Eng Han once said this about the whole CHC saga: "I bear no grudge in my heart". I guess he does not see the point. Although he started in earnest, somewhere down the road he went in with eyes open and put all that he had, money and time, with the Church. For about eighteen years, he gave his all to the ministry, to CHC, and most of all, to Kong Hee.
In fact, Judge See, in delivering his sentence, had described Kong Hee as “the mastermind behind the conspiracy to cause wrongful loss to the church.” He said that “it was from him that the other accused persons sought approval and guidance." Along side Kong Hee, Judge See singled out Chew as his closest ally. He even called them "kindred spirits" who "fuelled each other's drive, one as a spiritual leader and the other as a finance expert".
Eng Han once lamented in an interview late last year that “It seems like I’ve got so many enemies. So many battles, I’ve got to fight so many people”, and I guess like Judas, he currently stands alone in Hakeldama, that is, the bloody acre. However, Eng Han also said that, “these days, strangers do come up to him to wish him well. One even paid for his meal at a Japanese restaurant and left him two Bible verses for encouragement.” They appreciated his courage to speak up against the leadership of the church he once sworn allegiance to.
He ended the interview by saying that once this whole saga is over, he plans to write a book about his experiences and hopefully, someone will buy the rights to make a movie out of it. "It will make a good movie," Chew said with a smile.
Well, movie or not, I have learned from Eng Han that no leadership is perfect – not even by a long shot. It is a lesson that needed reminding because we are all looking to pin our hopes and dreams on a shooting star, or in this case, a leader of promise. It is second nature to us and we often pay a high price for it.
It is thus pure foolishness to put our faith in the leadership of man. When Jesus said upon this rock he will build his church, he was not referring to Peter as the rock, but himself. It was Petra – the Rock of Ages - that the church will be built upon and not on man’s rules, regulation, and practices. Neither will man’s vision, 5-year expansion plan, itinerant music band nor evangelistic program be the church’s cornerstone.
Needless to say, we are all fallible, and not even Kong Hee, Joseph Prince or Joel Osteen would dispute that. When it comes to leading the church, no one runs it better than the guided spirit of God. It is not by might, nor power, or if I may add, charisma, eloquence or church size, but by the spirit of the Lord. That’s the incontrovertible truth. However, we all know that our daily reality is often far remove from this truth.
After the sentence in November, Kong Hee went before a cheering crowd of worshippers in his Church and said: "My family and I, we are fine. We are just living each day by faith…I know that this is a painful time, not just for us... but also for everyone associated to this ministry. As this court trial has come to a close, I pray that all the pain and turmoil for you will come to an end."
I guess it was just too little and too late for Kong Hee when he had by sheer obstinacy dragged the church through a 2-year investigation and a grueling 3-year trial where all the dirty linens were hanged out in public for everyone’s bewilderment and bemusement. Alas, Chew may just be on the money about making a local movie with all the shocks and suspense of the Korean hit drama, Descendants of the Sun.
Nevertheless, the plight of Eng Han has taught me that as a church grows in size, money and complexity, it runs the real risk of falling into the same trap that any secular organization faces, that is, the obsession of control. Especially for a non-denominational, independent megachurch with no affiliations and open hierarchical accountability, the issue of keeping it all within the founder’s tight rein becomes an unspoken ironclad rule. As the church expands, the leadership digs themselves deeper into its foundation and becomes indispensable. With such secured indispensability, the accompanied expansion makes the leadership even more indispensable as people rush in just to marvel at the cause célèbre.
This insidious loop reinforces itself as the administration grows, the money pours in, and people attract more people. This is also where the cult of personality becomes deeply entrenched and the infallibility of the leadership is covertly presumed, corporately accepted and closely defended.
By such time, when everything that the church plans practically revolves around the celebrity-like leadership, it would be almost heretic (or mutiny) for anyone to suggest that anything that proceeds from the founder’s lips is not also from same lips of the divine himself. There will therefore come a time when the will of man becomes indistinguishable from the presumed will of God. Who is to question the authority when the authority establishes itself as the authority?
But as I have said before, it is sheer foolishness to put our faith in the leadership of man. And Eng Han learned that lesson the hard and painful way. The Rock of Ages upon which the church is built on is often bypassed for another man-made rock located nearby, which is more visible, more convenient, and more tangible. When it comes to scouring for church leadership, some of us inevitably go for the lowest hanging fruit. The Catholic Church had in fact over the centuries built their doctrines and practices on far shakier foundation - anything but the Rock of Ages. By the looks of things, the Protestant Reformation has changed little of that.
The truth is that human leadership is always liable to fall, fail, distraction, self-delusion, self-perpetuation and derailment. What we need is more accountability, checks and balances, greater discernment, an open heart to accept diversity of views, even if the view clashes with the vision of the leadership, and the humility and courage to review, reevaluate and reverse the plans. The last thing the church needs is a leadership that is self-referential, accountable only to itself, manipulative and dictatorial, and directly instilling fear in her members only to ensure that they either shape up or ship out. Eng Han experienced that ultimatum personally, and most viscerally.
In the book The Emotionally Healthy Church by pastor Peter Scazzero, he urges us to learn to accept the following realities concerning the fallibility of human leadership:-
“You can be a dynamic, gifted speaker for God in public and be an unloving spouse and parent at home.
You can function as a church board member or pastor and be unteachable, insecure, and defensive.
You can memorize entire books of the New Testament and still be unaware of your depression and anger, even displacing it on other people.
You can fast and pray a half day a week for years as a spiritual discipline and constantly be critical of others, justifying it as discernment.
You can lead hundred of people in a Christian ministry while driven by a deep personal need to compensate for a nagging sense of failure.
You can pray for deliverance from the demonic realm when in reality you are simply avoiding conflict, repeating an unhealthy pattern of behavior traced back to the home in which you grew up.
You can be outwardly cooperative at church but unconsciously try to undercut or defeat your supervisor by coming habitually late, constantly forgetting meetings, withdrawing and becoming apathetic, or ignoring the real issue behind why you are hurt and angry.”
And in Eng Han’s case, you can be a leader of one of the fastest growing churches, leading at the forefront of evangelism with spectacular programs, vibrant ministry and receiving unquestioned worldwide adoration, but at the same time, you refuse to accept responsibility, face the music, own up to your mistakes, apologize to those you have left out in the cold and who had given the best years of their life for you (and their hard earned savings), and deal with and admit to your brokenness instead of anaesthetizing it for a last-minute sprint before September comes to garner even more attention and adulation to yourself.
The list can go on. But the point is that we are all work in progress as long as we are still on this side of heaven. And for those who refuse to admit to that, or refuse to accept responsibility for their failings, they might just become stumbling blocks for those who are trying to progress in their own faith journey. Cheerz.