It’s July 2021. Everything feels like déjà vu. Again, we are emerging from a ‘lockdown’ and easing of restrictions. Again, we are mostly working from home. Again, churches are caught wondering whether to continue online or with physical worship services.
This being said, things have actually evolved over the past year. The economic fallout we feared did materialize in many quarters of our economy – in the retail stores, F&B outlets, and travel agencies, for example. On the geopolitical front, relationships have worsened among countries, particularly between US and China. While vaccines were developed and rolled out in record time, new COVID-19 variants have also emerged. There seems to be no end to this pandemic. All these are taking place in the midst of digital disruptions that seem to be occurring in every industry, including theological education!
Yet, not all news is bad. Many churches have discovered that their online worship services are serving people not only locally but overseas. More importantly, many of these newcomers would never have joined a worship service if it remained physical! This has motivated many churches to transform themselves to become decentralized hybrid churches – smaller micro-churches or groups connected together through digital means, so as to better serve their existing communities and these newcomers.
Having robbed us of our church programmes, the pandemic is also forcing both churches and Christians to ask fundamental questions about our faith. What did our programmatic or activist church lifestyles amount to? What really matters for Christian living? Have we been caught up with our earthly comforts so much that we have forgotten our heavenly goals?
Since July last year, BGST has also been asking, “What does this new norm mean for the school’s future?” “Do we need to reinvent ourselves to better serve our students?” “How do we choose between the good and the better, when faced with a myriad of options?”
First and foremost, our fundamentals don’t change. We are still called to love Christ and our neighbour. Everything we do must help our students, churches and ourselves move closer to this goal. Yet, at the same time, the Christian life is not formulaic, whereby as long as we are faithful to Christ and obey His Spirit’s guidance, He will lead us to prosperity and success, whether this is in our businesses, careers or ministries.
To be sure, God’s people have enjoyed success because of their faithfulness – Abraham, David and Solomon, for example. At the same time, many have also suffered because of their obedience to Christ. One figure who comes to mind is the Apostle Paul. When he speaks of suffering producing perseverance, character and hope (Rom 5:3), he speaks out of personal experience. Once, the afflictions he suffered in Asia were so bad, he despaired of life itself (2 Cor 1:8). On another occasion, he experienced a “thorn in the flesh” that troubled him so much he had nothing to lean on but Christ’s promise, “my grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor 12:9). It seems then that all our experiences, whether success or struggles, are the means of encountering Christ’s love, to deepen our experience of our Lord. Ignatius of Loyola puts this poignantly,
All the things in this world are gifts of God, presented to us so that we can know God more easily and make a return of love more readily. As a result, we appreciate and use all these gifts of God insofar as they help us develop as loving persons. … We should not fix our desires on health or sickness, wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or a short one. For everything has the potential of calling forth in us a deeper response to our life in God.
Over the last year, the BGST team has discerned much as to how the school may transform itself so as to better equip God’s people, especially the laity. We have thought hard and prayed earnestly as to the areas we should focus on, as opposed to those which are done better by other theological colleges.
In the new academic year, several of these new initiatives will be launched. While we hope that these initiatives will be successful, we also recognise what Scripture and our spiritual forefathers have taught us earlier. The ministry of BGST is also the means God uses to help everyone in the school, from the Principal to the administrative officer, to experience Christ’s love; to sanctify us of our idols, our false sense of securities, and our misplaced expectations… to face our dark side, so that we shall be transformed anew into the image of Christ.
Yes, this means that troubles or conflicts may arise. Difficulties will also occur. I confess, like so many of us, that I like stories of triumph over adversity only when they happen to others. But not to me. Yet, if we are true to Christ’s teachings, we must have the spiritual freedom, as Ignatius outlined above, to embrace whatever we encounter as we follow God’s leading and will. This will not be easy.
So, as the new academic year begins, on behalf of the BGST team, we seek your prayers for grace, love, and perseverance, whenever we encounter adversities in our ministry ahead, whenever we encounter our dark sides. Pray for spiritual freedom, so that we do not hold on stubbornly to our own expectations or our goals, but be attentive to what God is teaching us, through both our successes and failures. Amen.