ways – he was in National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID), his wife and second daughter at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH) because they had a higher than normal temperature and his eldest daughter and youngest son had to be isolated at home. 

Not only did he face a personal health crisis and a family crisis, he also faced a leadership crisis. 

“This happened only one month after I took over Grace Assembly as its Senior Pastor. Half of the leadership team from my church were in NCID with me. We were in the same hospital gowns and had the same Zoom background. There was so much uncertainty and fear,” said Pastor Teo who gave the opening message at this year’s Pastors’ Summit. 

The Summit is an annual affair for pastors and Christian leaders in Singapore to gather together and unite as one in serving the Church at large and seeking the welfare of Singapore through prayer and other platforms. 

For the first time since 1996, the Summit was held in Singapore instead of overseas, via a mix of in-person meetings at Victory Family Centre in Tampines and Sembawang, as well as Zoom sessions online. The three-day conference brought participants from 107 churches and 36 Christian organisations together. 

Lessons for a post-pandemic world

Upon overcoming the virus, Pastor Wilson spoke at the Summit to share some of the lessons that the Lord has shown him through the ordeal so that others may navigate the post-pandemic world with God’s strength, wisdom and direction.   

There are four ways that leaders can partner with God to be ready for “the new things” (Isaiah 43:19) that God is leading his Church to, said Pastor Teo.

“Some pastors say they had seen it all and that there was nothing new under the sun … until the pandemic hit,” he said, citing the example of the established department store, Robinsons, which closed just two days ago (Jan 10) after 162 years of existence, despite having changed their hardware by modernising their storefront.  

“When spiritual leaders grow, the body of Christ is blessed.”

“Relevance is not just about changing the hardware but also the software. We need to meet the needs of people and evolve to engage them more effectively by learning, unlearning and relearning what we know,” said Pastor Teo.  

He shared that he sees to his personal growth by spending two hours a day reading, listening to podcasts and watching videos so as to ensure continual learning. During the Circuit Breaker period, he also picked up new skills, such as video editing, in order to put out sermons online.  

Rekindling a heart of learning is crucial, he emphasised, because a leader’s personal growth determines the effectiveness of his ministry.  

“When spiritual leaders grow, the body of Christ is blessed,” he noted.  

Identifying the essential services

While leaders need to be agile in learning and adapting to new circumstances, they also need to be anchored in knowing what are essential services and functions of their church and seek to reinforce those essentials.  

“During the Circuit Breaker, many of us learned the importance of essential services, such as rubbish removal services, FairPrice, Sheng Siong and of course, hair salons,” said Pastor Teo to laughter from the audience. 

“God has used a pandemic to strip the church of its excesses and show us what is essential and vital.” 

Since the pandemic started, he said, God has shown His people the essential services of the churches as well.  

“For Grace Assembly, one of the essential services is small groups. They are likened to the New Testament house churches, where they become the primary source of relational and spiritual support for our members. I cannot imagine not having small groups to keep our members going during this pandemic,” said Pastor Teo.  

Another essential service is the media team, as churches have to pivot towards digital ministry and run online services. 

“God has used a pandemic to strip the church of its excesses and show us what is essential and vital for the future. We need to reinforce our essential services and ministries because we do not know when the next Virus X will appear,” he said.  

Leaders at Summit 2021.

Leaders at the Pastors’ Summit 2021.

It does not mean that pastors and leaders blindly follow what others are doing in their churches, Pastor Teo was quick to add.  

“Every church has its own set of issues and challenges. Ask God to show you what’s really essential for your church,” said Pastor Teo.  

Redefining success

In determining what is essential for the local church, it follows that the very idea of success needs to be redefined.  

In the past, many leaders have defined success in their churches by their weekend attendance, the size of their church premises, and how much they collect in their weekly offerings, said Pastor Teo.  

Initially, Pastor Teo had also taken this old measure of success – the numbers game – and imposed it on the new way of doing ministry online 

“Let’s stop counting numbers of passive attendees and instead produce believers who are actively making disciples.”

He recalled how his online viewership exceeded expectations during the Circuit Breaker, with the number of views more than doubling its usual attendance. It was only when he turned to digital analytics that he realised that the number of views may not equate to the number of unique visitors, nor give any clue as to whether they stayed for the entirety of the sermon.  

“That is when I realised it’s a huge mistake (to look at the numbers alone)! We must ask ourselves what is considered success. Is success about someone finishing the online service passively, from the beginning to the end?” asked Pastor Wilson.  

He submitted to the audience of pastors and leaders that success must be defined by moving passive viewers to engagement and then to involvement in the local church.  

“Let’s get back to discipleship. Today I have 500 people watching me, but they may not be doing anything about the message. Let’s stop counting numbers of passive attendees and instead produce believers who are actively making disciples … and focus on God’s mission for your church,” he urged. 

For the first time since 1996, the Summit was held in Singapore instead of overseas, via a mix of in-person meetings as well as Zoom sessions online.

Passive attendees are easy to identify, he observed, for they come and go, especially during the pandemic.

Post-pandemic, some people may not return to church because they have either opted to attend another church or to remain at home and watch services online with their family. 

“God is preparing us for the events and disruptions that will culminate in His return. Is the body of Christ ready?”

I’m prepared that this is not just a restart to the pre-Covid days, but it is a new start. It is like pioneering a church again,” said Pastor Teo.  

The pandemic, said Pastor Teo, is not only a reset but also an accelerator to the return of Christ. The Church must be ready.

It is also a dry run for more disruptions in the days ahead. He noted that within two decades of SARS, there came Covid-19.  

“God is preparing us for the events and disruptions that will culminate in His return. Is the body of Christ ready for more disruptions?” Pastor Teo challenged the audience of leaders.   

“How should we be ready for the new things of God?” 

For it is written in Isaiah 43:19:  

See, I am doing a new thing! 
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? 
I am making a way in the wilderness 
    and streams in the wasteland.  

________________________________________________________________________

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About the author

Janice Tai

Salt&Light senior writer Janice is a former correspondent who enjoys immersing herself in: 1) stories of the unseen, unheard and marginalised, 2) the River of Life, and 3) a refreshing pool in the midday heat of Singapore.

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