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you plant seeds, not pluck fruits.

Over the last 15 years as a young person, I’ve learnt many things, both as a youth and as a youth leader. One of the things that PC taught me is that with people, you need to be patient, for one day they will surprise you with their goodness. I think this is particularly relevant for anyone dealing with a teenager, and especially for parents whose children are in their (painful and excruciating) juvenile years.

Mothers and fathers need to bear in mind that they may see very little (and often disheartening) results that may not be worth celebrating over especially in the younger years of their kids’ teenagehood. This also applies to all youth leaders. I encourage you to manage your expectations when working with adolescent (and often rebellious) youths. They will always think that they are right and they will always want to prove you wrong. This sounds cruel, but really, let them be, let them fall and let them learn. Don’t expect them to make good decisions at 14 years old and change the world at 16 years old when you only started to mature and wise up at 17 years old. I reiterate this to almost every young person under my leadership – that one of things I expect from them (pardon the lack of a better way to phrase it), is to screw up. And this immediately sets them at ease.

As a parent, mentor or youth leader, you must always remember that being with young people is often a thankless and behind-the-scenes job. Of course, there will be pockets of them who know how to appreciate you. Oh, I am so grateful for these because their appreciation of your investment in them is often so genuine and heartfelt. But I do not live or thrive on these boosts. 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. A mature youth leader needs to sort this out in his head and heart. For if a leader is motivated by recognition and appreciation, he is sure to be left disappointed and disillusioned at some point.

To be frank, sometimes it can be tough (and tiring) working with youths, especially those who do not listen; I was one of them, so I know. You put in the hard work, sweat and toil with them, but when they succeed, they get all the credit and you simply get forgotten. When they are in trouble, you offer advice and genuinely want to help them, but when they mess it up, you sometimes get the blame and even need to pick them up. So today, I encourage you to look further and beyond all these seemingly disparaging signs.

Always remember that you are here to plant seeds, and most times you will not be the one to reap what you have sown – not immediately at least. JH was amongst the first to plant seeds in my life, and as I develop fruits, I can honestly tell you that he did not benefit from it directly – but it doesn’t stop him from planting it anyway. So I’m here to remind us all, that whenever we work with young people, that it is our job is to plant seeds, not pluck fruits. Let’s be committed to do our jobs well and to trust God to nurture and eventually complete what we have started. After all, we do the planting, He does the growing.

For those who are much younger and not in a leadership position yet, I’d urge you to encourage, appreciate and honour those who have planted and are still planting seeds in your life. Let them know, in whatever way you know how to, that you are thankful for their investment of time, emotions and resources in you. You’ll make their day.

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Do remember that the bible-giveaway competition is still ongoing. Please make my job as the jury a little harder! Come on!? :P At the same time, I’d encourage you to consider subscribing to my blog (fill in your email at the top right of the page) so that you’d receive and read my daily posts in the convenience of your mailbox at the time of publication. Also, just want to mention that the readership response for the last entry on my journey into full-time ministry was extremely encouraging – I hope you were blessed by my sharing. Blogging daily has become a think-time that I look forward to. (:

top ten reasons why i’m thankful i’m a guy.

The time has come for the weekly top ten. It’s somewhat enjoyable and a challenge to write within ten points because it coerces me to concise my ideas as well as to surface the first decathlon of my thoughts; sometimes I have an abundance and other times, insufficient. With homosexuality becoming increasingly rampant (and the scary thing to me is, it’s also becoming increasingly acceptable) in our society, I’d like to write about why I’m thankful to be a guy, in the conventional context of what a guy is designed to be. I don’t know another more politically correct manner to phrase that sentence.

I’ve deliberately decided to keep this list fun and politically indifferent but the harsher radicals would find the controversial overtones in-between my lines; radicals always do anyway when their senses are heightened and acutely sensitive to their forte topics. So here it goes, as light-hearted as I can be, the top ten reasons why I’m thankful I’m a guy.

1. I spend lesser money on clothing and accessories simply because I have lesser parts to cover. And for those parts that require coverage, it’s a fuss-free affair. Walking into a ladies’ shop is an overwhelming experience; I haven’t the faintest clue how girls just know what to purchase in the plethora of choices. I’m inclined to believe that the material world was created for the ladies and would collapse in their absence. I mean, just undergarments alone, my choices are limited to only boxers or briefs (thank goodness!), of which both serve the same purpose, and cost a lot lesser than bras, panties and lingeries! And I haven’t even gotten started on make-up! *phew*

2. I am physically stronger and naturally more athletic. Of course, I do not compare myself to a professional woman athlete. Having physical advantages is blessing that men should not take for granted – that we can run faster and last longer than the average lady, as well as to carry more weight and endure more bodily hardship than most ladies. However, while I believe that guys have better endurance, girls’ threshold for suffering is without a doubt higher than their counterparts.

3. I get to pee standing up. There is no question about this benefit for I think it’s something that girls may even desire! This means that I can answer nature’s call anytime and anywhere. And just for the record, I don’t really have to bother about the cleanliness of the lavatory as no part of my pelvic area would ever need to come into contact with a urine-stained toilet seat! I’m sure, however, that some girls do possess this skill of vertically taking a leak…

4. I can’t get pregnant or experience the pain of childbearing. This characteristic is definitive of being a woman. In fact, I know a lady who medically cannot give birth and hence is sad that in her lifetime she won’t be able to undergo this defining experience. The only ones who can experience (the pain and joy of) childbirth are women who are born women; this sets them apart from men forever. Hence, men must truly appreciate wives and mothers for they can never, ever emphathise with this aspect of a woman’s life.

5. I am rational and have better control over my emotions. Now, there are rational ladies and emotional men and there’s nothing wrong with either. I’m just personally thankful that I’m built this way because it has enhanced my ability to make decisions as well as to have a pragmatic approach towards most things in life.

6. I live in a patriarchal world. Like it or hate it, this world has always be created to favour men. I won’t go into too much detail and as much as I’m all for equality, I believe that there’s order only when the equality apportioned to women is determined and deemed allowable by men. Oh, what a contentious statement. Peace, peace, peace.

7. I determine the gender of my child(ren). In olden days dramatised by TV serials, the paternal mother-in-law always makes life a living hell for the daughter-in-law who fails to deliver an heir to the family line. Of course, we are better advised these days and know that the determining factor of a child’s gender belongs to the X chromosome that only men have. Maybe that’s why children continue their father’s family name?

8. I am the biblical leader of my marriage. I genuinely believe that most ladies, even the most independent, intimidating and outstanding ones, in the inner-most recesses of their heart, long for their man to be established as the leader of their relationship and would gladly relinquish and empower them to exercise it. I don’t have the statistics, but I wouldn’t be surprised that one main reason for a dysfunctional or broken family is the man’s failure to command leadership in the household.

9. I have the privilege of influencing and raising young men. While mature women can mentor young men, there’s just something that they cannot impart simply because they are not men (and vice-versa). Young men look for role models to follow after; I had my hero figures when I was younger and I still have them now. A lack of a dominant alpha-male (pardon my lack of a better way to phrase it) is sorrowfully missing in our society and it is especially prevalent in the church, where ladies are generally more active, fervent and prolific in serving the Lord. It’s not a bad thing but it’s time for the men to rise up in (my) church! I want to play my part in reversing the alpha-female culture in my youth group.

10. And last but certainly not least, I’ve saved it for the end… I get to fall in love with girls! This has to be one of the best things about being a guy (if not the best) – for you appreciate what you don’t have and who you will never become. Opposites certainly attract, but beware, for sometimes differences complement and sometimes they conflict! As much as I am thankful to be a man, I know I can’t live without a woman. Either way, I’m thankful that my lifelong companion is a lady.

Have I missed out on any other reasons? Do you disagree with any of the above? Let me hear your opinions!

would you let go of me?

It was my turn to “teach” a lesson from EC’s outstanding handbook, “Mentoring Paradigms”. (Now, I actually don’t quite understand how I was supposed to teach a lesson that is supposed to be self-taught by simply reading the book and reflecting so) I took the liberty to teach outside of the book; after all, the book is supposed to be self-explanatory and the leaders present at the meeting are old enough to digest the wisdom for themselves.

The gist of the paradigm that I taught was on God’s efficacy. (The book is on my office desk, so I’ll update this post again and list the key lessons I’ve learnt from EC’s teaching.) And so I brought everyone’s attention to the three parables placed one after the other in the Gospel of Luke – The lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. I thought it was appropriate for the leaders to see for themselves God’s efficacy at work in a dynamic manner in these three examples. In my reflection, I think it’s common to hear that nothing is wasted in the economy of God; I’d turn that around and say that in God’s economy, there’s no such thing as nothing!

Observe, for the lost sheep, one in a hundred went missing; for the lost coin, one in ten went missing; and for the lost son, one in two went missing – the stakes are upped dramatically. Observe again, the shepherd left ninety-nine and went out to search for that lost sheep; the owner (went in and) turned his house upside-down to search for that lost coin; and the father could do absolutely nothing when he lost his son. Actually, to better phrase it, it was his son that decided to lose him.

Now, from this juxtaposition, I’ve learnt that the closer the missing subject (a person, usually) is to you, the lesser you can do about it should he or she decide to leave you. There are some people you go out to hunt for, some you turn your ransack your house for, and for some, you are simply powerless to do anything about it – and yes, it is extremely heartbreaking because you can almost see their outcome.

Around three years ago, I experienced that with my beloved sister. I remember the two-hour conversation in the car. It was then that I had to let go of her as my younger sister so that she can become her own woman. Letting go of a younger sibling that you protect is a lot more difficult than letting go of a young person that you shepherd. Without getting into details, I basically realised that I couldn’t and shouldn’t protect her in the same manner anymore, for she was old, mature and experienced enough to make her own decisions, and be responsible for them. (Sometimes, I wonder if it’s painful because I am relinquishing my status in her life – I don’t ever want to be a redundant elder brother.)

I had to learn to trust God for her eventual outcome and while it’s painful for me to let go of my sister because I love her so much, I must remember that God loves her so much more than I do and so surely He will look after her well-being better than I ever can. Hence, I shall have no fear for my Lord is in control of my sister. Either way, God has a plan for her and already knows what He is doing with her, way ahead of me. At the end of the day, I’m actually left with no choice, but learn not just to trust her, but to trust Him, whom I’m entrusting her to.

On that note, I believe that parents put so many restrictions on their children in this generation not because they don’t trust them, but because they don’t trust themselves – they are not confident of their own upbringing of their kids. I’m not yet a father so I write this callously, but I’d like to believe that when it’s time for my children to make their own decisions and account for themselves, I will deliberately and gladly let go of them, so that they can grow in an exponential manner apart from me. I will do this partly because I trust them, but mainly because I trust the good way that I would have brought them up. I guess I’d only be able to put my money where my mouth is when my children reach that age of reckoning.

On a side, random and personal note, I am absolutely and unashamedly confident that I will make an imperiously outstanding father. And just like in RD’s “Danny The Champion of The World”, I will become that father with the sparkle in his eye. Perhaps the absence of it makes me pine for fatherhood so much more, but somehow, I have this unquenchable, untamable conviction that of the many things that I will excel in in life, fatherhood is one that I am most certain of because it is something closest to my heart.

I have no idea how this evolved into a piece on parenting but I’m glad anyway.

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.

retrospection: painting on a white canvas.

In the blink of an eye, I approach the sixth month of my full-time work with R-AGE. I will not deny that it has been a dream job so far for I don’t even feel that I’ve worked a day – even when I’ve clocked way more hours than what I am required to clock per week. My “clients” are my beloved youths, my “managers” are my G2 Shepherds, my “boss” is my mentor, my “colleagues” are my friends, my “work documents” are the pages of the Bible, my “company” is the place that I worship, my “business meetings” are mentoring sessions with youths and my “products” are leading, mentoring and preaching – I cannot ask for a better combination of work elements. God is good!

At the start of this year when I took over the G2 youth community, I had set out several tasks to complete as well as to lay down certain ground rules for my leaders and myself. Looking back, I rejoice at what the Lord has allowed me to accomplish thus far. As I prepare the Barnabas sermon for this weekend, I feel a tremendous sense of job satisfaction that not many people can claim to have – I thank God and give Him all the glory for this. Indeed, the enjoyment of work is a gift of God to man (Ecclesiastes 3:13).

At the workplan retreat at the turn of the year, I remember sharing with my G2 leaders my basic expectations of them. I think I must have caught them by surprise when I said, “I expect you to mess up”. I’m not looking for perfect leaders or for exceptionally talented ones – there’ll be no sense of accomplishment, challenge or rejoicing if I’m working with finished articles. I believe the journey is more important than the destination, but if we do not know where we are headed for, we will be lost. I told them that I also expected them to be 1) committed to their kids and to be 2) accountable to their leaders (especially in the area of existing and potential BGRs), as well as to 3) pray regularly, 4) display initiative, 5) lead by example, 6) be responsible and 7) demonstrate excellence in all that they undertake – just seven golden requirements. I firmly believe that good leaders raise better ones and bad leaders produce worser ones.

I also requested for time and patience so that I can figure out their needs and wait upon God to give me a fresh vision and direction for the ministry, which I can roll out in phases in the coming months. I also identified the thin manpower, especially evident in the lack of male leaders. I understood their common initial sentiments of feeling inadequate, lacking readiness and struggling to connect with their kids. As a number of them up their ante in their pursuit of God, and as I see them step out and take their place as junior shepherds of the ministry, my heart beams with pride – for I see God’s strength in their weakness, Christ’s victory in their defeats and an inevitable reliance on the Spirit to see them through their leadership roles.

As I shared with NC over lunch today, I believe that we need God to be more godly, Christ to be more Christ-like and the Holy Spirit to be more Spirit-filled; we will never be able to approach a theocentric God in an anthropocentric manner. And I firmly believe in my heart that we are on the threshold of revival – first in our being, then in our ministry. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in G1, G2, Grace or another church, we are not going to accomplish anything if we depend on our own strength. We must continually seek the Lord for guidance and believe that the power of the Spirit will enable and empower us to accomplish the will of God for our lives and in our ministry.

It’s only been six months, and already there’s a lot to thank God for. Brothers and sisters – apart from Jesus, we can do nothing; we are absolutely nothing without Christ. The canvas is white – let’s paint it well.

top ten ingredients of a worship leader.

I have decided to embark on a periodical series of “Top Ten” lists. To kickstart the series, I’ll share my initial insights of being a worship leader for the last 12 years. I received my calling to lead worship when I was 14 years old at a NA’s Bondage Breaker Conference (I know the topics are unrelated but I don’t decide when I’m called!). The first time I led worship was when I was 15 years old, at a Methodist Schools’ Combined Christian Fellowship Camp. I joined CAMY (before it was called CAMY) when R-AGE services first began as a 14-year-old backup vocalist (way back in 1997) and I began leading worship in R-AGE and in the adult services when I was 17 and 21 years old respectively.

Throughout the 12 years, God has always been faithful to me in assuring me of my calling – He consistently sends (at least) one person to encourage and affirm me of my worship leading anointing, for every single worship session that I’ve led, be it in school, small groups or services. I praise and thank God for His grace and faithfulness. While I sense that my calling has shifted to preaching, leading and mentoring for this season of my life (that’s one reason why I didn’t join the worship ministry in my church in Shanghai), I’m still blessed to have lots of experiences to share with current, new and aspiring worship leaders and hence the birth of this simple bite-sized list.

I’ve divided the list into two categories; the five ingredients in the “Worship” category deals with inward and internal character traits which I feel all worship leaders should possess; the remaining ingredients in the “Leader” category deals with outward and external personality attributes which I think all worship leaders should exhibit. This list is by no means exhaustive and I could probably list another 10, but these are the ingredients that come to my mind first. So here goes the alpha of many “Top Ten” lists to come:

“WORSHIP”

1. Personal worship – The songs you choose should minister to you first and your worship expression on stage should be as consistent as your expression at home, during your devotional time spent with God.

2. Private prayer – Anointing and spiritual authority flows into your life by one way only – an intimate relationship with God; you must develop a habit of regularly praying for yourself, your team and the congregation that you are leading.

3. Reliability and Reliance – Besides being a dependable and available worship leader (for your team), you must learn to be reliant on the Holy Spirit to lead you when you lead worship; failure to do so results in leading by charisma and not by anointing.

4. Humility – Realise that the definition of a biblical leader (modeled after Jesus) is first to serve before you lead, hence your team members are people you serve and not people who serve you; learn to meet their needs and always be concerned for their spiritual growth and character development.

5. Accountability – Being a worship leader means your life is now amplified for all to witness; it is absolutely imperative that a (more) mature and experienced (worship) leader watches over your spiritual well-being for there are many potential hazards as a high-profile personality.

“LEADER”

6. Excellence – Solid preparation is key to leading effectively and so you must memorise your music and your lyrics, as well as to be absolutely familiar with the arrangements, before you can even expect your team to do likewise. I also challenge all worship leaders to expose themselves to more musical genres, know basic music theory and learn at least one instrument.

7. Responsibility – Realise that you are now a public figure and hence your onstage leadership must be a reflection of your offstage lifestyle; you must be responsible for your speech and conduct for they carry a lot more weight now.

8. Initiative – As the shepherd of a flock, you should organise cohesion sessions (such as meals and meet-ups) to bond your team together as well as to give you a platform to get to know them better; take ownership of your team’s overall growth – first as believers, then as musicians.

9. Enthusiasm – If you are half-baked about the things that you do, you will end up producing half-past-six members and your worship session will also be a reflection of your personality. Hence, you must believe and be excited about what you are doing if you want others to catch your “fire”.

10. Connection – I’ve saved the most personal ingredient for the last; one reason why I am convinced of my effectiveness as a youth worship leader, is because I make deliberate efforts to get to know the congregation that I am leading (through intentional fellowship). Hence when I lead my congregation into worship, when I articulate lyrics, when I look into their eyes, (I think) I get an idea of what they are experiencing in their lives and I am to able lead and minister to them because I understand their struggles. You must feel for your congregation.

In closing, a popular perception of a worship leader is that he only needs to concern himself with the 30-minutes on stage. I vehemently beg to differ this dangerous rockstar attitude. You are the worship leader who leads others to worship God, not yourself. The glittering “glamour” of leading worship comes with the great task of leading your team during the time that you are not on the platform (which is the bulk!). Remember, a worship leader is not a superstar.

Suddenly I have a lot more to share, so perhaps I’ll write another “Top Ten” in the coming days. I sincerely hope that was helpful for you and can serve to be a simple yardstick for all worship leaders.

understanding your personality temperament.

Whenever I meet other Christian leaders for the first time, I always like to ask if they know their character temperaments because it gives me a opportunity to instantly square them up. While it’s not always good to do this, it does give me a certain head start in knowing how to engage them. I believe that a leader should be versatile and conversational skills are always a helpful for a leader.

There are four personality temperaments – Sanguine (I), Choleric (D), Melancholic (C), Phlegmatic (S). Some may be more familiar with D-I-S-C. I’ll describe each personality very briefly, according to my understanding:

Sanguine – Extroverted and people-oriented, this ball of energy is popular with people and is often inspiring and persuasive. However, he is usually an insecure person, struggles with being alone and is a scatterbrain.

Choleric – This task-oriented, natural-born leader operates with authority and is a high-achiever who is often outspoken and domineering. However, he also bossy, insensitive to other people’s feelings and struggles with submission.

Melancholic – A perfectionist to a T, this idealistic artist passionately pursues details and is often a peace-maker and a people-pleaser. However, his fragility is exhibited in being overly emotional, indecisive and hard to please.

Phlegmatic – No one brings stability, consistency and loyalty to the table as he easily as he does, as his steadfastness breeds people’s trust. However, his inability to overcome inertia often births laziness and results in him watching life sail him by.

I first took the personality test when I was 16 and I discovered that I was a Choleric-Sanguine (my score was something like S8 C14 M3 P0). Three years later I took the test again and discovered that I was Sanguine-Choleric (score of S16 C8 M6 P-3). Today, seven years later, I think I’m still predominantly a Sanguine. I guess my secondary trait would always be a Choleric but as I often mention, I think I’m a secret Melancholic, especially when I work and plan. I’ve intentionally efforted (what an irony!) to pick up Phlegmatic traits, but it still remains an elusive element. I’m thankful though, that 27 years later, with the Spirit’s help, I’ve learnt to be a lot more Spirit-controlled than uncontrollably Sanguine.

While understanding your personality temperaments allows you to perhaps relate a little better with others as well as to gain a better mastery of yourself, I’ve learnt to aspire to be like Jesus, who incidentally is the most balanced individual, I think. He wasn’t 25% SCMP, no, that would make Him inept and limited. I’d like to think that Jesus was 100% SCMP, making Him 400%. We see in His Sanguine in how He loved and fed people, as well as to heal and talk to them; His Choleric was demonstrated in how He was focussed on His mission and that caused Him to move from place to place to do ministry; Jesus demonstrated His Melancholic through His detailed and organised preaching of the comprehensive Sermon on the Mount; and His Phlegmatic was experienced in how meek and gentle He was with people, to offer peace to them.

I’ve read and repeated this cute analogy many times, and its self-mockery never fails to make people laugh:

Whenever there’s a problem;
The Choleric tries to solve the problem;
The Melancholic dwells in the problem;
The Phlegmatic doesn’t realise there’s a problem;
And the Sanguine IS the problem!

Our approach to life is always going to be different and with it comes a kaleidoscope of obstacles and challenges. Regardless of our personality temperaments, we’ll have our own sets of strengths and weaknesses to bear. I believe that confidence is an acute awareness of one’s strengths and weaknesses. And while we could do well to work on our weaknesses and operate in our strengths, I think that problems are one of the sure things in life, but – and here’s what the Holy Spirit just inspired me to pen down – “Whenever there’s a problem, Jesus is the ONLY solution!” Remember that!

And if you are keen to discover where you are Sanguine, Choleric, Melancholic or Phlegmatic, you can click here to take the personality temperament test. Be sure to leave a comment to let me know what temperament you are!

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