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“We need an overhaul of the ministry mindset”: – Rev Dr Victor Lee, BCM president

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

The 38-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 six years, and steering a theological college through a pandemic has brought its own learnings. 

“We have to understand how ministry is evolving and ensure the Church stays on the ball,” he said. “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,” he said. 

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.

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 suggested. 

But Victor 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 said. 

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. 

“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

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 noted the struggle to find full-time ministers today. 

“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,” Victor said. 

He sees this trend in his student demographics. Of the 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 said. 

Rev Victor is observing a shift towards more modular ministry; there are many more students in lay ministry today.

Lay strong foundations

Victor hopes to inspire others in his generation to commit their lives to ministry. He shared 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 said. 
  • 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 said, 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 advised. 

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. – John 1:1

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

“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, Victor said 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. 

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

All photos provided by Rev Dr Victor Lee.

This article was first published in Salt&Light.

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