I first felt the Lord’s nudging towards church consultation during the later part of my second decade of pastoral ministry. At that time I didn’t know that such a ministry existed nor did I have the term for it. After about 30 years of pastoral ministry, in 2014, I took the first step to make the transition. I had little knowledge about what I was doing. As you can imagine, I was happy for the training I received from Jim Barber and the Society for Church Consulting in 2018. It was extremely helpful.
While pastoring I had read many books including Peter Wagner’s works on church growth, Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church, Christian Schwarz’s Natural Church Development, Thom Rainer’s and Eric Geiger’s Simple Church, Gary McIntosh’s One Size Doesn’t Fit All and Aubrey Malphurs’ Advanced Strategic Planning. They were instrumental in shaping my philosophy of church ministry. The way I led the churches under my care reflected my convictions. I had come to the conclusion that it was critically important for churches to be healthy so that they can grow. On hindsight, the Lord was already preparing me for a ministry of church consultation with a focus on church health.
Secondly, my interactions with other pastors showed me that many of them needed help with developing their churches. I was so glad when I said something or shared something that I had done in my own church which helped them, or when I introduced a book to them that addressed their need. All I wanted was for the Lord to use me to empower others, especially other pastors, on how to do church.
The organiser in me had planned for a long and orderly transition from pastoral ministry to church consulting. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out in my last church and I was thrusted into consulting much sooner than I had planned. I was ill prepared. I also felt that my credibility would be questioned. I had imagined that with success stories of turnaround churches I would be seen as a probable good church consultant. Nonetheless, I have learnt to accept the different outcomes in the two churches I pastored, and to draw from the experiences when I consult churches.
My engagements in church consultation so far have been intermittent. Most of them have been one-off. A few required return visits. Most of them concerned a specific area of ministry like leadership, church structure, small groups or a discipleship program. A few opportunities arose for a church health analysis.
The work of church consultation in Malaysia faces a number of challenges.
- Church consultation is a totally new concept among pastors and churches in Malaysia. When I tell people what I do, it will almost always draw a surprised or confused look.
- Pastors cannot imagine why they would need the services of a church consultant. They may also be fearful about what a church consultant may uncover in their church.
- Pastors don’t understand the importance of church health and the need for a church health analysis.
- Church leaders are not willing to pay for the use of church health analysis instruments.
- There is none or little follow through with the recommendations. The consultant or other specialists are not engaged to provide guidance, training and assistance in the implementation of the recommendations.
Despite the challenges, my dream is to see church consultation teams being formed for every denomination or groups of churches in Malaysia and for every language group under their respective umbrella (Malay, Chinese, Tamil and English).
I believe that church consultants have a role—to come alongside pastors and leaders to help them develop their churches (especially to be healthy growing churches that fulfil the Great Commission). It’s exciting to be a pioneer in this area of ministry in Malaysia, though I do not pretend that it’s going to be an easy journey.