How the EFCM was formed and its focus on Christian Education
By Rev. Dr Eddy Ho
As the number of Evangelical Free Church (EFC) churches grew, there was a need for a body that would bring together all the local EFCs for fellowship and cooperation. On July 14, 1961, the EFC of Malaya was born and registered with the Singapore government. Subsequently it was also registered with the then Federation of Malaya.
This was called the “National Board” and its purpose was for mutual fellowship, encouragement, advice and cooperation. Participation in the National Board was entirely voluntary and in this way, it respected the autonomy of the local churches. Every EFC, being a member of the National Board, would appoint representatives to sit on the National Board.
In 1967, due to the changes of the political situationin the two countries, the name “National Board” was changed to “Evangelical Free Church of Malaysia/Singapore” to keep in line with the political moves. Soon there was the problem of logistics. The churches were now further away from one another and this prevented members from attending meetings regularly.
Therefore in 1974, the National Board split into two boards – the Evangelical Free Church of Malaysia (EFCM) and the Evangelical Free Church of Singapore. However, the EFCM encountered some problems with the existing organisation and so in 1975, it was de-registered. Preparations immediately got under way to re-register the Malaysian Board and in 1978, itwas officially registered with the Malaysian government as a society.
The role of the EFCM however, remained the same as it was formerly before the separation into two boards (fellowship, encouragement and cooperation among all the EFCs in the country). What one particular local church could not handle on its own, the EFCM would coordinate corporate efforts from other churches to help in the ministry.
Since the beginning of the EFCM, there had been an emphasis on Christian Education. The following are some of the efforts at trying to promote the educational programme of the denomination.
The Berean Bible Correspondence School
The first effort in Christian education was the Berean Bible Correspondence School. This was first introduced in Singapore in 1963 under the supervision of the National Board. Initially there was only one correspondence course conducted in English, but in 1969, it had increased to three. Also in 1969, the correspondence school was moved to Malacca where it came under the direction of Miss Sumie Yokouchi, a missionary of the EFC of Japan. When Yokouchi was not permitted to return to the country as a missionary, Mr Nathan took over the direction of the school. This went on for a few years until it was finally terminated.
Malayan Evangelical Beacon
The Malayan Evangelical Beacon was first published in 1961 by the missionaries in Malacca. After the third issue, the National Board took over its publication. The purpose of Beacon was to disseminate news and information of interest to members of the EFCs in both Malaysia and Singapore. This continued until 1968 when the last issue of Beacon was published.
Rev. Ben Sawatsky was desirous of seeing Beacon become a Christian magazine for the general public. So in 1969, the Malayan Evangelical Beacon became the Asian Beacon, under the editorship of Sawatsky. Later the editorship was given over to Morris Palmer. However, because of the heavy financial burden it placed on the EFC, the concern was sold to a Christian in Malacca. Later, the base of operation for the magazine was moved to Kuala Lumpur. It continues to be published today as an independent Christian magazine.
In 1972, the EFC of Malaysia and Singapore came to a crossroad in the ministry. At that time, there was a critical leadership crisis in these churches (three in Singapore and three in Malaysia). Missionaries from the EFC of America Overseas Missions Board continued to fill prominent roles in such areas as teaching, preaching, baptising, performing weddings and funerals, and general pastoral advisors to each local congregation.
Of the six congregations, only one had its own national pastor. It was not that formal theological training was not stressed. By 1972, the EFC of Malaysia and Singapore had sent out a total of 15 young men and women to an officially recognised Bible College, but only one of them returned to pastor an EFC, and that was several years after his graduation.
Because of this, a strategy session was held at the end of 1972 and several reasons were given for what had happened. Without exception, all the 15 young men and women sent to Bible College went there immediately after their Form 5 education. Furthermore, hardly any of themwent to Bible College with the blessing of their home churches. So there was no consultation between the Bible College and the local churches where these people had come from. Lastly, their calling to the ministry was not confirmed by their respective churches and there was no close relationship between the local church and the graduates.
To overcome this problem, the Leadership Assistance Programme was launched. Through a personal need and ministry-oriented curriculum, training was given to “laymen and laywomen” who were already in the ministry in the local churches. For the most part, the students of LAP were career men and women who were already leaders in the local churches. Their motive to enrolling in the LAP was not for career advancement or job security, but for the ministries they were involved in.
The year that the LAP was launched, 18 men and women enrolled in the three Malaysian EFCs.From the outset, the programme was undergirded by three principles:
- The “universal ministry of all believers” was recognised. There was to be no clergy-laity dichotomy.
- The “with Him” concept of training. Jesus appointed 12 disciples “that they might be with Him”. (Mark 3:14) In the LAP, a great deal of emphasis was placed on the teacher’s role as a model for the Christian life and ministry.
- The principle of “to faithful men” (2 Timothy 2:2). The students of the LAP knew fully well that the material they studied would soon be taught by them to their respective congregations.
Later the LAP was used as a church-planting strategy. Church-planting teams would be trained under the LAP in new church-planting situations to be able to cope with the ministry of the outreach.
The author was the executive secretary of the national board from 1983 to 1992, when he resigned to join the Malaysia Bible Seminary.
Mr Nathan was himself a convert from Hinduism at the Malacca EFC.
This was originally called the “Lay Assistance Programme.” Later it was decided that the name placed too much emphasis on the dichotomy between the clergy and the laity. So the name was changed to “Leadership Assistance Programme,” while still retaining the acronym“LAP”.