I’ve said this many times – I have a dream job.
I still pinch myself every morning because God has given me the privilege of being the youth pastor of the youth group that turned my life around. And because of indebtedness towards this youth ministry, work never feels like work as it is something I’d have done anyway.
Huiyi and I wanted to start a tradition in R-AGE – a 开工餐 at the start of the year to kick-off the year of ministry. I gathered those who were working together with me as full-time staff (my ministry interns) as well as those in my Think Tank (key leaders in my strategic team). These folks are critical to the operations, leadership and growth of the youth ministry.
So after dinner last night, my wife and I went to Sheng Siong Supermarket and bought over 20 different ingredients for the steamboat dinner that we were hosting tonight. There was enough food to feed a small army. We told ourselves to go all out to bless the people who go all out to bless the young people. We wanted the eight of them to feel loved and like they deserved nothing but the best.
Together with my awesome mother-in-law (who kindly and generously offered me her time and energy), I spent most parts of today preparing the food. I think she put in the most work for this steamboat – she prepared the soup broth, marinated the meats and chopped the vegetables. As I ate lunch and did a little grocery shopping with her earlier today, I felt so incredibly blessed. It is God’s grace that I’ve found favour with my mum-in-law, and I am grateful.
And I realised that my wife and I are like Martha and Mary respectively – you need both types when hosting a gathering. She is amazing – she helped me clean up everything when we finished dinner – and this after a full day of work. I am blessed indeed! Darling, you’re a wonderful pastor’s wife – thank you for being a part of and embracing my ministry and calling as your ministry and calling. (:
The 10 of us ate to our hearts’ content and had a great evening together. It’s truly a blessing to serve the Lord alongside brothers and sisters whom you like and love. These young men and women are like my family. I cannot imagine leading the youth ministry without them by my side. I also cannot imagine R-AGE without them.
Ministry is all about relationships indeed. I thank God for being a part of these God-given relationships and the privilege to do life with them.
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.]
Unity is important because Christianity is not meant to be done alone, but with the your immediate family, your church family and spiritual family of other believers worldwide. I believe this meeting in Luke 1, between a teenager and geriatric, is one of the most important in the Bible and teaches us a lot about unity.
1. Unity requires being humble in spirit (Luke 1:26-38)
With the Messiah in her belly, Mary could have behaved arrogantly and acted like she knew everything, but the she demonstrated her humble spirit in the way she followed the instructions of Gabriel to a T – carefully, diligently and quickly. Her statement of faith was also astounding; she barely knew what she was in for and yet she said to Gabriel, in effect, “Use me anyway you want, even in the lowliest manner because I believe in God!”
Elizabeth, however, who was also miraculously pregnant with one of the most important characters in Jewish history no less, was just as humble in spirit. I think it takes a ton of humility for a reputable old lady like Elizabeth to acknowledge a teenager without any reputation and that the baby in her to be greater than her own.
When we humble ourselves before each other and relate without needing to prove anything, there’s a sense of identity and camaraderie. Talking to each other about what Jesus is doing in our lives builds our faith and deepens our fellowship.
2. Unity requires making things happen (Luke 1:39-41)
Since Mary had no clue what Elizabeth had experienced, she took two steps of faith that day: to believe that she was going to be pregnant without sexual intercourse and that an old woman was six months pregnant. Her steps of faith (pun unintended) to travel around 160km from Nazareth in Galilee to Hebron in Judea shows us her willingness to make things happen. I wondered what she must have pondered over as she made that journey, since she couldn’t confirm that Elizabeth was pregnant until she saw her for herself.
Elizabeth had no idea that she was going to receive a visitor that day, or that the visitor was Mary, or that Mary would be pregnant with the Saviour of the world! So for Elizabeth to greet Mary so spontaneously, she must have received a revelation and acted upon it. With her act of faith, she brought the both revelations to a full circle. She went on, in effect, to repeat what Mary said to Gabriel, “You are blessed because you believed the Lord would do what He said.”
Mary greeted Elizabeth in faith and Elizabeth responded to Mary in faith. Extraordinary revelations require extraordinary faith and obedience, and produces extraordinary results.
3. Unity requires honouring others above yourself (Luke 1:42-45)
Elizabeth congratulated Mary (“God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed”), condescended herself before Mary (“Why am I so honoured, that the mother of my Lord should visit me?”), confirmed Mary’s encounter with Gabriel (“When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy”) and commended Mary (“You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said”). All that must have levelled up Mary’s faith!
Elizabeth could say all that Mary because six months ago, she did the same thing in faith. If we do not deserve the favour that God shows us, we shouldn’t envy those the Lord has given more favour. Moreover, those who have personally experienced God’s faithfulness would naturally encourage others to put their faith in God.
4. Unity requires hanging on until it comes to pass (Luke 1:56)
Mary didn’t leave after that encounter but stayed with Elizabeth for three months before she returned home. I think she wasn’t there just to help a relative through the crucial months of pregnancy but perhaps to see through God’s promises surrounding both of them. I’m not sure if she witnessed the birth of John the Baptist but I know she definitely saw enough to know that Elizabeth was ready to go into labour.
Being a part of Elizabeth’s life in the first three months of her own pregnancy must have given her courage when she eventually returned to Nazareth to ready herself for the next six months of a gossip-filled, doubt-inducing, fear-instilling and awe-inspiring pregnancy. She was probably visibly pregnant but she was definitely convinced, comforted and convicted of the miracle that was about to take place through her. Through Mary’s care-giving with Elizabeth, God must have done some faith-strengthening with Mary.
What does unity look like and what stops us?
Unity is when all of us worshipping God with abandon; so don’t worship Him with arrogance, thinking you know better. Unity is when all of us are acting out our faith with obedience; so don’t respond with indifference, waiting for someone else to do what God has called you to do. Unity is when all of us are serving each other with selflessness; so don’t let your ego get in the way, putting your needs first.
I believe that the sole purpose of these two unbelievable pregnancies is found in Luke 1:37. To prove that nothing is impossible with God and that no man should take the credit for a miracle of God. If a virgin like Mary and a geriatric like Elizabeth can give birth, then surely God can bring revival to R-AGE, for nothing will be impossible with God.
It’s a lofty dream but I know one day, by faith, it will come to pass. I believe with all my heart that when revival comes to R-AGE, it won’t be through a large corporate fire, but through the small fires that we fan daily. I believe it with all my heart and I will hang on to it until it comes to pass or until God tells me I won’t see it in my time as a youth pastor.
Tonight’s the final time I will fall asleep in Asia Pacific Theological Seminary, Baguio.
AIYS 2012 has been a blast. By lunch tomorrow, I’d have sat into nearly 70 (!!) classes – that’s like attending 10 IDMCs! I’ve learnt so much from the instructors here; there’s a truckload to take home – new knowledge acquired, a renewed passion, a lifted spirit and of course, new friends and ministry partners from around the world.
The Lord has spoken to me personally and through pastors and friends who prayed for me. That’s crucial because I know if God is for me, then I can proceed with His approval. The trick now is to not go ahead of God, but to trust in Him and wait for Him to pave the way for me in the things that He’s impressed upon my heart to implement.
I’m thankful to Grace AG for sending me to AIYS 2012. The next AIYS takes place in 2015 and I declare this by faith – I will bring my full-time staff team with me.
Frankly, I think I’ve already reached saturation point for lessons. All I want to do now is to reflect on the 60+ notes, distill the ones that challenge me and sieve out the ones that are applicable to R-AGE. AND PUT WHAT I’VE LEARNT INTO ACTION. Otherwise, it’d be pointless.
And speaking of action, I’m pleased that there’s no chapel service tonight because traditionally, the last night’s always reserved for Balut Party – a rite of passage for AIYS delegates. I’ll let the photos talk!
Watch me gobble down the hot chick! @ http://www.facebook.com/v/10150966084595973
Ps Julie Khoo gave an altar call last night and I responded to it – my first time at the altar since AIYS 2012 started. I asked God to confirm the things He had been putting in my heart because the weight was too heavy to bear by myself. I shared this burden with Brian, Jamie and a couple of others whom I shared meals with. I needed the Lord to give me strength, courage and wisdom.
In that 15 minutes kneeling down, two people came to pray for me; I recognised Ps Julie’s voice and I caught sight of a pair of red sneakers and realised it belonged to her assistant, Ps Danny Tan. Both of them had only arrived the day before and had no idea what God was doing and stirring in my heart the past week.
As I stepped forward, I wasn’t emotional at all, as expected – that’s just how I am. But I had faith; I knew God would speak to me. So I asked the Lord to help me remember this altar call experience.
Ps Julie and Ps Danny won’t know this until I tell them – both of them prayed identical things over me. And along with what the Lord had already revealed in my heart, I saw a complete picture of what’s next for me and what’s stopping me from getting there. Ps Julie prophesied over me almost immediately and described the vision she saw. When she laid her hands on me moments later, I broke down; I will never forget how the Lord broke my heart for R-AGE, its leaders and the campuses in Singapore. I had faith that God would speak, but I didn’t expect myself to weep this way.
With a new found confidence, I returned to my seat to record what I had received from the Lord. Amidst the seven things God revealed through Ps Julie and Ps Danny, I remember receiving this personal revelation as I walked back to my row:
“My burden is greater than my fear.
Your glory is greater than my burden.”
I skipped the after-service fellowship and retreated to my room. And as I wanted to remember that God gave this to me when I was in the Philippines, I opened up Google to translate that line into Tagalog, and posted it as my Facebook status:
“Aking pasanin ay mas malaki kaysa sa aking takot.
Ang iyong kaluwalhatian aymas malaki kaysa sa aking pasanin.”
The next morning, just before the second session began, I read aloud the Tagalog translation to my Filipino friend, Ps Welfert, just to share with him what God had done with me last night.
With tears welling up in his eyes, he told me that what I’ve read to him were actually lyrics from a Filipino worship song called, “Salamat Panginoon”! The essence of the song is about how God’s presence is bigger than my struggles, pains and worries, and how great favour will come with the Lord because He is control of what’s going on.
I WAS BLOWN AWAY.
It was a powerful moment for the both of us. Welfert got emotional as he shared the meaning of the song with me. God ministered to the two of us there and then – what a divine revelation and confirmation!
God is good, so good. And He is faithful – I know He will go before me. My confidence in the Lord for the task ahead is rising! Praise the Lord for the spiritual monument that He’s building in my life through AIYS 2012.
Unfortunately, I don’t go for campus prayer-walks often enough. Yes, God has been spoken to me time and again on this issue for months. And He is faithful – He did it again through this conference through various people. His voice is unmistakeable.
This afternoon, we fasted lunch and headed to a local university to experience a 1-hour prayer-walk in and around the campus. I asked God to open my spiritual eyes as I walked this campus. I asked Him burn a desire in my heart for varsity students back home who do not know Jesus. I want this prayer-walking experience in Baguio universities to be transported back home to the secondary schools, junior colleges and even universities, but especially in polytechnics.
There’s so much in the ministry that I have to re-order – I want God to bring this vision to pass! But what do I tell my leaders and shepherds who are already so deeply embedded into church ministry that they may not see the need for campus ministry? I’m talking about a 15-year legacy!
Lord, there’s so much to un-learn and re-learn.
Truth is, R-AGE will always be around as long as Grace AG is around, and will always be successful. But are we merely existing instead of thriving? The Lord keeps putting the same recurring thought into my heart, “The ministry will implode and eventually perish if it doesn’t see a vision bigger than itself and explode in outreach.” I am sick and tired of doing church.
I don’t want to be a youth pastor that leads a “happening” church ministry with zero influence in the campus. I don’t want to be a youth pastor that leads a youth ministry that doesn’t make disciples of MY nation. I don’t want to be a youth pastor that leads an R-AGE that is happy doing programmes for unbelievers but is handicapped in building relationships with them. No, I want a vision for R-AGE so big that it’d be impossible to do it on my own.
Lord, give me courage. Make this my one act of righteousness that changes R-AGE forever.
I’m praying for a renewed vision, an outward-looking purpose, a structure that supports discipleship and leaders who are sold out to go and make disciples of all nations.
Lord, I’m scared. Help me to do the right things. Bring me the right people. Send me into the right places. Change me into the right person.
No, I want to be a youth pastor that leads R-AGE to really and truly be redeeming a generation for eternity.
Redeemed youths redeem youths – that’s what R-AGE will die for.
It’s becoming apparent to me that most youth pastors served as worship leaders in their previous lives. I could rattle off multiple names off the cuff — Glenn Lim, Andy Yeoh, Chris Long, Pacer Tan and lately, myself.
I meet another one tonight. His name is Brian Lopez, a Filipino. And I’ve not met another worship leader with an anointing as strong and pure as his. I’ve met many worship leaders, but not one that carries the entire service with his anointing alone. I really wished I could teleport the CAMY worship leaders to the service hall to watch Brian’s team lead worship. They will capture their imagination.
I’ve grown out of the Hillsong United and Planetshakers phase of my life. I’ve enjoyed their music and how they’ve led me time and again into the presence of God, but no matter what (and I’m not being racist), they’re non-Asians. So to see an Asian expressing his heart of worship to God in such an uncontaminated manner was breathtaking and inspiring.
We connected with each other after service ended and had a marvelous time sharing our hearts out on matters in the ministry that were close to our hearts — from leadership, to shepherding, to expository preaching. I haven’t met a kindred spirit in a long while.
In Brian’s words, “Man, why haven’t I met you earlier!?” I thank the Lord for fusing our hearts together as we prayed for each other.
I look forward to bringing Brian Lopez down to R-AGE.