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grow the ministers, not the ministry.

By the time I return from Perth, I’d have arrived at my two-year mark in full-time ministry. Time has passed remarkably fast but it feels like I’ve been doing this my whole life. There’s so much to thank God for in my short pilgrimage as a youth pastor.

At the turn of 2009, Ps Ronald gave me the awesome privilege of leading R-AGE@GII. When I took over the reins, the ministry was hovering around the 70 pax mark on average. Today, by the grace of God, He has grown the quality and the quantity of R-AGE@GII to around 120+ pax every week. Praise God for His faithfulness!

Many pastors, parents and peers have been kind towards me; they are generous with their encouragement and commend me often enough on the work that they see happening among the youths in Grace II. Time and again, I will accept their compliments and thank them for it but deep down in my heart I know I must bring it before the Lord.

In my time with God, I ask Him not to let me believe my own hype and I make it a point to be the first to discredit myself. The Lord showed me two things which I believe will govern the way I approach accolades.

Firstly, it is the Lord who blesses (as well as takes away). Every victory and defeat in ministry comes as a result of His will and not because we have worked hard. God alone decides for Himself when the ministry will grow, stagnate or decline. His timing is always perfect and His ways are always higher. As we continue to serve Him, let us remember that it is God who makes all things possible, not for our glory but for His alone!

Secondly, the Lord reminds me that He doesn’t just use one passionate pastor, but a team of dedicated leaders. Yes, I’ve matured through how He’s been developing my talents and gifts, but the growth of the ministry cannot be supported by just the point man’s growth. The Lord reminds me that the ministry has the platform to grow because its leaders are growing.

At full strength: my beloved R-AGE@GII Shepherds at our planning retreat on National Day. (Photo credits: CK)

As I type this entry at the airport lounge, I can’t help but to imagine in my mind’s eye the nervous faces and timid countenances of some of my leaders when they started with me; these fresh-faced shepherds looked afraid, unsure and blur – they had no idea what was coming their way! But take a look at them now… Confident, assured and more ready than ever to take on any challenge that I would throw at them.

Their attitudes have been sharpened, their faith increased, their competences leveled up, their heart for the youths have grown, their leadership confidence has soared… And I could go on and on. I am immensely proud of them… Indeed the Lord is good to those who serve, love and fear Him.

As a result of their individual growth, the ministry has naturally grown as well. So today, regardless of which level of leadership you’re at, just remember three things:

  • First, (if I may borrow Ps Edmund Chan’s words,) take care of the depth of your life! A growing minister is always better than a stagnating one!
  • Next, give your priority to investing time, energy and resource to growing the next generation of leaders. If they grow individually, your ministry naturally grows collectively.
  • Finally, always remember that it is the Lord who enables and holds all things together by His grace and power, for His glory and honour alone.

You can’t do it on your own, no matter how exceptionally talented you may be!

(Now, I have a better understanding of why Ps Edmund says that he prizes his mentoring ministry above his preaching ministry… Who wouldn’t?)

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a September stock-take and an October onslaught.

It’s always therapeutic to do a stock-take after an eventful week, which would have been impossible to pull off and not fall exhausted on my face, if not for the grace of God that saw me though. Warning: long post.

Monday: attended QC (Questions and Contributions) time and a monthly mentoring session with Ps Edmund Chan; ’til this day, I still thank God for the divine appointment in which He has connected me to Ps Ed; what a privilege and honour.

Tuesday AM: led worship at the Tuesday staff devotion with Ps Meng Cham; that’s how I will do it from now on – being accompanied by a seasoned musician makes it so much more enjoyable (because I won’t need to practice with my guitar!)

Tuesday PM: prepared for and sat through a staff meeting, which was a heart-wrenching experience and threw me off my momentum; I’m thankful for Ps Ronald who patiently listened to me rant and vent my frustrations. This forced me to come before the Lord that evening to seek His face. And I’m glad I did. The Lord spoke to me through Genesis 13 and Hebrews 6.

Wednesday AM: Caleb crashed at my place the night before and we watched Man Utd surrender a 2-0 lead to Basel and equalised in typical United fashion at the dying minutes. I struggled through the second half, to be honest. I’m really getting old…

Wednesday PM: led worship at the weekly Wednesday church prayer meeting (J333) with Rafael.; exposing youth musicians through my J333 duties gives me renewed purpose when I find my name on the worship leading roster. My next session is on 30 November and I’ll go over-the-top because I’ll be teaming up with Ps Ronald and the church will be praying for R-AGE.

Thursday: presented the 2012 R-AGE budget in front of the Head of Administration, accountant and finance manager of Grace AG on Thursday (my first time presenting with Excel spreadsheets); administration is really not my strength. Thank God for Ps Ronald who rescued me by answering on my behalf on a few occasions.

Friday AM: had a delectable dim-sum lunch at Royal China @ Raffles Hotel with Sheryl from Eagles, together with Daniel and Xavier too, and joined the Vantage Point magazine editorial team. (I just received my first email from them!)

Friday PM: sat through another staff meeting, and wondered what it would be like next year when I’m chairing it.

Friday EVE: spent time with some of my favouritest people on the planet at the GII Shepherds cell, and facilitated our Harmony of the Gospels lesson; Yixian said if we continued at this pace (in-depth but extremely slow), we’d take two years to finish the book.

Saturday AM: led the R-AGE 2012 manpower deployment discussion with Caleb, Keith, Kenneth and Rachael; yes, R-AGE leaders, we were deliberating over your fate next year! HAHAHA. I can’t wait to see youths lead youths!

Saturday PM: preached an apologetics cum evangelistic sermon (my first attempt) for the Same Same But Different evangelistic service at R-AGE@GII. I actually enjoyed my preparation more than my execution. It was intellectually stimulating to read in greater detail how atheism, pantheism and polytheism (among many other -isms) stood against theism.

Saturday EVE: chaired the Bare Bones 2012 coordination meeting with Nicole, Keith, David and Grace – who have proposed some spectacular ideas for the year-end conference. It’s gonna blow Grace AG away; everything is going to be significantly leveled-up! I’m delighted to be working with such exceptional youth leaders. Watching Man Utd defeat Norwich 2-0 capped my day.

Sunday: preached the same sermon at R-AGE@GI. I took the opportunity to clear up some personal administrative work while waiting to have lunch with Huiyi and Yixian. After a short nap to recharge my batteries, I resumed studying for my 60% News Studies paper (the next day), which I have burned midnight oil for in the past seven days. Little by little, I’ve conquered the paper.

Monday (today): praise God for a relatively easy exam paper! It’s different when you understand what you are reading and memorising instead of mugging just for the sake of. I managed to finished the paper with an hour to spare, so I brought forward my appointment with my hairstylist. It’s 4pm now (at the point of writing) and my head literally and metaphorically feels lighter.

I’m going to complete this blog post before I go ahead to prepare the slides for the R-AGE 2012 Ministry Action Plans (which I’m presenting to all pastoral staff tomorrow!) Then I’m going to head out to China Square to treat my family to a nice dinner of Crab Bee Hoon @ Don’s Pie Club. We’re celebrating my sister’s belated birthday (1 October), as well as my 8th 21st birthday in advance.

This week, I also managed to meet Caleb and Lucas for lunch and mentoring on Wednesday and Thursday respectively. I thoroughly enjoy investing time into young men who possess a desire to grow. Lucas’ huge appetite for growth reminds me of me, especially in the way that I pursue my mentors. I told him to never lose his hunger (okay, boy?).

After our  mentoring session over coffee in Starbucks@Tanglin Mall, he asked, “How do you do it, Bro Joey?” It being managing the many things on my plate. I couldn’t find an adequate way to answer him except to say, with all sincerity, that this capacity is a God-given gift; how could I take credit for the grace of God? I told him to ask God for it as well, because I think God will give it. (I didn’t tell him about the price of increased capacity though, but I’m sure he’ll figure that out himself.)

September has been an exceptional month in ministry. Besides starting R-AGE on the Spiritual Disciplines: Training in Holiness sermon series, I’ve also been planning for R-AGE in 2012 and meeting up with lots of youth leaders who might be serving alongside me next year. I am convinced that it’s my time with the Lord everyday that’s keeping me afloat.

I’ve also been reading non-stop throughout the week (and at an aggressive pace too). Besides the Bible during my daily devotions, sermon preparation materials and academic texts, I’ve also been feasting into Edmund Chan’s Cultivating Your Inner Life, Philippe Auclair’s Cantona: The Rebel Who Would Be King and Larry Crabb’s 66 Love Letters. I think I’m concurrently reading eight books – and I love the variety! This is effective for someone like me who gets bored easily.

On a more personal note, I’ve also been spending lots of time with Huiyi with our wedding preparation; we’ve reserved Sunday afternoons to visit bridal studios and photographers, as well as to plan for our big day. The highlight of these trips is to catch a sneak preview of my wife-to-be when she emerges from the changing room in glorious, gorgeous white; she’s gonna be the most stunning bride in all of Singapore next August – you have no idea how much we are looking forward to be married to each other!

I’d probably be packing my luggage midway when this post is published; Jetstar is going to take me to Perth at 5:45pm (Tuesday). I look forward to hanging out with Chin Seng, Ervina and Liang Zhi, but the highlight of my trip is to spend time with Ps Edmund and Ps Ann. I’ve been looking forward to this trip ever since I purchased the air tickets (super cheap!) a few months ago.

When I began my mentoring journey with Ps Edmund around this time last year, he emailed me his traveling itinerary and invited me to follow him on one of his countless trips; so here I am, excited and still starstruck, counting down the hours before I get to spend quality, uninterrupted and extended time with a God-given mentor, whom I’m sure will sharpen, challenge and inspire me!

October, I am ready for your onslaught!

Quenching my spiritual thirst with living water! (@ The Pinnacles, Perth, Australia)

take, take, take it all in again.

I apologise for the delayed update of last weekend’s sermon because work has caused this week to pass rapidly. It’s well-documented that I’m not a fan of administrative work (even though I think I’m pretty decent at it); I spent the bulk of my energy in the last few days assembling the ministry action plans and the budget for R-AGE@GI and R-AGE@GII. It’s a huge step up from last year where I only needed to put together the R-AGE@GII budget.

This is the first time I’m embarking on such a mammoth task. I am thankful for Ps Ronald, who has given me the immense privilege of being responsible for these crucial administrative matters as well as for his patience in bearing with my non-stop anti-admin laments. I am also thankful for Ps Cuixian (who is the queen of administration) and her stupendous work of assembling the excel sheet – her formulas truly make the spreadsheets a work of art.

Then I found myself petitioning to God for a personal assistant as well as two ministry staff (one each for R-AGE@GI and R-AGE@GII) to help ease my load in the coming year. I’m not kidding on this – I’m seriously taking in applications – talk to me if you want to serve God in the youth ministry in a full-time capacity. It’s going to be a gargantuan responsibility pastoring 300 youths so the need for more hands on deck is definitely there; I approach my role next year with fear and trembling but also with great anticipation and excitement.

Well, while you’re considering joining me in the best job this world has to offer, help yourself to the slides and audio recording of last week’s sermon – about the importance of Memorising the Word of God. Heads up – Ps Ronald will be preaching this weekend (24/25 September) on Prayer as a Spiritual Discipline while Ps Leon will preach for the first time at R-AGE (8/9 October) on Worship as a Spiritual Discipline. I trust that they have a word in season for the young ones.

In between, R-AGE will stage Same, Same But Different (where I’ll preach an evangelistic sermon tentatively titled, “Cheemism”). I trust you’ve been putting in effort to invite your friends to this service – it may just change their life forever (in every sense of the word)! Also, I’ll be heading to Perth (yes, again) for a week-long ministry trip with my revered mentor (as well as to catch my breath!) in early October and only after that will I return to continue the sermon series with Fasting as a Spiritual Discipline.

I trust you’ve enjoyed the series so far. I look forward to leading a spiritually disciplined youth ministry.

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1 Timothy 4:7b (NASB) >>> …Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.

XXVII. the lead-up to the proposal.

Yvonne also took leave for the day to provide another helping hand. I involved her for two main reasons. I wanted Huiyi to share this precious moment with her best friend, and I needed someone to safeguard the equipment at the pier while Gideon and Caleb waited for me to arrive. They were camping in the gents where I was going to change into my evening attire.

By the time I hopped into the Subaru, the crew reported their 100% readiness for Project Will-You-Marry-Me. The placards were pasted onto the railings, the guitar was in place, and the camera crew was in position. This was it – now we were only waiting for the stars of the show to arrive!

I drove into the clubhouse car park and parked at the first available car park lot I found because I was afraid that Huiyi may recognise Gideon’s car. Thank God he’s a smart boy – he parked in an obscure lot. We gathered our barang-barang, and I took my time with this because it was crucial that I didn’t miss out on any item, and exited the car for the lift lobby.

We had to change into our evening attire as we were in still in our sweaty and smelly USS tee-shirt and shorts. I managed to persuade her into wearing that Zara blouse; a week ago, I asked her why I haven’t seen her in that blouse for such a long time. I even pretended to lament, “Such a nice and expensive top, but yet you don’t wear it often enough…” She said she had already put it aside for Perth. Yes, she had also intended to wear that blouse for the proposal that she thought I was going to execute in Perth.

I frowned and told her that she has more than enough time to get it washed and packed for Perth. I persuaded her to wear something nice at Privé since it was a high-end restaurant. Again, she obediently complied with little resistance. I think it’s because every girl would want to look good on her birthday. Dining at a posh restaurant was my excuse to change into something pretty.

Next chapter: the change parade and the final countdown.

VIII. the secret weapon – her birthday.

You must bear in mind that throughout this entire time of planning, Huiyi has absolutely no idea that she would become my fiancée before we arrived in Perth. Every other day, I imagine her imagining the sunset scene that Perth promises – great! – it’s going according to plan.

But there’s a part of me that fears giving away the idea for I used to have a reputation of a surprise spoiler. So the last thing that I wanted was to spoil what possibly would be the greatest surprise I would ever spring on anyone!

We had wanted to visit Universal Studios Singapore (USS) for the longest time but was always reluctant because of the exorbitant entry fee and average rides. Hence it was our blessing that Huiyi had friends in right places; Rudith worked in USS and was a friend from Huiyi’s university days. They had lunch together recently and seemed to hit it off well. Well, well enough for Rudith to magnanimously offer two of her limited eight annual staff discounts to us so that we could enter USS at a knock-down price.

Huiyi proceeded to purchase a pair of tickets through Rudith and I offered to pay for it as part of her birthday present. We had wanted to go on a Thursday instead of a Friday simply because we speculated a smaller crowd. But after a week of deliberation, we decided to have it on Friday instead.

Next chapter: the third idea – Universal Studios Singapore.

V. the first idea – Perth.

I proposed to Huiyi on her 24th birthday (15 April 2011), but in the last quarter of 2010, after I confirmed with Chin Seng and Ervina (our mentors who migrated to Australia) that Huiyi and I would take a holiday in Perth in April 2011, I also informed Chin Seng that I might propose in Perth. He gave me his fullest support and graciously opened up his home to house us during our short stay there.

One of my closest friends, Liang Zhi, also resides in Perth and he was the one who got me started on photography. So I knew I could count on my three favourite Singaporeans in Perth to play the role of paparazzi for my engagement. I was seriously considering proposing in Perth and had sussed out possible proposal locations as well as Perth’s sunset and sunrise timings.

But I decided against it because there were just too many factors out of my control. Sure, an overseas proposal was special and romantic, but it was surely unrealistic too. Our hectic schedules didn’t allow us to plan our Perth itinerary in advance and not knowing where we were going to be on which day or what we were doing was risky. A lack of knowledge of the traffic conditions, a shortage of proper recording equipment and just a general scarcity of resources counted against me. And not being familiar with the proposal venue especially, proved to be my deciding deterrent.

Therefore, I canned the idea of proposing in Perth despite its allure but I used this vacation as a decoy to devastating effect.

In our conversations about Perth, I stealthily revealed how Liang Zhi was an accomplished photographer and how Chin Seng and Ervina owned a DSLR. As we scoured Lonely Planet for places to visit in Perth, I playfully but shrewdly hinted to her those places with great views of the sunset and sunrise. I was sure she got the hint. I reminded her to pack that denim blouse from Zara that I bought for her last year and assured her that the photographs would look amazing with that light blue fabric draped over her.

Well, let’s just say the proposal could have taken place in any of the following locations:

The clincher was this, “After we’re back from Perth, the first thing we should do is to start a joint bank account, okay?”

She nodded with excited anticipation. I smiled at her with a I-know-you’ll-love-the-proposal-I’m-gonna-blow-you-away-with-in-Perth look in my eyes. In my head, I knew I had fully convinced her of my grand proposal that was never going to take place in Perth.

And I did this a few times – never intentionally, always incidentally. But I was intentionally incidental, if you know what I mean.

Now, I can finally concentrate on planning the REAL proposal…

Next chapter: the second idea – Mapletree Business City.

perth day 9: I carry you with me.

Four final shots at our unofficial Perth Retreat Centre. Haha! :P

I’m glad I took the time and effort to write daily in the past nine days; now these wonderful memories are forever locked away and never forgotten (especially since I am so absent-minded). It has been a memorable holiday and certainly served its purpose of providing rejuvenation and revelation. With bated breath, I look forward to leading R-AGE, marriage preparations, restarting a new school semester next week and… My next holiday. (: For now, I believe I will enjoy re-reading these entries and re-living those memories:

Day 9 passed the fastest. Before we knew it, we already had lunch and completed last-minute purchases at Cockburn (pronounced “Koh-burn”, not “Kok-burn”) Gateway Shopping City. We returned home after that and Huiyi and I attempted to seal our luggages while Ervina and Chin Seng prepared for our last supper at the patio. No one could actually tell that I was feeling quite sad that I would soon be saying goodbye to the lovely people here; I honestly thought it was too melodramatic to display my emotions so I held myself back.

Chin Seng powered up the outdoor gas-powered barbecue pit and brought out gigantic tiger prawns and huge chicken wings while Ervina prepared a refreshing spinach garden salad with red wine vinegar and a lovely concoction of mint honey iced tea. Even Granny Aw joined in the action and contributed an avant-garde spicy cucumber and parsley salad of her own. (I’m pretty sure Huiyi and) I felt the love that has been so generously lavished upon us as we waited for dinner to be ready. Ervina gave thanks for the final time as we tucked in to a sumptuous spread. I shamelessly asked Granny Aw if she would miss me… And she said, “当然会,你们走了这个屋子没有那么热闹”. My heart practically melted.

We snapped our final photos before we gathered in a circle in the living room and held hands to pray for one another. I was so inspired by the way Granny Aw prayed – fervent and full of faith! With one final sweep of the house, we ensured that we had left nothing but good memories behind. We sat in their grey Mazda 3 for the final time, linked up with Ervina’s grandmother along the way, and drove to Perth International Airport.

There was a part of me that wished that there was only four of us at the airport. Maybe without Ervina’s relatives around, I might have actually expressed some emotions because I needed an outlet! I already knew that I was going to miss them both so much and even as I type this, I feel a heart-wrenching sensation at the core of my being. Beyond all the sights and sounds, this couple was undoubtedly the highlight of Perth and I’m glad Huiyi and I spent the bulk of our time in their endearing company.

I love those Love Birds so much more after this nine-day getaway and I’m sure it will be a good reunion when we do meet again. Lord, thank you for bringing me to Perth but more importantly, thank You for placing Chin Seng and Ervina in my life.

***

Darling, maybe someday
Forever I will stay
Lord knows that’s what I’m dreaming of
And I’m trying to find a way
But for now the wind keeps blowing
It carries me across the sea
So don’t you worry now, because

I carry you with me
I carry you with me

(“I Carry You With Me” | Tyler Burkum)

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