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.
I’m back from a four-day planning getaway and for me, there’s nothing better than vision-casting and planning for the future. R-AGE @ GII, if you’re reading this, you ought to thank God for a team of dedicated shepherds who stayed up til 3am and spilled their dreams on an 18-month calendar. It’s gonna be a mind-blowing 2011 and we must certainly rise up to the challenge, to move from involvement to commitment. We’ve been working hard for you; we don’t ask for a lot, only that you can return the favour and pray hard along with us. Remember, revival will come not when we pursue programmes, but when our people pray.
I shall resume my writing by posting the key points of the sermon I preached last Sunday. (Do note that I omit illustrations and analogies in my sermon recaps.) A guest speaker will be speaking this weekend and I will return to the pulpit next weekend to tackle the next portion of James. Let’s continue to be conscientious in our own reading of the Word. (Anyway, I think my sermon recaps are getting longer and longer!)
Don’t push the blame but take responsibility instead
- You naturally know how to push the blame without actually being taught how to do it.
- Trials are usually external situations that strengthen you while temptations are internal struggles that shatter you.
- God tests you to bring out the best in you – He desires for you to grow spiritually; Satan tempts you to bring out the worst in you – to cause you to sin.
- God wants you to grow up but Satan wants you to go down.
- Temptation springs out of your own evil desires (v14). Hence, do not blame God (or Satan or Man) when you are tempted and when you sin; no one made you do it – you made you do it. Take responsibility for your own sin.
- God doesn’t contradict His own character; if He is holy and hates sin, why would He tempt you?
The ATTACK – how temptations work
- To deal with sin, understand how temptations work. Adam and Eve demonstrates this perfectly for they were, after all, the first perpetrators.
- James 1:14a – It begins with a DESIRE. Satan knows your desire and what you are tempted by so he plants exactly that in your heart to entice you; temptations always begins on a small scale that is almost unnoticeable – that’s why it’s dangerous. Sin always begins with something as small and harmless as stealing $1.
- Satan tempted Eve in Genesis 3:4-5 with, 1) “You will surely not die”, 2) “You will be like God” and 3) “You will know good and evil”.
- James 1:14b – Desire spirals into DECEPTION. You probably have a tendency to convince yourself, rationalise your thoughts and justify your actions until it feels like whatever that you had intended to do is right. To be deceived, in Greek, literally means, “to be led down a wrong path”.
- Eve convinced herself in Genesis 4:6a, that the tree was “good for food”, “a delight to the eyes” and could “make one wise”. God certainly didn’t describe the tree that way.
- James 1:15a – Deception transits into a DECISION. This marks the beginning of sin; Eve lost the battle here as she decided to succumb to her desires.
- In Genesis 3:6b, Eve saw the wrong thing, entertained the wrong thoughts and experienced the wrong desires. She went ahead to eat the fruit (and even gave it to Adam!).
- James 1:15b – Decision leads to DEATH. The result of sin meant that Adam and Eve, as well as the rest of us before we knew Jesus, were eternally separated from God. That explains why the world is a messed-up place and needs a Saviour to redeem it from eternal separation from God (Romans 6:23).
- Know how sin and temptation works if you want to overcome it – and the only way to overcome it is to depend on God to help you.
- 1 Corinthians 10:13 – God’s real role in temptation is to help you get out of it. Temptation is a way you trap ourselves, but God provides us with a way out. Each time you are tempted, you are tempted within your ability. It is your job to find that way out of the temptation.
The COUNTERATTACK – how to overcome temptations
- The problem isn’t in the temptation but in the desire that is within your heart; sin will always look good at the start for it appeals to pleasures but it always ends up as a disaster. Before yielding to temptation, count the cost of its destruction. Would you rather the blessings that God gives or the lies and hurt that Satan brings?
- James 1:17a – TRUST GOD’S CHARACTER. When you trust the goodness of the Father, it will help you to remain unmoved by Satan’s temptations. You yield to Satan’s temptations because you cannot wait for God’s blessings; remember that it is God who blesses you with good things, not Satan.
- Be wary of the microwave generation that demands immediacy and instant gratification. Sometimes, your impatience causes you to make your own miracles instead of waiting for the only Miracle Maker.
- The battle with temptation boils down to a battle of faith. Who do you trust? God, Satan or ourselves? If you really submit to the Lord in all aspects of your life, then you will receive the ultimate protection against temptation; you can trust God because He is constant and never changes.
- James describes God as one who doesn’t change like shifting shadows. God is like the sun – it doesn’t change, it doesn’t move. The “shifting shadows” don’t come from God but from you; you shift, but God doesn’t. This makes Him a trustworthy God and someone you can trust wholeheartedly.
- James 1:18 – TAKE IN GOD’S WORD. Truth will set you free. Read the Word of God – understand, internalise and memorise it. Make it a part of you for you cannot be apart from it. Don’t just depend on pastors and leaders to teach you the Word – know the Word for yourself. To break out of the cycle of temptation, you need the truth to be recycled in you.
- 1 Corinthians 6:18, 1 Corinthians 10:14 & 2 Timothy 2:22 – TAKE OFF AND FLEE. When you are tempted, don’t even try to deal with it – just run.
- James 4:7b – TACKLE THE DEVIL. Don’t fight temptation and flee the devil, but flee temptation and fight the devil.
- Remember biblical truths when you fight the devil. Do not be afraid of the devil for you are God’s dear child and that Christ, who is in you, is greater than the devil who is in the world (1 John 4:4).
- The more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in war. Temptation is a battlefield and a war-zone in your head. During peace time, when you are not tempted, fill your head with truth, so that when the battle begins, you will emerge victorious and overcome the devil not by might or by power but by the spirit of God.
- James 4:7a – TURN BACK TO GOD. Balance the pressure inside you and ensuring that it is equal and opposite to the pressure outside. Instead of just combating external pressure – which is to flee from temptation and fight the devil – you must also build internal pressure, which is to focus on God. Submit yourself to God first before you resist the devil – make that your goal.
- Memorising the Word is biblical. Psalm 119:9-11 instructs young men to store God’s word and hide it in their hearts. The blood of Jesus cleans you from committed sin but the word of God keeps you from uncommitted sin. Hence, focus on God on the inside and fight the devil on the outside, while at the same time flee from temptations! So that when temptation comes, the Word of God will come. In order to overcome lies and deceit, be filled with truth. Scripture memory is not for impressing others but for insulating yourself.
Boast of your weakness and receive the power of Christ
- While God is a holy God who doesn’t tolerate sin, He is also a loving God who wants to help you overcome sin. Only the grace of God can prevent the sin in your life from being “full-grown and gives birth to death”.
- 1 Corinthians 12:9 – God gives you His grace, which is sufficient for you and through that, His power is made perfect by your weaknesses. Your response then, is to boast all the more gladly about your weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on you.
- Hebrews 4:15-16 – Jesus understands what you go through because He has gone through it Himself; He sits on the throne of grace and He is able to give you undeserved favour; you know that you will fall and keep falling, week after week, so that’s why you need His grace again and again. You know that you will be unable to withstand the pressure of sin and temptation. You know that you cannot do this on your own.
- Ask God for His strength to help you overcome temptations. Come before God and to confess your sins to Him. Confess it to a brother or sister whom you trust for James 5:6 encourages us to confess your sins to one another and to pray for each other.
- Ask God for His grace to help you to trust His promises, memorise His word, run away from temptations, fight the devil and to fix your eyes on Him. Come to the point where you know that you can’t do it on your own and that you are sick of depending on yourself.
Even though I’ve only been with R-AGE as a full-time staff for nine months, it feels as if I’ve been doing it for nine years. I started serving as a youth leader when I was 17 years old and I “rose” through the “ranks” and have experienced almost every single ministry role before. Before I left for Shanghai, I must have been one of the youth leaders with the highest public profiles – surely everyone knew Joey Asher Tan.
Unfortunately (or fortunately), all these amounted to nothing.
I was severely humbled when I returned for my first Grace Retreat (the one with Life Game) and to my shock and horror (and massive disappointment), there were people who did not know who I was and those who knew me pretended like I didn’t exist – I don’t blame them – being physically away does result in relational drifting, and that is manifested in friendships that are eventually downgraded to acquaintance-ship. I have since learnt that youth ministry is transient and that no leader, however big his or her profile, is indispensable. The reality is, one day youths may forget who RY is or what CX has done for the ministry. I always think that if it could happen to JH, SH, DL or JT (leaders of yesteryear) it could definitely happen to me.
And you know what? I’m actually thankful for that.
It challenges me to think beyond myself and to build for the next generation of leaders and youths, for the future R-AGE and Grace Assembly of God, and ultimately, the next Joey Asher (i.e. the next youth minister who’s going to take over me). And yes, I’ve already identified my potential successor(s). I’m so thankful that this ministry is never going to be about me. And the best thing about it is that it’s not even down to my own choices or “something that I’ve set out to do” but by the innate and proven ephemeral nature of youth ministry. It forces all of us to think beyond today. I absolutely embrace that because I’m in the business of guiding and helping the generations after me to surpass everything I have achieved and will ever establish.
By the way, I’m quite astonished with the way the Spirit leads my pen.
Actually this wasn’t what I had intended to write about today; what I had wanted to share was the advice I gave to AS this afternoon. She asked, “But what if I cannot connect with the youths anymore?” I struggled with exactly that when I first re-joined and attempted to re-connected with R-AGE and I could really identify with her. So I gave her three pointers which I applied to help me overcome this real challenge.
- Ask God to give you a heart to love the youths and hands to serve them.
- Be consistent and always be around for them – to listen to and guide them – they’ll open up to you sure enough.
- Be patient with yourself and give yourself a trial period of at least three months before you evaluate your progress.
I met LW for an early dinner and I was so encouraged by his appetite to learn and grow. This boy’s got immense potential in the ministry and I can’t wait to see him grow into a man of God; it heartens me greatly to know that the ministry is filled with young men who are as hungry as he is; the future of R-AGE looks bright indeed. Praise the Lord!
I spent some time deliberating this over the past couple of days. I found some interesting attempts at defining and differentiating the two. These definitions are amongst the first few to appear when I googled the above question:
“Your job is what you are doing today. Your career is what you’ve done over the past years and what you plan to do in the future… Your job feeds you and your family today. Your career will feed you and your family tomorrow and beyond.”
“The job pays your bills, and a career is a path you’ve taken (hopefully because you enjoy it) to attain or keep the ideal job for you.”
“A career is something that you build during your lifetime. Jobs are often times task-oriented positions to help meet the goals of an organisation or business. Jobs are often a means to an end… Sometimes jobs lead to careers.”
“A job is something you do simply to earn money; a career is a series of connected employment opportunities. A job has minimal impact on your future work life, while a career provides experience and learning to fuel your future. A job offers few networking opportunities, but a career is loaded with them. When you work at a job, you should do the minimum without annoying the boss. When you’re in a career, you should go the extra mile, doing tasks beyond your minimum job description.”
There’s an endless list of dichotomous definitions but they are largely synonymous.
I remember learning this from somewhere – maybe in one of KK’s workshop (?) – that in a career, people usually stay for a long time and “climb” up the organisational ladder; the good ones care about the welfare and well-being of the company and its employees. To a certain extent, they live for others. Whereas a job is just something people do from 9am to 5pm and remain indifferent to just about everything except for the accuracy and arrival of their paycheck. To another extent, they live for themselves.
Now, this gets me thinking about my own predicament – is it a job or a career? I know for sure that during my army days, it was a job – I did what I was expected to do; on good days, I go the extra mile and on bad days, I do the bare minimum. When I was in Shanghai, it felt a little different because I treated it like my own company. There wasn’t such a thing called “Official Working Hours” simply because at the management level, you work as hard and as long as you’re required to; my boss did not believe in overtime pay for the managers because it was expected of us to get the job done and the project(s) completed. AT’s an excellent boss, and although sometimes he’s quite a slave-driver, he has successfully imbued in us managers the all-important ownership of the company.
So this brings me back to me today as a youth minister with Grace Assembly of God. Is this my job? Not really, because I’d have been imparting my life into young people anyway even if I was an army officer or a marketing manager – I’m just doing it full-time on a more intensive level. Is this my career then? Not really too, because I do not even know if I will be doing this for the long run. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m committed to what I have signed on to do, but I’m keener to listen to God’s prompting. The last thing I want is to overstay – I think that would be absolutely meaningless. But if God tells me to go, I’d be gone in an instant – I’m not worried about transitions and to start out all over again in any industry because I have confidence in my ability to excel wherever I go.
Hence, my answer to the question above – the difference between a job and a career is to know your calling in life and to pursue that calling wholeheartedly in any given time or space instead of being in an occupation for a season of life. I’ve said this to quite a number of people – in my current “job”, while it’s slightly easier than the previous ones because my gifting and skills-set are tailor-made for it, I’ve also poured in double the work hours and emotional involvement. Yet I feel that since I’ve joined Grace in October 2009, I’ve not worked a single day at all simply because I am pursuing what I believe God has intended for me to pursue for this season of my life.
Have you found your calling? Are you stuck with a job? Or are you caught in a career?
The Secrets to Successful Writing seminar with PY this morning was held at my alma mater, Anglo-Chinese School (Junior) at Winstedt Road. It was my first time back since I last collected my PSLE results in 1995, when it was still Anglo-Chinese Junior School at Peck Hay Road. To my surprise, NS is still there; pity I had to leave immediately after the seminar, otherwise I would have popped by the staff office to say hello to a beloved Primary 6 form teacher who played a part in my journey to know Christ.
Advances in mobile technology has allowed me to check for bus arrival timings via the iris NextBus online service on the SBS transit website. (Trivia: it stands for Intelligent Route Information System.) It will always be helpful to know approximately when the next bus would arrive. Now, why would I want this information? After all, it changes neither the duration of my journey nor my designated route. Heck, it doesn’t even predict traffic conditions or tell me what time I’ll arrive at my destination. So, what good does it do for me to know how long it’ll take before I board the next bus?
I believe that prior knowledge of waiting time reduces anxiety and frustration, and for some, it even helps to manage stress levels; commuting during peak hours is already an exasperating experience and I think a predictive information system serves an effective countermeasure to improve travelling woes as I’ll know how long I’ll be on the road, or track – and if the waiting time is too long, I’ll probably make alternative plans (whether to continue waiting, change the mode of transport or take another route) since I can already predict the eventual outcome. The same concept extends to the SMRT and to a lesser extent, roller coaster queues in amusement parks.
However, in the event that you don’t board your bus or train at the estimated time, you’d feel doubly frustrated and disappointed because your expectations have increased; this is inevitable when you try to control your anticipation (and excitement) of what’s to come. And when you change your plans, you deviate from what you are normally familiar with and have grown to trust and rely on. Hence, I’d like to think that regardless of prior knowledge, there will always be a set of challenges for any journey taken.
I couldn’t help but think that my experience with the iris NextBus today was a reflection of my daily struggle to trust God in either the big and small, or long and short term plans. I’d be the first to raise my hands to admit my reliance on my own Intelligent Route Information System to navigate through life’s crossroads and toughest decisions. When you do that, it takes away your trust and belief in God’s original plan as you apply your knowledge of the future, understanding of the present and experience of the past. Don’t get me wrong – that’s wisdom – and it’s not a bad thing. But a careless flirtation and an over-reliance on human wisdom can often cause you to become distracted and disillusioned with your intended journey. My advice? Tread carefully (pun unintended).
I’m sure you can identify with a wrong decision that sometimes ends up in a much longer journey, an encounter with an unexpected traffic jam or even alighting at the wrong stop; it’s only natural to expect that because you have ventured into an unknown and, if I were to epiphanise it, a valley of darkness that you completely did not prepare for or expect. And most times, it’s always a result and consequence of your decisions. This applies to almost every decision – be it relationship, finance or family-related, etc. When this happens, you will need to be responsible for your choices and account for yourself.
At the end of the day, I believe that if God gives you a vision, then the challenge and step of faith for you is to trust Him to deliver you to the eventual destination safely and surely. Thankfully, our God is an efficacious God and nothing in the journey goes to waste – regardless of longer routes, indecision, detours or even unforeseen accidents.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and He will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
These famous verses are plastered on most of the walls of any ACS auditorium, including the one I sat in today, and it serves as a sobering reminder to let God take control of the steering wheel of our lives. May you remember to relinquish control of your life the next time you check for the next bus or train arrival times.
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.