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.
I’ve served the Lord in church since I was 14 years old. From being a young backup vocalist, I was privileged enough to serve in leadership capacities as I got older, be it leading worship, a cell group, events or a sports team. I praise God that I’ve grown in my capabilities, capacities, competencies, and matured in my character. But most importantly, I’m grateful for my journey towards Christlikeness. Not that I’m already there or even close to – but who is, in this lifelong journey?
I will border on being judgmental in this post but I hope you will see my heart in this. Not to judge but to warn; not to condemn but to remind. So I have decided to come out to say it anyway… After all, I’ve always been outspoken such matters.
One of the things that irk me most about ministry are leaders who serve for the wrong reasons. I think that leadership, especially higher-profile roles like cell or worship leaders, have become incredibly glamourised by the deceptive standards of this world. It’s as if our expectations of leadership in church have secularised; you’ve “arrived” if you hold a particular leadership position.
That’s absolute nonsense.
Everyone plays a different role in the body of Christ. There’s a higher and lower profile of course, but there isn’t a greater or lesser significance. Many times, I’ve shaken my head in disappointment (and disgust!) at leaders who desire leadership for the sake of glamour and popularity that leadership positions inevitably brings. Honestly, these leaders are short-changing themselves. But more dangerously, they are short-changing the ones who follow them.
Leadership is not a place you’ve arrived at. Instead, it is a time you will be activated in. Leadership is not a destination but a decision. Here’s a stern warning to all leaders and leaders-to-be, especially those whom I have the privilege of leading in R-AGE @ GII – don’t you ever lead because of how it would make you feel; I would make it my personal crusade to clamp down on this undesirable and unbiblical behaviour. Instead, you lead because you want to serve and love people. I will fiercely guard against this destructive attitude.
An immediate question that I think you will ask is – “How then would I know if I am leading with the right motives?”
So I shall attempt to give a yardstick based on my leadership journey.
A couple of days ago, I posted this on Facebook – “If you wish to lead them, feed them or serve them… You must first KNOW them. Otherwise, what’s the point?” I shall base my argument on this simple barometer – how well do you know the ones whom you are serving and leading? No, I’m not talking about knowing their favourite colour, food, hang-out or TV programme… I’m referring to how well you know and understand their spiritual condition. Amongst many other prying questions, you should ask yourself just these 10:
- Do you know their strengths and weaknesses?
- Do you know their greatest cause of sin?
- Do you know their immediate prayer requests?
- Do you know their felt needs and meet it?
- Do you know their last spiritual breakthrough?
- Do you know their family background and upbringing?
- Do you know their greatest fears and insecurities?
- Do you know how they came to know Christ?
- Do you know if they are responding to the Word?
- Do you know if they even trust you enough to share openly with you?
These are point-blank yes-or-no questions. If you can’t even attain a passing score, then may I lovingly beseech you to reevaluate your role as their leader and your involvement in their lives? This is especially important especially if you’re looking after a group of people – like a worship team, a cell group, or even a group of leaders. And since I am a youth minister, I am making impassioned plea to leaders who look after young people. Take care of these precious ones! Don’t ever, EVER, forget that you will shape their beliefs system!
Honestly, I don’t care which ministry you serve in, which church you attend, how old you are or how long you’ve served as a leader. As long if you’re serving in a ministry, then you are, by default, in the business of people. If you don’t know your people well, how will you deal with them? If you don’t put in effort to get involved in their lives, how will you ever become effective and influential among them?
If I may be frank, above and beyond human competencies and God’s anointing, I’ve always believed that I was a tad bit more effective in all my leadership roles not because of talent, experience or charisma, but simply because I knew my sheep. It was always an intentional effort to get to know them.
When I led worship, I looked into the eyes of my young people and it was as if I knew what their struggles were.
When I preached the Word, I knew exactly who or which type of people I wrote a particular point for, and always attempted to speak into their hearts.
When I taught in cell groups or workshops, I prayerfully prepared my content based on the needs I’ve observed in people.
And when I casted a vision for the ministry, I planned based on the different needs I have come to know through intentional interaction with them.
My friend, all this takes time and effort! It won’t and it can’t happen overnight. You can be a charismatic leader but if you have no care for your sheep, your effectiveness will plateau after a while. You can be cognitively competent, but if you don’t intercede for your sheep, you will merely engage their mind (and heart at best!) but you will never be able to affect their will and spirit. It is time we scrutinised our investments in our people!
People of God – yes, you leaders! – don’t be contented with scratching surfaces. Don’t cheat yourself. And don’t cheat your sheep. Don’t be satisfied with mere involvement. Move into commitment! Invest your time and energy in the people whom God has given to you to shepherd. Don’t patronise your sheep – you will end up raising a superficial generation of believers who will surpass your level of superficiality and become even more superficial than you ever will be. What a hazardous inheritance to pass on!
Is that the church you want your children to grow up in? If it isn’t, then you should do something about it. I know I definitely do not want my kids to roam around in a church like that and so I am doing something about it. What about you? This isn’t just my church, you know? It’s YOUR church, but it’s not for you, if you know what I mean. Get to know your sheep.
If you don’t know who you are leading, may I urge you then – no, may I beg you instead – to make intentional efforts to step out of your comfort zone to get to know your people. Otherwise, there is little point in you leading them. Don’t boss them around. Don’t delegate your role as a minister. There are some things that cannot be compromised or substituted. For the sake of my young people, and my own children in time to come, please do not consider leadership if you are not interested in building and investing into people.
This is my heart’s cry for you. Don’t become a leader by default but by decision. And don’t become a leader of position but a leader of people.
Famous people call it bio and computer programmes call it read-me; I decided against being witty, so off goes “I am not but I know I AM” (it’s the title of LG’s book anyway) and in comes “about JAT” – no frills, no nonsense, no smart-alec terms – just a simple (and severely over-elaborated) self-introduction. I enjoyed writing this – partly because I’m writing about myself (I’m shameless, but honest! Hmm… Shamelessly honest or honestly shameless?), but also because I enjoy writing – it was a creative exercise that I thoroughly reveled in. Normally I’d say to you, “Enjoy!”, but for this one, I’d tell myself – “Enjoyed!” This “about JAT” is now a mainstay on my blog – you can find it amongst the links on top. (You can’t judge me on my blog – I’ve already done that!)
I am Joey Asher Tan, a 26-year-old Youth Minister with Grace Assembly of God Church, Singapore, since 15th October 2009.
I gave my life to my Saviour, Jesus Christ, on 28th November 1995, and started to pursue Him as my bullseye in life on 4th June 1997.
I was baptised as “Asher” on 23rd December 2005, and this Hebrew name represents, “Blessed, joyful and happy”, which is a befitting self-description.
I am a Bible-believing Christian who desires to know God more by working excellently and learning earnestly through a balanced lifestyle, for the glory of God.
I love God, His Word and His young people; I seek to provoke thoughts, challenge perspectives and pen indelibility through my kaleidoscope of experiences.
I attempt to write daily because I want to capture the sheer plethora of thoughts that flood my mind; I consider it an achievement if I expand on one everyday.
I hope you feel my heart-on-sleeve passion, in-your-face authenticity and how I believe that the greatest gift you could ever give to young people, is to believe in them.
I answered God’s call by heading into full-time ministry with my church, which is probably the craziest, but best thing I’ve ever done in my life.
I wake up every morning and thank God for allowing me to work in my dream job; I serve with “R-AGE” – it was there, as a 14-year-old, that my life changed.
I am in the business of Redeeming A Generation for Eternity and I pastor around 100 young people in the Grace AG (Bukit Batok) youth community.
I turn 21 every 21st October and I’m getting younger by the day because I hang out with the most awesome bunch of young people in the world.
I graduated from Ngee Ann Polytechnic with a Diploma in Mass Communication, where I discovered my communication aptitude for writing and orating.
I credit my decade in Anglo-Chinese School for a rudimentary education in confidence; it is stillwhere I’d school my kids, after all, for the best is yet to be.
I am a commissioned officer and a tank platoon commander by training; I was with the Singapore Armed Forces for three years as an Army Regular.
I headed the Marketing Division of Global Beverages Asia and Wine Mall during a fruitful two-year stint in Shanghai, China, where my worldview formed.
I am currently pursuing my Bachelor of Communication with Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and I cannot wait to begin my theological education.
I trust that I am an authentic leader, a passionate speaker and a mentor who believes in young people; God engraved this three-fold ministry on my heart.
I am a grateful son and proud brother in a remarkable family that is spilling over with God’s grace, goodness, mercy and favour; I couldn’t ask for more.
I am confident I will be the world’s best father to my children and the best husband my wife could ever dream of; I’ve been blessed, so I shall bless.
I consider myself immensely privileged to be able to say “I love you” to a girlfriend who is a constant reminder of God’s grace to me; I can’t wait to marry her.
I started serving in church when I was 15 years old, when God told me that I’d be a worship leader; God anoints those whom He calls – ministry began there.
I know I am built for the stage; I enjoy song-writing, performing and revel in taking the lead vocals – I delight in expressing myself and thrive in the limelight.
I have childhood dreams like everyone, so one day I will study in Fuller Seminary, speak to a million people, travel around the world, meet my heroes, John Piper and Eric Cantona (plus Uzumaki Naruto in my sleep!), and maybe even have a street named after me.
I aspire to be a published author, sought-after speaker and recorded artiste (and of course, life-changer and history-maker) before I depart this earthly body.
If I could only say one thing to you, I would look you eyeball-to-eyeball, and say…
“Apart from Jesus, I can do nothing; I am absolutely nothing without Christ.”
“Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” (Revelation 3:19)
“For the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.” (Proverbs 3:12)
“For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” (Hebrews 12:6)
“Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” (Proverbs 13:24)
For all the geniuses who read my blog, you’d have already picked up the key words of the passages above. (If you haven’t, I’ve highlighted it for you.) I’m talking about serious scolding, not meaningless teasing. It seems clear to me that discipline is connected to love and vice-versa. However, in this day and age (and especially during the age of growing up), youths may struggle to understand this crucial link. I think it’s because they associate discipline with demerit. I don’t blame them – who enjoys being scolded?
I, for one, grew up getting scolded by a lot of people, left, right and centre; I was always punished in school, rebuked in church, nagged at at home and corrected by friends. It was frustrating of course, and I never saw the beauty of this until many years later. It took maturity to see beyond the unpleasantness of discipline. I’m quietly confident to think the people who looked after me bothered to discipline me simply because they loved me.
It’s actually a logical conclusion if you come to think about it. My mother has told me before that it pains her more to cane me than it literally pains me. PL and RY, the father-role models in my life, also concur – that it indeed inflicts more pain to the discipliner than the disciplined; after all, who enjoys chastising their own flesh and blood? Any normal parent would say the same thing too. Yet, it is imperative to discipline. I think parents discipline their children because they care and want the best for them; you’d hardly find a parent who scolds his or her child for his or her own personal gain.
So the next time you are confronted by your pastor, mentor, leader or teacher, or reprimanded by your parents, or chided by your friends, to sort out a particular issue in your life, know that you are being scolded because of this wonderful element called love. However, not everyone is an expert in discipline and thus may choose the wrong method even though they may have the right intentions. So, sometimes you will struggle to see this (tough) love. But I’d like to encourage you to remain positive every time you are disciplined.
But can you imagine the day where people stop disciplining you? I think it signals the end for you it tells you that they have given up on you. I always believe that one of the saddest things that could ever happen to you is when others to accept your shortcomings as part of God’s unchangeable plan for your life; in order words, they have lost all hope that you could change for the better and have decided to just embrace you as you are, without any desire to correct you anymore.
“Hey, don’t bother about him; he’s always like that.”
“Eh, forget it. There’s no use talking to him because he won’t listen.”
“Ignore him – you’re wasting your time if you think he’ll change.”
These are some of the words I will never want to hear in my life; it’s far worse than being disciplined by harsh 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.
Recently I had an opportunity to catch up with an old friend and he shared with me how he rejoiced with his wife when his son finally uttered, “Mama”. I rejoiced with him for it was a breakthrough for their family and when he shared it with me, he communicated a gratitude to God that nothing in the world could manufacture.
I juxtaposed it with parents who constantly berate their child for not doing better than their cousins, classmates, neighbours and whoever they could conveniently use to destroy their kid’s self-confidence and beliefs system. I remember telling HY that we’ve gotten it all wrong and have become complacent for the things that we ought to be thankful for. The more I hear it, the more I find “better than” a repulsive phrase.
That one-worded “Mama” was a gift from God to his child; as he shared his delight with me, I couldn’t help but to thank God for giving us speech – and I told HY that all these seemingly basic functions are truly gifts from God. I told her that in the future when we do have children of our own, we should be thankful for everything that the child has – speech, sight, hearing, limb movement, cognition, health and even something as taken-for-granted as daily breath! And not wish that our child is a pianist prodigy, artistic phenom, mathematics maestro or a kid with elephant memory (or not). Unfortunately, we have been conditioned to think that that’s being gifted, but we have forgotten that everyone is gifted – your ability to inhale and exhale is the gift of life from the Giver of life. Let’s not fight the wrong battles.
It wrenches my heart when I find out how my youths struggle with their (“inadequate”) academic achievements, because most times they’ve gotten it all wrong – they seek the result instead of the process; they seek a resume instead of academic returns; they seek worldly covetousness (wanting to be better than someone else) instead of godly contentment (wanting to be the best that God has designed them to be). I believe that our mentality is messed up because of the way we have been brought up (and this is no fault of ours). However, we should be careful not to pay it forward to the next generation.
At the end of the day, these pursuits amount to nothing all that significant. I so wished that I could hold their faces in my hands, look at them in the eye and tell them, “Come on, do you REALLY think that a C grade or a ‘regular’ CV could stop God from fulfilling His purpose in your life?” Oh, we of little faith; we ought to be dismissed for thinking that our destiny is determined by our downfalls. When will we finally learn that the sovereignty of God far exceeds earthly meritocracy?
Let us all take a step back to recalibrate our compasses, unless of course you have already decided to raise your child in the exact same manner that you have been raised. Let us remember that life in itself is the greatest gift and that we ought to be thankful for it. Let us not go overboard in seeking additional gifts instead of the Giver Himself. Don’t get caught in the world’s definition of “gifted”!