All right, this post comes 125 entries later, but as the cliché goes, better late than never!
Many moons ago, I set up a competition to give away a handsome, spanking new branded NKJV Bible (worth $40+) and there were a number of people who very kindly submitted their reflections. I took a million years to decide on the winner and when I finally decided on the winner, I never found the right opportunity to pass her the gift! But last Friday, we finally met and I was delighted to give her the Bible.
Basically, the task was to extract a quote or an entire article to reflect on, and the winner is… SERENE WEE!
Thank you for taking part in this little competition and thank you for your support! Please allow me to share with you her two-page winning essay; she has written her insights based on the article, “you plant seeds, not pluck fruits.” I sincerely hope you enjoy reading her thoughts as much as I have!
Please consider this my entry to your competition. Reason being, this post came at just the right time in my life, and my thoughts about them are particularly personal. As you know, I am not all that involved in the youth ministry, but as a children’s church teacher a lot of the things you mentioned I find applicable to children’s ministry as well.
Childhood is the soil which determines what sort of teenagers and adults these kids grow into. If that is any indicator, then I must admit that I am literally stunned sometimes. I think, “If they can be so selfish, so rude, so cynical even at such an age, what then?”
“let them be, let them fall and let them learn”
This struck me particularly because I realise there are times when “No! Don’t do that!” doesn’t cut it anymore. Not that setting boundaries is not important, but after one whole week of being restrained in a classroom of 40 children, constantly shouted at to keep quiet, I think church teachers should strike a better balance when we see them on Sundays. Honestly, this phrase of yours really got me thinking about the children’s perspective, and how they may react to my actions, more.
“I encourage you to manage your expectations”
I think sometimes we’re so caught up on helping the child to achieve the “best” and forsaking the process, just as in the secular world. I was doing a craft with my class the other day, when this boy asked me if he could colour his foam flower with a marker. I looked at the flower and the flower itself was coloured, so I thought, if he adds colour on it, it wouldn’t look nice. So I said, no. But later I wondered why I wanted to wrest artistic license from him just because I thought it would look nicer. The craft was for mother’s day, and is not the child’s own effort, creativity and sincerity more important than “niceness”? With my control, he had one less chance to learn. And this is of course applicable in so many things.
“Their encouragement is a bonus, not a necessity; I’d love to receive it, but I do not need it to do what I am called to do.”
Yes, yes and yes!
“For if a leader is motivated by recognition and appreciation, he is sure to be left disappointed and disillusioned at some point.”
It is through personal experience that I know this to be true as well. I am a person who is very motivated by appreciation. Give me one nice phrase and I could probably remember it for life. But this can really distract from the primary purpose of ministry. Not only in terms of wanting recognition more than serving God faithfully, but in terms of what KIND of recognition is craved for.
In children’s church there are weeks when we have to do master teaching, which is basically teaching the lesson. Teachers have the freedom to structure the lesson as they will, and they can add in whatever games, object lessons etc. that they think would help bring the point home better. After weeks of hearing other teachers say “oh you teach so well”, and “oh the background you use for your powerpoint slides are so nice!” I found myself one night before a particular master teaching session, trawling the internet for nice backgrounds. My dad looked at me and said, “Instead of spending so much time on this, why don’t you spend more time praying for the children?” Wake up call!
And sometimes when leading worship (yes we juggle multiple roles in CC haha), I find myself judging the success of the worship session based on how many children are singing, and how many are raising their hands. While I do believe an outward expression of praise is important, I’ve come to realise, that I cannot simply look at the surface. The last thing the world needs is to have children learn hypocrisy at a young age. And if the children DON’T sing, will I then stop praising God with all my heart?
A lot of times too, teachers tend to take some form of pride in their ability to handle the classroom. And again, while I view that to be important, how sad is it that I should be praised for being able to make a rowdy class keep quiet. This to me, is again, simply on the surface. To show love, I believe I ought to dig deeper.
“that it is our job is to plant seeds, not pluck fruits.”
The way I read this goes hand in hand with the idea of patience. Matthew (Tan) once encouraged CC teachers that though they may not see it now, the children they teach may one day grow up to really love and serve Christ – men and women of God. Perhaps it’s because I am not that old myself, but I will think, “Huh, must wait sooooo long lehhh.” And that is the thing about planting seeds. Because seeds take time to grow, it’ll need a lot of patience to see them grow to fruition, or, like you said, we may not have the privilege to see that at all.
And so it hearkens back to what rewards we are looking for. The ones in heaven, or the earthly ones?
But my children do surprise me. Some surprise me with little bouts of maturity, way beyond what I expect from them. Some rough and tough ones surprise me with their gentleness. Some surprise me with their creativity. Some surprise me with their smiles and loving words.
During one of the PIERCE mealtimes, I had the privilege of speaking with IP; we caught up on many things – from how I first met him when I was working in 1VOX to how I am now working in church, and how he moved from a pastoral staff in a church to a counselling staff in a school. To be frank, I really enjoyed our little dialogue because of how encouraging he was; I was so ministered by IP’s genuineness and sincere desire to communicate heart to heart, and my spirit was really lifted by that small exchange of words.
Of the many things I caught from his spirit over lunch, this would be my greatest takeaway – he challenged me to “meet felt needs”; he went as far to say that meeting needs is just about the best thing a church could do as a church. I thought about it for a while and I realised that in my ministry, I’ve subconsciously been applying it and I really thank God for that; I saw the needs of my Shepherds and so I set up the DYLM leadership cell group; my RLs saw the needs of their CMs and so they set up the CM cell group; and the CMs are actually investing their time and energy into their cell group to meet the needs of their own cell kids. It would be challenging for each tier of leadership to meet the cascading level of needs if their own needs weren’t met.
Everyone has a variety of needs. Adolescent youths would have needs for identity and belonging; upper-secondary students would have needs for security and recognition; leaders in tertiary education would have achievement and esteem needs; those from a single-parent family like I do would have needs for acceptance and safety; those from financially-troubled households would have physiological needs for food and shelter; and of course, those healing from failed boy-girl relationships would have needs for trust and courage. Bottom line is, there are needs to be met!
Now let me go offtrack for a little while. Of course when I think about needs, Maslow’s much-studied hierarchy of needs spring to mind. While it is a trusted model for sociological and academical application, I find that model inadequate simply because it addresses needs from a secular standpoint. Conversely speaking, I believe that one’s greatest need is to fill the God-shaped hole. And if I may borrow song lyrics from Plumb’s ‘God-shaped Hole’ – “that’s a void only He can fill” . I firmly believe that while meeting real needs are important (after all, Jesus did meet physical needs in John 5), the most important need to meet is the need for God – if that need is not met, nothing really makes much sense. Still, therein lies a great need to meet real needs. RP sums up my sentiments:
Jesus had an extraordinary ability to see beneath the myriad of layers of people and know what they longed for, or really believed, but were afraid of revealing. That is why His answers so frequently did not correspond to the questions He was asked. He sensed their unspoken need or question and responded to that instead. Jesus could have healed lepers in countless ways. To the leper in Mark 1:40-45, He could have shouted, “Be healed … but don’t get too close. I just hate the sight of lepers.” He didn’t. Jesus reached over and touched him. Jesus’ touch was not necessary for his physical healing. It was critical for his emotional healing.
Can you imagine what it meant to that man to be touched? A leper was an outcast, quite accustomed to walking down a street and seeing people scatter, shrieking at him, “Unclean – unclean!” Jesus knew that this man not only had a diseased body but an equally diseased self-concept. He needed to be touched to be fully cured. And so Jesus responded as He always did, with total healing for the whole person.
I had a good chat with JK over lunch today and he shared some of his immediate needs with me. I told him that I was more interested in meeting his needs than having him meet ministry needs. “What you do in ministry is secondary; I’m more concerned about your primary needs”, I said. I encouraged him to get active with the CM cell, and to give his peers an opportunity to reach out to him, as well as for him to mutually minister to his peers. No man is an island and the sooner we realise that the sooner the body of Christ can be in action; we need one another to build one another – no one can do it alone.
Hence, it is my prayer that as you read my thoughts today, you’ll be reminded to either remain connected to your cell group and church, or that it’s time for you to start get acquainted with godly Christian fellowship. A few days ago, I asked IP over a text message if he had any prayer requests. His reply resounded so strongly with my heart’s cry for ministry and how I’m praying that R-AGE would truly become an Acts 2 youth group:
“My prayer needs? To see (R-AGE @) GII grow into the fellowship like in Acts, digging into the Word, meeting together weekly breaking bread and soaking in His presence.”
IP, I will remember what God taught you (and what you taught me) – and I will always have “meeting felt needs” at the top of my ministry priorities. Thank you for such a powerful and profound message – it was something that really pierced my heart during the camp and now, after it. We are in the ministry of meeting needs; if we fail to do that, then we have missed the whole point of church.