In my 12 years of learning to be a leader and leading leaders, I’ve found that there are two groups of people who are a joy to be with: those who are enthusiastic learners and those who are easier to teach. Both groups had this in common – a teachable spirit – and that is indeed one of the key considerations when I select potential leaders.
I’ve always believed that a good leader knows how to feed himself, be it through books, mentors, sermons, journalling or in times of solitude. Leaders must see that it is their personal responsibility to learn. My friend, Ps Chua Seng Lee, once told me not to depend on anyone in the organisation for my personal training and development. He said that if I didn’t take charge of my learning pilgrimage, nobody will. I agree with him. After all, one can only be spoon-fed and hand-held for so long.
One of the common “complaints” of a believer, regardless of which church or ministry he belongs to, is that the “sermon is not deep enough” for him. I’ve had peers tell me that when they want to switch to another church. I’ve also had youths tell me that when they want to leave the youth service. Granted, some assert that because they are genuinely seeking something more, but some conveniently say that because they do not realise that the onus of learning is on the student, not the teacher.
In Mark 4:1-20, Jesus made the exception of explaining a parable. He hardly did this so it must have been a lesson he did not want his disciples to miss. He went on to explain the different metaphors used in the parable:
- The seed represents God’s Word. (And I think the farmer represents anyone who’s teaching you the Word of God – it could be a teacher, pastor, preacher, mentor, leader or parent.)
- The footpath represents Christians who are deceived by the Devil and are quickly scattered.
- The shallow soil represents believers who are joyful and enthusiastic at the start but are not rooted in the Word. As a pastor in a pentecostal church, I believe this is especially true of pentecostal believers who seek the experience more than the truth. They say that they “can’t feel God anymore” and soon after begin backsliding.
- The thorns represent Christians who are easily distracted and tempted by the world.
- And the fertile soil (the only positive example) represents what I believe to be teachable Christians who hear God’s Word and accept it into their heart.
With that parable as a backdrop, what then, is your posture in learning from the preacher, your leaders, the cell kits and your daily devotions? Do you approach it with a “Let’s see what he has to say” or with a “Let’s see how I can learn from him” attitude? Choose the latter for it is better! If a person think he already knows, then he can’t be taught; a person who carries an attitude that they already know as much as the teacher won’t receive anything from him. In my short journey of meeting youth leaders around the Asia, I have met some who think they already know all they need to know about the Word or youth ministry – it’s difficult and almost repulsive to converse with these people. I know, because I’m like that sometimes. (:
Truth be told, in my last three years as a youth minister, with the exception of sitting at the feet of outstanding bible teachers and expositors like Ps Benny Ho or Ps Edmund Chan, most of the growth I’ve made were through preparing and listening to sermons, reading books, reflecting during times of solitude (though fewer than desired – sigh!) and walking with the Lord. I grew because I took on the responsibility to learn and then God caused the growth!
I’ve sat into many youth services and to be honest, youth ministry sermon content doesn’t differ too much due to the limitations of preaching to a teenage crowd. So instead of scrutinising theological content when I sit into a youth service (or any other kind of service), what I do is to try to catch the preacher’s heart. You see, you can’t teach a love for the Word, a passion for discipleship, an urgency for evangelism or a desire for mentoring the next generation; these things are more caught than taught. I always remind myself to catch the teacher’s heart more than the stuff in his head.
Here’s what I’ve learnt: if you can’t learn from teachers, you will struggle to learn from God. Some believers have the mentality that since they are able to download directly from God, they won’t require a man to teach them the Word. Of course, there is truth in this (that the Holy Spirit can illuminate truth from the Word), but that alone is inadequate. Think about it, if that was so, then why did God give teachers to the church? In Ephesians 4:11-16, Paul writes that teachers were given to us “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (KJV).
Therefore, I believe that there is wisdom in having a teachable spirit. The way a leader receives instruction from teachers gives me a glimpse of his character. His posture as a student eventually determines his destiny as a learner. In sailing, the setting of the sail on a sailboat is also called the “attitude” of the sail. Wind is the irreplaceable yet uncontrollable component in sailing and the same wind visits both good and bad sailors. Depending on the attitude of the sail, wind would cause the sailboat to be steered into different directions. Two believers can receive the same teaching, but have completely different responses and takeaways. At the end of the day, it is the attitude of a teachable spirit that will enable us to travel in the right direction.
7 Anyone who rebukes a mocker will get an insult in return. Anyone who corrects the wicked will get hurt.
8 So don’t bother correcting mockers; they will only hate you. But correct the wise, and they will love you.
9 Instruct the wise, and they will be even wiser. Teach the righteous, and they will learn even more.
10 Fear of the LORD is the foundation of wisdom. Knowledge of the Holy One results in good judgment.
11 Wisdom will multiply your days and add years to your life.
12 If you become wise, you will be the one to benefit. If you scorn wisdom, you will be the one to suffer.
— Proverbs 9:7-12 (NLT)
And in Proverbs 15:10, “Whoever abandons the right path will be severely disciplined; whoever hates correction will die.” That’s pretty extreme! So if you want to be a wise man, have a teachable spirit. If not, the one who eventually loses out is you!
There are four good examples of teachable men in the Bible:
- Moses shows us that a teachable man is a meek man. He was also hungry to learn from and lean on the Lord’s guidance.
- David shows us that a teachable man seeks to to God’s will. He demonstrates in many Psalms that he wants to receive instruction from God because he wants to follow Him.
- Jesus shows us that a teachable man knows the Father is the ultimate teacher. Try accomplishing the immense mission Jesus was tasked to do – no wonder He stayed so close to His father and did only what He saw the Father doing.
- The disciples show us that teachable men are led by the Holy Spirit. They demonstrate how the Holy Spirit not only empowered, but also instructed them in the way they should go. May we be wise, for it is tempting to try doing God’s will in our own wisdom and strength.
In application, being teachable means to:
- Receive instruction from the Word and the Holy Spirit.
- Receive correction from parents, pastors, leaders and mentors.
- Humbly learn from others regardless of age or experience.
- Bring compliments, criticisms and crises before God and godly counsel.
- Review moral standards in: alcoholism, dressing, academia, relationships and worldly vices.
- Be open, honest and humble about your lack of knowledge, skills, and character.
- Desire challenges that will stretch you but help you reach your goals.
- Be willing to let go of your own way of dealing with things and your own ideas to learn and develop new convictions.
- (And this I picked up from my mentor, Ps Edmund Chan,) have the “Double L” plate hung on your front and back, so that those who follow you see a LEADER, and when you look at yourself in the mirror, you always see a LEARNER.
God could use the disciples to such great effect not just because they were faithful and available, but that they were also teachable. Think about it, this was an uneducated and underwhelming motley crew of unknowns who had to depend on the Jesus to teach them everything they needed to know about their newfound faith! If they can and needed to be taught, surely we too should follow suit.
The difference between modern-day and Jesus-day Christians is that the former has two things the latter doesn’t: the Holy Spirit (sent after Jesus ascended to heave) and the complete Bible (written years after the early church was formed). Therefore, let’s ask the Holy Spirit to guide us on how we should conduct ourselves, and how we should approach God’s Word with a willing heart and a teachable spirit. If there’s one thing we ought to determine ourselves to do, it is to remain teachable in all circumstances.
My mentor in Perth, Bro Au Chin Seng, once told me, “No matter how high you climb, there will always be areas you’ll need growth in.” I’ve learnt from him that the day might come when I may no longer have anyone above me in a hierarchical setting, except for God Himself. This is when the greatest test of humility and teachability takes place. He mentioned that the two most poisonous words of a confident, mature and experienced man is, “I Know”. That single-handedly puts people off in correcting me and giving me feedback. He reminded me to always adopt an attitude of learning regardless of how old, wise or mature I am, in any situation, for the moment I stop learning is the moment I stop living.
[Credits: teaching materials adapted from Arlo Moehlenpah and Pierre Eade.]
One of the best prayers we could whisper to God everyday is, “Lord, I’m available”.
With that introduction, I preached the second installment of FAT & Hungry at the R-AGE Leaders’ Retreat.
Neal Maxwell once said, “God does not begin by asking our ability, only our availability, and if we prove our dependability, He will increase our capability.” We’ve heard it time and again that God isn’t looking for our ability but our availability. But what does it mean to be available?
I believe that a practical way to see availability in ministry is to have a “can do” attitude. After all, according to Philippians 4:13, it’s not a far-fetched idea to assert that a “can do” attitude is actually biblical. However, the “cannot” attitude has infiltrated the church and perhaps has even become her anthem.
If we were to examine 1 Samuel 17, we can pick out five ways to develop a can do attitude through the life of the shepherd boy David.
1. Know who you are (vv45-47).
David could wipe out Goliath with one stone because he knew who he was in God. With God, all things are possible – this should make Christians the most positive people on earth. Others thought Goliath was so big that they can’t beat him, but David thought Goliath was so big that he can’t miss him. David’s winning attitude came from it all being about God and not about him or Goliath.
2. Say what you know (vv34-36).
David focussed his attention on what he knew. Having battled with a lion and bear in his shepherding duties, he chose to look at the positives rather than the negatives. And with that, he bravely offered himself to battle Goliath. When uncertain moments come, do we focus on what we know or do not know? Sometimes, we are not as helpless as we think, so let’s stop declaring a negative self-fulfilling prophecy upon ourselves.
3. Start where you are (vv17-22).
David got involved in this battle because he was simply carrying out his father’s instructions to bring bread and cheese to the battlefield. He bloomed where he was planted and didn’t complain about where he was or what he was doing. Sometimes, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. You can’t have a “can do” attitude until you embrace where you are. Mother Theresa’s words to those who wanted to join her cause was, “Find your own Calcutta.”
4. Use what you have (v40).
Saul offered David first-class armour and weapons but David chose to use what he had and could find around him instead, namely one sling and five stones. What do you have in your hands that God could use? Let’s stop lamenting about what others have and what you don’t. Instead, let’s ask ourselves about the talents that God has deposited within us and the resources that we have. If God can use David’s humble elementary weapons, God can use whatever we have in our hands.
5. Do what you can (vv48-51).
David did what he knew and what he could – running onto the battlefield and confronting Goliath with his slingshot. Let us learn to do what we can with what we have. Johnson and Johnson started with sterilised dressings to help prevent infection from airborne germs. Bill Hewlett and William Packard started with a simple audio equipment in their garage. If God has called me to do something, it can be done for God will use what you have to bring glory to Himself.
To add on to these five ways, there are four strategies that we can apply to develop a “can do” attitude.
- Pause and redirect: Resist the “cannot” mentality and redirect it into positive actions.
- Divide and conquer: Take big goals and break it down into bite-size short term goals.
- Stop and evaluate: Take stock of progress and proceed with lessons learnt in wisdom.
- Rejoice and celebrate: Take time out to recognise and celebrate what God has done.What you don’t recognise, you don’t celebrate. What you don’t celebrate, you don’t enjoy. What you don’t enjoy won’t last.
Then I shared four practical areas that we could demonstrate our availability in:
- Pre-occupation: If you are consumed by your work or studies, then you aren’t of any use to the ministry. If something is important to you, make time for it.
- Priorities: If you can’t be available for majority of events, it shows that ministry is not a high priority for you.
- Presence: A leader who is available leads a flock to being faithful. Learn to be available for your sheep when they need you. And learn to give people access into your lives – upwards with your leaders and mentors, downwards with your sheep and sidewards with your peers.
- Posture: Simply put become someone the ministry can count on when help is need. If you keep telling people that you’re busy, sooner or later they’ll stop approaching you.
When many people each do a little, great feats for God can be accomplished. Remember always that we are not here to be served but to serve others – let’s lead by serving and serve by leading. I’ve always considered it a privilege to lead and serve. And because I consider it a privilege to be a part of what God is doing in His church, I will make myself available for Him to use.
Sometimes it’s not about being the best, but being available.
[Credits: teaching materials adapted from Benny Ho and Scott Martin.]
In the next few posts, I’ll share snippets of my vision casting sermons at the recently concluded R-AGE Leaders’ Retreat called, “FAT & Hungry”. In this three-day camp, I preached on four attributes that I’d like to see in my youth shepherds and leaders. The first is Faithfulness.
I started my walk with God by faith. But did I stop there? No, I continued to grow in my faith by being faithful. In Luke 17:3-10, the disciples asked Jesus to increase their faith but perhaps Jesus was calling them to increase their faithfulness instead, since they already had a measure of faith. In this parable, we learn that our attitude towards doing God’s work is that of a servant to his master. Jesus provided the proper response in Luke 17:10, “In the same way, when you obey me you should say, ‘We are unworthy servants who have simply done our duty.'”
The difference between faith and faithfulness is that faithfulness is our response to our faith. Let’s ask God to increase not our faith, but our faithfulness. Faithfulness is what we do with our faith. Faith grows only when we faithfully finish what God has called us to do. If we don’t finish what God has called us to do, our faith might not actually grow. On the contrary, it may shrink! Since I have put my faith in Jesus (to save me from hell and to take me to heaven), now I should be faithful to Him.
Faithfulness does not mean “not being unfaithful”. If I say I am faithful to Huiyi, it means nothing if my faithfulness is about not acting negatively towards her but not doing anything positive for her. Faithfulness is not the absence of the negative, but the presence of the positive. Faithfulness isn’t only what we keep ourselves from but what we choose to invest ourselves in. Faithfulness is to be reliable, trustworthy, consistent and dependable. And these are rare virtues today.
There are two ways to develop a culture of faith and faithfulness:
1. Start enthusiastically in faith.
The son who pleased the father wasn’t the second son said he’d do it but didn’t, but the first son who didn’t say he would do it but did it. Obedience not intention pleases the Father. Actions speak louder than words; many people have great intentions but no many follow through what they intended to do. No one gets rewarded for intention. Automobile pioneer Henry Ford once said, “You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do”.
Action not intention gets the job done. Let’s develop a tendency for action. If you feel God is calling or prompting you to do something to advance His kingdom, stop hesitating and just act on it. A thriving youth ministry must develop a culture of enthusiastic obedience by faith. After all, the proof of passion is in the pursuit. If I say I am passionate about Huiyi, then it’s only natural that you see my pursuit in action.
But watch out for the perceived “what if” fears that stop us from taking action. We need to learn to pull these perceived fears into the light, for fear is a dark room where negatives are developed. Something that I’ve learnt from my mentor, Ps Benny Ho, is this principle called, “Ready, fire! Aim…” There are some who fire without getting ready – these do not hear from God properly. But there are some that just prefer to aim forever but never fire the first shot. This is similar to how you’d zero a rifle – you must fire the first shot to get a sensing before you calibrate your weapon.
Remember, faith is to believe what we do not see and the reward of faith is to see what we believe.
2. Stay earnestly in faithfulness.
I believe that faithfulness isn’t about doing something for a long time, but about doing something well at a particular season of life.
Proverbs 25:19 tells us that unreliable people are like a bad toothache or a walking with a sprained ankle – it hurts! If we depend on an unreliable person, we can never quite relax because we’re wondering at the back of ours mind if the job is really done, and we’ve got to chase that person again and again. Come on, if we say we’re gonna do it, then do it! Let’s remove unreliability from our system and make reliability our greatest ability.
Faithfulness is an attitude of the heart. We should faithful because God is faithful but also because God rewards faithfulness. The hardest part in both the marathons I’ve completed is in the middle part, when the going gets tough from around the 21st to the 32nd kilometre; the novelty of starting a marathon has worn off and the euphoria of the finishing line is beyond sight. That’s when tenacity gets us going.
A great example of tenacity is footballer Cristiano Ronaldo. He is youngest son of a cook and gardener in small town in Portugal called Madeira. When he joined Manchester United (the greatest football club in the world) in 2003, he said, “There is no harm in dreaming of becoming the world’s best player. It’s all about trying to be the best. I will keep working hard to achieve it, but it is within my capabilities.”
He put in years of hard work and was rewarded for it in 2008 when he received the ultimate individual accolade in football – the FIFA Ballon d’Or. He was now officially the world’s best player. In 2009, he became the most expensive player in the world when Real Madrid bought him from Manchester United for S$158,580,800. His annual salary in 2011 was S$47,070,692. Putting that into perspective, that means that Ronaldo earns S$128,961 everyday, S$5,373, every hour and S$90 every minute. After he finishes watching The Hobbit, he’d have been richer by S$16,120.
His manager, Sir Alex Ferguson (the greatest coach in the world) said this about him, “Although he had a natural talent, he in many ways manufactured himself. He practised and practised. You build up a mechanism and it becomes a habit. That was Cristiano’s habit, to do something after training… …There’s no fluke about it. I see Ronaldo practising all the time in training.”
Persistence and faithfulness will help us to start well and finish well. Let’s be like bulldogs – their noses are tilted upwards so that they can bite onto something and continue breathe without even letting go. That’s why they’re such ferocious canines!
So what exactly is faithfulness in ministry? These were the practical pointers I shared with my leaders and shepherds – I challenged them to be faithful:
- To Jesus Christ in their personal walk with God.
- To their respective teams (shepherds cells, leaders circles, youth and tertiary cells, service teams and event committees).
- To their responsibility (as cell leaders, service team or event committee members, in ministry and committee meetings and to see what they’re doing as spiritual leadership and not simply labourious work).
- To pray for the youth ministry (R-AGE) and the church (Grace AG) both in their prayer closets and in corporate prayer meetings.
- To see evangelism as a part of their life and not a church event.
The great missionary Hudson Taylor once said, “A little thing is a little thing, but faithfulness in little things is a great thing.” God can turn your faithfulness in a little thing that He has called you to into a big thing. The challenge for us is, are we able to do all the small little things that people won’t notice, and still be faithful in these things?
Acts 6-7 records the entire life of Stephen. He was faithful, full of the Spirit and he stumbled into the ministry as a solution to a leadership problem and a simple need – to feed and care for widows that were being neglected. It wasn’t anything glamourous or the kind of job that one would take to get ahead or receive recognition from. And it certainly had little returns. I can imagine working with widows to be like working with youths. Both can’t give much back to you.
But Stephen taught me that faithfulness is the little stuff you do that nobody sees and probably no one celebrates. He was faithfully doing his everyday duties until a group of people started to create trouble for him. And with it, he ended up preaching the sermon of his life. He preached the very best he could because once he’s done, he’d be with God. His life came to a tragic end in Acts 7:54-59, when he was tragically stoned to death.
In the Scriptures, we often read that Jesus sat on the right hand of God. It’s mentioned once in Luke, Acts and Romans, twice in Revelation, thrice in Matthew and Mark, and six times in Hebrews. But read Acts 7:55-56 again and you’ll see something amazing.
But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand. And he told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!”
In Stephen’s case (and probably the only mention in the whole Bible) after he preached, he saw the Son of Man STANDING! WOW! Can you see it!? In my sanctified imagination, I can’t help but to see a standing ovation from Jesus to welcome Stephen into heaven! What a way to end his life and ascend into glory and honour – I want that for the end of my life!
May we be a youth ministry that has a “finishing anointing” – to be youths who not only know how to start, but how to end. May all of us start well and end well. So that when we meet God face to face, it would be to hear him say, “Well done, you good and faithful servant!” and see Jesus giving us a standing ovation after that!
[Credits: teaching materials adapted from Benny Ho and Steve Andres.]