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but what if I cannot connect with youths anymore?

Even though I’ve only been with R-AGE as a full-time staff for nine months, it feels as if I’ve been doing it for nine years. I started serving as a youth leader when I was 17 years old and I “rose” through the “ranks” and have experienced almost every single ministry role before. Before I left for Shanghai, I must have been one of the youth leaders with the highest public profiles – surely everyone knew Joey Asher Tan.

Unfortunately (or fortunately), all these amounted to nothing.

I was severely humbled when I returned for my first Grace Retreat (the one with Life Game) and to my shock and horror (and massive disappointment), there were people who did not know who I was and those who knew me pretended like I didn’t exist – I don’t blame them – being physically away does result in relational drifting, and that is manifested in friendships that are eventually downgraded to acquaintance-ship. I have since learnt that youth ministry is transient and that no leader, however big his or her profile, is indispensable. The reality is, one day youths may forget who RY is or what CX has done for the ministry. I always think that if it could happen to JH, SH, DL or JT (leaders of yesteryear) it could definitely happen to me.

And you know what? I’m actually thankful for that.

It challenges me to think beyond myself and to build for the next generation of leaders and youths, for the future R-AGE and Grace Assembly of God, and ultimately, the next Joey Asher (i.e. the next youth minister who’s going to take over me). And yes, I’ve already identified my potential successor(s). I’m so thankful that this ministry is never going to be about me. And the best thing about it is that it’s not even down to my own choices or “something that I’ve set out to do” but by the innate and proven ephemeral nature of youth ministry. It forces all of us to think beyond today. I absolutely embrace that because I’m in the business of guiding and helping the generations after me to surpass everything I have achieved and will ever establish.

By the way, I’m quite astonished with the way the Spirit leads my pen.

Actually this wasn’t what I had intended to write about today; what I had wanted to share was the advice I gave to AS this afternoon. She asked, “But what if I cannot connect with the youths anymore?” I struggled with exactly that when I first re-joined and attempted to re-connected with R-AGE and I could really identify with her. So I gave her three pointers which I applied to help me overcome this real challenge.

  1. Ask God to give you a heart to love the youths and hands to serve them.
  2. Be consistent and always be around for them – to listen to and guide them – they’ll open up to you sure enough.
  3. Be patient with yourself and give yourself a trial period of at least three months before you evaluate your progress.

I met LW for an early dinner and I was so encouraged by his appetite to learn and grow. This boy’s got immense potential in the ministry and I can’t wait to see him grow into a man of God; it heartens me greatly to know that the ministry is filled with young men who are as hungry as he is; the future of R-AGE looks bright indeed. Praise the Lord!

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how do you spot potential?

All right, it’s time for me to make a comeback on WordPress! I’ve struggled to recover my writing momentum after a five-day hiatus and being away in Cameron Highlands over the last few days didn’t help my cause. (It was a great break though!) Nonetheless, I shall give myself an easier head-start with a shorter entry tonight to break the silence.

Since PIERCE ended, I’ve had youths indicating their interests to be emcees, cell mentors, ushers and basically to serve in R-AGE. Of course, this delights me (and my shepherds) to no end! More significantly, this morning, I’ve had the privilege of welcoming the latest member to my beloved GII leadership family – NC! She shared with me her journey with God enroute to the DoYouLoveMe cell group and I just sat there at Ya Kun, and acknowledged the good work that the Lord is doing in her life. Her addition to the GII Shepherds means that “Plug & Play” will now be a monthly feature in the R-AGE @ GII services. (And everyone says “HURRAY!”) I can’t wait for the first installment in July!

I’d also like to record my answer to her question – “How do you spot potential in a young person?” I thought about it for a short moment and this was my response to her.

First and foremost, before you even identify any potential, you must get to know who the person is and this takes time and effort. The young people in this day and age are generally less likely to initiate approaching you, hence it’s important that you take the first step to be acquainted with them. Without any prior (or basic) knowledge of their background, personality and unique talents, you’d never get an idea of who they can become and how they can contribute to God’s kingdom.

Once that is established, it’s really about observing them. Again, this takes time and effort and most people write youths off very quickly, before they get a chance to express what they’re capable of and show you a glimpse of who they can become. I always believe that if you stick around long enough and are regular enough, young people will open up to you by the sheer virtue that you are ever-present; I’d like to believe that it’s never about charisma, but about consistency. No excuses for the introverted phlegmatic.

Now, I think I have an almost “blind” belief in young people because I trust God. I know He’s in charge of the process and I believe that He is in control of the outcome. Everyone is different and every person will become a unique jigsaw in the masterpiece of God; while some may have more significant roles and are more active than others, there is no one who is more or less important than the other – that’s my conviction, at least. So I tell myself that all I can do as a leader in authority, is to sponsor opportunities for young people to reach their potential, just like how my mentors have done so for me. I’m not afraid of making mistakes – even errors in judgment – and I think this helps the youths under me to feel that the pressure is off them. I always tell my youths that the only thing I expect them to do is to make mistakes – because I did and screwing up did me a world of wonders. Of course, I’ll try to prevent it, but I do not strive to stop it from happening. Some walls are meant to be crashed into; I always believe that God uses every single experience for His glory.

Often, I ask God to give me a vision of the “developed state” of the young person or leader that I am journeying with. I take a step of faith to believe that whatever I envision, I will play a part in helping that young person to realise his or her potential. The sense of satisfaction I enjoy when I see a youths soar in their capacities and capabilities is beyond what money can buy and what the world can offer. In an almost divine manner, God has been faithful to me – for most of the youth leaders and youths that I’ve worked with, they do eventually turn out to be what I’ve envisioned them to be. I thank God for giving me a “radical audacity” to dream and to see beyond what others can see – sometimes I even have the privilege of seeing beyond what the young person I’m journeying with can see. Don’t get me wrong – I’m far from being a soothsayer – I just try to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit and act upon what is prompted in my heart.

Of course, there are some youths who didn’t quite develop the way that I had hoped that they would. Did I despair? I used to. But the older I get, the more I learn to trust God, because I know His plans for that young person are far greater than mine. God’s detours are better than Man’s direction. I’m reminded time and again that God is God, and I’m just a privileged mentor. I’m a risk-taker though, and I love to see young people lead young people. To an extent, I find myself in the process of lowering the average age of leaders in R-AGE and somehow, that gives me an immense sense of gratification – more than half of my key leaders are barely 21 years old!

After I finished my breakfast appointment with NC, I had lunch with SY and I remember telling him how he carries the potential to be one of the pillars of the cell mentors corps. He shared with me his keenness to take on the role of a service emcee (which thrilled me greatly!) and I told him that I can’t wait to retire from being an emcee because it’s such a powerful sight for him (and his peers) to take ownership of the ministry.

As if it’s not obvious enough already, R-AGE @ GII is on the threshold of revival. I feel it!

leadership reflections.

“Leadership is a process of influence. Anytime you seek to influence the thinking, behaviour, or development of people in their personal or professional lives, you are taking on the role of a leader.” (Blanchard & Hodges)

Of the countless number of leaders who have influenced me in my decade of development as a leader, the two men with the greatest influence in my life at this point in time would undoubtedly be RY and PL. While RY has sharpened me in ministerial skills and PL in my relational skills, I cannot quite compartmentalise their influence in my life because they have taught me so many invaluable life skills in both arenas.

I am quietly confident enough to believe that God has used me well over the last decade as an influence with a good number of (young) people; I say this adorning a hat of privilege, not pride. I’ve had opportunities to take up leadership positions wherever I’ve gone and it has certainly aided my personal character development. Now I am given the privilege to have direct influence over the REAL kids, the leadership core of the G2 Youth Community as well as the youths that I personally mentor.

A jump in thought here, but the question then is, “Am I seeking to serve or to be served?” As far as I know, my leaders have always served me and to the best of my ability to be honest, I’d also like to think that I’ve been serving those under my leadership. After all, I always believe that there’s almost nothing for me to gain or lose when I lead people; it’s always for their own good, not mine. Thankfully, this leadership ethos that I have adopted over the years is consistent with the leadership model that I will now actively adopt – the one of Jesus Christ.

But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28)

Regardless of whether I serve in the ministry or marketplace arena, taking on the leadership legacy left behind by Jesus is never going to be an easy call. In a society where the outspoken ones are apparently deemed as the “best” leaders, the meekness of Jesus greatly opposes our educated mindset. It is especially prevalent for me because I fall into the category of a vocal leader who is always seen and heard. Hence I have much to learn before the promise of an inheritance of the earth is given to me (ref. Matthew 5:5).

I must condition myself to learn the power of listening intently, keeping silence and withholding opinion. This year, it is my earnest prayer that God will raise my leadership effectiveness and influence to a whole new level for His sole glory. The leadership style of Jesus focuses a lot on the workings of the insides instead of the works on the outsides. I desire to develop to be and to lead like Jesus, not just to do what Jesus did or would do.

In conclusion, I aspire to consider this thought in all my dealings with people and situations: WWJB – Who Would Jesus Be?

the first rewards of full-time.

REAL Lock-in Camp 2010 will go down as one of the biggest highlights and achievements of my 12 years of serving God in Grace Assembly of God.

I am reminded of the changing power of God’s presence, the massive potential of young people, the victorious satisfaction of a breakthrough, the immense delight of obeying the Holy Spirit’s guidance and amongst many others, just witnessing how these 15 young souls are surrendering themselves to Jesus. WOW!!!

Now, this is what I came into full-time ministry for. I love you all, I’m so proud of each and everyone of you, I believe so much in you all and I can’t wait to invest even more of myself in every one of you. The next two months, we’ll go into Holy Spirit overdrive.

(Okay, I know this post is kinda like a outburst of emotions and very unlike the typical way I write on this blog, but hey, it’s something worth shouting out loud for. God did such a miraculous work of restoration during the camp that I just HAVE to testify of it! More to come in later days. For now, I need to break the non-writing inertia.)

when the numbers add up.

There is no denying that I am really aging. I no longer can sleep at 4am and wake up at 7am feeling fresh. It takes a toll on my body and its consequences are usually perpetuated acne on my cheeks and bags under my eyes. Ulcers are less frequent now, so I am thankful for that. It’s interesting how I hardly get sleepy or lethargic in the afternoon though.

My body is no longer working as hard as it ought to. A slower metabolic rate means that I can no longer have supper like a king (sigh!) and not feel its repercussions gathering around my torso afterwards (double sigh!). My fitness levels have also declined. While I am not unfit, it’s obvious that I am past my physical peak of fitness; I don’t know think I will ever run 2.4km in 9:21, finish SOC in 7:53 or score 21 for pull-ups ever again. There are some once-in-a-lifetime trophies.

However, while my physical prowesses decline (I sound like I’m 40!), I notice an increase in my intellectual, emotional and spiritual awareness, especially in my awareness of my strengths and weaknesses. I’ve always believe that confidence is an acute awareness of what you’re good at and what you need to work on.  I’m still much more Sanguine than the average Sanguine, but I’ve mellowed significantly; I remember LY exclaiming, “Joey, can you stop mellowing!?” Age brings about a certain calmness, levelheadedness and deliberate delays in responding to situations, events and people. Maybe wisdom is applied knowledge.

This gets me thinking about maturity and how from year to year I evaluate my growth. Hindsight is powerful – it would be a gift if we had present-sight. I don’t know about you but when in retrospect I find that I’ve matured relatively exponentially from period to period. It’s like I’ve either really grown a lot or that I was really immature last time!

During my short coffee-break with LL just now, I told him that I was thankful for a colleague like him who’s my age. I told him that since we are not married and have no children yet, we should aspire to give to and serve the Lord with high levels of zeal and zest that reflect our age, while we are still young and energetic and able to contribute like that. Taking our lead from what God puts in our hearts, this is the best time for us to make investments in time and energy before the marriage and family elements kick in.

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