The Development of Lay Leadership

by Dr. Khoo Kay Keng

Our thinking of the many distinctions between clergy and laity should be modified and surrendered in view of Jesus’ call to all of us to the universal priesthood (I Peter 2:5). This understanding is important and will lead to the proper development of lay leadership in the church. We are all one in the body of Christ and have different functions to perform because of our different gifts (I Cor. 12:27-28).

There are many qualities required of leadership. Jesus demonstrated the importance of humility (John 13:5). Peter, who remembered this demonstration vividly, advised early church elders to clothe themselves with humility (I Peter 5:5). Many more qualities are recognized in leadership. Oswald Sanders stated that “spiritual leadership is a blending of natural and spiritual qualities.”

“Spiritual leadership” wrote John Eddison is ‘‘whole hearted surrender to the purpose and will of God.” Humility will enable us to understand that purpose. However, any one in leadership position will realize that it is not always plain sailing. Leadership calls for the ability to withstand criticism and controversy and it calls for perseverance even in the face of adverse reactions.

The Council of Churches of East Asia (CCEA) Partners-in-Mission Consultation in Hong Kong in 1974 issued a statement at the conclusion of the Consultation. The Hong Kong Statement, as it has since become known, recognized leadership training of both Clergy and Laity as important objectives in the modern churches of East Asia. This realization was partly prompted by the gradual but steady departure of expatriate clergy from the churches of East Asia, thus leaving a vacuum in leadership in the post colonial era of many Asian churches. However, it is very important to recognize that lay leadership should not be developed simply as a supplement of manpower to the shortage of clergy in the church. Our Interior Mission is still acutely short of clergy. Programmes have been devised and implemented whereby dedicated laymen are trained to perform certain of the duties of the priest in the interim period of waiting for the arrival of the priest. These are important functions which have to be performed. In the urban churches, training of a greater depth is required before a lay reader is licensed by the Bishop. Such supplementary role of the lay ministry as has been pointed out is important and fulfills the need of an exigency.

It is proposed here to go further and examine the complimentary role of the lay ministry. The many different talents of the church should be fully utilized. From these talents will emerge lay leaders. In the process, changes may be necessary and the attitude of the laity to accept lay leadership has to be inculcated.

There are many examples of lay leadership in the Cathedral Parish. An example of lay leadership came about because of the illness of Bishop Chhoa, when the Bishop appointed four laymen from the Cathedral, namely Lai En Kong, James Voon, Pang Tet Tshung and Thien Thau Khiong to assist him to administer the Diocese.

Women have also played an important role in the Church. The Mothers Union with its long history has always provided leaders among the women of the Church. Since 1973 there has always been a lady peoples’ warden every year. Mrs. Chin Hoi Tshin the first lady warden served as Peoples’ Warden from 1973 to 1983. Women leaders have to motivate women to come forward to serve the church in many different ways, an important example would be the visitation of parishioners, the sick and the aged.

Church wardens are in the position of leadership, whether they are Rector’s Warden or Dean’s Warden or peoples’ Warden. The Rector or Dean may consult the wardens before making certain decisions or taking certain actions. Wardens have certain special functions to perform within the Anglican Church. Mr. Lee En Min has served fourteen years as warden from 1961 to 1975. Mr. James Voon has served not only as warden but also as member of the Standing Committee, and he has contributed his service to the church through his management skills. Both members of the clergy and laity from the Cathedral have served as Standing Committee members. Cathedral lay men have served as Diocesan Secretary, Treasurer, Chancellor and Registrar. All these are important positions of leadership.

Mr. Vun Hon Khyong had been Secretary of PCC for twenty five years, since he took over office from Mr. Paul Dallimore until he retired from his post in 1979. He wrote “I was not only secretary to the Cathedral Parish Council but also secretary to all the various committees, i.e. Executive Council Committee, Bazaar Committee, Stewardship Committee, Church Building Fund Committee, Lay Visitors Committee, Carolers Committee, and in addition secretary to the All Saints’ School Board of Governors, St Agnes School Advisory Board and the Anglican Kindergarten’’.

Today these posts are entirely in the hands of different people. Mr. Thien Thau Khiong, as Diocesan Secretary from 1971 to 1985, contributed his service not only through secretaryship; but also through bringing modern office management methods into the administration of the Diocesan Office; and for his contribution towards the working basis of Diocesan Assessment. Mr. Lu Chen Khiong and Mr. K M George who had since left Sabah, have been licensed as Lay Readers. Mr. Jimmy Liew was in the choir since 1970 and five years ago took over as Choir Master from Mr. Albert Yong.

Under the Cathedral Parish are the First Kota Kinabalu Company of Girls’ Brigade and the Third Kota Kinabalu Company of Boys’ Brigade. The Girls’ Brigade started towards the end of 1969. The membership of about fifty in The Girls’ Brigade in 1981 has doubled over the last five years. The Boys’ Brigade started at the beginning of 1978. The membership in The Boys’ Brigade has steadily and progressively increased to attain its present strength of three hundred. From this we can see good leadership being exercised by Captains and Officers of both Brigades.

Other examples of lay leadership are leaders of all church fellowship groups and Bible Study groups.

“Your young men shall see visions and your old men shall dream dreams”. (Acts 2:17) What is vision? To John Stott, it is “compounded of a deep dissatisfaction with what is and a clear grasp of what could be.” Once a vision is captured, it must be shared with as many people as possible. Plans of action are necessary. Perseverance with these plans is called for, so that at the end we may say with St. Paul as he did in 2 Timothy 4:7 “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.”

It is proposed here to look at another aspect of the development of lay leadership by discussing the activities of the New Life Committee, which consists largely of laymen, although priests and pastors. are also members. Although it is an inter-church committee, the Cathedral has contributed significantly to its leadership and activities, and is very much an integral part of it.

In response to the Campus Crusade for Christ’s worldwide evangelistic campaign, ‘‘Here’s Life’, Sabah churches formed a protem committee in 1979 under the chairmanship of Pastor Chee Gen Min of Basel Church. Although we did not eventually adopt the ‘‘Here’s Life” method of evangelism, nevertheless a very firm commitment for inter-church evangelism was pledged by all member churches. The committee was re-named “New Life” Committee, and I was elected chairman.

The first evangelistic meeting was a departure from tradition in that it was conducted through preaching Gospel messages between musical presentations. Revd Paul Chang, Mr. Henry Foo, Mr. Samuel Cheung and 17 Oriental Singers from Singapore were invited to conduct the musical evangelistic meetings in Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan, Tawau, Kudat, Tenom and Beaufort from 29th May to 7th June 1979. Another departure from tradition was that these meetings were conducted in Community centers and not within church compounds. The aim was to sow the seeds of Gospel messages to a wider section of the public and then pray for the Holy Spirit for results. In April 1980, the Cross Road Singers were invited to give similar musical evangelistic meetings.

Up to this stage, we have relied heavily on outside help for evangelism, although we had gained valuable experience in the process. Shall we proceed in the same manner, or shall we strive for self proficiency, and if so how to achieve it? What was required of leadership at this stage?

We should be self proficient in evangelism. What was demanded of leadership was a long term strategy to achieve this aim. The Choir Masters of member churches shared my vision of self proficiency in the production of musical presentation. Thus the New Life Choir was launched, presenting Gospel messages and the ‘‘Love and Kindness” Cantata at the Sabah Foundation Auditorium on 2nd and 3rd October 1981. Thus the churches participated in the activities of the International Year of the Disabled Persons, by donating a machine to the workshop for the disabled people. Similarly the ‘‘Share’’ Cantata was produced and presented on 22nd and 23rd July 1983.

When you are asked to perform a task, you would think of how best to make of it. When Jesus commanded His disciples, ‘‘Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations,’’ they were also told of “‘teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19, 20). We were thus told not merely to preach the Gospel but also to present a Christian way of living. To achieve both objectives would entail making our Gospel messages relevant to our society. This, in turn, requires a deeper understanding of the interaction of the Gospel with our local cultures. If Christianity is not a negative way of life, then our faith must not be seen to have only negative influences on cultures, but rather it should serve to enrich our cultures. If this is the understanding, then what is required of leadership?

Leadership, I believe, is required of providing a study on the basic issues involved here. From this basic understanding, we should proceed to tackle the practical issues involved in attaining our twin objectives: namely, how to present our Gospel in terms easily understood by the people, with reference to our cultures; and how to christianise our cultures.

New Life Committee has initiated a series of seminars on ‘‘The Gospel and Chinese culture’’ by inviting these speakers: Dean Paul Clasper from Hong Kong, Dr. Chow Lian Hwa from Taipei and Dr. Choong Chee Pang from Singapore. We now have the basic understanding. What remains now to be done is to tackle the practical issues.

The Partners-In-Mission Consultations have a profound influence on the development of lay leadership in our Diocese. These Consultations require representatives from the Bishop, the clergy and the laity. The requirement of lay representation is significant in at least three ways. First, the lay men are exposed to decision making at the level of the regional church. Secondly, such decision making will incorporate points of view as perceived from the position of the laity. Thirdly, it is perhaps the greatest single stimulus to the development of lay leadership in our Diocese. Since these meetings are for church leaders, each delegate can learn from these conferences how to be more effective leaders.

For these Consultations, Anglican churches are grouped into regions. These regional churches come together and look at themselves critically in the presence of partner churches from outside the region. Together they work out the needs of the regional churches in order of priority. The resources from outside the region are then shared with the churches within the region according to the priority which has been worked out. Over the years, the lay representatives from our Diocese have been Mr. Peter Pang from Sandakan, Mr. Koo Hon Syn from Tawau and I from the Cathedral. I gained valuable experience at the CCEA Consultation held in Hong Kong in 1974. At the Singapore Consultation in 1975, it was still undecided at the last session how to share the limited resources for the region. I proposed that the Hong Kong Statement should be used as the basis to decide the sharing. This proposal was accepted. I was immediately elected to a committee of three persons who proceeded to work out the actual allocation of fund.

Lay training was emphasized in the Hong Kong Statement. Our Diocesan programmes on lay training have received much financial support from the 1975 and subsequent (PIM) Partners-In-Mission Consultations. As our programmes on lay training progressed, a systematic approach was adopted. A joint committee was set up by our sister Diocese Singapore and our Diocese to produce materials for lay training, progressing from how to lead Bible studies to being licensed as a Lay Reader or ordained as non-stipendiary priest. This committee consist of Revd. Khoo Boo Wah, Revd. Dr. Louis Tay and Bishop Moses Tay from Singapore, and Dean Yong Chen Fah, Bishop Luke Chhoa and Revd. Herbert Tong (who is replaced by Revd. Albert Vun) from Sabah.

Most of these materials have already been produced. These materials are timely produced. In the past five years, there have been a great increase in the number of home Bible study groups. This is a sign of spiritual revival within the Cathedral Parish. As referred to earlier, natural qualities alone are not sufficient for spiritual leadership. Spiritual leaders must be well versed in the Scripture.

In 1977, for the Partners-In-Mission (PIM) Consultation, the Episcopal Church of USA (ECUSA) invited two representatives from the Council of Churches East Asia. Bishop de la Cruz, coordinating officer of CCEA and I were the two representatives from CCEA. We were two of the 42 external partners invited by USA from all over the world, representing 24 regional groupings of churches, of which CCEA is one. The external partners were sent to each of the nine provinces of ECUSA for the first stage of the consultation. For the second stage of the consultation, all delegates came together at Louisville, Kentucky. ECUSA had to look at herself critically and searchingly and she could only do so with honesty and prayerfully. The external partners had to report to what extent the American Church had done so. To make this very important assessment from all the proceedings of the Consultation, a small group of people were elected. Again I must emphasize here that the view of the laity was sought and included. I was elected to this small group. It was quite an experience. Although it was initially decided that those who drafted the report should not present the report, I was nevertheless included among the four people who eventually presented the report, among whom was Bishop Desmond Tutu, later a Nobel laureate.

In the history of the Cathedral Parish, there has always been lay participation in the Church. At least the structure of the church provided for this.

Lay leadership would emerge in response to exigencies within the Diocese. Such supplementary role of the lay ministry and lay leadership has been discussed. The complimentary role of lay ministry and lay leadership was discussed with reference to the New Life Committee.

The impact of the Partners-In-Mission (PIM) Consultations in the last two decades on our Diocese has been assessed. It is seen as the most significant planned effort in promoting lay leadership. Our Diocesan understanding of the importance of lay leadership has influenced the development of lay leadership in various parishes. The Cathedral Parish is very much involved in promoting lay leadership. It remains for each and every one of us to contribute our share in this ministry. More lay leaders will emerge from within this enlarged lay ministry.


(1) “Understanding leadership” by John Eddison, Scripture Union.

(2) ‘Spiritual leadership” by J. Oswald Sanders, Lakeland.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.