In my 12 years of learning to be a leader and leading leaders, I’ve found that there are two groups of people who are a joy to be with: those who are enthusiastic learners and those who are easier to teach. Both groups had this in common – a teachable spirit – and that is indeed one of the key considerations when I select potential leaders.
I’ve always believed that a good leader knows how to feed himself, be it through books, mentors, sermons, journalling or in times of solitude. Leaders must see that it is their personal responsibility to learn. My friend, Ps Chua Seng Lee, once told me not to depend on anyone in the organisation for my personal training and development. He said that if I didn’t take charge of my learning pilgrimage, nobody will. I agree with him. After all, one can only be spoon-fed and hand-held for so long.
One of the common “complaints” of a believer, regardless of which church or ministry he belongs to, is that the “sermon is not deep enough” for him. I’ve had peers tell me that when they want to switch to another church. I’ve also had youths tell me that when they want to leave the youth service. Granted, some assert that because they are genuinely seeking something more, but some conveniently say that because they do not realise that the onus of learning is on the student, not the teacher.
In Mark 4:1-20, Jesus made the exception of explaining a parable. He hardly did this so it must have been a lesson he did not want his disciples to miss. He went on to explain the different metaphors used in the parable:
- The seed represents God’s Word. (And I think the farmer represents anyone who’s teaching you the Word of God – it could be a teacher, pastor, preacher, mentor, leader or parent.)
- The footpath represents Christians who are deceived by the Devil and are quickly scattered.
- The shallow soil represents believers who are joyful and enthusiastic at the start but are not rooted in the Word. As a pastor in a pentecostal church, I believe this is especially true of pentecostal believers who seek the experience more than the truth. They say that they “can’t feel God anymore” and soon after begin backsliding.
- The thorns represent Christians who are easily distracted and tempted by the world.
- And the fertile soil (the only positive example) represents what I believe to be teachable Christians who hear God’s Word and accept it into their heart.
With that parable as a backdrop, what then, is your posture in learning from the preacher, your leaders, the cell kits and your daily devotions? Do you approach it with a “Let’s see what he has to say” or with a “Let’s see how I can learn from him” attitude? Choose the latter for it is better! If a person think he already knows, then he can’t be taught; a person who carries an attitude that they already know as much as the teacher won’t receive anything from him. In my short journey of meeting youth leaders around the Asia, I have met some who think they already know all they need to know about the Word or youth ministry – it’s difficult and almost repulsive to converse with these people. I know, because I’m like that sometimes. (:
Truth be told, in my last three years as a youth minister, with the exception of sitting at the feet of outstanding bible teachers and expositors like Ps Benny Ho or Ps Edmund Chan, most of the growth I’ve made were through preparing and listening to sermons, reading books, reflecting during times of solitude (though fewer than desired – sigh!) and walking with the Lord. I grew because I took on the responsibility to learn and then God caused the growth!
I’ve sat into many youth services and to be honest, youth ministry sermon content doesn’t differ too much due to the limitations of preaching to a teenage crowd. So instead of scrutinising theological content when I sit into a youth service (or any other kind of service), what I do is to try to catch the preacher’s heart. You see, you can’t teach a love for the Word, a passion for discipleship, an urgency for evangelism or a desire for mentoring the next generation; these things are more caught than taught. I always remind myself to catch the teacher’s heart more than the stuff in his head.
Here’s what I’ve learnt: if you can’t learn from teachers, you will struggle to learn from God. Some believers have the mentality that since they are able to download directly from God, they won’t require a man to teach them the Word. Of course, there is truth in this (that the Holy Spirit can illuminate truth from the Word), but that alone is inadequate. Think about it, if that was so, then why did God give teachers to the church? In Ephesians 4:11-16, Paul writes that teachers were given to us “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (KJV).
Therefore, I believe that there is wisdom in having a teachable spirit. The way a leader receives instruction from teachers gives me a glimpse of his character. His posture as a student eventually determines his destiny as a learner. In sailing, the setting of the sail on a sailboat is also called the “attitude” of the sail. Wind is the irreplaceable yet uncontrollable component in sailing and the same wind visits both good and bad sailors. Depending on the attitude of the sail, wind would cause the sailboat to be steered into different directions. Two believers can receive the same teaching, but have completely different responses and takeaways. At the end of the day, it is the attitude of a teachable spirit that will enable us to travel in the right direction.
7 Anyone who rebukes a mocker will get an insult in return. Anyone who corrects the wicked will get hurt.
8 So don’t bother correcting mockers; they will only hate you. But correct the wise, and they will love you.
9 Instruct the wise, and they will be even wiser. Teach the righteous, and they will learn even more.
10 Fear of the LORD is the foundation of wisdom. Knowledge of the Holy One results in good judgment.
11 Wisdom will multiply your days and add years to your life.
12 If you become wise, you will be the one to benefit. If you scorn wisdom, you will be the one to suffer.
— Proverbs 9:7-12 (NLT)
And in Proverbs 15:10, “Whoever abandons the right path will be severely disciplined; whoever hates correction will die.” That’s pretty extreme! So if you want to be a wise man, have a teachable spirit. If not, the one who eventually loses out is you!
There are four good examples of teachable men in the Bible:
- Moses shows us that a teachable man is a meek man. He was also hungry to learn from and lean on the Lord’s guidance.
- David shows us that a teachable man seeks to to God’s will. He demonstrates in many Psalms that he wants to receive instruction from God because he wants to follow Him.
- Jesus shows us that a teachable man knows the Father is the ultimate teacher. Try accomplishing the immense mission Jesus was tasked to do – no wonder He stayed so close to His father and did only what He saw the Father doing.
- The disciples show us that teachable men are led by the Holy Spirit. They demonstrate how the Holy Spirit not only empowered, but also instructed them in the way they should go. May we be wise, for it is tempting to try doing God’s will in our own wisdom and strength.
In application, being teachable means to:
- Receive instruction from the Word and the Holy Spirit.
- Receive correction from parents, pastors, leaders and mentors.
- Humbly learn from others regardless of age or experience.
- Bring compliments, criticisms and crises before God and godly counsel.
- Review moral standards in: alcoholism, dressing, academia, relationships and worldly vices.
- Be open, honest and humble about your lack of knowledge, skills, and character.
- Desire challenges that will stretch you but help you reach your goals.
- Be willing to let go of your own way of dealing with things and your own ideas to learn and develop new convictions.
- (And this I picked up from my mentor, Ps Edmund Chan,) have the “Double L” plate hung on your front and back, so that those who follow you see a LEADER, and when you look at yourself in the mirror, you always see a LEARNER.
God could use the disciples to such great effect not just because they were faithful and available, but that they were also teachable. Think about it, this was an uneducated and underwhelming motley crew of unknowns who had to depend on the Jesus to teach them everything they needed to know about their newfound faith! If they can and needed to be taught, surely we too should follow suit.
The difference between modern-day and Jesus-day Christians is that the former has two things the latter doesn’t: the Holy Spirit (sent after Jesus ascended to heave) and the complete Bible (written years after the early church was formed). Therefore, let’s ask the Holy Spirit to guide us on how we should conduct ourselves, and how we should approach God’s Word with a willing heart and a teachable spirit. If there’s one thing we ought to determine ourselves to do, it is to remain teachable in all circumstances.
My mentor in Perth, Bro Au Chin Seng, once told me, “No matter how high you climb, there will always be areas you’ll need growth in.” I’ve learnt from him that the day might come when I may no longer have anyone above me in a hierarchical setting, except for God Himself. This is when the greatest test of humility and teachability takes place. He mentioned that the two most poisonous words of a confident, mature and experienced man is, “I Know”. That single-handedly puts people off in correcting me and giving me feedback. He reminded me to always adopt an attitude of learning regardless of how old, wise or mature I am, in any situation, for the moment I stop learning is the moment I stop living.
[Credits: teaching materials adapted from Arlo Moehlenpah and Pierre Eade.]
As I attempted to clean up and archive the notes in my computer today, I found pearls of wisdom from CS. These were the things I remembered from his sharing with me over an afternoon coffee session in Clementi Central, way back in March. Re-reading it, I realised that wisdom and righteousness are timeless and evergreen – such advice never gets mouldy or irrelevant, regardless of which stage of life you’re at or in.
“When people are against your ideas or what you share, involve them in prayer and ask them to bring it to the Lord in prayer too.”
This exhibits “Show your enemy the other cheek” in a different perspective. When you operate this way, it becomes unmistakable when God speaks to both parties. When we pray, He confirms and works, and even the most opposing opinions can work together, compromised and accepted, for the sake of working towards achieving His will. At the end of the day, all the glory will have go to Him for He enabled what was humanly impossible to be possible.
“There’s no winner in an argument. Someone will lose.”
CS’ sentiments on arguments confirm what I’ve always subscribed to – that I’d rather lose the argument than lose the relationship. (In the last six months, I realise that I have actually been practising this principle. And while it’s not easy deliberately losing – I’m being honest, I am a competitive and outspoken person and I have a man’s pride! – I’m actually at peace with it because I don’t find it a need to prove myself to anyone or to convince others of my ideas.) Conversely speaking, when you do prioritise people over problems, you may actually win both. Win them over and naturally they’ll be more inclined to listen to you and be opened to your ideas; they may even sway towards your argument and stand with you. Over the years, I’ve learnt that people are more willing to listen to you when they know that you have their best interests at heart. Ironically, they need to be first convinced of your affections for them before they are convinced of your argument.
“No matter how high you climb, there will always be areas you’ll need growth in.”
The day will come when you no longer have any man (or woman) above you in a hierarchal setting, but the Lord Himself. This is the greatest test of humility and teachability. The two most poisonous words in a confident, mature and experienced person is, “I know”. This arrogant phrase single-handedly puts people off in correcting you and giving you feedback. Always adopt an attitude of learning regardless of how old, wise, experienced or mature you are in a particular situation. The moment you stop learning is the (tragic) moment you stop living.
Eight years ago, the Football Association of Singapore claimed that Singapore would qualify for the World Cup in 2010 and subsequently created a project “Goal 2010”, which they embarrassingly retracted after a couple of years, when they realised its near-impossibility.
It’s halfway through the FIFA World Cup and while the Final 16 have been determined, my interest for this competition has hit an all time low. People have been asking me which team I am rooting for and I replied them all the same – “Singapore”. I find it strange (and quite ridiculously, to be honest) to cheer for another country’s colours; I struggle to find the passion to follow any team’s progress and I’m surprised at how apathetic I have been toward this entire competition.
I remember submitting an article on Goal 2010 during my second year in polytechnic for a module called “News Writing”. I had the privilege of meeting and interviewing then-Tanjong Pagar United coach, Tohari Paijan. He was such a nice bloke and was extremely hospitable to an 18-year-old kid on an academic assignment. There was nothing in it for him yet he brought me along on one of the away matches – against Woodlands Wellington. I met him at Queenstown Stadium in the late afternoon and witnessed the final preparations before I hitched a ride in his car to Woodlands, went into the locker room to meet and greet the players (then Under-23 vice-captain Ratna Suffian and current national team player Daniel Bennett) and even sat on the team bench during the evening match! It was a fantastic and memorable experience, I must say.
So if you don’t mind, I thought it’d be pretty interesting to revive something that I penned two World Cups ago. I ascertained then that we were not going to make it to the World Cup in 2010 and my prophetic writing came true – I was right on the money (just like majority of Singaporeans who also found Goal 2010 an unachievable target).
2nd April 2002 | by Joey Asher Tan
The current crop of young players, whose attitudes come under serious scrutiny, jeopardise the chances of GOAL 2010. As these are the players who will eventually take over the mantle of the national team, the fear of insufficient quality in the squad may seem much more real than it really is.
The FAS (Football Association of Singapore) has placed a somewhat unrealistic target to reach the World Cup by year 2010. The Southeast Asian lynchpin, Thailand, which consistently defeats Singapore, is lying at the bottom of their World Cup qualifying campaign, and still without a win. The struggle of Thailand only serves to mirror how long the distance Singapore must journey before qualifying for the World Cup finals.
Recently, Bora Mulitinovic claimed that he would reject the opportunity to coach Singapore. “Think about Argentina. Monday – football, Tuesday – football. In South America, they eat, sleep and drink football. It is their life,” he explains, “Then look at Singapore. It is clean and pleasant, a nice place to live in. But when you find a small patch of grass to play football on, there is a sign saying it is prohibited. That is why I wouldn’t coach Singapore. The philosophy and priorities are different”.
Indeed, his outspoken standpoint epitomises the gloomy mentality of Singaporeans – how many would actually consider a professional football career?
Tohari Paijan, coach of Tanjong Pagar United, states, “Majority of Singaporeans are Chinese, yet the S-League is dominated by Malays. We must convince the Chinese community to consider a career in football”. He believes Singapore can reach the World Cup, but not in year 2010. “The youth are not convincing enough; all they want is fame. Singapore’s young players have no aim and no ambition; they must ask themselves what they want in life. There are simply too many distractions for them”, declares Paijan.
R Suriamurthi, coach of the Under-16 squad, shares similar views with Paijan, “Times have changed. Back in my time, we eat, sleep, and breathe football, and even train up to five hours a day, sometimes training even three times a day. We just want to play football”. He compares this with the youth of today’s football, “Now training is just one and a half hours, that’s all the football they do. After that, we have no control over them – their diet, their sleep – we have absolutely no chance to monitor them at all. The youths think they have everything. It’s not like Alice in Wonderland; you don’t attain skills overnight”.
There are many things beyond a coach’s control. They have no say over policies and procedures. “The education system in Singapore is great, but this system is not suitable for footballers”, Suriamurthi explains, “There’s simply not enough time for training. My players also have to worry about homework and exams. It’s very stressful for them. Some of them also have girlfriends, handphones – and all these are distractions”.
Paijan states again, “Singapore lacks the proper infrastructure. Look at the condition of the pitch. Where is the groundwork?” He also questions the mindset of those players who don the national jersey, “Players must be willing to die for the team. They must put their heart and soul into the team. But where is their sense of belonging?”
Visions, goals, and targets – all these are values that must remain constant. “Jan Poulsen’s contract expires in two years. If a new coach comes in, he will want to run everything in his own different ways”, Paijan elaborates, “If we get a Brazilian coach, will we play samba soccer? If we get an Argentine coach, does that mean we will play tango football?” He frustrates, “Everyone has solutions, but the problem remains unsolved. Singapore is not willing to sacrifice her resources”.
Furthermore, Singaporeans must stop comparing the S-League to the English Premier League. This is simply because we do not have world-class players and excellent infrastructure. In Paijan’s words, “There’s no fight; the English Premier League is light years ahead of the S-League”.
Money will not buy a championship. Two world record transfer fees were splashed out for Luis Figo and Zinedine Zidane, but Real Madrid is now languishing in 14th position in the Spanish Primera Liga. That is precisely why Paijan places his faith in the youth policy. Tanjong Pagar United have since nurtured highly-rated young players in the mould of Ratna Suffian and Daniel Bennett.
On top of talent and technical ability, Tohari Paijan and R Suriamurthi also stress the magnitude of attitude. Tohari’s players echo his opinions; Ratna Suffian, vice-captain of the Under-23 squad, asserts, “There is a lot of talent out there, but attitude is much more important than talent. Discipline is also crucial for a player’s development”.
Daniel Bennett, who shone in the recent exhibition matches against Liverpool and Manchester United, also reinforces Ratna’s views, “Without attitude, talent is nothing”. Bennett, who qualifies to play for the Singapore team, is an exceptional talent. It is imperative that Singapore does her best to hang on to this colossal asset. A true-blue homegrown player, he steadily rose through the ranks of Tanjong Pagar United’s youth academy. “Robert Lim discovered me in the Milo Cup, and he brought me to Tanjong Pagar”, Bennett recalls.
All we need is a just one good young player to rise up each season. If the S-League can unearth a Ratna Suffian or a Daniel Bennett every season, then there will be light at the end of the tunnel. The Singapore team needs match winners; one Indra Sahdan Daud is simply not enough.
Get the infrastructure right, keep Jan Poulsen in Singapore for a long time, invest heavily in the football academies and centres of excellence, look out for promising talent in the S-League, and most importantly, correct the players’ ailing attitudes, and only then, Singapore’s dream of the World Cup finals will be realised much sooner than later.
HY and I had to miss the final evening service of the Retreat for an important task (more on that in a separate post) but the morning service was such an amazing spiritual buffet that it was more than enough food. These thoughts fed my mind on day four of Grace Retreat 2010 (and I feel so full).
- God may not empower you to choose but He will empower your choices; you need to quit waiting on God to prod you into action.
- It’s not what we consume that defiles us but what leaves our mouth that does; the mind is not godless, it’s what we do with the mind that makes us godless.
- The pleasures of sin don’t last forever, and the Devil knows that we’ve given our hearts to Jesus, so that’s why he is after our mind; hence the manner in which we deploy our mind is of paramount importance.
- Proverbs 23:7, paraphrased – “I am becoming what I’m thinking”. Life follows thoughts – that is why we need a resurrected mind, for attitude influences behaviour and thoughts determine future. Therefore, we ought to keep our brain strong for it controls the heart.
- Psalm 26:2 – “Test my mind” – to test is to examine so as to purge or clean out; you go to a doctor to find out what’s wrong (to fix it) and not what’s right: I’ve always believed that “judgment” is a neutral and necessary word, for evaluation.
- The mind is naturally set on the flesh which leads to death, so you should set your mind on the Spirit, which gives life and peace.
- Psalm 1:1-2 – Exercising the mind is like training the body – it takes effort! And so we should remember that memory work comes before revelation; if Jesus memorised the Word and practised spiritual disciplines, then there’s no reason why we shouldn’t or are exempted from it.
- My destiny is not heaven – that’s my destination – my destiny is to fulfill my purpose on this earth. I don’t wanna miss the whole point of life on earth!
- What am I feeding myself? All that we intake are seeds, and one day these seeds will bear fruit; my fruit will be and is determined by my seed.
- Philippians 4:8 – We should train our brain by conditioning it to think about the right things; rubbish in, rubbish out.
- 1 Peter 1:13 – We are instructed to “gird up” our minds for action, so we must nourish and feed it. As a result, the training of our thinking should lead to our acting. How? By thinking through things, memorising and meditating, as well as dwelling and pondering on Scripture.
- Digging deep into God’s Word is like a dog devouring a bone; it never relents until it goes deep enough to get all the remaining flesh, oil and the best bits of the bone; almost as if to “suck the marrow out of life”.
- Romans 8:6 – Revelation is most powerfully experienced when it speaks to your mind, moves to your heart and flows through your life.
To my surprise, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed ZA’s and JA’s preaching. They were, for a lack of a better way to phrase it, typical pentacostal preachers, but their teaching is biblically sound and to a certain extent, Word-based. Not the expository style of EC, BH or JP that I’ve always preferred, but still solid preaching. One thing I prayed and asked God for during this Retreat is to make me both a Word-based teacher and a Spirit-filled preacher.
Previously, I wrote an article on the dangers of meritocracy – especially in the Singaporean upbringing and way of life. While we are all aware that we live in a society where our best is unfairly and unnecessarily juxtaposed against someone else’s good, we need to realise that there will come a point where we’ll just have to say “No” to the sickening and extremely poisonous repercussions of comparisons. I mean, seriously, if a young person is already giving his or her best, what else do you expect? One day, you will either drive him up the wall or out of the house. Is that it?
To combat low self-esteem and the unhealthy habits of pegging ourselves against others, I’d recommend that we employ the power of encouragement in our daily ins and outs. Indeed, a pat on the back pushes out the chest! I’ve said it time and again, that encouragement is to put in courage, where there is none. Never underestimate and neglect the necessity of encouragement – you can really empower someone with simple words of affirmation – eloquence is not required.
I believe that young people, when they come to a certain age, are actually smart and self-aware enough to make their own decisions and be responsible for it. Like it or not, one day we will have to stop treating them like they are still children. This is for their own good as well as for ours. The least (and most) that we ought to do as adults is to give them the benefit of doubt because I believe that youths do know their personal limits and they are doing. Yes, as mature adults, we probably would have experienced more than they have; and so our job is to warn them of the consequences of their decisions and to encourage them to be responsible for it. Look, we must know that we cannot protect them for life and shield them away from making big decisions. This is harsh, but we’ll be crippling them, really. Nothing is more powerful than telling a young person that you believe in him or her and actually following up your words with actions.
(On a side note, it is unfortunate that Singaporean guys pick up negative habits like acting ignorant, avoiding responsibilities and not taking ownership of themselves during their national service days. If a guy decides to adopt that attitude while in uniform, he wouldn’t just throw away two years but may actually cause more damage to himself as he unlearns the good habits honed during his teenage years prior enlistment. No wonder the girls are so outstanding nowadays. I genuinely hope that our boys would stand up and be counted like real men. But I digress…)
We should give our youths the opportunity to learn from their own decisions – both good and bad ones; when they knock into walls, they will be convinced of their folly and will make their own comebacks. Trust me on this – they will regret their decisions more than we ever think they will. I remember saying this before, that while we cannot stop someone from falling, we certainly can stop them from crashing.
I’m unapologetic for my repetition, but all we really should do as older individuals, is to believe in and encourage the younger ones. Already our society is telling them what they cannot do instead of what they can do – what an oppressing environment to dwell and develop in! Don’t add on to their existing pressure! Don’t do to them what everyone else is doing to them. If we love them, then we ought to tell them that they can and will make it, not how they cannot and would never get there – what good do these damaging words do, really? We need to learn to trust that they can make decisions and take ownership of their choices; there is greater value there than curtailing their liberty.
I’m not being a renegade or encouraging any young person to rebel – I’m merely sharing my honest opinion of why I think that our young people are more stifled these days than they ever are. We ought to help them to become complete and mature individuals, not hack them into pieces with our destructive words. Don’t be surprised at how outstanding our young people can become. I think they only need two ingredients – 1) time, and 2) someone to believe in them. Would we dispense these freely?
So from the bottom of my heart – hear me, please – let our young people live their lives, not relive yours. Let them chart their paths, not walk yours. Let’s guide them, not dictate them. The best form of encouragement is when it’s loud and repeated. May your face appear in their heads whenever they think about someone who believes in them and may your voice resonate in their hearts as the one who says, “I believe in you”. That, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is the greatest gift you’d ever give to them.
First and foremost, thank you for all your submissions! I didn’t receive as many as I had hoped for, but it was certainly more than I had expected! I’m happy either way. Of course, I lay the blame of the not-so-hot response on the laid-back Asian mentality and the aiya-don’t-want-lah-so-paiseh attitude. It’s never my own undoing, right? :P
Anyway, I have looked through and enjoyed reading all the submissions! I have already selected the winner and will announce the result in the coming days, together with the winning entry! Keep your eyes peeled on this blog because for the first time in my blogging history (do allow me to self-hype), I will publish someone else’s writing in its entirety! Nonetheless, since it’s my competition, I will bend my rules and declare that I still accept entries until 20th May, but the bar has been raised and any subsequent entries would have to better the existing ones by a mile!
On a more serious note, I humbly request that you keep a few of us in prayer, as the Spirit leads you, over the next few days. ET, SW, TT, NL, LS and KJ, together with KK and I, will be at a camp called iJourney, from Monday to Wednesday. This annual programme is conducted for the Secondary 1 Normal Technical students and selected Secondary 3 student leaders from Dunearn Secondary School. It’s a great opportunity for us to plant seeds in these young lives, as well as to be demonstrate Christ-like testimonies for them.
I have already written in advance and have scheduled daily posts to (still) be published at the stroke of every midnight. So if you keep reading and commenting, I will surely keep writing. I told LK that writing daily has become such a habit that this catharsis is turning into an obsession. And I think it’s a good one.
For now, I think it’s time to kill the monotony of words and to colour the blog. I took this picture of the magnificent birds’ eye view of the Seogwipo World Cup Stadium in Jeju, South Korea, when I was atop the hot-air balloon. I remember telling myself that this would be the closest that I’d ever get to any World Cup. This is the breathtaking scenery 150-metres above ground! Enjoy!