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for the sake of my young people, and my own children.

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:

  1. Do you know their strengths and weaknesses?
  2. Do you know their greatest cause of sin?
  3. Do you know their immediate prayer requests?
  4. Do you know their felt needs and meet it?
  5. Do you know their last spiritual breakthrough?
  6. Do you know their family background and upbringing?
  7. Do you know their greatest fears and insecurities?
  8. Do you know how they came to know Christ?
  9. Do you know if they are responding to the Word?
  10. 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.

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teamwork is everything – would you rather go fast or go far?

So, what exactly is teamwork? Obviously, this buzzword describes work performed by a team; here are the other definitions that I’ve found on online dictionaries which will form the perimeters of my thoughts today:

  • the combined action of a group of people, esp. when effective and efficient.
  • cooperative or coordinated effort on the part of a group of persons acting together as a team or in the interests of a common cause; work done with a team.
  • the cooperative work done by a team; the ability to work efficiently as a team.
  • work done by several associates with each doing a part but all subordinating personal prominence to the efficiency of the whole.
  • a joint action by a group of people, in which each person subordinates his or her individual interests and opinions to the unity and efficiency of the group.
  • when a group of people work well together.
  • the capability to comprehend and recognize the diverse strengths and abilities in a group setting and then applying them to one final solution.
  • when people work collaboratively towards a common goal as distinct from other ways that individuals can work within a group.
  • cooperative effort by the members of a group or team to achieve a common goal.

I don’t know what you have observed from the above definitions. For me, two words stick out – “people” (team) and “work” (work). I’m inclined to believe that the end result of teamwork (i.e. to achieve the objective) is actually secondary. I opine that teamwork is rooted in people involved in work, or if I may put it this way, teamwork is basically about being (people) and doing (work).

Teamwork gives the unique platform for both the task-oriented and people-oriented individuals to come together to achieve a common goal. Sometimes I wonder what carries greater significance – to achieve that goal or to come together. If a group of people accomplish something and yet kill one another in the process, then it defeats the purpose of working together. Similarly, unless it’s a machine or a computer accomplishing a task, it’s virtually impossible to get work done without involving people.

I led worship three times at the recently concluded retreat and while I celebrated at my accomplishment of playing the guitar for 90 minutes straight on the first night when I co-led it with JQ (and I’ve never played the guitar for such a long stretch of time), it was the second morning’s session which I will remember for a long time to come. I had already prepared a set of songs – complete with pre-retreat printed chords sheets for myself and lyrics sheets for everyone else. However, on that morning, just 15 minutes before the worship set, I randomly played “O Praise Him” (by David Crowder Band) and KY, who sat beside me, quickly caught the song and started to sing along with me.

SOAR247 (my youth group in Shanghai) instantly came to my mind at that point in time and with it came the triad of songs that the youth worship leaders there always led – “O Praise Him”, “Marvellous Light” (introduced at Rhema 2009) and “Prince of Peace” (an all-time favourite with the RLs). All three songs were in the key of G and I naturally medleyed from song to song. In an inspired moment (these moments do encapsulate the randomness and suddenness of youth ministry), I decided to lead these three songs for the morning session instead. Everyone around me immediately captured the idea; it was like they also wanted to be led into worship by these songs too.

It was then I saw the most spontaneous display of teamwork. HY, KY and MS took out their phones to google for lyrics; and in an instant, MW, YX and AT took out the flip charts and started writing lyrics on them. I can’t remember who else got involved but it felt like everyone chipped in without hesitation. I was moving from chart to chart, scribbling down the chords. It almost felt like a rehearsed routine except that it was second-nature for the leaders to get cracking – to make this worship session a reality. 10 minutes later, we were up and running and ready to go. I took a snapshot of that moment of togetherness in my mind’s eye and I thanked the Lord for giving us this wonderful thing called teamwork. Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed that worship session because WE led US into worship.

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. (1 Corinthians 1:10)

As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. (1 Corinthians 10:20-27)

“Family” is one of the three DNAs of Grace Assembly of God Church (and R-AGE). I’d go one step further to say that a family isn’t effective and efficient unless they learn to work together and love one another. Teamwork is absolutely essential to the core value of a family church, and in a larger context, the body of Christ. May we always remember to be excel in both our being and our doing – and there’s no better way to achieve this than through teamwork.

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” (Warren Buffet)

financial advice: how to invest your money.

I’m three months shy of turning 21 years old for the seventh time and I’d like to think that I’ve had a blessed life. Of course, I could always be happier but I’ve arrived at a stage of my life where I’ve never been so contented with my current material well-being.

I have a healthy variety of shirts, pants and shoes to choose from, a good collection of watches, a decent guitar, camera and laptop, a branded wallet and a smartphone. Two years ago, I remember counting my collection of 20+ Threadless t-shirts and 10+ Crumpler products. My room is hooked up with a 27″ LCD TV and a 5.1 surround-sound system. Bottom line is, there’s nothing I need, really, and I’m thankful to have (almost) everything that I’ve always wanted to purchase. I’ve done my fair share of possessions-accumulation during my days of earning a higher income.

But, so what? All these thing amounts to nothing at the end of the day for I will take none of these with me when I exit this earth; they will be useless and worthless eventually.

Of course I still have material desires – I’ve been eyeing this and this for some time now and each time I walk past an optical shop, I’d always check if that pair of sunnies is in stock and if there’s a promotion, and without fail, I’d politely say to the disappointed sales representative, “Okay thanks, maybe I’ll get it next time”, and walk away. Would I ever buy it? I think the question I ask myself these days is, “Is that good stewardship of money?” I’d be honest to admit that I’m still tempted by some items but I also deliberately desensitise myself from accumulating things.

I like what RS, the founder of this website, stated about conscious spending, for there’s truth and logic in his philosophy, even if it’s of a secular mentality:

“Spend extravagantly on what you love and cut costs mercilessly on what you don’t.”

Having a reduced income over the last nine months have certainly helped me to be more decisive and cruel in differentiating my needs and wants. At the same time, it has also helped to shape my “investment portfolio”. While I’m a prudent spender and a happy saver, I don’t think I’m qualified to give real financial advice – I mean, did you really think I was going to teach you how to invest your money on my blog? Come on! (:

But I’d like to share with you how I have been investing my money and why I’ve chosen to do it this way. Perhaps this could encourage or challenge you to revisit your spending habits and investment inclinations. I’m not sure if these items have eternal worth, but I’m confident that they have a life-long value. So, please allow me to share the three things I delightfully invest money in:

  1. People. I used to be stingy in treating people to meals. But over the years, I’ve learnt to be progressively generous, simply because people have been exceedingly generous with me. Nowadays, I’m always quite happy to foot the bill, especially if I am fellowshipping with a young person who has lesser resources. When people buy me meals, they indirectly tell me that I’m worth their time and money. And so, I pay (pun!) it forward – I hope my young people will feel the same way too – that they are worth my time and money. (Pun!) I’m putting my money where my mouth is. (I can also instantly detect those who are out to exploit this…)
  2. Knowledge. The older I get, the more I spend on books, seminars, conferences and audio CDs and DVDs. In fact, I just took advantage of the Desiring God July DVD sale and invested good money in some DVDs which I will be sharing with my cell. As for gifts, I also find myself buying books because I think that there’s nothing better than to give my friends the gift of knowledge. Besides, this is one investment that can be passed around, shared and revisited.
  3. Perspective. Lastly, I always enjoy expanding my horizon of perspectives and there’s no better way to do that than to visit new places and to do new things. I try to go on a couple of vacations every year and I always try to visit new destinations. I enjoy investing into my worldview (and sabbath too!). I get a kick from meeting new people, learning new languages, visiting new places, immersing in new cultures, tasting new cuisines and enjoying new experiences. And as a budding preacher, I believe that all these new perspectives will empower and enhance my ambitions to be a more dynamic and balanced communicator.

People, knowledge and perspectives are indefinitely more valuable than material possessions and I’d gladly invest extravagantly on them. Apart from these three items (at this point in my life), the rest of my money is really spent for function’s sake, like functional eating and functional travelling. My question then, to you, is:

What do you invest your money in?

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:

  1. Word people
  2. Spirit people
  3. People people
  4. Trustworthy people

These are the people whom you know will dispense good advice and godly counsel.

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