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one day in the 40 days of community.

Post-script: My apologies to Ps Kieran Chew for publishing this entry only now… It was in my drafts since 3rd June, but the madness of June overwhelmed me, and this article got forgotten… Well, Ps Kieran, you’re right, “It’s no longer news”, but hey, it’s still newsworthy, at least on my blog it is. HAHA! Hope this works for you! (:

Credits to Matthew Tan for his good work in putting this video together.

About a two month[s] ago, the full-time staff at Grace AG embarked on its Home Improvement Project (HIP) as part of its internal 40 Days of Community (40DOC). This campaign is an initiative launched by (the Deputy Senior Pastor) Ps Calvin Lee, and is set to be launched church-wide in July-August in a strategic effort to bring the church together. It is adapted from Rick Warren’s programme (of the same title) that has been tried and tested with positive results, first in Saddleback Church, then in many other churches worldwide.

I’m not sure if I was alone in feeling this way, but honestly, I had to rummage my heart for enthusiasm for this project because it certainly didn’t come naturally from the onset. It was an acquired taste of sorts – the more you did it, the more you enjoyed it. I enjoyed Ps Cuixian’s leadership of my group as well as getting to know some of my colleagues (like Andrew Tai and Edmund Quek, who were great fun to be with) a little better.

My 40DOC began with the devotional series in the accompanying book, “Better Together”, which I hope most of you will purchase. If something could fire me up, it would definitely be the Word and its practicable outcomes. Coming together weekly to watch Rick Warren (who incidentally looks like a cross between a tour guide and a taxi driver – no offence – he has such a down-to-earth look about him!) on DVD was also refreshing – he has an uncanny ability to simplify biblical themes into instantly applicable aphorisms. Speakers (like Edmund Chan, Peter Chao and Benny Ho) with that ability always get my attention.

HIP was definitely the highlight of 40DOC. It required us to literally move out of our comfort zones, put our money where our mouths are and to get down and dirty with our hands and feet. (Clichés, I know, but definitely used in the right context.) I shall offer some honest observations of my day spent with over 10 other full-time staff; I don’t enjoy giving Sunday School answers anyway. Allow me to share these thoughts through 5 C’s.

Complaints

No matter how old you are, what species of gender you belong to, and regardless of whether you’re a church staff (even if you are a pastor), you will still have a tendency to complain. It’s a sickening and disgusting part of our wretched human nature and I caught myself at it. Of course, I tried to mask it under the cloak of humour but I could never hide it from my inner man if I was frank with myself. I was rather put off by some the apparently “harmless” and “honest” negative remarks that floated around the room. Sometimes, it is good not to say anything if you indeed have nothing good to say.

This alone I think, humbles the greatest of saints – even if they were ordained by a board of holy people! Our fallen state truly requires the infallible grace of God. Help us shine for You, Lord, simply by not complaining!

Contribution

From the way I see it, there are three ways a person could contribute in HIP – either by offering your time, energy or resources. I took a backseat (as there were enough leaders) for this project and I knew I had to leave a couple of hours earlier than the rest, so I wanted to make up for it by chipping in with a little more money. I gave an amount as the Lord put upon my heart to – this was my act of obedience. However, to my surprise, I received (almost) the entire sum back as we did not need to spend as much as we had budgeted for the house. So I decided to channel that sum into the weekend’s offering bags.

The bottom-line of what I want to say is that, due the complexity of planning and the complicated layers of coordination, this HIP might just be the first and last one for you and I; and if that’s the case, what’s there to lose by going all out?

Conditioning

If anyone told you that painting a house was easy – tell him to go paint another one. I regretted not taking before-and-after photographs of the house we helped to transform. Before we could give it a face-lift, we had to give it a face-off. Peeling and scraping the ancient paint off both the walls and the ceiling were a mammoth task in itself. Try arching your neck upwards for an entire morning in an unventilated and weird-smelling room and having every fifth of ten scrapes feel like a fork scratching a blackboard… Can you feel and imagine the icky sensation in your mind’s eye? And speaking of eye, you also had to battle with fragments of dried paint and cement flakes with each blink.

I felt like I burnt more calories than a regular workout and received a good toning on especially my arms, but it was the conditioning of my heart and mind that I truly appreciated from this experience.

Currency

If ever there was a cry that screams from within my heart as a shepherd of people (i.e. a pastor), it would be how I want to aggressively avoid being irrelevant to society. (No disrespect to anyone here, but) I felt sad to have heard some conversations that transpired in the one-room flat, between some of my colleagues and the home-owner we were helping. It was dismal to see how they were unable to converse on the same frequency because one has obviously lost touch with the harsher dimensions of society. Forgive me, for I know this is a quick, harsh and judgmental assessment (and I apologise for it if it stumbles you) but a part of me fiercely rejects an innate incapability to relate with the felt needs of the man-on-the-street. It would almost be ironic for a pastor to arrive at that state.

In the same breath, I will say that this applies to anyone who calls himself a Christian. How relevant are you to society? Are you so far-removed that you can no longer relate to those less-fortunate? HIP is a good way to get reconnected.

Collaboration

The saying goes, “Tough times make tough men” and as a staff team, we have not and do not go through anything tough as a collective; this HIP was enforced (as a professional obligation) and emblematic at best (we had to lead by example before we could encourage our sheep to do it), hence it already prepared and toughened us up psychologically before execution. Nonetheless, the beautiful thing about going through something uncomfortable, unconventional and uncommon like that was that it forced us to forge teamwork. And I reckon this category of teamwork (honed through hardship) is a little more cohesive than organising a church event or attending a staff retreat together.

I am confident that embarking on HIP together, be it as a cell group or a real family unit, will only serve to strengthen the existing bonds that are holding the body of believers together. This may just take your cell and your family to the next level.

***

It is quite unlike me to blog about something that I do not believe in, or write something here out of professional obligations. And so, I shall not. But hey, I have already written nearly 1,500 words on this upcoming 40DOC – perhaps this is a telling indication of my optimism towards this campaign.

I believe in it not because of its proven track record, programme or content – that’s just hype. No, I believe in it because I serve a big God who desires to unite His church. Like I mentioned it over the pulpit two weeks ago, I firmly believe that 40DOC isn’t just going to be another campaign, but THE defining campaign for Grace AG.

I bought home three things from HIP – a photo frame, a certificate and a recap sheet – but I took home so much more, if you know what I mean. I urge you to allow 40DOC to become a part of you. After all, what do you have to lose?

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a change of plan or a plan of change?

I led my wonderful team of dedicated Shepherds to Batam’s iHotel over the weekend; this was our first independent ministry-planning trip and I must say I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. I trust that my Shepherds had also enjoyed this time of reflection and evaluation that I had carefully designed for them to embark on. I’ve journeyed with them for 18 months now and while it’s been a wonderful ride, I desire for them to grow deeper in their individual walks with God.

Keith and I arrived slightly later than the rest of them as we had to oversee the collaboration with the Grace Kids at GII Sunday services; it was also the first time I had the opportunity to be the emcee in the adult services. (I improvised from what I thought was a messy first service and I am grateful that the second service turned out much better…) I am confident that the adults now know that R-AGE @ GII exists and that it’s the best place to be at on a Saturday afternoon.

It was great to have caught up with Keith on our journey to Batam. I’ve always identified him as one of my successors and I’m confident that he will be able to lead R-AGE @ GII to greater heights where I could not. Keith, you will surpass me and I will help you to do that because I believe so much in what God will do through you. (: I am blessed to be able to mentor an exceptional young man like him.

I bunked with Bradley for this trip and I thoroughly enjoyed bonding with him and knowing him more intimately. We had a good time catching up in the room and in the pool. I celebrate his appetite to get out of his comfort zone – that’s the mark of a G0d-fearing and Christ-loving disciple. And I look forward to hearing his reflections on a passage of Scripture I asked him to meditate upon.

We decided to have seafood dinner at a roadside coffeeshop – yes, those typically dirty and warm ones (with pesky buskers) and the overpowering aroma of belachan chilli that clogs up your respiratory system. I must say I was impressed with the team’s courage to eat everything that came their way (although some felt queasy after dinner). The best thing about the feast was its price – we ate a mountain of food for a mere 10 SGD per pax.

***

The first activity we embarked on after dinner was “Dials on a Dashboard” – a little exercise I’ve adapted from Wayne Cordeiro’s excellent book, “Leading on Empty”; I got my Shepherds to systematically recognise, rate and recalibrate the various dials on their dashboard. It was a brutally honest activity and it set the tone for the contemplation they would embark on.

For the purpose of my own journaling, the 15 dials I’ve identified in my life are:

  1. Faith life
  2. Family life
  3. Relationship life
  4. Mentoring life
  5. Leadership life
  6. Intercession life
  7. Online life
  8. Author’s life
  9. Speaker’s life
  10. Competency life
  11. Contemplative life
  12. Financial life
  13. Leisure/Fun life
  14. Social/Fellowship life
  15. Health life

It is my earnest prayer that everyone in the team would UP(a)GRADE in their own faith pilgrimage. I am eager to grow, as I always have been, and I have already put into action some things as soon as I arrived home. May the Lord continue to give me grace as I seek to please Him in all that I do.

I encouraged the team to wake up early the next morning to do their devotions on a passage of Scripture (Hebrews 12) that the Holy Spirit revealed to Yixian during the Dashboard activity; I thoroughly enjoyed receiving insights and understanding from the Lord as I meditated on and memorised His Word. It was an empowering experience! MAN, I LOVE THE WORD!

***

After breakfast, we returned to the room and I asked the team two key questions:

  • “What have you done?” (I got them to list all their achievements in ministry – to itemise what’s been happening)
  • “How have you done it?” (I got them to investigate their attitudes behind these ministry achievements – to inspect the condition of their hearts)

It turned out to be a powerful exercise as this soul-searching activity became a heart-wrenching experience for a few of them. One Shepherd (whose identity I shall protect) even broke down during this activity. We ministered to her on the spot and tears flowed freely – not just on her cheeks but on those who were standing in the gap for her as they laid their hands to pray for her. It was a moving scene indeed… This is unity… This is the body of Christ… This is biblical fellowship.

I was led to get everyone to worship God together before every session (with David’s iPod and two speakers no less!) because I believe that it’s important to engage the Lord in any crucial decision; I felt that it was imperative to make decisions in the presence of God for it’s always in the presence of our living and loving God that our lives are changed to be more like Him. And so it was – God is faithful – this was ministry at its finest hour. And it wouldn’t have been possible without the Spirit’s conviction.

***

As part of my bid to sort out my health, I had already completed 10km on the treadmill within 24 hours of arrival and was about to go for my first swim in eons; it must have been more than six months since I last put on my goggles. On a lighter note, I discovered the power of my physical presence – some of the girls who were in the pool disappeared (more like ran away) within seconds of me entering it to swim my laps; it’s like they saw a ghost or something. HAHA!

We consumed lunch at a local restaurant and after that, half the team went to do water sports while the other half remained behind to enjoy some free time. Huiyi and I would have loved to join those out at sea but her sudden bout of illness prevented us from doing so. We ended up enjoying a nice two-hour Thai/Balinese combination massage for a grand total of 14 SGD per pax (cheaper than Shanghai!). More importantly, as always, I enjoyed my afternoon with my wife-to-be. (:

We waved Esther, Natalina and Huiyi goodbye as they left a day earlier due to prior commitments. The rest of us went to the nearby Nagoya Hill (for the umpteenth time!) for dinner at another local establishment. The most hilarious scene must have been when Bradley and I literally carried the table top without its legs. You must see it to believe how ridiculous it looked!

***

We returned to our Shepherds Headquarters (a.k.a. Yixian’s and Jeraldine’s room) where we embarked on ministry evaluation. It was a proper meeting with minutes recorded and we listed down all the various programmes that we had already embarked on for 2011. And I helped the Shepherds to see how important being intentional is in planning for our programmes. We made quick-fire assessments to every programme, from cells, to services, to regional gatherings, to trainings and to special events:

  1. Should we keep it or trash it?
  2. If we plan to keep it, how can we improve it?

All of us unanimously felt the need to be even more evangelistic in the way that we operated. When we plan “Win” events, we will naturally need to have “Equip” activities and eventually it will result in it being a “Build” event. I saw in the Shepherds’ eyes a conviction to be intentional, intensive and inclusive in all that we would plan next year. I was glad to be able to transfer what I had learnt from a conference to my team of leaders.

(I was tickled to see the contrast between my M&M’s (Melody & Melissa) – one was bustling with energy and the other completely zapped!) We spent the next few hours affirming one another with objective, subjective, introspective, retrospective and most importantly, heartfelt words of encouragement. I am confident that this is the first time the Shepherds were encouraged on such a scale – I pray that it had lifted their inner man/woman. (: Well for me, I went to bed feeling great and grateful about what the Lord is doing in this season of my life.

***

Our final activity was inspired by 2 Corinthians 5 where I reminded the Shepherds of our duty and need for the ministry of reconciliation. I shared with them openly and honestly on my own attempts to reconcile with a couple of people in my life (and I am proud to say that I’ve already taken reconciling action tonight, as soon as I got home).

I believe that as we grow as a ministry both in quantity and quality, through processes and programmes, cracks of misunderstanding will appear in our relationships; these are inevitable for when iron sharpens iron, there is heat and friction. And when cracks appear, the devil will too, with his lies and deception. We must not fall for it – hence the great need to reconcile each other to Christ (and to each other) and to clear up any potential or active misunderstanding before it erodes into bitterness.

By the end of this retreat, we had evaluated the three main components of ministry: people, programmes and processes. We had also recorded feedback for the various programmes that the ministry had executed on the service, cell and events level. I am hopeful that this Retreat had been in line with the coming 40DOC campaign, and sets the tone for personal renewal and corporate alignment.

Praise the Lord for all that He’s done through me at this Shepherds Retreat – A change of plan of a plan of change?

***

I shall leave you with two paradigm shifts that the Holy Spirit inspired me to share with the Shepherds:

  • I challenged them (and now you reading this, and eventually R-AGE) to remove “Arrowed” or “Bombed” from their dictionary for that’s a secular and selfish way of thinking. Instead, let’s train ourselves to say, “What an opportunity indeed!” whenever we are given the privilege to do something for the Lord and His people.
  • But if you are simply unable to lend a hand due to your existing commitments: “Don’t be a dead-end, but be a Y-junction instead.” So that when you really can’t help when people approach you, you can still help by pointing them to other people who may be able to help them. This results in their burden being lightened regardless.

We are a team and this is a team effort; let’s behave like an Ephesians 4 team!

***

Of late, I’ve had an overwhelming desire to have a deep life and to dig deeper, thanks to the influence that Ps Edmund Chan has in my life. And I believe that this is evident in my conversations and in the way that I operate. He put it succinctly, “The depth of your life determines the breadth of your ministry.”

I have never desired depth in my life and ministry as much as I have right now. Oh Lord, please give me Your grace and enable to grow myself and R-AGE in a deep and riveting manner. Hear my cry, Lord – I do not want to raise a shallow generation of believers!

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