“The way we do church has to change”: Youngest serving theological college president in Malaysia

Via the Salt&Light Malaysia Desk

Michelle Chun // March 30, 2023, 11:40 pm

As a pastor, theologian and academic, Victor hopes to encourage young Malaysians with a heart for full-time ministry to prayerfully consider obeying God’s call. All photos courtesy of Rev Dr Victor Lee.

As a pastor, theologian and academic, Victor hopes to encourage young Malaysians with a heart for full-time ministry to prayerfully consider obeying God’s call. All photos courtesy of Rev Dr Victor Lee.

“The Church needs to keep up with the times and, to do that, we need an overhaul of the ministry mindset,” says Rev Dr Victor Lee, president of the Bible College of Malaysia (BCM).

The 37-year-old is the youngest serving president of a theological college in Malaysia, a post he has held since 2017. It has been an uphill climb for the pastor and scholar in the last five years, and steering a theological college through the pandemic has brought its own lessons.

“We have to understand how ministry is evolving and ensure the Church stays on the ball,” says Rev Victor. “Otherwise, the Church will see dwindling numbers and a disinterested next generation.”

“In the past, it was ‘normal’ to be in church three, four times a week for prayer meetings, Bible study, Sunday service and so on. But not anymore, especially post-pandemic, because demands and priorities have changed.”

Tap into technology

It is necessary to re-strategise and church leaders would be “foolish” not to make use of technology as part of the solution, says Rev Victor.

“Full-time ministry used to be an all-in, give-your-life-to-it decision. Now, ministry commitment is modular and project-based.”

An ongoing challenge, for example, is that churches (in Malaysia) have been seeing a decline in their non-Sunday gatherings such as prayer meetings.

“An option would be to use an online platform for a morning prayer session, where members can log in during their commute to work,” he suggests.

But he also understands the struggles of many church leaders, especially from the Gen X and Boomer generations, to adapt to technology.

“It’s harder for these generations to grasp and adapt quickly; more effort is required because tech these days isn’t built with their natural intuition in mind,” he says.

His advice for senior leaders is to make the effort to learn the basics and seriously consider passing the baton on to the next generation.

At 32, Rev Dr Victor Lee became the youngest serving president of a theological college in Malaysia. His burden is to see the younger generation rise up and take on a mantle of leadership.

“In my opinion, those in their forties are a good option because they’re not too far away from the generations before and after. If no one is suitable, however, you may have to skip a generation and train someone in their thirties.”

A shift in full-time calling

Rev Victor expects a significant number of Malaysian pastors to retire within the next few years, making succession plans all the more critical. But he also notes the struggle to find full-time ministers today.

Rev Victor was installed as the third president of the Bible College of Malaysia in 2017.

“In the past, entering full-time ministry was an all-in, give-your-life-to-it decision. But now, ministry commitment has become modular and more project-based. Long-term loyalty is scarce; it’s the gig economy and that is happening in church too,” Rev Victor notes.

He sees this trend in his student demographics. Of over 700 students enrolled in BCM, only 13 are full-time residential students. The rest are all part-time students, equipping themselves to serve in laity roles as bi-vocational pastors or in the marketplace.

“As ministers today, we have to be creative, flexible and think out of the box. We have to move beyond the ‘Sunday service’ mentality and start thinking about Zoom, WhatsApp, social media, small group discipleship and one-on-one meals to keep our members engaged,” he says.

Lay strong foundations

Rev Victor hopes his journey will inspire others in his generation to commit their lives to ministry. He shares three nuggets for young people considering full-time ministry:

  • Set a realistic goal. Usually, the call to ministry is very exciting and we can become very gung-ho. But take time to lay strong foundations in God’s Word. “Honestly, you can serve without biblical foundations, but if you want to serve in a committed, pastoral way, you need to be able to preach and teach,” he says.
  • Improve your communication skills. A minister should always be aware of the reality of life faced by those he/she serves. Learn how to start and hold meaningful conversations, as these make a big difference in reaching out to the younger generations.
  • Develop a habit of contemplative spirituality. For young ministers, Victor says, emotions can swing. There will be highs and lows. It’s therefore important to regulate your spiritual life to prevent burn-out and falling into a life of sin.

“There is nothing wrong in taking a pause to listen and keep space for God. Be aware of God’s presence. Remember that God is not absent when you choose to sin. Appreciate His grace poured out upon this world. Observe a Sabbath,” he advises.

Embrace the call

The scholar, whose area of focus is the New Testament, circles it all back to Scripture. John 1:1, he said, is one of his favourites and an anchor for his faith:

In the beginning, was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

“One reason is that when I first had to learn Greek, this verse was the easiest to translate,” he jokes.

“Staying relevant is the only way the Church will be a shelter in dark times and a family to those seeking belonging and purpose.”

“But in the four gospels, John 1:1 in my opinion is the strongest verse showing the character, origin, divinity, pre-existence and purpose of Jesus Christ, our Saviour, who came into this world and without whom nothing would make sense.”

As the Church navigates a changing world (and more change is coming, says Rev Victor with certainty), there is a need for young people to rise up and embrace the call of ministry.

Staying relevant is the only way the Church will fulfil its mandate of being salt and light, a shelter in dark times and a family in a world seeking belonging, identity and purpose.

He said: “The way we do church has and will continue to change. If we’re not careful, we will lose the glue of being a real family, which is what the Church is meant to be in this world.

“Being a family takes effort and time. My hope is that believers will be willing to sacrifice for the cause of Jesus Christ.”


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About the author

Michelle Chun

Michelle Chun believes in the power of the pen (or keyboard) to inspire conversation, influence change and impact people. She believes that everyone has a story, and her prayer is for every heart to discover the joy of knowing God.