All right, this post comes 125 entries later, but as the cliché goes, better late than never!
Many moons ago, I set up a competition to give away a handsome, spanking new branded NKJV Bible (worth $40+) and there were a number of people who very kindly submitted their reflections. I took a million years to decide on the winner and when I finally decided on the winner, I never found the right opportunity to pass her the gift! But last Friday, we finally met and I was delighted to give her the Bible.
Basically, the task was to extract a quote or an entire article to reflect on, and the winner is… SERENE WEE!
Thank you for taking part in this little competition and thank you for your support! Please allow me to share with you her two-page winning essay; she has written her insights based on the article, “you plant seeds, not pluck fruits.” I sincerely hope you enjoy reading her thoughts as much as I have!
Please consider this my entry to your competition. Reason being, this post came at just the right time in my life, and my thoughts about them are particularly personal. As you know, I am not all that involved in the youth ministry, but as a children’s church teacher a lot of the things you mentioned I find applicable to children’s ministry as well.
Childhood is the soil which determines what sort of teenagers and adults these kids grow into. If that is any indicator, then I must admit that I am literally stunned sometimes. I think, “If they can be so selfish, so rude, so cynical even at such an age, what then?”
“let them be, let them fall and let them learn”
This struck me particularly because I realise there are times when “No! Don’t do that!” doesn’t cut it anymore. Not that setting boundaries is not important, but after one whole week of being restrained in a classroom of 40 children, constantly shouted at to keep quiet, I think church teachers should strike a better balance when we see them on Sundays. Honestly, this phrase of yours really got me thinking about the children’s perspective, and how they may react to my actions, more.
“I encourage you to manage your expectations”
I think sometimes we’re so caught up on helping the child to achieve the “best” and forsaking the process, just as in the secular world. I was doing a craft with my class the other day, when this boy asked me if he could colour his foam flower with a marker. I looked at the flower and the flower itself was coloured, so I thought, if he adds colour on it, it wouldn’t look nice. So I said, no. But later I wondered why I wanted to wrest artistic license from him just because I thought it would look nicer. The craft was for mother’s day, and is not the child’s own effort, creativity and sincerity more important than “niceness”? With my control, he had one less chance to learn. And this is of course applicable in so many things.
“Their encouragement is a bonus, not a necessity; I’d love to receive it, but I do not need it to do what I am called to do.”
Yes, yes and yes!
“For if a leader is motivated by recognition and appreciation, he is sure to be left disappointed and disillusioned at some point.”
It is through personal experience that I know this to be true as well. I am a person who is very motivated by appreciation. Give me one nice phrase and I could probably remember it for life. But this can really distract from the primary purpose of ministry. Not only in terms of wanting recognition more than serving God faithfully, but in terms of what KIND of recognition is craved for.
In children’s church there are weeks when we have to do master teaching, which is basically teaching the lesson. Teachers have the freedom to structure the lesson as they will, and they can add in whatever games, object lessons etc. that they think would help bring the point home better. After weeks of hearing other teachers say “oh you teach so well”, and “oh the background you use for your powerpoint slides are so nice!” I found myself one night before a particular master teaching session, trawling the internet for nice backgrounds. My dad looked at me and said, “Instead of spending so much time on this, why don’t you spend more time praying for the children?” Wake up call!
And sometimes when leading worship (yes we juggle multiple roles in CC haha), I find myself judging the success of the worship session based on how many children are singing, and how many are raising their hands. While I do believe an outward expression of praise is important, I’ve come to realise, that I cannot simply look at the surface. The last thing the world needs is to have children learn hypocrisy at a young age. And if the children DON’T sing, will I then stop praising God with all my heart?
A lot of times too, teachers tend to take some form of pride in their ability to handle the classroom. And again, while I view that to be important, how sad is it that I should be praised for being able to make a rowdy class keep quiet. This to me, is again, simply on the surface. To show love, I believe I ought to dig deeper.
“that it is our job is to plant seeds, not pluck fruits.”
The way I read this goes hand in hand with the idea of patience. Matthew (Tan) once encouraged CC teachers that though they may not see it now, the children they teach may one day grow up to really love and serve Christ – men and women of God. Perhaps it’s because I am not that old myself, but I will think, “Huh, must wait sooooo long lehhh.” And that is the thing about planting seeds. Because seeds take time to grow, it’ll need a lot of patience to see them grow to fruition, or, like you said, we may not have the privilege to see that at all.
And so it hearkens back to what rewards we are looking for. The ones in heaven, or the earthly ones?
But my children do surprise me. Some surprise me with little bouts of maturity, way beyond what I expect from them. Some rough and tough ones surprise me with their gentleness. Some surprise me with their creativity. Some surprise me with their smiles and loving words.
Two weeks ago, I placed an order for 11 DVDs and 2 books from the Desiring God website. I have received the goods and I am absolutely delighted because I will soon embark on a JP buffet. My DYLM cell group would be the immediate beneficiaries of this purchase for they will feast on my regurgitation (if you know what I mean). My friend helped me to process the order and sent it to his friend who happened to be in the States. He actually went two miles for me for he paid for express delivery to ensure that the products arrived at his friend’s place before his friend returned to Singapore. When he passed it to me last Saturday, he refused to accept my payment. “Let me bless you”, he said. I was stunned, but thankful to God and appreciative to this brother. I offered to buy him lunch, but he said, “If you were blessed by it, then go and bless someone else”.
The year was 2004. I had a group of friends who gathered frequently at a friend’s house in Kembangan to play all kinds of boardgames. I stayed in Bishan then. It was a good 45-minute commute home. One in two times, this friend who hosted the gathering would send me back to Bishan, then travelled back home. I thanked him for his hospitality and I remember he said that it was his (then) fiancee’s father who taught him to be generous. He quoted his father-in-law, “Go and bless others”.
A year on, I remember how I paid it forward. I sent one of my musicians home after a late-night worship practice and he was appreciative of my gesture. He said, “Eh bro, thanks man, next time when I start driving, I’ll definitely send you home”. I replied, “Don’t mention, send others home instead”. I realised that this pay-it-forward mentality was already ingrained into me.
If I wrote an autobiography, I would be able to fill out an entire chapter with God’s blessings to me through people, in point form. I consider myself to be a blessed person and so from time to time, I will pay for meals and drinks, especially if the other person is younger than I am, or is one of my sheep. When they show their appreciation, and whenever I remember to say it, I will tell them to “Go and bless [their] sheep” then.
“… Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'” (Acts 20:35b)
When I was younger, I was a selfish boy who subscribed to the “Give and Take” theory – you give, I take. I don’t know about you but the older I get, the more I want to bless others. I used to keep track of how much I spent on someone and my spending amount was directly proportionate to that person’s relational proximity to me. And I take mental notes; if the person doesn’t reciprocate, I’d reduce or cease completely the next time I am presented with an opportunity to bless him or her. I thank God that He’s helped me to overcome my old childish ways.
At the same time, I will also never be able to out-give my mentors; I don’t think they expect me to anyway. And just as my mentors have invested their time, energy and resources into me, I have done likewise, but I paid it forward to my mentees. I am convince that when we start to give without expecting anything in return, we become liberated gift-givers and blessing-bringers. I cannot deny how God has blessed me over the years and each time He blesses me through someone to remind me of His faithfulness, I can’t help but to be liberated and encouraged to be even more generous with my friends.
My friends, we will never be able to out-give God and it’d be crazy if we tried to out-give one another. May I then encourage all of us to give unreservedly, love unconditionally and expect absolutely nothing in return – especially to those who are in need. When all of us get involved in meeting each other’s needs, no one will be in need anymore. I don’t subscribe to the “full circle” theory, but you never know, one day all these blessings may return to you, but will probably end up with your children instead. I am half-confident to know that my youths – the ones whom I’m investing my life into right now – will, in time to come, invest their lives into my children and my children’s children.
Let’s pay it forward, for the valueless payment we receive for paying forward actually has the greatest payback value of all.
I’ve got another confession to make and tonight this confession turns into a testimony of God’s faithfulness and goodness in my life. My spirit has truly been lifted up!
At the beginning of March, after the REAL 2010 graduation ceremony, I plunged into what I’d call, “Ministry Depression” for a couple of weeks. I remember telling RY, LK and HY how disappointed I was with my beloved REAL 2010 alumni. No, it wasn’t because they weren’t outstanding because they are, but very humanly speaking, I was deeply sad that after two months of investing my life into theirs, I received nothing in return except for handshakes, verbal appreciations and SMS encouragements.
Now, I’m being extremely honest here and I choose to spill my heart because there’s a an important lesson behind it. To be frank, I was expecting more from them; I know I’m not supposed to expect anything – after all, that’s what I’ve been teaching them the last two months – but I am being really human here; I remember telling myself, “You mean, that’s it? This is all I’m getting from the 16 of you after I poured my life into you? Wow. Thanks a lot”. Then I reclused into my own melancholic orbit and I convinced myself to quickly move on from this disappointment. I even wanted to harden my heart to them so that I will not allow myself to be hurt like that again. I’ve always openly declared that I’m a secret melancholy and this perpetuated it. My REAL champs may not have realised it because (I think) I’ve camouflaged it well, but I remember responding to them in a curt and cold manner that was very uncharacteristic of me. Some of my youths think that I’m superhuman because that’s the facade that I project but truth be told, I’m really just an ordinary human being with normal affection and affirmation needs as well.
There was little I could do really, except to talk to God and to let Him deal with me. I retreated into my own prayer closet and I came clean with God. I told Him exactly how I felt about how REAL ended and I asked Him to help me to overcome this disappointment by His grace. (This was before I spoke to my mentor, best friend and girlfriend.) I was rebelliously stubborn and I mentally rejected the scriptures that the Holy Spirit brought to my mind. I didn’t want to hear any “holy-moley-sunday-school-ten-year-series” consolation. And I shut my emotions away. But the more I dissected my heart before God, the more painful it was. A pruning process isn’t pleasant indeed. At the end of my emotional and spiritual tussle, the Holy Spirit led me to two scriptures, in this order:
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” – Psalm 51:17
“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” – Colossians 3:23
I am convinced that when the Lord ministers to you, you will be comforted. God is faithful and before He rebuked me, He gently let me know that it was all right to think like that and to feel that way, through Psalm 51:17. I just wanted to bare my heart before the Lord and I found great assurance in His divine embrace.
Once the Lord met my emotional needs, He began to address my thinking by pointing me to Colossians 3:23. I repented before the Lord for my poor attitude and mentality that were in the wrong places and I asked Him to give me new lenses to appreciate this situation. I determined it in my heart to continue to love my young people, regardless of whether affirmation was present or not, simply because God loves them and has compelled me to do likewise; I am doing this because I love them – nothing more, nothing less; I wasn’t going to allow a lack of encouragement to stop me from fulfilling my calling to be a youth pastor. This was a test that I had to overcome and by God’s grace I knew that I would overcome it. It was important that I did not lean on my own strength.
Of course, I would never share this unless I have emerged out of the miry clay; it wasn’t wise to air my struggles to the world before the Lord had finished dealing with me. (I did reveal a glimpse of my emotions but only very briefly.) Once I had this issue resolved within me, I shared my journey with RY and asked him how he dealt with this through his years of ministry; I shared it with LK to be accountable to him; I shared it with HY because I am completely vulnerable with her. Yes, I did take a couple of weeks to recover but I was so glad to have trudged through it.
What can I say? God is faithful and sovereign. I believe He has intentionally held back the affirmation of men until I was secure in Him. A week after my lipoma operation, I received the REAL cushion from my champs. I remember telling RY how delighted I was to receive a gift from them and he smiled and rejoiced with me – I was already satisfied and if the gift had stopped there, I would have been a happy man. But my God is a God who dotes on me and goes the extra mile just to tell me that He loves me. I remember GM telling me that this was just “part one of the gifts – part two will blow your mind”. Of course that filled my heart with even more joy, but I didn’t need anything anymore because I already had God’s affirmation. I decided to be phlegmatic about this part two – if it comes, good, if it doesn’t, that’s all right.
Then it came today. And it blew my mind. So I shall let the pictures do the talking.
What can I say? I’m moved beyond words (and the 11 champs I had lunch with today saw my expression) – this incredibly-thick two-volume masterpiece was painstakingly assembled over the course of 10 weeks. The amount of work that has been put into this is immense – and I can only try to imagine its production process – conceptualising it, selecting pictures, printing photographs, pasting photographs systematically, comprehensively adding secular quotes, scriptures, their own reflections, my own quotable quotes which they remembered, cutting all these captions, meticulously sticking it into the album, decorating and designing it, investing money to make it happen…
WOW I REALLY DO NOT DESERVE THIS.
All I have done in the two months with them was just to do what God has always compelled me to do; what I’ve always enjoyed doing regardless of whether I was full-time, part-time or half-time; what Grace Assembly of God hired me to do; and what gave me the greatest satisfaction in life – believing in young people through my speech and actions. To an extent, I was really just doing my job.
AND THEN THEY GAVE ME THIS TRIBUTE.
I couldn’t help but to thank God for His unmerited favour in my life. I am stunned speechless. How can I not love them, love God, love my job and love other young people even more? I’ve said it many times and so I will say it again – there’s a reason why the REAL 2010 alumni will always remain in a special place in my heart. They reinforced it today. I can only look back and thank God for every minute spent with them.
I love you all. Thank you for blessing me. You have no idea how much this means to me. You gave me a reward the world could never give. I really love my job. Thank you, Lord, for placing me in such a privileged position. I love You so much.
Over the last 15 years as a young person, I’ve learnt many things, both as a youth and as a youth leader. One of the things that PC taught me is that with people, you need to be patient, for one day they will surprise you with their goodness. I think this is particularly relevant for anyone dealing with a teenager, and especially for parents whose children are in their (painful and excruciating) juvenile years.
Mothers and fathers need to bear in mind that they may see very little (and often disheartening) results that may not be worth celebrating over especially in the younger years of their kids’ teenagehood. This also applies to all youth leaders. I encourage you to manage your expectations when working with adolescent (and often rebellious) youths. They will always think that they are right and they will always want to prove you wrong. This sounds cruel, but really, let them be, let them fall and let them learn. Don’t expect them to make good decisions at 14 years old and change the world at 16 years old when you only started to mature and wise up at 17 years old. I reiterate this to almost every young person under my leadership – that one of things I expect from them (pardon the lack of a better way to phrase it), is to screw up. And this immediately sets them at ease.
As a parent, mentor or youth leader, you must always remember that being with young people is often a thankless and behind-the-scenes job. Of course, there will be pockets of them who know how to appreciate you. Oh, I am so grateful for these because their appreciation of your investment in them is often so genuine and heartfelt. But I do not live or thrive on these boosts. Their encouragement is a bonus, not a necessity; I’d love to receive it, but I do not need it to do what I am called to do. A mature youth leader needs to sort this out in his head and heart. For if a leader is motivated by recognition and appreciation, he is sure to be left disappointed and disillusioned at some point.
To be frank, sometimes it can be tough (and tiring) working with youths, especially those who do not listen; I was one of them, so I know. You put in the hard work, sweat and toil with them, but when they succeed, they get all the credit and you simply get forgotten. When they are in trouble, you offer advice and genuinely want to help them, but when they mess it up, you sometimes get the blame and even need to pick them up. So today, I encourage you to look further and beyond all these seemingly disparaging signs.
Always remember that you are here to plant seeds, and most times you will not be the one to reap what you have sown – not immediately at least. JH was amongst the first to plant seeds in my life, and as I develop fruits, I can honestly tell you that he did not benefit from it directly – but it doesn’t stop him from planting it anyway. So I’m here to remind us all, that whenever we work with young people, that it is our job is to plant seeds, not pluck fruits. Let’s be committed to do our jobs well and to trust God to nurture and eventually complete what we have started. After all, we do the planting, He does the growing.
For those who are much younger and not in a leadership position yet, I’d urge you to encourage, appreciate and honour those who have planted and are still planting seeds in your life. Let them know, in whatever way you know how to, that you are thankful for their investment of time, emotions and resources in you. You’ll make their day.
Do remember that the bible-giveaway competition is still ongoing. Please make my job as the jury a little harder! Come on!? :P At the same time, I’d encourage you to consider subscribing to my blog (fill in your email at the top right of the page) so that you’d receive and read my daily posts in the convenience of your mailbox at the time of publication. Also, just want to mention that the readership response for the last entry on my journey into full-time ministry was extremely encouraging – I hope you were blessed by my sharing. Blogging daily has become a think-time that I look forward to. (:
As I lounged into my seat to observe AS’s piano recital at the Yong Siew Toh Music Conservatory yesterday, I realised that I grew frustrated at my inability to fully appreciate the beauty of the Chopin pieces that she was apparently playing so brilliantly. It was an accomplished performance, no doubt; her fingers moved so much faster than I could move my lips, musically it sounded like a formidably difficult piece to pull off with so many off-beats, odd synchronisations, and flats and sharps that seem to fit in perfectly when they normally would sound out of place. It was only the second time I saw Singapore’s child (now teenage) prodigy in action but there I was, reclined in my comfortably red seat, wishing that my musical knowledge was more inclined so that I could appreciate her performance at the level that it was meant to be appreciated at.
How do you enjoy a performance you can’t appreciate? I’m inclined to believe that talent is best appreciated by the talented, for our enjoyment is vastly limited and restrained to our personal capacities and standards – I could never fully comprehend the difficulty of AS’s piano pieces and the level of her accomplished techniques; my enjoyment was sadly limited to a mere sensory admiration, instead of a technical, emotional and intellectual appreciation. Football, music and even preaching are all art in various forms but our appreciation of even its respective equipment knowledge or showmanship styles has been greatly marginalised due to our ignorance of these art forms. We won’t even be able to comprehend the painstaking efforts and countless hours invested to perfect the art.
I found myself asking two questions:
- How should you apply the talent at your disposal?
- How should you appreciate the talent on display?
So as I fidgeted in my seat, I naturally recalled the parable of the talents, where it’s not about how much talent you have, but about what you do with it. Each of us would have our assigned lots in life. The whole idea is to utilise the lot in the best way you know how to; for the more you use it, the better you get at it and may possibly even acquire new skills along the way. I think this is applicable to any art form. Think about it – if I decide to practise scales in a bid to up my guitar playing ability, and I get good at it, I will open up the door to new genres of music for me to learn and appreciate. In football, if I put myself through dribbling drills, I will eventually get stronger on my weaker leg, and I will open up the option of eventually shooting or crossing with my weaker foot. Before I could polish my abilities as a lead singer, I had to ensure that my basic singing abilities were above average. Practice doesn’t just make perfect – it paves the path for new skills.
I remember a quote by John Keating from one of my all-time favourite movie, Dead Poets Society:
“… And medicine, law, business, engineering – these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love…
These are what we stay alive for.”
I think that beauty is multi layered – where one standard of excellence is carefully smuggled beneath another. I juxtapose the foundations of three art forms – the left and right hand of a pianist, the skill and the fitness of a footballer, and the preparation and oration of a preacher. The pursuit of excellence and the discovery of new art forms will exponentially enhance and elevate our appreciation of life.