Making disciples should be the main focus for all Christians, according to the Bishop of West Malaysia, who says he learned about being a disciple-maker from fixing bicycles with his father.
The Rt Revd Moon Hing, is the 4th Bishop of the Diocese of West Malaysia, and the former Archbishop of South East Asia. He has been involved in church planting and discipleship for several decades and is now the coordinator of the Anglican discipleship initiatives for the Anglican Communion.
He talked to the Lambeth Conference team about what discipleship means to him and how it is more important than ever to live out the Christian faith, so that it can be an example for others to follow.
“I believe discipleship is the main focus for all Christians. And especially in this time of pandemic, and in times of struggle, and in in the time of uncertainty. The best form is to go into discipleship and disciple-making. There is no other better time than this.” He said discipleship had been ingrained in him from when he was very young Christian, 40 plus years ago.
How did you learn about discipleship?
“The word disciple means ‘a learner’. My dad had a little bicycle repair shop and I remember when I was about nine or 10 years old, my dad would call my brothers and I out, and say, ‘Squat down beside me and watch how I do the assembling or repairing’. I remember very clearly how he showed us how to fix the spokes, and then rotate it in a balancer. He would say, ‘Do this and do that, then you will balance the wheel’. Then he would stand up and say, ‘Your turn’. So, each of us would go in and squat down and try… That’s how we learn and grow. So finally, we grew up learning how to repair bicycles. This is part and parcel of the discipleship programme my father did with us, and I can still go ahead and repair bicycles!
“That’s how we pass the message down. So, I took this into the church. When I was a priest, every year I had theological students for two months of practical learning under me. I always told them, ‘You do not need to learn anything about the church. If you learn anything about the church, that is a bonus, but you learn by observing how I do my ministry, how I deal with my family, how I deal with my free time, how I deal with my devotion time, how I deal with my sermon preparation, and how I deal with an emergency’. So, they observed my life for two months, staying in our house. And that is a discipleship style that I adopted over 30 years ago… I wanted them to see how I operate my life. And they could see the weaknesses. Of course, it’s a very vulnerable position, very vulnerable, we open up ourselves for them, they could easily criticise.”
“I thought by doing so very few people will want to go into the ministry because of the tough, difficult challenges. But surprisingly, over my 20 years in a parish ministry, I planted 50 churches, and I trained these six workers to run the ministry. So, when I became a bishop, they took over and now run the different parishes themselves.”
Bishop Moon Hing said, “This discipleship is not only believing in the Great Commission, that Jesus says, ‘Go, and make disciples’, but it has to be translated downward into the heart and into the arms and limbs so that we work on it.” He believes pastoring should be more than caring for the ‘sheep’ and making disciples. “We should be saying that pastoring involves disciple-making and making disciplers; the person who knows not only how to make them disciples, but will make them a disciple-maker also.”
“I think disciple-making is not just that we are feeding the sheep. My idea of disciple-making is that they should be able to fish by themselves and teach others to fish.”
How can the church be more effective in making disciples?
Bishop Moon Hing believes one of the keys to helping discipleship flourish is adapting the training in Bible colleges and seminaries to focus on interpreting the scripture and how to go out and make disciples. He also said it is important not to lose sight of training people in parishes.
“We are trying to minister to people in our parishes, care for them, provide for them, feed them and we forgot to train them. I was told by my mum, if the mother, or the parents are good cooks, usually the children are poor cooks because they always rely on the parents to do the cooking. But you should provide good cooks, to make good cooks, then the children should come along and go into the kitchen and follow along and learn, make mistakes, and that child will become a good cook later. In church, I believe that we are not sufficiently trained in delegation and team ministry, so many of the priests are doing it alone. They are the ‘Lone Ranger’ and it is very tough.”
For Bishop Moon Hing, growing mangoes can be a picture of how we grow disciples
He said, “In this country, in Malaysia, we have a lot of mangoes and we grow a lot of mangoes. I often ask the question, what is the fruit of a mango tree? And everybody says, ‘mangoes’, but that’s not the complete answer. Everyone of them are consumers of mangoes and nobody plants mango trees. So, the answer should be the fruit of a mango tree is another mango tree, not just a fruit to be consumed. If you have vision you go further, and ask what is the fruit of a mango tree? It’s actually a plantation of mango trees. Because every tree will produce hundreds and thousands of mangoes, if we plant them. That is the same thing in our Christian life, if you make one disciple and train the disciple, you know you will have a total of two you. But if you go further deeper into it, it’s not just two, it will be millions and billions and trillions of people, because each one is like the seed of the mango. And if one tree can produce a plantation, it’s the same as discipleship. That person will actually multiply into two or four, or six or eight and go on, before you realise you will have a whole army rising up to become disciples and to be strong disciples of Christ.”
Read more about discipleship
You can read more articles about Discipleship – the theme of Lambeth Conference Bishops’ Conversations during September – here.