Category Archives: Heart Upon Sleeve

Passion is one of the core values of my life and very often, I spill my heart best through words.

this is my one act of righteousness.

Unfortunately, I don’t go for campus prayer-walks often enough. Yes, God has been spoken to me time and again on this issue for months. And He is faithful – He did it again through this conference through various people. His voice is unmistakeable.

This afternoon, we fasted lunch and headed to a local university to experience a 1-hour prayer-walk in and around the campus. I asked God to open my spiritual eyes as I walked this campus. I asked Him burn a desire in my heart for varsity students back home who do not know Jesus. I want this prayer-walking experience in Baguio universities to be transported back home to the secondary schools, junior colleges and even universities, but especially in polytechnics.

But…

There’s so much in the ministry that I have to re-order – I want God to bring this vision to pass! But what do I tell my leaders and shepherds who are already so deeply embedded into church ministry that they may not see the need for campus ministry? I’m talking about a 15-year legacy!

Lord, there’s so much to un-learn and re-learn.

Truth is, R-AGE will always be around as long as Grace AG is around, and will always be successful. But are we merely existing instead of thriving? The Lord keeps putting the same recurring thought into my heart, “The ministry will implode and eventually perish if it doesn’t see a vision bigger than itself and explode in outreach.” I am sick and tired of doing church.

I don’t want to be a youth pastor that leads a “happening” church ministry with zero influence in the campus. I don’t want to be a youth pastor that leads a youth ministry that doesn’t make disciples of MY nation. I don’t want to be a youth pastor that leads an R-AGE that is happy doing programmes for unbelievers but is handicapped in building relationships with them. No, I want a vision for R-AGE so big that it’d be impossible to do it on my own.

Lord, give me courage. Make this my one act of righteousness that changes R-AGE forever.

I’m praying for a renewed vision, an outward-looking purpose, a structure that supports discipleship and leaders who are sold out to go and make disciples of all nations.

Lord, I’m scared. Help me to do the right things. Bring me the right people. Send me into the right places. Change me into the right person.

No, I want to be a youth pastor that leads R-AGE to really and truly be redeeming a generation for eternity.

Redeemed youths redeem youths – that’s what R-AGE will die for.

Reflections on being courageous for the Gospel.

I guess it’s about time I breathed life into my blog, again.

Over the last weekend, I preached the final installment of “The Call of Duty: R-AGE digs deeper into Ephesians”. It was based on Ephesians 6:10-24 and the armour of God. I titled the sermon, “Is there courage in R-AGE?”. I had the luxury of having three weeks to prepare for this sermon (due to the combined adults and 180° Easter outreach services) and extra time meant that this sermon could pack more punch.

Most times at the end of a service, I always feel I’ve preached the worst sermon of my life, but surprisingly, I enjoyed preaching this one. Not because I tickled minds with interesting nuggets of information, but because I felt that I had executed the prophetic burden God laid on my heart for the youths. It’s similar to Apostle Paul’s cry for the believers in Ephesus – to boldly proclaim the Gospel. I challenged two groups of young people at the altar; those who used to preach the Gospel boldly and those who have never preached the Gospel boldly before – that the Holy Spirit would strengthen them to do so.

While I was thankful for those who responded, there were more who didn’t and I wondered why – was it due to my inadequate delivery of the message, their apathetic spiritual condition or simply because God didn’t plan it that way? Or was it something else beyond my comprehension? I couldn’t put a finger to it but it drives me to intercede more intensely for my beloved youths.

David Lee was the emcee for R-AGE @ GI and at the closing of the service, he echoed what I had actually said at R-AGE @ GII – that the responsibility of evangelism doesn’t fall on the shoulders of the leaders, pastors and those who are more fervent in their faith, but on everyone who calls himself a disciple of Jesus. How could we remain unmoved if the love of Christ has already moved us? It is my earnest prayer that R-AGE would experience the Father’s love first-hand!

“Stop evangelising. Instead, start loving people in the name of Jesus”, I first heard Ps Edmund Chan say that when I traveled with him to Perth last October. He repeated that statement at the recently concluded Grace Leaders’ Retreat and it was a sobering reminder for me. I had a short SMS exchange with Gabrielle Ong this morning and I encouraged her not to give up on proclaiming the Gospel to her pre-believing friends. I told her that one of the most effective ways of demonstrating the Gospel is to find opportunities to pray for people – you “speak life” into them and they get a chance to see your faith in action. It works!

Back to the sermon… Well, I’m not sure about other preachers, but the thing I enjoy most about preparing a sermon is how much I learn and am challenged through what I read and write. I already know what God would want me to do in response to my sermon and I look forward to walking in obedience this week. It is my prayer that R-AGE would take ownership of the souls within their communities who haven’t met Jesus.

Even as I type this, my heart is moved by the compassion Jesus has for the ones who are suffering and the ones who do not yet know Him. I am thankful for the Spirit’s reminder in my life – that my occupation isn’t one of a part-time youth pastor but a full-time Gospel preacher! I must never lose sight of reconciling others to God through the Gospel!

It’s going to be an awesome week, my dear friends. Let’s raise the shield of faith on each other’s behalf, gird up our loins with the written truth, wield the power of the spoken truth and advance the Gospel for the King! What a privilege to shepherd R-AGE – I am thankful for this season of my life. God is good.

exactly how much should a leader give?

I attended the first session of the Fatherheart conference last Friday and while I appreciated what James Jordon shared, it was the ride back home with Garry and Peiying that I enjoyed more.

The two of them kindly offered to give me a lift home. I took my seat at the back and we caught up with what God was doing in our lives. The last time I had a chat with Garry was at the 40DOC thanksgiving service. And during that conversation, he shared about how he was contemplating whether to carry on leading the cell that he had been facilitating during the period of 40DOC. I was so encouraged to hear that he decided to obey God to serve as a cell leader despite his verbalised inadequacies.

Halfway through our conversation, Garry asked me a genuine question which I thought was a question most Singaporean Christian leaders might ask:

“How much should I offer to God as a leader? Exactly how much is enough?”

Garry’s a straight-talking guy – the man on the street – who wears his heart on his sleeve. He told me that he felt like he wasn’t doing enough as a cell leader. Like any responsible leader would, Garry wanted to do more. But he wasn’t sure where he should take the benchmark from.

I had all of five seconds to think about how I should respond to his sincere and honest question. I didn’t want to give him a Sunday-school answer or something that wouldn’t be of any help. He wanted to ask for my opinion because he felt that since I was leading R-AGE, I would be able to identify with his question.

I told him that to answer that question, we would first have to take a step back from it.

If we were to measure our performance as a leader based on what we did, then it would never be enough. A good (cell) leader could always give everyone a lift home after cell ended, or bless his members financially, or make hospital visits, or offer prayer and counsel whenever necessary, or lead multiple cell groups, or write cell curriculum, or host dinners for newcomers, or mentor the next cell leader, or lead mission trips, or call his members everyday, or organise fellowship activities, or conduct street evangelism, or…

It will never be enough; of course a leader could do something more, but there’s no end to it.

In my reflection, I think that the greatest decision that a leader could make is to obey what God is prompting him in his heart to do. It could be any of the above, or it could be simply to wait and not take any action. “Obedience is the highest expression of stewardship” – words of my mentor, Ps Edmund Chan, that I have already engraved onto my heart. It’s not about how much you do, but more of why and what you do, and who you do it for – God or Man? The right deed at the right time for the right person is as good as a divine appointment; the best thing a leader can do is to do what the Holy Spirit impresses upon him to do – it will always be perfect.

I also believe that the greatest gift a leader can give away is to give his people Jesus. Jesus (the Gospel) is undoubtedly the best gift for any believer (or non-believer). In my years of mentoring, I always tell myself that my main priority as someone’s mentor is to connect him back to the Vine (John 15:5). I am not Jesus – I cannot be there for him 24/7 – but Jesus can. If a person is properly connected to Jesus, he will eventually yield himself to the Lordship of Christ and make Jesus the Master of his heart and life.

One of the emblems of my life is that “Apart from Jesus, I can do nothing; I am absolutely nothing without Christ”. I believe that if one is not connected to the right Vine, the fruit that he bears isn’t the right fruit. Hence, I’m inclined to believe that the most important thing a leader could do is to give his members Jesus because Jesus is all they need (not you, fortunately or unfortunately). And if Jesus is everything, then Jesus is enough.

I am reminded of Jesus’ edict for Peter (and all of us) in John 21:15-17. (This is the same passage that I laid the foundation of R-AGE @ GII upon.) Jesus’ response to Peter’s triple declaration of love for Him was to “Feed [His] lambs”, “Tend [His] sheep” and “Feed [His] sheep”. I’ll elaborate on this with another post some other time (as well as how I passionately believe that pastors should just pastor) but for now, the question that I have for every Christian shepherd is, “What are you feeding your flock?” and “How are you tending your sheep?” If a leader can answer that with his conscience clear before God, I’d run over to pat him on the back on a job well done.

So exactly how much should a leader give? Not much – just Jesus – because if Jesus is everything, then Jesus is enough. Be a good shepherd – it’s a privileged position to serve God in.

melancholic musings that move me.

I’m always drawn to those who dare to wear their hearts on their sleeves. It shows a certain amount of security and authenticity in a person, and maybe even a fearlessness, knowing that his or her self-worth is fully found in God. I love the way he expresses himself so sincerely in prose and poetry.

However, it takes more than just mental-diarrhoea-rants to actually move and inspire me. And Jaeson Ma has done it. He’s just three years my senior and is an American-born Chinese pastor who also performs as a musician. I heard about his work when I was in Shanghai and decided to check him out when I learnt that he played a part in the salvation story of Vanness Wu (another man I’d love to meet some day).

It’d be great to meet him in person one day – to be able to speak to someone with such a journey as he has must be refreshing. But for now, before I get to rub shoulders with him in a divine appointment, here are some of his blog posts that have struck a chord in my heart:

Jaeson, you inspire me to love and know God more. Thank you.

my final birthday as a bachelor.

Over the next 24 hours, I will celebrate my 8th 21st birthday, by having lunch with none other than my best friend, Lionel, and dinner with my fiancée, Huiyi. I’m just two years from turning three decades old – that’s more than twice the age of the new youths initiated into youth ministry. I feel older but more alive than ever!

  • By December, my salutation would have changed.
  • By January, my ministry responsibilities would have increased.
  • By February, I would have completed my undergraduate programme.
  • By March, I would have accomplished another of my childhood dreams.
  • By April, we would have completed the pre-wedding photo-shoot.
  • By August, Huiyi and I would have changed our marital status.
  • By September, I would have embarked on my postgraduate programme.
  • By this time next year, I should be in New Zealand with my wife, enjoying my honeymoon.

That’s a lot of things to look forward to in the next 365 days. But before I arrive at next October, There are 28 reasons to be thankful, most of which are for people who close to my heart. I believe that people define lives, not possessions or pursuits.

1. Huiyi: My fiancée has become such a big part of my life, ministry, personality and growth. There’s no one who knows and understands me better than she does. She is the strength behind my passion and the stability within my authenticity; her grace towards me and her forgiveness of my tainted past gives me more reasons to believe in young people. Without a doubt, she is the most important person in my life.

2. Home: My family has made my house feel like home. My room is the best place to be at night. I will miss it once renovations begin to transform it from an overgrown teenager’s to a newlyweds’ room.

3. Maisie: I’ve enjoyed a relationship resurgence with my beloved younger sister, and watching her flourish in her career and achieving her dreams makes me beam with pride. I love her with all my heart.

4. Mummy: Honestly, watching my mother slow down is something I am learning to cope with. Her years of sacrifice is now taking its toll on her. It is my prayer that as my mother ages, my sister and I will adapt to her changes. Home, Maisie, Mummy – the next three thanksgivings.

5-8. Family-to-be: In the last year, my knowledge of Bryan, Uncle Kheng Leong, Aunty Rosalind and Xianyi has grown. Our conversations have moved beyond the superficial and I am thankful because I am never one who likes to scratch surfaces. I look forward to getting to understand them a little more intimately in the next year. I believe by faith that my entire family will coming to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

9-10. Shepherds: My family outside of my family is one whom I’ve the privilege of shepherding. Recently on youthministry.com, it sent out an article on “Sharing Your Life With Your Team” and I see it as God’s way of affirming how I’m doing ministry with them. Huiyi and I always remind each other that it is our absolute delight, honour and privilege to have them play the role of groomsmen and bridesmaid at our wedding. But beyond that, I look forward to doing life with two groups of them; the boys – Keith, Bradley, Kun Jie, Caleb, David, Shavinn; and the girls – Melody, Natalina, Yixian, Melissa, Andrea and Sheena.

11. Grace AG: Six days ago on 15 October, I arrived at my 2nd full year in full-time ministry with Grace AG. I still feel like it’s a dream job because I don’t feel like I’ve worked a single day in the last 730 days. I wake up everyday feeling unbelievably thankful for all the way my church believes in me. And it has been fantastic working with friends – Ps Cuixian, Ps Jadene and Suhui.

12. Ps Ronald Yow: The one most responsible for my career joy is none other than my irreplaceable boss, mentor and role model. He has been unbelievable in guiding me as a youth minister and profiling me as the youth pastor. Thank you…

13. R-AGE: My my, look at how the youth group has grown! It has been a joy pastoring the flock at Bukit Batok and I look forward to journeying with those at Tanglin Road in the coming days.

14-20. Buddies: It’s never good to walk alone. I am delighted to call Lionel, Kurk, Gideon, Johann, Kenneth, Joel and Cheryl my contemporaries whom I check on, and who keep me in check.

20. RMIT: I never expected myself to perform so well in school. It is indeed by the grace of God because I know that I’m not a brainiac. I have also enjoyed learning alongside responsible classmates, and from the occasional good lecturer.

21. Ps Edmund Chan: In the last 13 years, there has only been one man has spoken so deeply into my life into such a deep-seated issue that no one has ever ventured into… Being with him in Perth was already a treat, but the moment that I will never erase from my mind is the lunch we had together on the last day. I couldn’t stop my tears from running down my face.

22-23. Mentors: I have the privilege of being mentored by greatly esteemed and highly respected men of God. And there are three I’d like to thank God for. Peter Chao and Ps Benny Ho who has looked out for me, given me their time and attention, dispensed invaluable advice, pointed me in the right direction, and most importantly, believed in me. I cheekily (but audaciously) asked the Lord for mentors to guide me in leadership, preaching and growing deep, and He sent me the best in the business…

24. Mentorees: I am a product of mentoring and it has been instinctive for me to mentor others. Over the year, I’ve had the wonderful privilege and opportunity to journey with young people bursting with capacity and capabilities. I still believe that the greatest gift you could ever give to a young person, is to believe in him. It’s been an absolute joy!

25. Friends overseas: This year, I’ve spent Autumn and Spring with Chin Seng and Ervina in Perth and had the privilege of being Daniel Heng’s best man, who flew back from New Zealand to hold his wedding. (I would have loved to catch up with Liang Zhi in my last trip…)

26. Going overseas: It’s amazing how the Lord rewards my desire to travel with the most number of trips I’ve ever gone on in my life in one calendar year. I am always thankful to get out of Singapore – be it for mission trips, vacations or even just a short trip up North across the Causeway for a weekend getaway! May the frequency increase with age!

27. A deeper hunger: I find myself desiring God with increasing intensity… More than just the things of God (books, sermons, conferences, ministry) but God Himself. For He alone satisfies. If Jesus is all, then Jesus is enough.

28. A consistent devotion: Of course I’ve missed some days and in some periods, even a couple of weeks. (Even pastors struggle!) But if I were to put my finger on why my hunger for and knowledge of God has increased, it is simply down to spending time with Him regularly… And just enjoying His presence… And allowing His living Word to breathe life into me.

I’ve probably missed out a couple of items or people but well, these are the first 28 thoughts that come to my mind… So here goes, happy birthday to me! I pray that I’ll easily have 29 items to thank God for 365 days later! (:

replacing vs raising: i’d pick the latter anytime.

Let me declare this from the onset: I’m not in the business of replacing great leaders of the past, but in the business of raising good leaders in the present, so they can become greater leaders in the future. After all, I believe that youth ministry is about seed-planting, not fruit-plucking.

R-AGE is going through a season of transition and that means over the next half a year, we will see key leaders move on to another season of their lives. I think this is good for them, and honestly, I also think it is good for the ministry. People come and go, but the Lord’s work continues to be done; when the Lord tells me it’s time for me to go, I will leave, knowing that God has been, is, and will always be in control of my beloved youth ministry.

I share the same sentiments as Sir Alex Ferguson – you can never replace (great footballers like) Scholes, Keane, Giggs or Beckham like-for-like, but you can raise other players to take over their responsibilities. But you must also recognise that their roles in the team on and off the field will never again be duplicated; everyone brings something different to the team.

Even though I’m not in the football industry, I see many similarities in the succession-planning principles between a trophy-winning football team (like Manchester United) and a thriving youth ministry (like R-AGE).

I stand true to my principle of leading young people to lead young people. Look at the recently concluded R-AGE Olympics – it was led completely by a team of youth leaders who were leading a team of youths. A total of 145 people turned up and 38 of them were newcomers! What a mammoth effort by Bradley, Tiffany and their team, for a groundbreaking event such as this!

When I joined the pastorate in 2009, I told myself not to meddle in events planning – that’s not what I joined full-time ministry to do. Yes, I will still get involved, but never on the same level as the committee members. I believe in young people wholeheartedly and that includes taking risks with them, to simply let them lead (while I walk alongside them).

I’ve always told my young adult leaders that they can stay in youth ministry for as long as the Lord leads them to (or for as long as they want), but they should never remain at the expense of another youth leader rising up. This sounds a little cruel and makes me out to be a little unsentimental, but my heart beats for the long-term future and sustainability of the ministry, not to mention a certain kind of cultures I want to imbue into the youths.

I’ve repeatedly told many of my youths leaders that as their youth pastor and ministry leader, I don’t really care for their contributions towards this ministry. No, I care more about their growth. If they spend two years with me in shepherding position and yet have not grown, I have failed as their youth pastor in shepherding them.

For the record, I’m not here to grow the ministry. No, I am here to grow the ministers. If the ministers grow, the ministry will naturally grow. Conversely, the reverse can’t be said. There is no ministry without ministers. You may win or lose if you invest in a project or programme, but if you invest in people, you always win.

The youth ministry leaders of old (are different from the leaders today and) have added to the ministry in their unique ways. From the bottom of my heart, I thank the Lord for them and what they have done. But the truth is, we can never do what the yesteryear leaders have done. No, I don’t plan to match their achievements.

I plan to surpass it.

But only if God wills it and gives me the grace for it. My mentor often tells me: Obedience is the highest expression of stewardship.

By God’s grace, I want to lead and pastor a youth ministry that will be remembered for all eternity, and not as one that tried to live up to their inherited expectations. And if you think you belong to yesterday’s group of youth leaders, don’t rest on your laurels and start fading out of the ministry – may God forbid that! Instead, do whatever it takes to help this generation of leaders surpass you and all that you’ve ever accomplished. I pray that you will find great joy in doing behind-the-scenes work as you mature in your faith and ministry.

So come on, dear friends… Regardless of your age or season of life, let our good God blow your mind on the minister He alone can transform you into. And if you’re working with young people, be patient with them… One day they will surprise you with how good they can be.

We can’t replace good leaders, but we can raise better ones.

Redeemed youths redeem youths.

is your church still relevant to its community?

Recently, I had the privilege of hanging out with my key leaders from R-AGE @ GII and R-AGE @ GI at its respective planning retreats in iHotel @ Batam and Salvation Army @ Bukit Timah respectively. One of the activities I led them in as part of an evaluation exercise was to list down every programme that our youth group had embarked on in the last year – from cell groups, to youth services, to conferences, to regional outings, to Christmas parties, to Easter productions, to ministry meetings, and to church retreats; I wanted a comprehensive laundry list of everything that had taken place in our ministry. Both sides did this with relative ease and easily came up with 40-50 (!) programmes. Yes, we were stunned by the sheer number of programmes.

That was our first epiphany.

Next, I got us to sort out these programmes into only one of these three categories(, which I called the “WEB” for easy recall):

  • Win: evangelistic or pre-evangelistic in nature.
  • Equip: trains and ups the level of leaders and members.
  • Build: grows and fortifies the fellowship of the believers.

Both sides arrived at similar results – on average, less than 15% were Win programmes, another 15% were Equip programmes and approximately 70% of what we had planned and executed were predominately Build programmes. Needless to say, my leaders were flabbergasted; they shared my same reaction when I completed this exercise myself at the beginning of the year. I also told them to consider how a Win programme would naturally include Equip elements and inevitably Build the youth group.

That was our second epiphany.

What I got us to do next was to name as many known felt needs as we could of the respective communities we were ministering in; R-AGE @ GI and R-AGE @ GII had obviously listed different needs based on the demographics of its vicinity – we’d be foolish to plan and execute similar programmes for an affluent Tanglin community as we would the heartland Bukit Batok community. I told them to think about the needs that their sheep had and to their (and my) astonishment, some of my leaders struggled to even name these needs because they weren’t cognisant of it. Bottom-line was, we do not really understand the felt needs of our respective communities (and honestly, we ought to be chagrined by this).

That was our third epiphany.

Next, with the list of needs we barely were able to list down from the previous segment, I got us to match it with the programmes that we had planned and executed in the last year. It was awkward for us because we struggled to do this matching exercise properly; when we did find a match, it wasn’t an entirely convincing conclusion. The question that I fired at us was, “So, how does R-AGE meet the needs of the community it exists in?”

That was our fourth epiphany.

It was only after four self-discovered epiphanies that I released us to proceed with the budgeting and programme-planning exercise. I told them that it was imperative that these four revelations formed the backdrop in their minds before they strategised for 2012.

Without mincing my words, I told them that it is pointless if a youth group isn’t able to serve the students in its community; similarly, a church becomes useless if it doesn’t value add to the community it exists in. What’s the point of establishing a church if all it does is to exist for itself? It would end up becoming a self-serving community that is completely irrelevant to its neighbourhood. (I’m embarrassed to say this but the truth is that most times, a community centre meets the needs of its community more effectively than a church does, and it should never be that way!)

Some sobering questions a church (any church!) must ask itself are:

  1. Does the neighbourhood know the existence of the church?
  2. Does the church even meet the needs of its neighbourhood?
  3. Is the church serving the neighbourhood effectively?
  4. Is the church making a difference in the neighbourhood?
  5. Would it matter at all to the neighbourhood if the church suddenly disappears?

So, is your church still relevant to its community? I’m not sure about you, but I want to ensure that my ministry is.

With that conviction (hopefully) drilled into my leaders’ hearts, I am hopeful that the programmes that they have dreamed of for 2012 would have a greater relevance to (and impact on) the youths in both Tanglin and Bukit Batok. Otherwise, we’re really wasting our time, energy and resources doing what we do. Let’s get real and stop kidding ourselves.

If we are irrelevant, we are useless. If we do not contribute, we should cease to exist. If we are not even meeting their felt needs, then why would young people even want to join our youth group? Come on, we must have a vision that is bigger than ourselves!

R-AGE must never be a feel good club – certainly not on my watch!

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