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the link between ministry and (in)security.

When you are secure in yourself, and more importantly when you are secure in God, you’d realise that there’s no real need to prove anything to anyone at any point in time; I’d like to imagine that if you are a really secure person, you’d be a carefree and relaxed individual, and you won’t feel the need to explain your actions or decisions at all.

There’ll be no need to tell others how good you are, how well you’ve done your job, how much better you could have done, how unfair the situation is, how unhappy you are, or simply how and what you think or feel. There’s no real need, for what (good) does it do for you anyway? It hardly changes your situation or outcome and barely alters the condition of your heart. Find your security in God alone and not in what you do, for what you do, you do for the Lord and not for men (Colossians 3:23). So why bother about what others think about you? You need not prove anything to them anyway (and neither them to you). No one owes you an explanation; in fact, no one owes you anything.

So the next time you find yourself complaining about the situation, or gossiping about other people, or justifying yourself and your thoughts, speech and behaviour – think again – for that could well be a warning sign for you to dialogue with God about who you really are, need to be and ought to do. Please, for your own sake, do not get entangled in the mire of insecurity and get caught in an endless cycle of wanting to prove yourself! Whatever for!? You eventually get nowhere.

Junior leaders, please liberate yourself from your work and ask God for a revelation of your necessary roles in ministry. Senior leaders, don’t get frustrated with your fellow workers; if they are already giving their best, what more can you ask for? And if they are not, what can you do about it, seriously? Let us always remember that we are all first ministers, not just workers, so let’s think about how we can minister to others in our work and not how to work others in our ministry!

ministry is about meeting felt needs.

During one of the PIERCE mealtimes, I had the privilege of speaking with IP; we caught up on many things – from how I first met him when I was working in 1VOX to how I am now working in church, and how he moved from a pastoral staff in a church to a counselling staff in a school. To be frank, I really enjoyed our little dialogue because of how encouraging he was; I was so ministered by IP’s genuineness and sincere desire to communicate heart to heart, and my spirit was really lifted by that small exchange of words.

Of the many things I caught from his spirit over lunch, this would be my greatest takeaway – he challenged me to “meet felt needs”; he went as far to say that meeting needs is just about the best thing a church could do as a church. I thought about it for a while and I realised that in my ministry, I’ve subconsciously been applying it and I really thank God for that; I saw the needs of my Shepherds and so I set up the DYLM leadership cell group; my RLs saw the needs of their CMs and so they set up the CM cell group; and the CMs are actually investing their time and energy into their cell group to meet the needs of their own cell kids. It would be challenging for each tier of leadership to meet the cascading level of needs if their own needs weren’t met.

Everyone has a variety of needs. Adolescent youths would have needs for identity and belonging; upper-secondary students would have needs for security and recognition; leaders in tertiary education would have achievement and esteem needs; those from a single-parent family like I do would have needs for acceptance and safety; those from financially-troubled households would have physiological needs for food and shelter; and of course, those healing from failed boy-girl relationships would have needs for trust and courage. Bottom line is, there are needs to be met!

Now let me go offtrack for a little while. Of course when I think about needs, Maslow’s much-studied hierarchy of needs spring to mind. While it is a trusted model for sociological and academical application, I find that model inadequate simply because it addresses needs from a secular standpoint. Conversely speaking, I believe that one’s greatest need is to fill the God-shaped hole. And if I may borrow song lyrics from Plumb’s ‘God-shaped Hole’ – “that’s a void only He can fill” . I firmly believe that while meeting real needs are important (after all, Jesus did meet physical needs in John 5), the most important need to meet is the need for God – if that need is not met, nothing really makes much sense. Still, therein lies a great need to meet real needs. RP sums up my sentiments:

Jesus had an extraordinary ability to see beneath the myriad of layers of people and know what they longed for, or really believed, but were afraid of revealing. That is why His answers so frequently did not correspond to the questions He was asked. He sensed their unspoken need or question and responded to that instead. Jesus could have healed lepers in countless ways. To the leper in Mark 1:40-45, He could have shouted, “Be healed … but don’t get too close. I just hate the sight of lepers.” He didn’t. Jesus reached over and touched him. Jesus’ touch was not necessary for his physical healing. It was critical for his emotional healing.

Can you imagine what it meant to that man to be touched? A leper was an outcast, quite accustomed to walking down a street and seeing people scatter, shrieking at him, “Unclean – unclean!” Jesus knew that this man not only had a diseased body but an equally diseased self-concept. He needed to be touched to be fully cured. And so Jesus responded as He always did, with total healing for the whole person.

I had a good chat with JK over lunch today and he shared some of his immediate needs with me. I told him that I was more interested in meeting his needs than having him meet ministry needs. “What you do in ministry is secondary; I’m more concerned about your primary needs”, I said. I encouraged him to get active with the CM cell, and to give his peers an opportunity to reach out to him, as well as for him to mutually minister to his peers. No man is an island and the sooner we realise that the sooner the body of Christ can be in action; we need one another to build one another – no one can do it alone.

Hence, it is my prayer that as you read my thoughts today, you’ll be reminded to either remain connected to your cell group and church, or that it’s time for you to start get acquainted with godly Christian fellowship. A few days ago, I asked IP over a text message if he had any prayer requests. His reply resounded so strongly with my heart’s cry for ministry and how I’m praying that R-AGE would truly become an Acts 2 youth group:

“My prayer needs? To see (R-AGE @) GII grow into the fellowship like in Acts, digging into the Word, meeting together weekly breaking bread and soaking in His presence.”

IP, I will remember what God taught you (and what you taught me) – and I will always have “meeting felt needs” at the top of my ministry priorities. Thank you for such a powerful and profound message – it was something that really pierced my heart during the camp and now, after it. We are in the ministry of meeting needs; if we fail to do that, then we have missed the whole point of church.

what determines the strength of our weaknesses?

In any social group – be it a cell group in church, amongst classmates, amidst extended relatives or in the company of colleagues – there always seems to be one person who is visibly weaker or slower than, or simply different from the rest. And we all know that this person’s anomaly causes him or her to stick out like a sore thumb.

I’d like to think that we’ve seen and experienced them all; we have met those who are mentally disabled, autistic, those with disorders like OCD (obsessive compulsive disorders) or ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), those with poor EQ (emotional quotient) or relational skills, those that incredibly rude and intolerably inconsiderate, and finally the everyday individuals who are excessively sensitive, irritating, bossy or opinion-less, and the likes, who already struggle to fit in because they’re just different from the norm; they can’t (or struggle) to fit into the social group. As a result, when people don’t know how to deal with them, they simply shun them; those who are worse than scum scorn them. Shame on these insensitive individuals.

I was such a person.

This happened when I was in Primary school, before the saving power of Jesus Christ changed my life. There was a mentally handicapped boy in EM3 who was ostracised by everyone because he constantly went around to ask fellow students, in the strangest and most pathetic manner, “Do you want to be my friend?” As with (almost) every 11-year-old, I gave him that look of disdain and I walked away in disgust. I will never forget how low I stooped to that day and I carry that disappointment to this day.

I believe that the way we treat the least of us determines how strong we are. Already, these weaker individuals are eschewed by the world – I don’t expect many people to stop in their tracks to specially tend to or take care of them; no, most won’t even patronise them. They simply turn away in apathy – and I reckon it doesn’t even bothers them in the least bit. Our hearts have turned cold to those who are unlike us.

Like it or not, Christians, these people do exist in the church and more often than not they might just be sitting in the midst of us. How do we treat them? How do we respond to them? How do we extend love and grace to them? Sadly enough, more than half of us treat them in the same manner as the world treats them. No, unfortunately, these individuals are unable to find their city of refuge in church. Yes, we ought to be ashamed of ourselves. Aren’t we supposed to be the place that accepts everyone, regardless of who they are? It’s as if having to cope with a condition isn’t hard enough on the individual – we have to worsen it. It’s easy to love those who are lovely, isn’t it? But what about those who are unlovable? We ought to take a good hard look at ourselves in how we embrace people. My heart is so heavy even as I pen down these thoughts.

I’ll make it a little more relevant to us Christians, since I assume that most of you who read my blog are of the Christian faith. I’d say it again, the way we treat the least of us determines how strong we truly are. It’s like I’m rephrasing an old adage – that you are only as strong as (how you treat) your weakest link. If I want to see how loving a cell group is, I will examine how everyone treats the slowest, weakest and most unlovable member. So I find myself telling myself that whenever I deal with a needy person, the reputation of my church (and that of Jesus Christ) is at stake. I don’t know if this is the best motivation but I’m being honest. I feel pressured to do well, not for myself, but for the faith and organisation that I represent. I had better do well, so help me God.

how do you stop swearing?

Growing up in a pretty nasty neighbourhood in Jalan Besar, I picked up all kinds of language from gangsters and pseudo-gangsters. In retrospect, it must have been quite a sight to hear a prepubescent boy spewing endless vulgarities in a high-pitched voice, at people who were probably twice his size. I must have been possessed to have such guts.

Being educated in Anglo-Chinese School only made it worse. If I learnt lewd dialect in the rougher neighbourhood environment, then I certainly balanced it off with an equivalent amount of profane English words in a polished and cultured institution. Swearing became a part of my vocabulary and it was a routine for me as a 14-year-old to curse in hellish language on weekdays and to praise the Lord with hallelujah language on weekends.

I was a hypocrite and a terrible testimony in how I used my tongue for good and for evil.

The use of vulgarity could be habitual; it gets dangerous when this bad habit becomes chronic. Regardless of your religious beliefs, there’s nothing worth boasting about if you are expending an arsenal of damning words in your daily usage. You could be 13 years old or 30 years old and still there won’t be a good reason to employ the use of abusive words. I’d like to believe that in a professional (or even in a social) setting, it is a massive turn-off if you carelessly and subconsciously allow vulgarities to roll off your lips. The scary thing about swearing is that there no longer seems to be any societal standard anymore. These negative expressions have been infused into our culture and it has become the neutral norm, unfortunately. No one frowns at a cussing teenager anymore.

Personally, I have enforced a no-swearing rule wherever I went, so long as I was allowed to exercise authority – be it with my tank platoon, colleagues or in TeamR-AGE. And just very recently through REAL2010, I also enforced a complete boycott of all lewd words – including DMN, SHT and WHL. I’m proud of my REAL champs for this achievement of the epilation of vulgarities in their communication. I used to toss these three words frivolously, but now, the mere sound of these words make me cringe and become instantly uncomfortable.

But that’s my conviction and I do not wish to shove it down anyone’s throat; I’d be careful not to get too legalistic. This doesn’t make me a better Christian, of course, but I think it makes me a more effective witness for Jesus. I pay special attention to the words that I use not because I am concerned about my personal reputation or because I’m a youth minister. I scrutinise my language because I am more concerned about the reputation of Jesus, whom I’m an ambassador of.

I fondly remember a particular sermon at my first Grace Retreat in 1997, that turned my life around; DF, the founder of R-AGE, preached about “Bullseye Living” and it was at the altar call that I rededicated my wretched, hypocritical and double-headed life back to Jesus. I consciously and willingly (not emotionally) decided to make Christ my bullseye that afternoon and to start to live like a real Christian. The first thing that the Spirit prompted me to change, was to cease swearing immediately.

Honestly, I don’t know how you behave when you’re out there; I don’t know if you’re the same person at home, in school and in church. A lot of you may struggle to quit this destructive and seemingly incurable habit of swearing. I’d like to offer you some advice – and the method which I practised to great effect to help me kick this awful habit.

I simply prayed and asked the Spirit to help me stop swearing. Then I simply decided not to swear anymore. And that was it – an instantaneous decision that resulted in an instantaneous change – cold turkey, if you know what I mean. I returned to school after that June vacation and left all my baggage and bad habits buried at the foot of the cross.

If I, someone with a comprehensive knowledge of destructive vulgarity in all languages, could overcome swearing overnight, then surely you can do it too. Ask the Spirit to help you and by the grace of God you will eradicate all unwholesome talk and commence to use your tongue for His glory alone. I’m praying for you!

leading by example – whose example?

The past 48 hours have been extremely tiring and I covet your prayers for one more sermon. I’m determined to rest by midnight but I still want to maintain the momentum of writing daily.

For the last month or so, I’ve been thinking about what it means to lead “by example”. The question is, whose example? If it’s by our example, we are surely doomed for failure considering our wretched nature; if it’s by Christ’s example, then we might never attain it (or spend the rest of our lives trying to); I mean, how could we measure traits like “loving”, “gentle”, “merciful” and similar adjectives when they have no quantifiable end point? We could only be more [insert adjective] but never the most [insert adjective]. So, how then can we find an achievable standard that we could realistically use as a yardstick to track and evaluate our progress as leaders?

I found the answer in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and it’s a massive calling. I’m not a big fan of The Message Bible, but I think this time, its description of a church leader is relevant and easy to understand. I’ve taken the liberty to numerically list the 15 conditions.

Leadership in the Church

If anyone wants to provide leadership in the church, good! But there are preconditions: A leader must be 1) well-thought-of, 2) committed to his wife, 3) cool and collected, 4) accessible, and 5) hospitable. He must 6) know what he’s talking about, 7) not be overfond of wine, 8) not pushy but gentle, 9) not thin-skinned, 10) not money-hungry. He must 11) handle his own affairs well, 12) attentive to his own children and 13) having their respect. For if someone is unable to handle his own affairs, how can he take care of God’s church? He must 14) not be a new believer, lest the position go to his head and the Devil trip him up. 15) Outsiders must think well of him, or else the Devil will figure out a way to lure him into his trap.

There aren’t many but these are high standards to meet. I don’t even dare to declare how many conditions I’ve met; surely, this list keeps me humble. However, the way I look at it, these are practical habits and values that any leader should subscribe to if they desire to “provide leadership” for the church (come to think of it, the desire to become a leader indicates another leadership attribute – initiative).

Thus, the gauntlet is firmly laid down for all of us – existing and potential leaders. May this be our periodical checklist for godly church leadership. May we depend on the Spirit to become Spirit-filled, Christ-like and godly leaders like Barnabas.

best-in-your-face-’til-the-end-friends.

How many of your primary school friends do you still keep in touch with? And how about those from your secondary school, polytechnic, junior colleague, university, army or from your previous work place? I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a single digit number. And like it or not, that number will slowly but very surely decrease as you age. As I turn 21 for the seventh time this year, I think I’ve learnt a fair bit about friendships – and how most of it takes places in phases.

All right, let’s get technical; when I talk about keeping in touch, I define it simply by the frequency of meeting up. Let’s just put a yardstick of at least once per quarter – that’s four times annually. (I actually believe that if friends can do it twice a year, it’s already an accomplishment. The younger readers of this blog may struggle to understand this, but mark my words on this. When you get to my age, remember you first heard it from me.)

By that definition, with the exception of those who are attending the same church as I am, I keep in touch with a grand total of zero from primary school, one from secondary school (who happens to be my best friend), none from polytechnic, army or from my Shanghai stint. Be it DL from ACJS, CC from ACS(B), JC from NP, ML from BMT, JG from SOA, JH and JQ from 40SAR, LT from OCS, or KS and TS from Shanghai; mind you, when I was in whichever phase, these buddies and I went through some significant moments of life together. We were convinced that we’d be more than just good friends for that period of time.

So I’ve learnt this – enjoy the friendships forged wherever you are at. Milk and remember it for all it’s worth. And know that these friendships are strong and that these friends are important, but at the end of that phase, remember that they are all but permanent friendships, albeit at that point closer than your closest church friends. This is a cynical and very un-sanguine, un-Joey, pessimistic way of looking at things, and I know may protest against this statement, but you heard it from me first – these friendships will not last.

The ones that will last, whether you like it or not, whether you stick around long enough or not, are the ones whom you see in church every weekend. At least that applies to me. These aren’t your seasonal friends – these are your friends for a lifetime. I remember mentioning this at the R-AGE DNA sermon I preached at the beginning of this year – that church friends, fortunately or unfortunately, unlike your friends from outside, are here to stay. You can always change a clique and hang out with a different bunch of school or work friends when you get sick of the current ones. But face it – you can’t get rid of your church friends and they’ve got to face it too – they can’t get rid of you. It’s just like how we cannot change our family members; we’ve simply got to stick to them and find a way to make it work.

And when I look back at the brothers and sisters that God has put in my life in this church, I’m filled with a deep sense of gratitude, because I know that I’m going to be growing old with them and my kids are going to marry their kids (whether they like it or not). The question that I leave with you is – look around you, look at your friends and look deep into their eyes, and look into your heart… How many true friends do you have? How many friends are you true to? After all, true friends attract true friends.

top ten reasons to leave church.

It’s been over a decade since I joined Grace Assembly and never once did I consider leaving church for greener pastures or stiller waters. Grace, like ACS, has played a big part in making me who I am today and there is little possibility that I’d want to leave. Of course in the last 13 years, I’ve seen countless people – both pew-warmers and high-profile leaders alike – leave church. Some exit for legitimate reasons and some do not; I’m not in the place to judge. I’ve never been one to hold people back should they opt to venture elsewhere – I’ve always seen it as a personal choice.

This “Top Ten” list looks like it’s going to be a weekly release (you can read the previous list on the desired ingredients of a worship leader here). For this week, if I may, I’ll muse about the top ten church-exiting justifications I’ve gathered over the years. I won’t elaborate on each point because I want to leave its details to your interpretation and imagination. My adapted observations are based on an official research conducted. If people do leave church, this is what they might say:

  1. “The church doesn’t seem to be growing spiritually.”
  2. “There’s little significance in my meaningless ministry.”
  3. “My church friends are so judgmental and critical.”
  4. “The preacher is weak, non-expository and not engaging.”
  5. “There are too many changes – no stability, no consistency.”
  6. “The environment is so superficial and artificial – a bunch of hypocrites.”
  7. “I don’t even know if my church is doing God’s work.”
  8. “Socially, it’s such an elitist and exclusive culture – not my cup of tea.”
  9. “There’s no grace when I share my problems with my pastors and leaders.”
  10. “My pastor doesn’t walk his talk – he’s just another hypocrite.”

You can find other variations and a more methodical breakdown here, here, here, here or here. However, allow me to turn the tables a little – here are the top ten reasons why you should stick around in your church:

  1. “The church doesn’t seem to be growing spiritually.”
  2. “There’s little significance in my meaningless ministry.”
  3. “My church friends are so judgmental and critical.”
  4. “The preacher is weak, non-expository and not engaging.”
  5. “There are too many changes – no stability, no consistency.”
  6. “The environment is so superficial and artificial – a bunch of hypocrites.”
  7. “I don’t even know if my church is doing God’s work.”
  8. “Socially, it’s such an elitist and exclusive culture – not my cup of tea.”
  9. “There’s no grace when I share my problems with my pastors and leaders.”
  10. “My pastor doesn’t walk his talk – he’s just another hypocrite.”

Believe it or not, should you choose to go, you will always be able to identify another problem with your new church. At the end of the day, there is no perfect church; but if there was one, you wouldn’t be in it. So, be loyal, be patient, stick around and be the difference in your church (but if God tells you to leave, do it quietly and quickly). Don’t jump ship on a sinking boat; there’s no pluck in that. (But maybe, just maybe – no offence here – when you do jump ship, the original boat may actually start to float! Then maybe we’d say, “Good riddance to bad rubbish”.)

I’ll conclude this post with something I found on the net – “Note to pastors and youth ministers who choose to live in denial: this list does not apply to YOU and YOUR church, only to other churches and other youth groups that are not as spiritual, strategic, relevant, cool, committed or emerging as you are.”

I hope my second top ten list was helpful in expanding your perspective of being in your church.

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