Category Archives: Leadership Lessons

Leadership is a skill best taught through real-life experiences and best learnt through real-life examples.

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.

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I will finish well.

You either choose to be right or choose to grow; but if you choose to grow, you will have to learn to give up your rights. I take my comfort in Philippians 2:1-18. Teach me to see it from Your point of view Lord, because nothing else makes sense; assure me, dear Father, that this is a divine appointment.

Tonight, I am devastated and defeated, but tomorrow, I WILL FINISH WELL.

Have the Attitude of Christ

1 Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? 2 Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.

3 Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. 4 Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.

5 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

6 Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.

7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,

8 he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

9 Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
and gave him the name above all other names,

10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Shine Brightly for Christ

12 Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. 13 For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.

14 Do everything without complaining and arguing, 15 so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people. 16 Hold firmly to the word of life; then, on the day of Christ’s return, I will be proud that I did not run the race in vain and that my work was not useless. 17 But I will rejoice even if I lose my life, pouring it out like a liquid offering to God, just like your faithful service is an offering to God. And I want all of you to share that joy. 18 Yes, you should rejoice, and I will share your joy.

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.

the five most dangerous types of leaders.

I’ll be the first to admit that I am not the most refined of leaders and I still have a long way (read: a lifetime) to go before I can say I’ve truly mastered the art of leadership. While I may not be able to come up with a definitive “Five Key Ingredients of Leadership”, I think I might be able to articulate what I deplore about unacceptable leadership.

These are the five pitfalls, failures and dangerous types of leaders that I’ve encountered (and conjured), off the top of my head.

1. The Indecisive Leader.

There is nothing more frustrating for followers than to subjected to a fickle-minded leader with a soft ear; he who seeks to please people instead of standing firm on decisions is he who eventually loses credibility amongst the same people. Once compromise kicks in, the best decision is usually abandoned and no one will benefit in the long run. Leaders must be courageous in their decision-making ability. It is unbelievably demoralising for followers to do double-work to make up for a leader who didn’t do his work properly.

2. The Insecure Leader.

Leaders who are insecure do not plan for succession and are afraid to give their power away. Eventually, their dynasty dies with their departure, their legacy disintegrates with their downfall and their people disperse with their descent. What’s scarier than an insecure leader? A proud one, for he will end up becoming a control freak. Insecure leaders tend to be myopic and never lead beyond themselves. They exist only to build their own name, which will eventually go down with them anyway.

3. The Inscrutable Leader.

If a leader can’t articulate what’s on his mind, it is his sole responsibility to find someone who can help him express his ideas; if a leader refuses to tell people what’s on his mind, then how can he expect his followers to understand where he is taking them? I’m of the humble opinion that all leaders must learn how to communicate effectively. Contrary to popular belief, communication is a skill that can be learnt, not an innate gift. Also, I believe that there is no leader is beyond investigation and no decision beyond scrutiny.

4. The Incompetent Leader.

For any leader to be effective in his undertakings, he must first exhibit a fundamental level of capital and capability. In short, he must be competent at what he does and it would be a bonus if he inspires the people with his knowledge and skills. If a leader is low on skills, it is his onus to do something about his inadequacy. I’d like to think that the saddest thing that could ever happen to a leader is when he is no longer teachable. And as for the adage, I believe that there is no dog too old to be unable to learn a new trick; keep up with the times!

5. The Inactive Leader.

There is nothing more uninspiring than a lazy leader without drive, passion, intensity, hunger and an insatiable appetite to grow and improve. Leaders must always remember that they are leading people, not machines. Once their love for people diminishes, they will start to look at people like commodities to be traded and tossed about. Remember always, love people and use things, not use people and love things. A leader must always carry with him a discontentment with the status quo and an unstoppable desire to develop.

Now, my question for you – are you a dangerous leader?

May I never become what I have described, so help me God.

reflections on leadership.

Here’s a little of what I gleaned at the first session of the conference, as well as a few of my own thoughts…

If leaders perceive themselves to be indispensable, people will develop a learned helplessness. This leads to inevitable exhaustion due to the eventual unsustainability of the task. As a result, abdication takes place.

My leaders know that I think delegation is a dirty word; it’s an expression I loathe. Instead, I prefer to use empowerment. Delegation denotes giving someone responsibility without authority while empowerment is about giving someone authority first. I believe that once a leader’s authority is established, he will naturally assume responsibility.

The focus of ministry is ministering to people not managing them. It’s never about the process, but the people. A pastor’s job is to pastor his flock, not pressure them to perform!

A good leader has a holy dissatisfaction about the status quo and a clear sense of hope for the future.

A leader’s primary job is to teach his people the way they are to walk and the work they are to do; if others learn to do what they ought to do, then you can focus on what God has called you to do.

No matter how gifted you are, you must still build a team around you and always prioritise in mentoring people; don’t let your responsibilities distract you from your priorities; it is unhealthy to lead without mentoring others.

The five cries of the local church: there are too many programmes; there are too few workers; people are not spiritually fed or discipled; the vision is not clear; the leaders are not united.

The most crucial call of leadership is that leaders must learn to reconnect themselves back to God, and to cultivate spiritual friendships with others (instead of leading alone).

A leader’s greatest responsibility is for God’s agenda in his calling. Obedience to God, to do what He desires us to do, is truly the ultimate expression of stewarding what God has given to us to use.

grow the ministers, not the ministry.

By the time I return from Perth, I’d have arrived at my two-year mark in full-time ministry. Time has passed remarkably fast but it feels like I’ve been doing this my whole life. There’s so much to thank God for in my short pilgrimage as a youth pastor.

At the turn of 2009, Ps Ronald gave me the awesome privilege of leading R-AGE@GII. When I took over the reins, the ministry was hovering around the 70 pax mark on average. Today, by the grace of God, He has grown the quality and the quantity of R-AGE@GII to around 120+ pax every week. Praise God for His faithfulness!

Many pastors, parents and peers have been kind towards me; they are generous with their encouragement and commend me often enough on the work that they see happening among the youths in Grace II. Time and again, I will accept their compliments and thank them for it but deep down in my heart I know I must bring it before the Lord.

In my time with God, I ask Him not to let me believe my own hype and I make it a point to be the first to discredit myself. The Lord showed me two things which I believe will govern the way I approach accolades.

Firstly, it is the Lord who blesses (as well as takes away). Every victory and defeat in ministry comes as a result of His will and not because we have worked hard. God alone decides for Himself when the ministry will grow, stagnate or decline. His timing is always perfect and His ways are always higher. As we continue to serve Him, let us remember that it is God who makes all things possible, not for our glory but for His alone!

Secondly, the Lord reminds me that He doesn’t just use one passionate pastor, but a team of dedicated leaders. Yes, I’ve matured through how He’s been developing my talents and gifts, but the growth of the ministry cannot be supported by just the point man’s growth. The Lord reminds me that the ministry has the platform to grow because its leaders are growing.

At full strength: my beloved R-AGE@GII Shepherds at our planning retreat on National Day. (Photo credits: CK)

As I type this entry at the airport lounge, I can’t help but to imagine in my mind’s eye the nervous faces and timid countenances of some of my leaders when they started with me; these fresh-faced shepherds looked afraid, unsure and blur – they had no idea what was coming their way! But take a look at them now… Confident, assured and more ready than ever to take on any challenge that I would throw at them.

Their attitudes have been sharpened, their faith increased, their competences leveled up, their heart for the youths have grown, their leadership confidence has soared… And I could go on and on. I am immensely proud of them… Indeed the Lord is good to those who serve, love and fear Him.

As a result of their individual growth, the ministry has naturally grown as well. So today, regardless of which level of leadership you’re at, just remember three things:

  • First, (if I may borrow Ps Edmund Chan’s words,) take care of the depth of your life! A growing minister is always better than a stagnating one!
  • Next, give your priority to investing time, energy and resource to growing the next generation of leaders. If they grow individually, your ministry naturally grows collectively.
  • Finally, always remember that it is the Lord who enables and holds all things together by His grace and power, for His glory and honour alone.

You can’t do it on your own, no matter how exceptionally talented you may be!

(Now, I have a better understanding of why Ps Edmund says that he prizes his mentoring ministry above his preaching ministry… Who wouldn’t?)

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.

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