Passing the Baton

By Rev. Dr. John Kao

I have always made it a priority throughout my life long ministry with the ACEM churches to pass along the baton. Perhaps the first time was when I handed the baton to Rev.Sam Chan to lead the Lawrence Church, which later became RHCCC. Other successors who picked up my leadership batons at various times and under various circumstances included Rev. Harding Ng (TCCC), Rev Dominic Tse (NYCCC), my coworkers at WTCCC, and Rev. Stephen Yao (the Millilken CCC). Now I find myself passing the baton again to a new ACEM General Director, a position that I gave up and left vacant when I became the General Secretary of CCCOWE in 2001. Since then, I have taken on the role and title of ACEM Founding Pastor and Advisor.

I. The Perfect Will of God in My Illness

My illness this year has prompted me to urgently recruit a new ACEM General Director, a position required by ACEM’s constitution. As Founding Pastor and Advisor, I feel constrained in fulfilling all the responsibilities that are required of a General Director. One such example is that I can only sign the documents for newly ordained pastors on an interim basis, on behalf of the “absentee” General Director. I deeply believe there is a divine will behind my illness and that at the right time He would wonderfully provide the right candidate for the position.

A. Gratitude for love received: I am touched by the prayers and good wishes of pastors, brothers and sisters from the ACEM churches during my illness. Their heartfelt notes and gifts have warmed my heart.

B. Empathy for the ailing brothers and sisters: My bodily aches and pains have opened my eyes to the plight of  the sick. Some have endured pain much more severe than mine, but I can now say I can truly feel and share in their sufferings.

C. Patience while waiting for healing: For the last few months, I have undergone treatment with a gastroenterologist at the York Central Hospital for my internal bleeding, but without improvement. This experience has helped me better relate to the woman in the Bible who had bled for twelve years but still had hope for God’s healing. In the meantime, I am learning to live with my cycles of high and low energy levels before and after each blood transfusion performed to boost my haemoglobin counts.

D. Prayer for a new generation of leaders: When I think about the aging leadership of ACEM and the Chinese theological education in Canada, I pray earnestly for God’s guidance. May God allow my coworkers to see the need to recruit a new cohort of leaders, and also to provide them with fitting successors to take the baton.

E. Appreciation of others’ gifts and dedication: When I listened to the sermons of ACEM pastors during my prior visits to the various churches, I was amazed at how gifted they are.  It is comforting to see that the new generation of preachers are outshining their mentors and predecessors. I am also pleased to see that my coworkers are supportive of each other and sharing one another’s burdens.

II. Reflecting on God’s Calling in My Early Years

A. Seek and save the lost (Switching from fundraising to church planting): My passion for saving lost souls stems

from my own salvation experience. Before I accepted Christ, I thought I was doing fine as a responsible and mature young man -- until the Holy Spirit revealed to me that I was full of sin deep inside. I realized that many people are in the same boat, in that they are not aware of their sins or their need for a Saviour. When the Holy Spirit called me into full-time ministry, I was deeply burdened to evangelize and plant churches. Not only did I

want to evangelize to the poor and homeless, but also to the rich and powerful (much like Zacchaeus), telling them with courage that “You are lost; and you need a Saviour!” Soon after I arrived in Canada in 1969, the CNEC Director came to Vancouver from San Jose to see me. He invited me to do fundraising in North America for missionaries in Africa and South East Asia. He saw that my U.S. education and fluency in English would qualify me for the job. Then, for several years, I continued to raise large sums of money for CNEC annually until one day I remembered that God’s calling for me was not merely in fundraising. In fact, my initial call was to evangelize, plant churches and save souls. That’s why I started the ACEM churches.

B. Study hard and be well equipped (Turning Egyptian Gold into Temple Utensils for God): I had always been a top student in mainland China and loved learning. But in 1949, after my family fled to Hong Kong as refugees, my father (who spoke neither Cantonese nor English, and was too old to do manual labour) became unemployed. Being the oldest son, I quit school at about age 15 to start working as an apprentice in a factory to support my family. Not being able to study was a tremendous blow to me. After working in the factory for some time, I contracted tuberculosis and was hospitalized for nine months. While I was recuperating, Rev. Tung May Ngan visited me in Cheung Chau, and informed me about a new seminary and encouraged me to enroll in it. I was hesitant at first, but through God’s wonderful guidance I was able to enroll in the Bible Seminary of Hong Kong eventually. After I graduated from seminary at around age 21, I volunteered in a church and also taught in its affiliated Christian primary school. I firmly believed that I should further my education whenever there is an opportunity, so I enrolled in the evening courses at the United College. Besides studying, I taught 34 classes a week. During the weekends, I led a Youth Group, taught Sunday school and volunteered as a translator in the mornings. In the evenings, I repeated the same busy work load at another church. There was a pastor who advised me against pursuing a university education, viewing it as worldly knowledge and therefore not worth considering. However I felt differently. To me, education in and of itself is neutral – much like the gold the Israelites collected from the Egyptians when they left the country. The same gold could be turned into a golden calf in the hands of Aaron, or it could become useful utensils for God’s temple in Moses’ hands. So after my graduation from the United College in Hong Kong, I went to New York to further my education with only US$100 in my pocket. Later, I received my master’s degree with distinction. Throughout my life, I continued to further my education and acquired a total of two bachelors, two masters and two doctoral degrees. I have always put a high premium on education, and encouraged the ACEM pastors to further their studies through the establishment of a Workers Development Fund.

C. Train disciples to press on toward the goal (Humbly letting others serve and take charge): My motto in life is “Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, pressing on toward the goal” (Phi.3:13). This has guided my approach to disciple training in the ACEM churches. I tried my best to create opportunities for the younger generations to serve, and pass on to them my goals and direction for ACEM. We began with only one church at the Lawrence site, and then added TCCC at the Agincourt site. From 1975 to 1981, I took care of these two churches, delivering eight different sermons alone in the morning and afternoon services each month. It was not until 1982 that we recruited Rev. Samuel Ng to serve with me. Instead of hiring more staff to meet the challenges of two growing churches, I encouraged and let Rev. Sam Chan and Rev. Andrew Lau, both laymen then, to emerge and serve. Rev. Sam Chan graduated from the seminary in 1982 and started serving the English congregation at TCCC. After Rev. Samuel Ng requested a transfer to TCCC from Lawrence (primarily a student and young career-based congregation), Rev. Sam Chan was relocated to take charge of the Lawrence Church, which later evolved into RHCCC. Meanwhile, Elder Harding Ng was ordained and later became the Pastor of TCCC. I think there is nothing more honourable than being a pastor, so I take both my role of evangelization and discipleship training seriously. My guiding principle in discipleship training is to help my disciples excel until they become more outstanding than I. I would never groom them to solely serve me and promote my self-interest.

D. Be worry free, be a happy giver (Grateful for my wife’s support and our mutual commitment to world missions): I have never discussed my salary in any of the church board meetings. Not even once! I consider evangelism and Christian education as occupying a higher priority than my remuneration, and therefore more deserving of ACEM’s financial support. Fortunately, my wife’s employment with the University of Toronto has spared the church from covering my medical insurance and other benefits over the years. Her serving alongside me in the visitation ministry and Sunday school as well as her participation in the church choir and other areas are very much appreciated. Even though we don’t consider ourselves wealthy, our firm belief that “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35) has motivated us to give generously to ACEM and various Christian organizations every year.

III. Visions and Missions of the ACEM Churches

A. Unity and Love (Relationships are more important than works): I have always taken the position that maintaining mutual care and concern among our coworkers is far more valuable than achieving efficiency in the ministries. So whenever our coworkers are involved in a heated debate over certain ministry-related issues and fail to see the perspectives of the other side at a church meeting, I ask both sides to cool off and lay the issue to rest. I often remind them: “If this is God’s will, it will be fulfilled and nothing can stop it from happening.” It is my hope that all ACEM churches can strive to maintain unity and love for one another.

B. Discipleship Training (Others are more important than ourselves): Discipleship training in churches is different from that of secular organizations, where advancement is achieved at the expense of others. We do not train others to serve our self-interests and elevate ourselves. Discipleship training in the kingdom of God is to help others develop their potential to a point that they can exceed us. This concept of not holding on to any position and letting those who are capable to take over has stuck with me since my youth. My mother, who was a cofounder of the Hong Kong Kai Tak Christian Church with my father, had always assumed that I should become the pastor of her church after I graduated from the Bible seminary. Since she had worked so hard in visitation, evangelism and in establishing the church, she felt it was natural for me to be the pastor there. My wise and respectable response to her at that time was, “The church is the house of God. It is not a family business, with the son succeeding the father. If God is going to use me, He can use me anywhere in this world. If I am not fit for God’s use, I’ll have no place in my own church.”

C. Church Planting (Saving souls is more important than church properties): I consider church buildings to be simply instruments to facilitate the work of saving more souls. For example, after TCCC (the first Chinese church in Scarborough) was built in 1981, the size of the congregation multiplied exponentially. However, I have always clung to the principle that the church building is only a means to an end; therefore, I have not signed my name on any land or building transaction documents in the past few decades.

D. World Missions (Missions, both far and near, are important): It is true that ACEM places great emphasis on world missions, but we do not neglect local missions. I often challenge brothers and sisters who have applied for support to overseas short term missions trips to think about why they would be fit to evangelize abroad when they have not led anyone to Jesus locally in the past three years. To me, evangelism to places both far and near places is equally important.

E. Social Concern (Meeting spiritual needs is more important than material needs): While ACEM churches should bear good testimony and be the salt and light of the world, I still think that saving souls should take priority over meeting the physical needs of people.

IV. Recommendation for Rev. Simon Wong to be ACEM General Director

In the absence of an ACEM General Director, co-workers still come to me for consultation and assistance. As I am advancing in age and my health is declining, I feel the time is ripe for a co-worker to step up and take over the full responsibilities of ACEM. The leadership of the General Director will ensure ACEM runs more smoothly and is in a better position to expand.  ACEM differs from other denominations in that it does not have a centralized office, like the Alliance Churches, to take care of personnel transfers. ACEM churches, on the other hand, have their own autonomy in acquiring and managing their own properties and individualizing the focus of their ministries. The role of ACEM is to assist its churches in succeeding in their own respective missions. We have talked about finding a successor to be the new ACEM General Director for several years and made several attempts to recruit Rev. Simon Wong, based on God’s guidance and his past ministry portfolios. But it is until now that Rev. Wong is ready and willing to take up the directorship. Rev. Wong is a good match for the position for the following reasons:

• He loves God, loves people and shows humility: Rev. Simon Wong has a good reputation and leads an exemplary life through his testimony. He loves God and people, and is humble.

• He is an encourager and a good administrator: Rev. Wong has demonstrated good administrative skills through his long service at RHCCC, a very large church. He was able to work in harmony with Rev. Sam Chan and the deacons. His strengths lie in his fairness in handling administrative matters, and in his readiness to give encouragement to his co-workers.

• He has a passion for missions and church planting: Rev. Wong has always fully engaged in world evangelism, and actively participated in planting and building churches.

• He seeks unity in spreading the Gospel: Rev. Wong has strived to serve in unity with others in team settings, and to work diligently in spreading the Gospel for many years.

• He is willing to be second in command, to help others succeed: Despite the fact that Rev. Wong has the ability to lead a church on his own, he has been willing to take on the role of Senior Associate Pastor at RHCCC, assisting Rev. Sam Chan and his team to become successful in their endeavours.

* ACEM Leaders and Advisory Team

It was Rev. Simon Wong who first saw the importance of creating a structure to promote coordination and cohesiveness among the ACEM leaders and proposed the establishment of an ACEM Advisory Team.

A. Group planning to promote growth: So far the fellowship among church leaders has been limited to the ACEM Council and ACEM Conference, and we seldom have time to pray together and share our experiences. I believe that if we spend more time sharing and strategizing collectively, ACEM can be empowered to achieve greater things in the future.

B. Commonality and individuality of ACEM churches: While ACEM is responsible for areas of common interest, such as global missions ministry, church planting, group benefits, continuing education, short-term missions and more, internal church matters should be resolved by each individual church. The boundaries between the two should not be blurred.  Pastors should view their deacons as coworkers and relate to their deacon teams harmoniously. There should be a clear division of labour, with the former taking care of the spiritual matters, and the latter the administrative and financial affairs. Unfortunately, those pastors who take the perspective that their deacons are their boss or employer tend to run into labour disputes pertaining to salary and benefit issues, and hence hinder their church from flourishing.

C. Dedication in serving and enduring faithfulness: I am thankful to our Heavenly Father that TCCC was the first church that I ever served as a pastor, and will probably be my last. My 37-year ministry at ACEM churches has inadvertently encouraged our coworkers to serve long term. Rev. Sam Chan has served for over 30 years after graduating from seminary in 1982. Rev. Harding Ng has also served as a layman for several decades before becoming a full-time minister. It is my hope that the ACEM pastors will dedicate themselves to their own churches during their most productive years. Although I have participated in ministries beyond ACEM, such as GCC, ACCTE and CCCOWE, I have always based my ministry in the ACEM churches. I considered all my external ministries as secondary to ACEM, and I have never been distracted from my focus. Consequently, people have always identified Rev. Kao with ACEM.

D. Unity in ACEM and uniqueness among local churches: It is crucial that the individual churches recognize and uphold the special common characteristics of ACEM. However, the churches should also work diligently towards its unique goals and mission, and continuously seek for improvement in the future.

E. Sharing of gifts and resources in mutual support: At present, there are large and small churches within ACEM. The larger ones are analogous to large hospitals, blessed with many specialties and an abundance of human resources. For example, their Sunday Services, small groups and caring ministries are well developed and highly organized. But do not keep these special gifts and blessings within your own church; instead, share your resources with other churches. To that end, I have invited coworkers in the pastoral fellowship in the past two years for lunch on a regular basis with the purpose of bringing coworkers of similar ministries at different churches to sit together, exchange experience and share ideas.

My ministry at the ACEM churches is my lifelong commitment to God and my fellow men. Thank you, Heavenly Father, for giving me a group of wonderful and gifted coworkers. To my coworkers, I am deeply indebted to your care and prayers for me. I truly believe that through the respect and loving kindness that you have shown me, your elderly pastor, you will gain the admiration and love from the next generation of coworkers. I pray that God will bless our ACEM churches to become a loving, joyful and extraordinary church family through which God’s Holy name is glorified.

Last modified on Monday, 01 April 2019 08:46


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