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refrain: if you are good enough, you are old enough.

If there was anyone in the world I could ask to mentor me in spotting and developing potential, it would undoubtedly be Sir Alex Ferguson. One day, I will meet him, along with Eric Cantona and John Piper – these are the few people whose hands I’ve yet to shake and whose feet I will sit at to learn from.

I couldn’t help but to rack up my respect for the Gaffer with his latest statement on Rooney. Absolutely classic. I completely resound with the Boss.

… But Ferguson ratcheted up this extraordinary public battle, with a powerful and idiosyncratic late night explanation of why Rooney should have invested faith in his proven ability to spot talent and why the grass might not be as green as the striker really thinks it will be at Manchester City. “Sometimes you look in a field and you see a cow and you think it’s a better cow than the one you’ve got in the field,” Ferguson said. “It never really works out that way. It’s probably the same cow and its not as good as your own cow. Some players like to think there’s a better world somewhere else. It never really works.”

As metaphors go, it was about as memorable as Eric Cantona’s “seagulls follow the trawler” story, though and it was accompanied by Ferguson’s revelation that a lack of belief in his judgment in the transfer market had once persuaded a player – possibly Roy Keane – to leave because he thought Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo were not good enough. “He was not prepared to wait until they were good enough,” Ferguson said.

“But that’s the trouble with potential,” he went on. “People don’t identify potential. They’re very poor at it. I’ve identified it all my life – the potential in young people. I know potential. I know how to develop and have faith in young people, who surprise you when given the opportunity and that’s what this club is all about. When you see Manchester United at the moment with all these young players, 14 under 22, you can’t see Manchester United three years ahead.”

(Source: The Independent)

WOW! What a statement of intent! I could totally see myself saying the same thing as Sir Alex! I always believe that we must be infinitely patient with (young) people, because one day, they will surprise you with their goodness. I’m sticking to my guns with this philosophy in my ministry. You can even look at the Bible to see traces of older men believing in much young men to mentor and take over their ministry.

I’ve achieved what I’ve intentionally set out to do – to lower the average age of all my first tier leaders. No, it’s not meant to declare anarchy or rebellion but to simply demonstrate my absolute belief in young people – by putting them on the frontline of leadership. I’m already thinking about the members of my first tier leadership team in 2012! The first thing I told these my current leaders is to find a successor. I believe it’s all well and good if one of my leaders want to remain in young ministry and serve until they’re old like me – in fact, I’d rejoice and praise God for their commitment and passion to serve the youths alongside me! But it should and must never come at the expense of preventing another young person from rising up in ministry. As long as I’m in charge, I will never allow that to happen. Leadership must always renew itself (although I must state my caveat that the higher the position, the harder the succession, and the lengthier the process).

Never, EVER, tell a young person he is a failure and will never make it. Remember one thing – he or she is still young! They have the licence and the privilege (just as you had when you were young!) to make mistakes and more importantly, to learn from it. Our hearts with wrench each time we see a young person falter, but it’s all about the recovery process – never forget that! I remind myself time and again that I’m never looking at the final product. Youth ministry is known to be transient and quite rightly so – the young person you see before your eyes today is far from being the polished individual you will see years later. I don’t know about you, but I’m committed to play my role in cleaning and sharpening this young person.

If I may reiterate Ferguson’s words, there are two lessons to learn and two principles to cherish if you’re in youth ministry:

  1. Be patient to wait until they come good, for they surely will, with the right guidance from you.
  2. If you can’t see their potential – that’s your problem – it doesn’t mean they do not have potential!

I’ve stated it on this blog before and I’ll happily post this paradigm-shifting quote again from the legendary Sir Matt Busby:

If you are good enough, you are old enough.

The funny thing is, the reverse may not be true! Again, I’m spilling my heart out on this matter because I’m so passionate about believing in young people. You’ll do yourself and the young people you are working with a world of injustice if you merely look at ability and age instead of potential and possibilities. You can limit yourself. But never, EVER, limit a young person. OH YEAH, THE SPRINGTIME OF YOUTH!

P/S: I’ve really missed the catharsis of writing daily!

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ownership is the key to planning for success.

Over the past couple of months, I’ve spent Monday afternoons at Dunearn Secondary School, together with a class of secondary one students. First and foremost, an honest confession – I know that my strength is with developing emerging leaders, so when KK told me that I had to stand-in for him for two sessions, I couldn’t help but to brace myself for the challenge of teaching 13 year olds. I like being around young people, but handling these especially restless students required a higher calling; I applaud KK as well as the school teachers, who have done it for years.

I took a gamble today and conducted an activity that I wasn’t really confident of pulling off or sure if it would succeed. I briefed the class on the six typical roles in a committee – chairperson, secretary, treasurer, publicity coordinator, logistics coordinator and programme coordinator – and got them to plan a fictitious event from scratch. The nominated chairperson in each group would choose from the following events to plan: rock concert, CCA open house, school excursion, iJourney camp, fun fair or sports day. They were given 25 minutes to nail this.

When I handed over the time to them, I was pleased to see how involved they were. I had expected the students to get rowdy and to lose interest but they were so engrossed in the planning and creative process; I had expected them to give up or ask a barrage of questions about the various roles but they grasp their functions pretty quickly. I had given each group an imaginary budget, but after seeing how absorbed they were, I upped their budget ten-fold to encourage them to dream even bigger and get even more creative; their budget calculations, though elementary, really caught me by surprise.

I was secretly delighted at their seriousness in accomplishing the given task. When it was time to present, each chairperson was given five minutes to describe everything the group had discussed; it was truly a sight to behold as every student listened attentively and responded enthusiastically to the wacky ideas tendered. I closed the session by sharing PK’s rags-to-riches story (founder of Nike) and drilled into them the importance of planning – especially if they desired to be successful. I drew parallels from the events-planning exercise and helped them to see that planning precedes success.

I sincerely hope that they caught it and would apply it into their lives. Frankly, I’ve never seen them paying such intense attention before. I gave them another five minutes to translate what they have learnt into fulfilling their childhood dreams. During this time of reflection, one (of the more serious) girls actually planned to move up from the normal technical to the normal academic stream by the end of the year to fulfill her dreams of becoming a rich businesswoman. My heart leaped for joy with her. Pardon the cliché, but if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

Today, these students taught me a lesson even as I shared my lesson with them – that if you instill belief in people by giving them the key to being responsible for their own planning for success (or failure), they might just surprise you by actually taking ownership of their lives and pilgrimage to success. I was even treated to a bonus exhibition of dandy ideas! I believe that if you empower a young person to dream, they will truly dare to dream along with you. The challenge then, for youth workers like me, is to give them a platform, some perimeters, and to help their see the picture that it takes a team to realise a dream.

This was, without a doubt, the iJourney session that left the greatest impression on me thus far.

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