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ten disjointed thoughts and an attempt to resume writing.

1. Numbness is a clear symptom of pre-burnout; it’s a terrible feeling (paradoxically speaking) not being able to feel. All I asked God for today was to help me love Him with my heart. I have little problems loving Him with my mind, soul and strength or even loving others. But to love God with my emotions seemed like the hardest thing to do. Nonetheless, the key word here, is “pre” and the response to numbness is gratitude of foresight; the insight of foresight.

2. Ever since planning for Rhema 2010 began, everything seemed like a task to and for me. I loathe it when my (rare) desire to dwell in melancholy is overpowered by my choleric temperament to solve problems, disengage and move on. I may not show it, but I hate being unemotional. I hate it, really. It was never like that before when I was younger – what’s happening to me? I have become intolerant to affection and indifferent to sentiment. I must never become irrelevant to the people I love and disinterested in the world that I live in.

3. I experienced a paradigm shift on Monday. I repented before God for being transactional in the way that I related to Him, my mentors and mentorees. It is my deep desire that my relationships with people evolve into transformational journeys, and not just transactional events. I got so annoyed at myself for getting ahead of myself. I must learn to differentiate between form and substance. I must not allow intentionality descend into the abyss of transactions. There’s so much more – I don’t want to settle for anything lesser (with presumptuousness)!

4. This week, I finally caught a glimpse of why Peter Chao and Edmund Chan prizes mentoring relationships above ministry leadership. After spending the evening with DYLM, I understood it; while leading R-AGE to the next level is what I will always aspire to do, being a friend and mentor to my beloved shepherds and mentorees is what I shall desire to be for all my days. And I believe the turning point was this week – when investing into their lives becomes the topmost ministry priority for me; let’s see how God helps me to translate that into action.

5. I’ve completely messed up what “intentional” means. And I’ve shortchanged myself with my mentors and shortchanged my mentorees when they’re with me. Oh Lord, help me to undo what I’ve foolishly done! Humble and help me to learn from this. Intentional is when I take a step back to allow God to use me to minister to people. Intentional is when I seize opportunities. I know I’m speaking in code and only I will decrypt it. Ironically, agenda is the enemy of intentionality. Yes, I have identified my “Peter, James and John”; the journey with them begins now…

6. I could have a hundred mentors and a thousand mentorees, but nobody could ever take the place of each one of them in my heart. It’s not about calendar or content… No one could replace no one. One of the worst feelings in mentoring (or life in general), even though it’s theoretically unhealthy, is the feeling of abandonment. I understand how you felt now because I felt it myself… Now it’s up to me to take the next step towards reconciliation – I know it is about to unfold. Oh God, give me wisdom to repair relationships. People aren’t statistics and mentors aren’t vending machines; I am humbled.

7. I intentionally (URGH – the use of that word fills me with disgust!) rescheduled all my appointments next week because I’m in desperate need of an extended break. Regardless of how invincible I’ve always perceived myself to be, still I couldn’t shake off the emptiness that accompanied the disengagement from an intensive two-month discipleship programme. I gave so much away my tank is almost empty. It happened last year and again it happened this year. I am a fool to think I could have overcome it. (Now I understand why I was compelled to read Wayne Cordeiro’s “Leading On Empty”.) It’s time to recharge.

8. Leading a youth ministry from 80 to 120 people within a year makes any youth pastor swell with pride… But nothing – and I mean it, nothing! – is more satisfying and encouraging than watching my successors take the lead to bless me… This afternoon, they instructed me to sit back, relax and do absolutely nothing tonight – and I did just that. I cannot thank God enough for their deed and gesture. Keith and Yixian, you both are God’s precious gifts to me and I will remember that I am leading a group of youths who love me deeply and want me just as I am. You have honoured me tonight – thank you.

9. I thank God for the parental green light to (at last!) take our relationship to the next level in 2012. I may not have the emotional capacity to respond but cognitively, it’s one of the greatest news I’ve received in a while. What a privilege – thank you for daring to entrust your daughter to me; she is most special because one has ever made me want to love her more than I love myself. You have no idea how much we are looking forward to our union. God has answered our year-long prayer; He is faithful indeed!

10. I really hope to commence, complete and continue my theological education at Fuller Seminary and I am truly convinced that it will come to pass one day…

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top ten ways to lead when you don’t feel like leading.

I apologise for the blogging irregularity. These days, I’ve written many drafts but struggled to finish them. August looks demanding – I preach three out of four weeks and facilitate two iJourney sessions. My DYLM cell also coincides with my preaching weekends which leads to a double preparation of teaching materials. It’s also the vision-casting, planning and budgeting month. R-AGE @ GII is also growing with some steady momentum… Basically, everything is coming together all at once – I had better spend more time seeking God.

I do delight in developing my gifts though. I’m keeping my fingers crossed (and my hands clasped in prayer) on a potential ministry opportunity; if that takes off, 2011 looks set to be the most defining year of my (ministry) life thus far. I await with bated breath. Oh God, baptise me in wisdom!

You know, it’s easy to lead when everything’s smooth-sailing. I remember being inspired by DZ’s testimony when I (visited Sydney for the first time and) attended Hillsong Conference 2007. She shared about how she continued leading worship despite her miscarriage; it must have been a tough time for her and the church to experience the loss of a life – that’s transparent leadership for you.

Needless to say, I believe that all regular leaders and mentors (around me) had to lead through tough times too. I often wondered how much inspiration and perspiration they needed to draw from and produce respectively to pull through a rough patch. Here are the ten things I’d recommend for a leader to do when he doesn’t feel like leading, or adequate enough to be a leader, or simply when the chips are down.

1. Share only what’s necessary. You don’t need to give the details of your drought(s) and disaster(s) if you don’t have to. Employ discernment and choose with care whom you share life with. My recommendation – your family, partner, leaders/mentors, cell group, closest friends.

2. Remember that troubles are tempory. Bad times will pass – they usually do not last forever. Often, you end up doubling the pain because you choose to inflict blame on yourself for things beyond your control. Remember, God uses trials and tests to bring out the best in you.

3. Re-create your self-confidence. This is personal because I thrive on confidence. Surround yourself not just with people who love you but also those who desire God’s best for you – they usually have the right words. Let them put the pat on your back that pushes out your chest.

4. Do not dramatise. When you go through a terrible season, you don’t need to convince yourself that it’s worse than what it already is. Healthy pessimism can be helpful, but an overdose could leave you in the trail of destruction. When you are, learn to leave the bad news in the middle.

5. Avoid all loose talk. The last thing you want is to get embroiled in someone else’s misfortunes or to gloat about others to make yourself feel good. Don’t justify your situation and don’t discuss it. Cut off all gossip and secret conversations for they won’t improve your situation anyway.

6. Always remain loyal. As a leader, the biggest mistake you can make is to sell out your team of subordinates, peers and superiors. Teams are accepting of a leader who acknowledges his faults and makes a genuine attempt to atone himself. In your failures, they are still your team.

7. Continue to teach high standards. When the going gets tough, don’t compromise all that you’ve held on to and advocated. Conversely speaking, you should persist and insist high moral standards for those around you. Know that they are observing for your integrity in action.

8. Expect people’s manipulation. Look, it’s a dog-eat-dog world and there will be people who will want to capitalise on your weaknesses to gain an unfair advantage for themselves. Be innocent as doves and shrewd as serpents; don’t allow others to use you like a tool.

9. Be mindful of your speech. Know that everything you say can be quoted; the higher your public profile, the more you will be quoted. In times like these you must exercise restraint. Most leaders have an opinion about everything but it doesn’t mean they need to share every thought.

10. Raise your own bar. In this recovery period, as you consolidate, ask yourself this question – “Would you be fulfilled if you were to keep following someone like you?” Don’t ever shortchange yourself. Your appetite to improve skills and develop character should remain insatiable.

Hope that was helpful for you. For me, I’ll try to pick up my blogging momentum.

paying it forward pays you back.

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.

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.

how do you spot potential?

All right, it’s time for me to make a comeback on WordPress! I’ve struggled to recover my writing momentum after a five-day hiatus and being away in Cameron Highlands over the last few days didn’t help my cause. (It was a great break though!) Nonetheless, I shall give myself an easier head-start with a shorter entry tonight to break the silence.

Since PIERCE ended, I’ve had youths indicating their interests to be emcees, cell mentors, ushers and basically to serve in R-AGE. Of course, this delights me (and my shepherds) to no end! More significantly, this morning, I’ve had the privilege of welcoming the latest member to my beloved GII leadership family – NC! She shared with me her journey with God enroute to the DoYouLoveMe cell group and I just sat there at Ya Kun, and acknowledged the good work that the Lord is doing in her life. Her addition to the GII Shepherds means that “Plug & Play” will now be a monthly feature in the R-AGE @ GII services. (And everyone says “HURRAY!”) I can’t wait for the first installment in July!

I’d also like to record my answer to her question – “How do you spot potential in a young person?” I thought about it for a short moment and this was my response to her.

First and foremost, before you even identify any potential, you must get to know who the person is and this takes time and effort. The young people in this day and age are generally less likely to initiate approaching you, hence it’s important that you take the first step to be acquainted with them. Without any prior (or basic) knowledge of their background, personality and unique talents, you’d never get an idea of who they can become and how they can contribute to God’s kingdom.

Once that is established, it’s really about observing them. Again, this takes time and effort and most people write youths off very quickly, before they get a chance to express what they’re capable of and show you a glimpse of who they can become. I always believe that if you stick around long enough and are regular enough, young people will open up to you by the sheer virtue that you are ever-present; I’d like to believe that it’s never about charisma, but about consistency. No excuses for the introverted phlegmatic.

Now, I think I have an almost “blind” belief in young people because I trust God. I know He’s in charge of the process and I believe that He is in control of the outcome. Everyone is different and every person will become a unique jigsaw in the masterpiece of God; while some may have more significant roles and are more active than others, there is no one who is more or less important than the other – that’s my conviction, at least. So I tell myself that all I can do as a leader in authority, is to sponsor opportunities for young people to reach their potential, just like how my mentors have done so for me. I’m not afraid of making mistakes – even errors in judgment – and I think this helps the youths under me to feel that the pressure is off them. I always tell my youths that the only thing I expect them to do is to make mistakes – because I did and screwing up did me a world of wonders. Of course, I’ll try to prevent it, but I do not strive to stop it from happening. Some walls are meant to be crashed into; I always believe that God uses every single experience for His glory.

Often, I ask God to give me a vision of the “developed state” of the young person or leader that I am journeying with. I take a step of faith to believe that whatever I envision, I will play a part in helping that young person to realise his or her potential. The sense of satisfaction I enjoy when I see a youths soar in their capacities and capabilities is beyond what money can buy and what the world can offer. In an almost divine manner, God has been faithful to me – for most of the youth leaders and youths that I’ve worked with, they do eventually turn out to be what I’ve envisioned them to be. I thank God for giving me a “radical audacity” to dream and to see beyond what others can see – sometimes I even have the privilege of seeing beyond what the young person I’m journeying with can see. Don’t get me wrong – I’m far from being a soothsayer – I just try to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit and act upon what is prompted in my heart.

Of course, there are some youths who didn’t quite develop the way that I had hoped that they would. Did I despair? I used to. But the older I get, the more I learn to trust God, because I know His plans for that young person are far greater than mine. God’s detours are better than Man’s direction. I’m reminded time and again that God is God, and I’m just a privileged mentor. I’m a risk-taker though, and I love to see young people lead young people. To an extent, I find myself in the process of lowering the average age of leaders in R-AGE and somehow, that gives me an immense sense of gratification – more than half of my key leaders are barely 21 years old!

After I finished my breakfast appointment with NC, I had lunch with SY and I remember telling him how he carries the potential to be one of the pillars of the cell mentors corps. He shared with me his keenness to take on the role of a service emcee (which thrilled me greatly!) and I told him that I can’t wait to retire from being an emcee because it’s such a powerful sight for him (and his peers) to take ownership of the ministry.

As if it’s not obvious enough already, R-AGE @ GII is on the threshold of revival. I feel it!

everybody needs a holiday.

I took this picture when I was in Hallim Park, Jeju, South Korea, together with BB, ST and HY, and I think it looks gorgeous! Beautiful place to go on a vacation. That holiday last July remains one of my all-time favourites. I’m really looking forward to a holiday with the DYLM family after Pierce. (: (All right, that’s all for tonight because I really need to work on my sermon for the GII Pre-Teens services tomorrow morning!)

reflecting the future.

I’ll say this very loosely and irresponsibly; I am convinced that our behaviour today should give us an indication of our behaviour in the future. Of course, we all desire and hope that we will mature and grow beyond our weaknesses, and perhaps with wisdom and more experience we’ll see improvements.

My mentor PL once told me, after witnessing for himself my poor reaction to a family situation around five years ago:

“Joey, remember that whatever you are capable of doing to your family now, you will likely do it to your family in the future.”

That completely snapped me into place. And I’ve held those golden words dear to my heart ever since.

I’ve always seen myself as a family person; as my colleague and buddy in Shanghai SS would put it, “Joey is 26 (then) going 40”. He found it astonishing that a bachelor in the prime of his career in the wine industry, would have little or no affinity for partying, drinking, gambling, smoking or womanising (the vices, basically). Instead, he was (pleasantly) surprised (I hope!) that I found enjoyment in chilling out over coffee or hanging out at a friend’s place, engaging in a meaningful conversation and a hearty laugh. There’s a part of me that simply can’t wait to hang out with my own family nucleus in the future – playing with my kids, dancing with my wife and loitering in my house.

When RY came over to my place today, he said the same thing, “Joey, I notice you seem to… How do I put it… Have a thing about building a family, wherever you’re at”. I thought about it for a split minute and realised that his observation hit the nail on its head. I enjoyed building a family unit when I was with the Archer Company Tank Platoon, Wine Mall Marketing Team, Precious Thirds, TeamR-AGE and now, a work-in-progress, DoYouLoveMe. I’d like to think that this is a positive quality and it has to be God who ingrained it in me because I do not have an example in my own single-parent family unit to model after.

I know I have digressed, so here’s what I really wanted to say:

  • If you currently demonstrate a hot streak of temper at home and are constantly fuming and throwing your tantrum whenever you get mildly pissed off, then it is likely you’d do it to your own wife and children in the future.
  • If you currently enter a recluse whenever there’s a conflict between your loved ones and stubbornly refuse to communicate with anyone by shutting yourself off, then it is likely that you’d do that with your spouse in the future.
  • If you currently like to run away when things don’t go your way and escape from confrontations and avoid dealing with pressing moral, ethical, values or principles-related issues, then it is likely you’d abscond too from your family in the future.
  • If you currently show an irate face whenever you’ve had a bad day and behave in an antisocial manner that prevents people from approaching you, then it is likely you will exhibit this behaviour to your kids in the future.

The analogies given above are just a tip of the ice-berg. I am sure you are smart enough to know what I am talking about. This applies to any relationship, even outside of the family unit. So consider it carefully whenever you are about to do or say something that may jeopardise the harmony amongst your family (and friends). Remember that whatever that you do in the present has a chance of relapse in the future. Hence, build good and positive habits today if you want to establish a good and positive culture for tomorrow.

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