Two Sundays ago, I shared this letter with our church family:
To our church family:
On behalf of our family, I’d like to share some news with you all.
After much prayer and discussion, Cheryl and I have found ourselves united and sure that by God’s grace, I should pursue training at bible college, with a view to full-time gospel ministry. With the advice of those around us, our plan is to move to Sydney, Australia to study full-time in 2017, which is in 18 months’ time.
This has been a difficult decision to make. We love our family here at Howick Baptist Church. For 8 years you have been family to us. And we also know that, for some, there may still be confusion and unanswered questions about this interim period. Perhaps as you’re hearing this, some of you are thinking “Oh, not again.”
Yet you might recall that last month, the Lord confronted us all in a sermon from Acts 6:1-7 about the need to prioritise between what’s good, and what’s best. It would certainly be a good thing for us to remain here the rest of our life and to continue serving as we currently do. But with the need for gospel workers in New Zealand, I believe that the best thing for us is to step out in faith and be properly equipped for a lifetime of Word and prayer ministry.
This call is both internally desired and externally affirmed, through the encouragement of our elders, Jay Behan, Calvyn Jonker, Peter Somervell, Joe Fleener, Richard Cutforth and others.
The Apostle Paul’s instruction to Timothy was this: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15).
So here is our rough plan for the next 18 months:
– I will continue working in my current job as a medical writer, but I will also be serving 2 days a week at HBC in order to gain ministry experience.
– I will apply to study at Sydney Missionary Bible College in Australia, commencing in 2017.
– We will keep serving here at HBC until then in all the different areas we’re involved in.
– We will begin approaching individuals, churches and Christian trusts on whether they would prayerfully consider financially supporting our family.
Friends, we plan all this, knowing that ultimately it is the Lord that directs our steps.
Please come and chat with us if you have questions or concerns. We’re happy to share more in person.
For now, it’s life as usual for the Chongs here with HBC. We count it a joy to partner with you all as we strive together for the gospel. “It is He whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” (Colossians 1:28)
Friends, we plan all this, knowing that ultimately it is the Lord that directs our steps. Perhaps Christ will return before we make it to seminary. Perhaps one of us will be called to be with Him. Regardless, we count it a joy to trust in the LORD who owns the cattle on a thousand hills, who clothes the flowers and feeds the birds of the air, who loved us while we were still enemies by giving His only Son Jesus as a perfect sacrifice for our sins, and who we are privileged to call ‘Abba, Father’.
Here are some prayer items:
- For each of us to grow in our love for Christ, His Gospel and His church during this time.
- For Cheryl and I to serve each other with gratitude and to communicate with each other well as we prepare and plan for significant changes to our family.
- For our girls to grow to become women who love Christ.
- For the ministries we are currently involved in and for the Lord to raise up others to continue in our place.
- For individuals, churches and trusts that might desire to support us financially.
- For the members of HBC as we continue to seek the Lord’s direction for the future.
Some questions answered up-front
Do you think you’re called to ministry?
In one sense, the answer is simply ‘yes’.
I, like every Christian, have been called to take up my cross and follow Jesus, and to take part in the work of whatever ministry God places in front of us – marriage, family, church, community, world.
A more specific question however, is this: “Does God want my specific ministry to be as a leader in the church, and to serve by equipping others in gospel ministry?”
And over the past few years, through the encouragement and example of those around us, including our elders, it’s become clear that yes, God is calling me to be set apart to lead and train others for gospel ministry. God’s gradually changed our desire for more gospel workers, and our willingness to be used by God for this purpose.
(Tim Grant has a helpful write-up on being “called” to ministry)
Why seminary/Bible college?
Seminary is no replacement for practical ministry experience in a local church – what I’ve been involved in at Howick since 2008 (and would continue to do while in Australia). But a good seminary provides a dedicated environment to learn skills that most local churches aren’t in a place to provide, such as Greek and Hebrew original languages, church history, biblical and systematic theology and so on. We see seminary as a place to equip us with the skills and foundations for a lifetime of Word ministry in a local church context.
The advice we’ve been given is that the sooner we go, the better. We’re told that with a family, the longer you leave it the harder it is to get to bible college (particularly once they enter school age), and the adjustments to the family are more difficult to handle as children get older. So there’s no time like the present.
At the same time we know that our church family is in a transitional time. That’s a big reason why we’re not leaving straight away – we want to help out through next year, when (Lord willing) we’ll have a new Senior Pastor.
That’s why the plan is to start in 2017 (a year and a half away). We also hope that this gives a good timeframe for us gradually hand over our ministry responsibilities to other capable individuals, and to train others up to continue serving the Lord.
Based on the advice and counsel of those around us, we believe that SMBC would be an excellent seminary to be thoroughly equipped for whatever God has in store for us. In the Lord’s kindness I was able to visit the campus earlier this year for a block course, and met the Principal and others from New Zealand who were studying there. All this helped me to see the benefits of studying in a close-knit campus environment with proper training in the original languages, church history, theology, as well as a robust practical programme including preaching, counselling and pastoral care.
Also, Cheryl was actually born in Australia so there may be a little bit assistance for her while we’re there (as a Kiwi though, William gets no help – hence our need for support).
Where do you want to serve in full-time ministry?
Ideally Auckland – we see the need for more healthy, gospel-centred churches in New Zealand’s largest city. There’s a decent pipeline of theologically-trained workers heading to other areas of New Zealand, but not so much to Auckland. And having lived here most of our lives, we want to see our communities here changed by the gospel.
Yet ultimately we’re happy to trust God in where He directs us – as John Newton puts it, “tis grace hath brought us safe thus far, and grace will lead us home.”
Are you moving because of the ongoing changes at Howick?
No. Cheryl and I visited Howick Baptist for the first time in April 2008. We began attending regularly from July that year, and quickly found ourselves surrounded by a community that cared for us and was eager to proclaim the good news of Jesus in word and deed.
8 years on we’re still committed members of HBC (even as others have come and gone). In fact, it’s through serving with our HBC family through thick and thin that we’ve seen how much we love gospel ministry, as well as how inadequately equipped we are for the many questions that come up when we open the Bible and share it with others.
It would certainly be a good thing to remain at Howick the rest of our life and to keep serving as we currently do. But with the urgent need for gospel workers in New Zealand, I believe that the best thing for us is to step out in faith and be properly equipped for a lifetime of Word ministry.
We’ll keep sharing and journaling our thoughts as we continue serving the Lord in our momentary marriage and ministry – whatever it looks like in the years to come.
In the meantime, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We look forward to sharing more in person.