“Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes. For you will spread out to the right and to the left; your descendants will dispossess nations and settle in their desolate cities.” (Isaiah 54:2-3 NIV)
“The LORD will make you the head, not the tail. If you pay attention to the commands of the LORD your God that I give you this day and carefully follow them, you will always be at the top, never at the bottom. Do not turn aside from any of the commands I give you today, to the right or to the left, following other gods and serving them.” (Deuteronomy 28:13-14 NIV)
PJEFC received the above prophecies in the early 1990s. Have they been fulfilled? Planted in 1965 by the early EFC missionaries, Rev. Eric Murray followed by Rev. Benjamin Sawatsky, PJEFC ministered mostly to students and young professionals in the then new suburb of Petaling Jaya at Section 14. “I joined the church in 1969 while studying in University Malaya. In between, our peers started their careers and families,” said former PJEFC Chairman Elder Tan Min Chik, adding that the church was then focused on ministering to the needs of the congregation members as they went through the various stages in life.
The church had a 30-strong congregation in 1967 and had to relocate several times to accommodate its growth. One outcome was the birth of EFC Gospel Centre in SS1 in the 1980s when 40 members chose to continue the outreach work there. The others moved to Taman Megah, Petaling Jaya, where PJEFC grew rapidly from one shoplot to three shoplots and some 650 members, besides teens and children.
The church moved to the current premises, Heritage Centre in October 2002. This was a journey of faith by itself.
What are the factors that have contributed to the growth of PJEFC, which now comprises families, professionals and businesspersons? In what manner have the above prophecies been realised? The prophecies were given in the midst of what the church already had – stable leadership, outreach, resource, and familial ties. “Perhaps what were needed were the recognition, development, empowerment and mobilisation of the members and resources,” PJEFC Chairman Elder Daniel Yeoh suggested.
In the initial five years, Murray and Sawatsky provided strong leadership necessary for the growth of a young church. They were followed by Rev. Allen Tunberg and the late Rev. Loyds Child. Since the foreign missionaries’ stay was short term, the members began to take ownership of the leadership.
In 1972, Dr Clive Beng was elected the first local chairman to lead the church board. Subsequent chairmen include George Tang, Siew Woh, Tan Min Chik, and Daniel Yeoh. The church board – comprising elders, deacons and deaconesses – consisted of mainly lay leaders who were professionals and businesspersons. Several main/senior pastors were also called to serve alongside the church board. They included Rev. Loh Soon Choy, who was the first local pastor (1976-1978), Rev. Dr Tony Lim (1991-1996), Rev. Siew Woh (1997-2004) and Rev. Lim Soon Hock (2007-2012).
Two important features of the leadership are its plurality and unity, two characteristics that have provided the stability and strength for growth.
In its plurality, the church board ensures that all important decisions are made collectively after prayer and careful deliberation. Such unity and maturity were reflected in the way the board handled the charismatic revival issues within the church in the 1980s, and the issues surrounding the departure of its two senior pastors. In all these incidents, the leadership was able to address matters raised by the members thoughtfully, prayerfully and biblically.
“We believe this approach has enabled the church to remain united and move on,” observed Yeoh.
PJEFC has always emphasised outreach – evangelism, missions and social concerns – although there have been times when the church found it hard to sustain the fervour.
Nevertheless, the church continues to plough on, constantly seeking new and more creative avenues to share the gospel. For example, some years ago, it started a sports ministry to reach the youths who frequent the sports complex housed in the church premises. These youths come mainly from the five colleges/universities in the vicinity.
Meanwhile, there is no let-up to its usual evangelistic musical events on Easter, Christmas and special “Harvest Events”.
However, the core evangelistic initiative is the Alpha ministry that encourages exploration of the Christian faith in a non-threatening environment. “Over 20 Alpha courses have been conducted since 2006. About 130 have come to faith, of which 90% have remained in the congregation and 10% going to other churches,” said Aaron Tham, the pastor in charge of the ministry.
In missions, PJEFC sent its first short-term missions team to the interiors of Sabah in 1989. Since then, mission teams and individuals have gone on short-term trips to Sarawak, Pahang, and overseas, as far as Russia and India. The church has sent and supported several medium and long-term missionaries who have either completed their tenure or moved on to other ministries.
In early 2001, a team from PJEFC led by pastors Chin Choon Meow and Irene Lee planted a daughter church, Kepong EFC, at Kepong Industrial Park. The church is now under Pastor Lazarus Chin and is steadily growing.
PJEFC has also launched several outreach programmes: a weekly tuition work among the poor at Kg Sg Kayu Ara; Play Group for mothers with young children; and Bridges Early Intervention Programme (EIP) to help mentally-challenged children by imparting basic learning and living skills. A number of families have become Christians through the Play Group and Bridges EIP.
The church has also partnered with two other churches under the My Kasih programme to provide material assistance to the poor.
Social awareness among the members has also extended to national issues. In the last two general elections, many volunteered as polling agents to help ensure fair and clean elections. “As a church, we’re now more conscious of being salt of the earth and light of the world in this nation,” Yeoh noted. PJEFC has been generously financing its many members serving as full-time workers in Christian organisations and Bible seminaries, as well as missionaries, mission agencies, Christian welfare organisations and the needy. PJEFC Vice-Chairman Elder Tee Wong Heng revealed that about 40% of its annual total expenditure goes towards their support.
With an auditorium that can accommodate 1,200 people, the church has strengthened the stakes through systematic and in-depth teaching of the Word. In the meantime, one Sunday in every quarter is set aside to enhance mission awareness while Easter, Christmas and the Alpha ministry continue to be the avenues for evangelism.
Through all these efforts, PJEFC has been gradually enlarging its tent. The 20-something-year-old prophecies are slowly but surely coming to pass.
YOUNG AND OLD, MARRIED OR SINGLE, THERE’S A PLACE FOR EVERYONE
In its early years, PJEFC teemed with young families and it was natural that families worshipped together. In time, Sunday School and the youth ministry started. While the adults worshipped, their children attended their own programmes, particularly in the late 1980s when the church was at Taman Megah, Petaling Jaya. This segregation, partly due to space constraint, brought about a challenge – many youths who have grown into their mid- to late-30s found it difficult to worship with their parents in the main service. The dropout rate was higher for overseas returnees due to lack of follow-up when they were away.
Active steps have since been taken to prevent this recurrence. One of the strategies is the re-emphasis on the family element after moving to the current Heritage Centre premises. To enable the children to join their parents at the main Sunday worship service, teen meetings are held on Saturdays while parents with young children are encouraged to bring them to the Sunday service before sending them to the Sunday School.
“We’ve observed that children who have attended worship service with their parents adapt more easily to the Sunday service after they’ve left Sunday School,” said PJEFC Pastor Chin Choon Meow.
While PJEFC progresses toward a family church, the word “family” is now defined as “family of God” that includes the singles, widows and widowers. Efforts are focused on ensuring these special members are placed in cell groups where they are supported and loved.
One biblical characteristic that has been developing in the past one year is inter-generational service where the young and the old serve together. “We’ve seen this happening at last year’s Christmas and the recent Easter events. Also at the traffic, worship and sports ministry, the choir and more significantly, in the recently-concluded church camp attended by over 500 members,” Chin added.
Even in the Alpha programme, “we encourage inter-generational discussions and realised that both young and old need to hear each other,” said the Alpha ministry pastor, Aaron Tham. He recalled the incident where a nine-year-old attended the course with his dad. “The child gave his life to Jesus and the dad followed suit,” Tham enthused.
A biblical family and an inter-generational community bonded by Christ’s love is what the PJEFC leadership believed God has inscribed into its DNA. “This is an important characteristic for enlarging our tent because it offers an alternative community of genuine relationship to a fragmented world that is without Christ,” said Chin quoting John 13:34-35.
“As we evolve more and more into an inter-generational family church, and remain relevant to the needs of members while continuing to be a prophetic voice in our community, we’ll be fulfilling God’s calling to our church,” he concluded.
BUILDING DEEP, SENDING OUT
Somehow, God has blessed PJEFC with a sizeable number of theologians, Bible scholars, theologically-trained pastors and laity. As such, one of the church’s main strengths is its training and Christian Education programme.
In the 1970s, the Leadership Assistance Programme (LAP) was started to train local church leaders. Since the mid-1980s, Adult Bible Classes have been conducted and through time, the courses have been formalised into a growth track comprising five growth elements: Connect (fellowship), Grow (God’s Word), Serve (ministry), Go (missions), and Exalt (worship). Along the way, many study materials have been produced to suit the needs of the cell groups.
Youths are the future leaders. The church has therefore embarked on a youth internship programme that has included seminary students to train and familiarise them with full-time work. The programme has produced good thinking youths, but more importantly, many of them have been transformed and are now passionate for the Lord. Meanwhile, the short-term STEP UP programme has trained many Form 5 school leavers before they continue their higher education. An ethos of the church is that members be firmly rooted in the Word so that they have a healthy balance of Biblical knowledge while operating the Holy Spirit’s gifts. Through a strong biblical foundation, they will also be able to engage in essential matters of the faith and society. To encourage members, particularly young people, to go for theological studies, a fund has been set up to help finance their studies.
Those who are theologically trained are free to serve wherever they feel led to. Elder George Ting pointed out, “Some of our trained people are now in other congregations. We do not believe in tying them down. As long as God has called them, we have absolutely no problems.” He cited examples, such as Rev. Loh Soon Choy, Dr Ng Kam Weng and Rev. Dr Lim Kar Yong, who have been teaching in Bible seminaries and in consultation with leaders of other churches and ministries for many years.
One hallmark of PJEFC is its ability to provide material and human resources to churches within EFCM, seminaries and Christian organisations. Upon requests, the church has provided speakers for EFCM churches, leadership training, cell group study materials, consultation and finances. It has also assisted some churches to start the Alpha course.
The leadership sees it as an ongoing privilege and responsibility given by the Lord to continue to share its resources for building God’s Kingdom.