keep the main thing, the main thing.
Today, I commemorate my first year in Singapore since I returned from Shanghai for good. I fondly remember how I made my “comeback“ at the No One Else album launch concert. I will never forget the microphone stand, the spotlight, the explosive Roller Coaster introduction, and those 10 memorable steps (wished it was 100!) I took to superstardom the centre of the stage. It was my moment of conceited indulgence (so bear with me) and it’s not very often I get to feel like a rock star. Yes, it’s a terribly vain thing to say, but I’ve never denied my appetite for the limelight. (Fronting a band gives me a completely different rush from leading worship or preaching and I’ve really missed that! RL, CK, JT… It’s time to revive…)
Anyway, I’m sure it’s not the first time you’ve read the above-mentioned expression. “Keep the main thing, the main thing” is synonymous with “Do not major on the minor” or “Know the difference between urgent and important”. Over the past nine months, something that I’ve honestly struggled with is to discern between my dreams and God’s dreams (for I certainly don’t want to mess this up!), as well as to think about how all these dreams are translated into ministry execution. I honestly find the marriage of the two dreams extremely challenging at times.
When I felt the call to enter full-time ministry, there were only three ministries that God deposited into my heart – Lead, Preach and Mentor – and these governed the way I operated; you could say that these are the three pillars of my personal calling. I’ve tried to center all my decisions around these pillars. Of course, I’ve made a couple of wrong decisions along the way, like getting involved in the Grace 60th Anniversary and being involved with the original YAYP transition team; I try never to live in regret, but to learn from retrospect for it is pointless if to lament about spilled milk.
As my portfolio increases and as my tent enlarges, so will my influence and competencies too. I’ve learnt that I must learn not to get involved with everything even though I want to and may foolishly deem myself suitable for it, and especially when it is logical to do so. (Sigh, logic – Man’s feeble attempt at second-guessing God’s sovereign will…) That’s the reason why I believe that a personal vision statement is important. If you have a motto to preside over the way you function, you more or less know what to say yes to and what to turn down; it helps you to live a principled life. What’s yours? Mine is:
“I am a bible-believing Christian who desires to know God
by working excellently, learning earnestly while having a balanced lifestyle,
for the glory of God.”
At our mid-year appraisal this morning, RY told me that “marrying your dreams into God’s will is a constant struggle”, and I concur. That’s why I think it’s always a step of faith to act on what God has impressed upon my heart. With RY, I always learn something new or am reminded of previously-learnt lesson – that’s why he’s my mentor and that’s why I look up to him so much. And in true hero-fashion, he balanced the above-mentioned statement with this: “But remember, it is God who planted these dreams into you”. That took a huge load off my shoulders; I couldn’t believe that I missed something as obvious as that!
I have been wired to lead with my heart on my sleeves and somehow this quality has become my signature. Perhaps it explains why Passion is one of the three flagships of my personality, besides Authenticity and Believing in Young People. These are the core values I think my life represents most dominantly and consistently. Again I quote my boss, “Passion is like a tap; once you turn it on, water gushes out” – I’d like to believe that my passion for youth ministry doesn’t just trickle out, but that it surges out.
However, I know that one day my passion will run out. RY encouraged me today and told me that I have tenacity; it was the first time this word was used to describe me. He deliberately chose tenacity over perseverance for (I think) the latter represents an indefatigability to endure present situations while the former indicates a determination to push oneself through to overcome challenges. I liked that distinction and I believe that tenacity should rightly be the best friend of passion for they are perfect complements.
So anyway, back to keeping the main thing, the main thing, I think it’s a good opportunity for me to take a step back and reflect, and to ask God to give me grace so that I can differentiate what I want to do from what I need to do, as well as to determine what He wants me to do. (God doesn’t need me to do anything. He doesn’t need anybody to do anything for Him. In fact, according to Psalm 50:12, if He was hungry He wouldn’t even tell you or me.) In our lifetime, we’d go through seasons after seasons and so it remains a wise thing to focus, always on the main thing. If I were to strip everything down to its core, the main tasks in life (in fact, the only two tasks), is to love God more and to love His people more everyday (Mark 12:30-31).
(my) desired qualities of leadership.
I don’t read many leadership books because I don’t really believe that leadership can be taught through text. I believe that leadership is a skill best taught through real-life experiences and best learnt through real-life examples.
As I watched the latest (leaked) episode of Naruto Shippuden 169, I couldn’t help but to be drawn to Naruto’s hidden and often-understated leadership and charisma. It may just be anime but it has taught me so much about life and in this case, leadership. (Actually, I wrote an article on the top ten reasons to watch Naruto before.) Naruto has a magnetic personality and he has qualities that just naturally endears you to him – he may be reckless but he’s so charmingly reckless you can’t help but to join him in his recklessness. I think Shikamaru got it right when he said, “That guy, has something no one else does… …When I’m with Naruto, ‘I want to walk alongside him’, is what I think”. I desire to have leadership qualities like that!
And so it got me thinking about the kind of leader I aspire to be as well as who and what I’m inspired by. I see some of these qualities in the leaders, mentors and role models that I look up to. In my primitive perspective, an outstanding leader should have or be:
- A forward-thinking visionary.
- Depth in character and understanding of self.
- Knowledge and expertise (a.k.a. IQ).
- Charisma and people skills (a.k.a. EQ).
- Determination and fighting spirit.
- Courage and a willingness to take risks and try new things.
- Wisdom, patience and maturity.
- Authentic and unafraid to exhibit flaws and shortcomings.
- An unquenchable desire to learn from mistakes, improve and improvise.
- Humility to acknowledge defeat and apologise whenever necessary.
- Confidence and an acute awareness of his strengths and weaknesses.
- Situational awareness and appreciation.
- A keen sense of strategy and shrewdness.
- Excellence and thoroughness.
- Commitment to follow-through with the plan and vision.
- Versatility and an all-rounded capability.
- Sensitivity and compassion to reach out to the underdogs.
- Spirit-controlled and a master of his temperaments.
- Consistency and a reputation that has been proven over time.
- Always one step away from fulfilling his glass-ceiling potential.
But most of all, I think, a leader must have followers. Otherwise, it is absolutely useless to possess all the above-mentioned qualities if you have no one to lead! If people aren’t willing and wanting to “walk alongside you”, then as a leader, you will simply be rendered ineffective and redundant. I think that’s the harsh but honest truth.
Frankly, it didn’t take me very long to list these 20 qualities and I could easily (and seriously) go for another 20 more (and I’m sure you could too), since I’ve merely shared my opinion of an ideal leader. However, the more I think about it, the more I think that Jesus is our perfect role model of a leader – I can’t think of a better example who has all these qualities and one whom I’d want to emulate than my Saviour.
I think I will expand on each of these qualities another time. For now, I just wanted to extract these thoughts out of my head. I need a good physical rest tonight!
is your advice any good at all?
There’s a difference between good and godly advice. Everyone is able to offer their two-cents’ worth but not everyone makes sense. Therefore, it is important to surround yourself with counsellors who are able to expand your perspectives as well as to offer you solutions (or at least show you the possible consequences of any decision made). We should be cautious in selecting who we hang out with for it usually determines who we become eventually – surround yourself with cynics and you may just become one.
The way of the fool always seem right to him – they will hardly admit that they are wrong; don’t spend too much energy trying to convince them otherwise, but learn to just pray for them and commit them to the Lord. When I see how the advice that I dispense fall on deaf ears, it gives me an idea of how foolish I was when I was younger, and how I have refused and rejected advice. If you want to counsel others, it is important that you are rooted in the Word of God. Wisdom is knowing how to apply biblical principles to everyday situations. Hence, wise counsel and sound advice always comes from the Word.
It is also important that you are a Spirit-filled individual if you want to offer advice to others. I always tell my leaders to pray (silently) in the Spirit (in their hearts) when they talk to youths, and to be sensitive to what the Spirit might possibly prompt them to say instead. It’s imperative that we do not make up advice; for the lack of a better way to phrase it – let’s not bullshit others. There are days that I do not have the answer and when that happens, I will be honest and tell whoever I’m speaking to that I will get back to them a few days later. Don’t trust anyone who’s always got the answer. We must stop whenever and however the Spirit leads and prompts us to, and seek God for an answer first. I remember BH’s advice regarding advice-giving – “If people run to you, you better run to God, otherwise they might think that you are God!”
I try to surround myself with people who know what people are like – basically older and more mature individuals who have seen more people than I have. They give great insight to people and how to deal with those who are more challenging to manage. They teach me how to discern and share their experiences with me. Hence, regardless of how high-up I may rise in a leadership role, it is important that I do not isolate myself, but to surround myself with people who are involved in the right kind of attitude, and those who are like-minded. Having RY and PL to share with me their journey on being a ministry-man and a family-man gives me great leverage to know what to do when I’m faced with similar situations. However, after I receive their advice, I will still consult the Lord first for obeying what the He has set upon my heart to do is of utmost importance.
And then of course, there are those whom you simply trust with your life because you know that they always have your interests at heart. These are people whom have gone through seasons with you and the ones who have proved their consistency and availability in your life – basically, those whom have stood the test of time. He or she could be a best friend, parent, sibling, mentor or partner. Always treasure the value of their opinions simply because they love you without agenda and want the best for you.
In conclusion, in the area of giving and receiving advice, here are the four categories of people whom you should seek and aspire to become:
- Word people
- Spirit people
- People people
- Trustworthy people
These are the people whom you know will dispense good advice and godly counsel.
no longer a worship leader and at peace with it.
I dug out an old notebook a few weeks ago and within the first couple pages I found a list of nine things I had wanted to accomplish that year. I recorded these things in 2003, when I was 20 years old, in the final semester of my polytechnic days.
- Get grounded in the Word.
- Learn piano and guitar intensively.
- Stay single until 21st Oct 2003.
- Transfer captaincy of TeamR-AGE.
- Record FhLY album.
- Record Castor & Pollux album.
- Attain driving licence.
- Cultivate a lifestyle of punctuality.
- Learn to be more pastoral.
It’s interesting to note that the items that I’ve made little progress on are #2, #5 and #6, which are incidentally all related to music! Well, seven years have passed and with each passing year the likelihood of accomplishing these three items diminishes. Perhaps I’m not all that passionate or serious a musician after all. What a sad thought.
All right, that silly introduction above has little to do with what I am about to share.
Music is a big part of my life; I’d like to believe that while I’m not musically trained, I am musically inclined because I pick things up pretty quickly – be it percussions, strings or even song-writing. I’m always attracted to worship teams and as I peered into the 3rd Level Hall tonight to check out the worship team in action, I reminisced my days of being a worship leader and how that I spent most (and the early) parts of my ministry in church in CAMY. I progressed from a 14-year-old backup vocalist to a worship leader in both the youth and adult services.
God called me into worship leading when I was 15 years old, at a “Bondage Breaker” conference in Trinity Christian Centre, and I’ve always pursued this area of service. I was confident that I had the anointing of a Spirit-led worship leader. And God is faithful; throughout the years of worship leading, God always sends at least one person to affirm and to encourage me in my calling, usually by someone who was in the congregation; God has never missed out affirming me on any session and I am most thankful for it.
When I went to Shanghai and saw the “state” of the worship atmosphere in my church, I immediately felt compelled to join the worship team to “rescue” and “value-add” it. The Holy Spirit rebuked my prideful self and I quickly dismissed this arrogant attitude of wanting to “fix things” and to “show them how it’s supposed to be done”. I could easily enter the ministry under the pretense of humility but what good would it do if I served with a wrong heart? For months, it was an internal struggle because I knew that I could contribute positively and to even make a significant difference!
I didn’t feel that God was calling me into worship leading for that season of my life in Shanghai so I avoided the music ministry completely and just waited for His prompting of where I should serve in church. I did continue to lead worship, but only in my cell group. (This sounds really haughty and I apologise for it but) word got around of my skill, effectiveness and experience – “This worship leader is pretty anointed!” and a couple of months later, as if to perpetuate the already dire situation with my pride, I was approached twice by the worship pastor and one of the key worship leaders; they invited me to join the ministry. (It must have been painful to read such words dripping with arrogance but I’m just being honest with my struggles and being real with my journey.)
Yet I’ve never moved into the worship ministry ever again because I was convinced that my season of being a worship leader is over. I felt the peace when I rejected both invitations and I also found the non-entry necessary for the development of my own humility as I stepped away from this area of ministry. I wanted to be sensitive to the Spirit’s leading and I believe I did the right thing, even though becoming a worship leader again felt like the right thing to do by my own logical deduction! (This isn’t a good gauge but worship leading no longer gave me a kick – I didn’t find it a challenge anymore.)
Instead, I felt the Spirit calling me into mentoring and preaching; in fact, I find that mentoring, preaching and leading are my three primary domains of ministry at this point in my life. Just as how God has prospered me as I pursued His prompting in my worship leading days, I believe that God will also give me success as a mentor, preacher and leader, simply because I desire to be obedient to His will for my life. I humbly ask you to pray with me, please; I only want to be a vessel.
Why do I share these inner thoughts tonight? I believe that it is more important to recognise the divinely-designated season of your life directed by God than to do what the ministry demands or what you’re naturally good at or gifted in. It may not make much sense at first but the satisfaction you get when you review your step of faith is immense. I desire always to walk by faith (to do what God directs) and not by sight (to do what Man demands). And the only way to do so is to remain connected with God.
Oh Lord, thank You for reminding me about John 15:5. Indeed, apart from Jesus, I can do nothing and I am absolutely nothing without Christ! I desire to be near You so that I will do the things that You desire and become the man You have designed. I love You.
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!
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.