Category Archives: Retrospective Reflections

Hindsight bias inclines me to interpret past events with an awareness of the present to reveal insights into the future.

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 remnants of my surprise Shanghai visit two years ago.

The last time I returned to Shanghai was almost two years ago, for a quick 3-day 2-night getaway. This was about a month after I started working in Grace AG. It was a last-minute arrangement as my former boss needed an urgent favour. He paid for my air tickets and I thought it was a great opportunity to spring a couple of surprises on some friends as well as to bring home the extra luggage that I couldn’t carry with me the last time.

This is my walk down memory lane…

The first surprise I pulled off was on Kay and the second surprise that I pulled off was on the youth group that I had served with. I remember my heart beating rapidly as I drove to the home church where youth service was held. I had planned to attend youth service as a regular attendee – I didn’t tell anyone and arrived without much fanfare.

It was great to see so many familiar faces as I climbed the flight of steps to the fifth floor. And it was priceless to see the shocked faces when they said hi to me. The youths greeted me like they would anyone. But it was the second wait-a-minute-that-can’t-be-Joey look that I will remember for the rest of my life. I remember Janelle poking me to check if I was real. It was wonderful to be greeted by so many hugs, smiles and conversations, as well as to share a meal with Bryan.

The third surprise I pulled off was on my cell group – the wonderful group of people who took care of me when I was there. I arrived early and remained in my car while I waited for them to arrive. I remember stalking from my car when they strolled into the premise after dinner. My heart was in my mouth when I exited the car to sneak up behind them. I walked towards them covering my face with my laptop and Kay brought me into the lift lobby.

I was the last to enter the elevator. Cindy Hong exclaimed. Christine was stunned. Teresa was speechless. They asked in unison, “Are you real?” It was still too surreal for them even when we arrived at the 28th floor; they still couldn’t believe it even after I entered the apartment. Teresa immediately called Cindy Lee (who was sick) and Yee Kean (who had a lot of work to do) to make their way to cell now.

Cindy Lee was the first of the two to arrive. I opened the door. She screamed. In my face. And I think I saw tears moments later. Yee Kean arrived shortly after. This time, Teresa opened the door while I remained on the couch. Kay pushed my head down and covered me with her jacket. Yee Kean entered the apartment and sounded really grumpy as she removed her shoes. “I don’t want to play board games. I am tired. And I want to go home”, she sulked.

Then she took her seat beside me, still unaware that it was me. “I am also tired and I want to go home too”, I parroted her. She was stunned momentarily. Then she screamed (I think). After everyone recovered from the shock of watching each other get shocked, I shared my testimony of my journey into full-time ministry since I left Shanghai in August, as well as what’s in store for me in Grace AG. I am thankful that my decision to trust and obey inspired them to do likewise.

To my surprise this time, that cell session evolved into a prayer meeting. I received so many prayers and much encouragement and affirmation from the body of Christ. I also had the privilege to pray a prayer of blessing over everyone present. On a personal note, it felt really good to be feel so loved and wanted. I am thankful for all the da-jies God brought into my life in my short stay in Shanghai.

The other incident that I remember clearly from those 72 hours there was meeting up with Kim Soon, Kay, Kurk, as well as Cindy and Christine for lunch at Vargas. I nearly lost Kim Soon as a friend because he reacted badly to my teasing (of how Liverpool lost a game the night before). I had no ill intentions of course, but I should have seen the warning signs. I won’t give details of what was exchanged because I respect him and don’t want to paint a wrong picture of him but I learnt two things over that meal:

  1. It’s not worth risking friendship over football rivalry
  2. Not everyone shares the same harmless ribbing relationship that Xianyi and Daniel Heng and I share so don’t ever assume familiarity.
  3. When you are sorry, just say and be sorry. There’s no need to cover up or make excuses. Sincerity is the greatest apology.

But all ended well eventually so I was thankful for a restored relationship. That incident really caught me off guard.

On a happier note, my cell mates had a meal together the week before I arrived and Christine randomly remarked that she would “love to have brunch with Joey again”. And as we shared a meal on that table, she said, her “dream came true”. Sweet things like these, a sentimental guy like me will cherish for a long time.

My final lasting impression of those three days in Shanghai was heading to Loushanguan Lu to buy a bag for Huiyi from a local store that carried Korea-looking items. As I drove out of the car park, a drunkard suddenly appeared in front of me – so I had to jam brake the vehicle. Thank God I didn’t hit him. But he remained standing in front of me and kept egging me to hit him. Honestly, I wasn’t really annoyed because I just wanted to leave the car park, but on hindsight it was an extremely daring deed committed. It was the first time I encountered something bizarre like that in my two years in Shanghai.

But the craziest thing wasn’t him acting crazy but the parking warden and the security guard who did absolutely nothing about it. “Bear with him – he’s drunk”, said the former, matter-of-fact. “Call the police – we’ll be your witnesses”, said the latter, nonchalantly. No wonder I wasn’t all that surprised by the recent videos that came out of China – the inhumane running over of the little girl, and the intoxicated lady who got molested in broad daylight – to seemingly oblivious bystanders.

On my flight home, I remember looking forward to returning home quite badly and realised that Huiyi and I would really struggle to survive another long-distance relationship. It’s a miracle in itself how we managed to pull through 15 months of that!

I know this post is random and appeared from out of nowhere but it feels good to finally transfer these memories out of my system. I really miss Shanghai. Hope I get a chance to return someday.

the price of grace is the prize of grace.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” — Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV)

My trip to Perth in October was my third visit there. However, it was the first time I was stopped by the customs officer for a bag check. Australian customs are a lot stricter than Singapore’s and there was a platoon of inspection officers even though my flight touched down at midnight. The following is my account of what happened.

According to the customs officer who stopped me and requested to check my luggage for contraband items, a bag check is performed every 30 minutes on a random individual. And since I had nothing to hide, I decided to make conversation with him. I told him that it’s a great thing that the customs procedure was so strict because not every airport is so vigilant.

As I interacted with him, I observed that he’s professional and proficient in what he does; he knew by heart the contents of the declaration card and was familiar with the bags inspection procedures. He asked for my name and went to retrieve my declaration card, then he verified if I had filled up the card and packed the luggage myself.

I offered to help him as he opened my luggage, but he insisted on doing it himself. He was meticulous and checked every single corner of every available space (without messing up my belongings). He conducted the search under my supervision and as he rummaged through my things, he articulated everything that he was doing.

Once again, he asked if I had read the rules and regulations in the declarations before I signed on it. I nodded. Then he brought out the card and pointed to the section where it read that dairy and wood were banned. I nodded. Of course I knew that those were prohibited items.

But what I didn’t realise was that there was milk powder in the 3-in-1 coffee sachets I brought over and there was wood in Liang Zhi’s Gibson Les Paul electric guitar (7.8kg of wood – duh!) that I had helped him lug over.

I was caught off-guard at my negligence; I took these things for granted because they didn’t look dangerous or like a prohibited item. At least, that was what I had assumed.

Thankfully, the customs officer perceived that I had made a genuine mistake and that I didn’t do it on purpose. He asked what I did for a living and I think my occupation did help to prove my credibility and honesty.

Well, I readied myself to pay taxes for the guitar (and perhaps charge it to Liang Zhi later), as well as to have the eight sachets of coffee confiscated and discarded. I even said to him in jest, “Oh well, there goes my morning coffee for the next week…”

He flashed a wry smile, then he described the penalty of my error. The severity of my oversight hit me hard and I gulped at the seriousness of the offence. So I asked him what would happen from here and what would happen to me (and these items).

For some strange reason (read: grace of God), he decided not to pursue the matter.

“I’m going to let you pass this time but this check will be recorded. If you make such a mistake again, I can’t guarantee that you’d be let off the hook”, he asserted.

I was surprised by his demonstration of grace but I sincerely thanked him for dropping the case.

***

As I pushed my trolley out of the airport, I thought about the grace of God in this scenario.

All Bible-reading believers would know that the wages of sin is death – it’s spelt out clearly for everyone in Romans 6:23. And any responsible evangelist would have explained its severity – eternity without God. (I know reading “eternity without God” doesn’t sound as scary, but if you think about it, it’s a rather petrifying thought!)

Yet we take no heed to it, be it through taking God’s grace for granted or being negligent about our salvation. And when we get into trouble, all we can do is to plead innocence. But how innocent are we, really? A good number of us are callous and careless about abusing the grace of God.

Yes, I believe God will be like the customs officer – “This time, I’ll let you off…” But more importantly, what is our response towards His grace? I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve repented repeatedly about abusing the grace of God – I’m guilty as charged.

For me, I will take extra caution to ensure that I do not make the same mistake again when it comes to packing dairy or wood (or any other contraband items) without declaring it. I learnt, from my first-hand experience, that the grace of God shouldn’t cause us to sin some more, but to sin no more. What a timely reminder.

Innocent until proven guilty.

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! (:

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?)

a September stock-take and an October onslaught.

It’s always therapeutic to do a stock-take after an eventful week, which would have been impossible to pull off and not fall exhausted on my face, if not for the grace of God that saw me though. Warning: long post.

Monday: attended QC (Questions and Contributions) time and a monthly mentoring session with Ps Edmund Chan; ’til this day, I still thank God for the divine appointment in which He has connected me to Ps Ed; what a privilege and honour.

Tuesday AM: led worship at the Tuesday staff devotion with Ps Meng Cham; that’s how I will do it from now on – being accompanied by a seasoned musician makes it so much more enjoyable (because I won’t need to practice with my guitar!)

Tuesday PM: prepared for and sat through a staff meeting, which was a heart-wrenching experience and threw me off my momentum; I’m thankful for Ps Ronald who patiently listened to me rant and vent my frustrations. This forced me to come before the Lord that evening to seek His face. And I’m glad I did. The Lord spoke to me through Genesis 13 and Hebrews 6.

Wednesday AM: Caleb crashed at my place the night before and we watched Man Utd surrender a 2-0 lead to Basel and equalised in typical United fashion at the dying minutes. I struggled through the second half, to be honest. I’m really getting old…

Wednesday PM: led worship at the weekly Wednesday church prayer meeting (J333) with Rafael.; exposing youth musicians through my J333 duties gives me renewed purpose when I find my name on the worship leading roster. My next session is on 30 November and I’ll go over-the-top because I’ll be teaming up with Ps Ronald and the church will be praying for R-AGE.

Thursday: presented the 2012 R-AGE budget in front of the Head of Administration, accountant and finance manager of Grace AG on Thursday (my first time presenting with Excel spreadsheets); administration is really not my strength. Thank God for Ps Ronald who rescued me by answering on my behalf on a few occasions.

Friday AM: had a delectable dim-sum lunch at Royal China @ Raffles Hotel with Sheryl from Eagles, together with Daniel and Xavier too, and joined the Vantage Point magazine editorial team. (I just received my first email from them!)

Friday PM: sat through another staff meeting, and wondered what it would be like next year when I’m chairing it.

Friday EVE: spent time with some of my favouritest people on the planet at the GII Shepherds cell, and facilitated our Harmony of the Gospels lesson; Yixian said if we continued at this pace (in-depth but extremely slow), we’d take two years to finish the book.

Saturday AM: led the R-AGE 2012 manpower deployment discussion with Caleb, Keith, Kenneth and Rachael; yes, R-AGE leaders, we were deliberating over your fate next year! HAHAHA. I can’t wait to see youths lead youths!

Saturday PM: preached an apologetics cum evangelistic sermon (my first attempt) for the Same Same But Different evangelistic service at R-AGE@GII. I actually enjoyed my preparation more than my execution. It was intellectually stimulating to read in greater detail how atheism, pantheism and polytheism (among many other -isms) stood against theism.

Saturday EVE: chaired the Bare Bones 2012 coordination meeting with Nicole, Keith, David and Grace – who have proposed some spectacular ideas for the year-end conference. It’s gonna blow Grace AG away; everything is going to be significantly leveled-up! I’m delighted to be working with such exceptional youth leaders. Watching Man Utd defeat Norwich 2-0 capped my day.

Sunday: preached the same sermon at R-AGE@GI. I took the opportunity to clear up some personal administrative work while waiting to have lunch with Huiyi and Yixian. After a short nap to recharge my batteries, I resumed studying for my 60% News Studies paper (the next day), which I have burned midnight oil for in the past seven days. Little by little, I’ve conquered the paper.

Monday (today): praise God for a relatively easy exam paper! It’s different when you understand what you are reading and memorising instead of mugging just for the sake of. I managed to finished the paper with an hour to spare, so I brought forward my appointment with my hairstylist. It’s 4pm now (at the point of writing) and my head literally and metaphorically feels lighter.

I’m going to complete this blog post before I go ahead to prepare the slides for the R-AGE 2012 Ministry Action Plans (which I’m presenting to all pastoral staff tomorrow!) Then I’m going to head out to China Square to treat my family to a nice dinner of Crab Bee Hoon @ Don’s Pie Club. We’re celebrating my sister’s belated birthday (1 October), as well as my 8th 21st birthday in advance.

This week, I also managed to meet Caleb and Lucas for lunch and mentoring on Wednesday and Thursday respectively. I thoroughly enjoy investing time into young men who possess a desire to grow. Lucas’ huge appetite for growth reminds me of me, especially in the way that I pursue my mentors. I told him to never lose his hunger (okay, boy?).

After our  mentoring session over coffee in Starbucks@Tanglin Mall, he asked, “How do you do it, Bro Joey?” It being managing the many things on my plate. I couldn’t find an adequate way to answer him except to say, with all sincerity, that this capacity is a God-given gift; how could I take credit for the grace of God? I told him to ask God for it as well, because I think God will give it. (I didn’t tell him about the price of increased capacity though, but I’m sure he’ll figure that out himself.)

September has been an exceptional month in ministry. Besides starting R-AGE on the Spiritual Disciplines: Training in Holiness sermon series, I’ve also been planning for R-AGE in 2012 and meeting up with lots of youth leaders who might be serving alongside me next year. I am convinced that it’s my time with the Lord everyday that’s keeping me afloat.

I’ve also been reading non-stop throughout the week (and at an aggressive pace too). Besides the Bible during my daily devotions, sermon preparation materials and academic texts, I’ve also been feasting into Edmund Chan’s Cultivating Your Inner Life, Philippe Auclair’s Cantona: The Rebel Who Would Be King and Larry Crabb’s 66 Love Letters. I think I’m concurrently reading eight books – and I love the variety! This is effective for someone like me who gets bored easily.

On a more personal note, I’ve also been spending lots of time with Huiyi with our wedding preparation; we’ve reserved Sunday afternoons to visit bridal studios and photographers, as well as to plan for our big day. The highlight of these trips is to catch a sneak preview of my wife-to-be when she emerges from the changing room in glorious, gorgeous white; she’s gonna be the most stunning bride in all of Singapore next August – you have no idea how much we are looking forward to be married to each other!

I’d probably be packing my luggage midway when this post is published; Jetstar is going to take me to Perth at 5:45pm (Tuesday). I look forward to hanging out with Chin Seng, Ervina and Liang Zhi, but the highlight of my trip is to spend time with Ps Edmund and Ps Ann. I’ve been looking forward to this trip ever since I purchased the air tickets (super cheap!) a few months ago.

When I began my mentoring journey with Ps Edmund around this time last year, he emailed me his traveling itinerary and invited me to follow him on one of his countless trips; so here I am, excited and still starstruck, counting down the hours before I get to spend quality, uninterrupted and extended time with a God-given mentor, whom I’m sure will sharpen, challenge and inspire me!

October, I am ready for your onslaught!

Quenching my spiritual thirst with living water! (@ The Pinnacles, Perth, Australia)

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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