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is your church still relevant to its community?

Recently, I had the privilege of hanging out with my key leaders from R-AGE @ GII and R-AGE @ GI at its respective planning retreats in iHotel @ Batam and Salvation Army @ Bukit Timah respectively. One of the activities I led them in as part of an evaluation exercise was to list down every programme that our youth group had embarked on in the last year – from cell groups, to youth services, to conferences, to regional outings, to Christmas parties, to Easter productions, to ministry meetings, and to church retreats; I wanted a comprehensive laundry list of everything that had taken place in our ministry. Both sides did this with relative ease and easily came up with 40-50 (!) programmes. Yes, we were stunned by the sheer number of programmes.

That was our first epiphany.

Next, I got us to sort out these programmes into only one of these three categories(, which I called the “WEB” for easy recall):

  • Win: evangelistic or pre-evangelistic in nature.
  • Equip: trains and ups the level of leaders and members.
  • Build: grows and fortifies the fellowship of the believers.

Both sides arrived at similar results – on average, less than 15% were Win programmes, another 15% were Equip programmes and approximately 70% of what we had planned and executed were predominately Build programmes. Needless to say, my leaders were flabbergasted; they shared my same reaction when I completed this exercise myself at the beginning of the year. I also told them to consider how a Win programme would naturally include Equip elements and inevitably Build the youth group.

That was our second epiphany.

What I got us to do next was to name as many known felt needs as we could of the respective communities we were ministering in; R-AGE @ GI and R-AGE @ GII had obviously listed different needs based on the demographics of its vicinity – we’d be foolish to plan and execute similar programmes for an affluent Tanglin community as we would the heartland Bukit Batok community. I told them to think about the needs that their sheep had and to their (and my) astonishment, some of my leaders struggled to even name these needs because they weren’t cognisant of it. Bottom-line was, we do not really understand the felt needs of our respective communities (and honestly, we ought to be chagrined by this).

That was our third epiphany.

Next, with the list of needs we barely were able to list down from the previous segment, I got us to match it with the programmes that we had planned and executed in the last year. It was awkward for us because we struggled to do this matching exercise properly; when we did find a match, it wasn’t an entirely convincing conclusion. The question that I fired at us was, “So, how does R-AGE meet the needs of the community it exists in?”

That was our fourth epiphany.

It was only after four self-discovered epiphanies that I released us to proceed with the budgeting and programme-planning exercise. I told them that it was imperative that these four revelations formed the backdrop in their minds before they strategised for 2012.

Without mincing my words, I told them that it is pointless if a youth group isn’t able to serve the students in its community; similarly, a church becomes useless if it doesn’t value add to the community it exists in. What’s the point of establishing a church if all it does is to exist for itself? It would end up becoming a self-serving community that is completely irrelevant to its neighbourhood. (I’m embarrassed to say this but the truth is that most times, a community centre meets the needs of its community more effectively than a church does, and it should never be that way!)

Some sobering questions a church (any church!) must ask itself are:

  1. Does the neighbourhood know the existence of the church?
  2. Does the church even meet the needs of its neighbourhood?
  3. Is the church serving the neighbourhood effectively?
  4. Is the church making a difference in the neighbourhood?
  5. Would it matter at all to the neighbourhood if the church suddenly disappears?

So, is your church still relevant to its community? I’m not sure about you, but I want to ensure that my ministry is.

With that conviction (hopefully) drilled into my leaders’ hearts, I am hopeful that the programmes that they have dreamed of for 2012 would have a greater relevance to (and impact on) the youths in both Tanglin and Bukit Batok. Otherwise, we’re really wasting our time, energy and resources doing what we do. Let’s get real and stop kidding ourselves.

If we are irrelevant, we are useless. If we do not contribute, we should cease to exist. If we are not even meeting their felt needs, then why would young people even want to join our youth group? Come on, we must have a vision that is bigger than ourselves!

R-AGE must never be a feel good club – certainly not on my watch!

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top ten favourite songs to perform.

All right, I’ll be honest here if you don’t mind (not that you can stop me anyway). As a performer, I absolutely love the stage and to perform on it; I’m even honest enough to admit that I thrive under the limelight. The stage is my little paradise and the older I get, the more I enjoy (and miss) performing, maybe because I’ve found my niche and forte as an artist. Due to this love for performing, I’ve always regretted that I’ve only been able to be involved in a musical just once in my entire 13 years with Grace Assembly – when I was 14 years old! I hope I will have the opportunity to be involved in another major production one day. (Actually, I told VY that I’ve already set my eyes on only that one role should we actually decide to make a musical out of it.)

On a side note, I believe that there’s a gulf of difference between a singer and a lead singer – and it’s one reason why I’ve always enjoyed being a lead singer more than a worship leader despite the many similarities in both roles. I long for the day that I get to perform regularly with a rock band again – to belt out original compositions, express the emotions of a ballad through convincing performances, and to bring these songs all over the region through gigs, tours and music CDs. I firmly believe that there’s a part of the human soul that only music can reach.

I’m about to go offtrack again; I had actually written two other paragraphs before I decided to save that for another time; this entry would be too long if I were to throw in my band history (which makes for good reading on separate entry anyway). Tonight, I’ll take a stroll down memory lane and recall the first ten songs (that come to my mind) that I’ve enjoyed performing over the decade as a wannabe rock star.

I present this list of my top ten favourite songs to perform (over the years) in no order of preference or chronology:

1. Tears in a Bottle – FhLY. There were two performances which I fondly remember about this signature FhLY song. One was when the song debuted and received DL’s friends’ affirmation of its lyrical ministry. The other at the outdoor Cineleisure gig was more memorable – I had completely forgotten the lyrics to the second verse and being a rather inexperienced performer then, I downright froze on stage and stopped singing altogether; this resulted in a minus one track for 30 seconds until I regained my composure and picked it up again at the chorus.

2. Put Your Arms Around Me – All Star United. DH and I began performing this anthem when we were in secondary school and it followed us through our polytechnic days. Practising and performing this song as Castor & Pollux brings back an influx of fantastic memories. I believe this to be one of the songs that really demonstrate the musical and performance chemistry I have with DH. The one at the Salvation Army auditorium really stood out as our first performance outside the school compounds.

3. Safe and Sound – Castor & Pollux. I’ve said it to DH a million times – that this composition remains my favourite of the hundreds of songs he’s written (no exaggeration). It debuted at the Singapore Street Festival gig at Heeren and has remained a crowd favourite as well as a mainstay in every single Castor & Pollux gig ever since. I’ve always told DH that if I were to ever audition for any talent show, I’d most certainly use this soulful and stirring piece as my song choice because of how it coincidentally brings out my vocal (and emotive) range rather perfectly.

4. What a Difference a Day Made – Jamie Callum. JT and I made our debut as a duo at the R-AGE 10th Anniversary gala dinner. I can’t remember if we had volunteered for it or if the organisers asked us, but I was glad we performed it anyway! It was the first time I attempted a slow jazz number with a piano and I absolutely enjoyed singing with a non-rock voice. I’d like to believe that it was a pretty classy and classic performance. Allow me to indulge – if there was a word to describe how I felt after that performance, it’d be “charming”.

5. I Love to See You Smile – Homer Simpson & Marge Simpson. I think this song made its debut at one either my 18th or 21st birthday party and it received such a positive response that DH and I kept resurrecting it gig after gig. It remains one of the best songs to open a set because of how cute and innocent it is.

6. Hands Down – Dashboard Confessional. As Castor & Pollux, this was the first and only time we’ve performed Hands Down, and we didn’t even plan to. We had planted a couple of encore items at the Ben & Jerry’s gig but Hands Down wasn’t in our original lyrics set. At a time when Hands Down was at the tip of the mouth of every emotionally-charged young male, it was performed by popular demand; besides, we had already jammed it so many times and had the lyrics engraved into our hearts, we just spontaneously pulled it off. And it absolutely rocked the house!

7. Coastline – Rust. It never fails to amaze me how a simple four-chord song has stood the test of time and emerges to be the all-time favourite song of all the (other more accomplished) songs that DH has ever written. I remember struggling to sing this song when my falsetto was a lot weaker as a raw vocalist. Without a doubt, I’ve enjoyed performing this song most at X&C’s wedding dinner.

8. The Day – FhLY. Every performer simply has to have a melodramatic moment and it couldn’t come as dramatic as this one. Written to describe the scene and emotion of saying goodbye to a person at the airport, I performed this song at the Cineleisure gig, at the time when it was drizzling heavily. The relentless beating rain pounding against the beating heart of a man with reeling emotions… I remember AC tearing as I performed it because she felt the full force of my emotions!

9. I Liked You – Castor & Pollux. While the original remains one of my favourite compositions so far as well as one of Castor & Pollux flagship songs, I was cheeky enough to tweak the lyrics and I performed the spoofed version at the Blackmarket gig. I think the audience enjoyed the mischief in the updated lyrics and JT even felt it was my way of getting back at the girl whom I wrote this song for. Well, I haven’t quite confirmed it to this day and I don’t intend to. Read between the lines!

10. Roller Coaster – No One Else Band. There was no way I’d leave out this high-energy song. Due to some miscommunication, RL and I only submitted one song from our days together in FhLY. Should a sequel album be produced, we will definitely submit more songs. As for its performance, I will never forget the moment I walked out from the backstage of the G2 Sanctuary to centre stage during the No One Else album launch concert. To date, it’s the closest I’ve ever felt as a rock star.

I reckon the ones who would enjoy this entry most are those whom I’ve mentioned. As for me, I’ve enjoyed every single moment of my journey as a performer! Have you found your niche in life? Have you discovered your forte? When you do, you’ll be able to come up with your own top ten list and I’d love to read it.

A gentle reminder for the bible-giveaway competition. The response so far has been OH-SO-ENCOURAGING. -_- Do remember that the competition ends in 10 days on 14th May. I really want to hear from you! So go on, write to me and win a brand new bible!

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