My second last retreat/camp for the year was with a group of Malaysian Methodists held in Cameron Highlands. It was a significant time and I heaved a sigh of relief thinking it was my last camp/retreat of the year. Then Bernice reminded me there was one more—the Christalite Methodist Chapel camp. My Malaysian friends prayed for me that not only would I have the strength to minister at the Christalite camp but that I would be blessed by it. Their prayers were answered.
Bernice and I were very blessed by the Christalite camp. We were warmly received by the pastors, the lay leaders and the campers. There are camps where people are polite and you feel more like a service provider. There are camps where you are made to feel like a member of the community. We were warmly welcomed at the Christalite camp.
Christalite is among the smaller of the TRAC (Trinity Annual Conference) Methodist churches in Singapore. They were conscious of their size but not too much. We were glad. Bernice and I are disturbed by the fixation on numbers as a means to rank churches. While a large number of people responded to the gospel on Pentecost, most churches in the first 300 years of the history of the church were 30–40 people gathered in homes. These were not cell groups as we know them. Each gathering was a church. Yet that was the period that the church grew rapidly. Numbers per se cannot be the main criterion for the health of a church.
By the end of the Christalite camp we saw that this was a church of many strengths. Young and old they took their faith seriously, were teachable, and committed to practice what they learned. In my last word to the camp I pointed out one strength that I felt could be something they could model for other churches, even the larger ones. Christalite had a healthy intergenerational approach to church life.
Young and old, and those in between, had key leadership roles at the camp. There was mutual respect and a lot of good-willed humour and laughter. During the time for sharing, one older member of the church shared that she was surprised that a younger member chose to sit next to her and took interest in her. Babies were welcomed. There was a room set aside for parents with young children, and campers took turns to carry the little ones so that their parents could participate more in the camp activities.
My highlight of the camp was a group of young girls, three from primary six and one from primary five, who sat in the front row. They were given the option to go to a programme more appropriate to their age but they chose to stay. This made me a bit nervous because I have a phobia of speaking to anyone younger than those doing their O-levels.
But they listened as I preached and, no, they were not interacting with their phones. After my session, I approached them with fear and trembling and asked if the talk was boring. They said no. Then I asked what was their main takeaway from the sermon. (I had preached on the parable of the prodigal son.) They said, “don’t eat the fatted calf.” They were kidding—I think. So seniors, toddlers, primary schoolers, young adults, not so young adults—all belonged.
So many churches divide their ministries according to age groups. I am not saying that there is no place for age-specific ministries. But often these ministries become silos with minimal interaction between them. I think church is family and should therefore be intergenerational, where the young learn from the old and the old learn from the young, and every sub-group in the church is valued and plays its part.
The gospel has the power to connect man and God, and one evidence of this is its ability to connect man and man. The early church was an inclusive community where Jews and Greeks, men and women, and folks of different social status were welcomed and treated as equal. I am not saying that there isn’t a lot of hard work to be done to build bridges of understanding between various sub-groups. But in the power of the Spirit it can happen and we saw healthy evidence of this during the Christalite camp.
If you ask me, a truly intergenerational church is a better apologetic of the gospel than numbers. I am glad that Christalite wasn’t too apologetic about her size. And the Lord may very well grow her numerically as well. But she is a great church and we were glad to be with this family in our last church camp for the year.