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a song in season, every season.

theboatsbehindthestraw

As a youth pastor, I’m all for contemporary worship music from western countries. But every once in a while, you chance upon a powerful song written from the sincere depths of one’s heart; and when you unearth a local gem like this, you know it’ll be a timeless song that you and I will sing for generations to come.

My exhortation to all worship leaders – keep close to God and write songs of breakthrough for your generation.

Make A Certain Breakthrough
By Ps Ann Chan & Ruth Ling

In my life of searching
For the plain and simple way
Many paths were so winding
The roads were never straight
Then the Spirit of God broke through
And healed my broken wings
And showed me the way into His heart

And I know that God is leading
In a clear and certain way
My one life for your purpose, Jesus
I offer up this day
To follow you completely
To do all that you say
Cleanse my life, fill me up
And use me this day
Make a certain breakthrough
Make it today

 In these days of danger
Lord, we rest upon Your grace
With Your tender and skillful hands
You shape this stubborn clay
Yes, You calm my inmost being
Giving courage to hope again
And to build this one life
In power and faith

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ten ways to inspire hope to a generation.

1. Give them a vision. And see their commitment in action. I think young people are not afraid to work hard; they are only afraid of a lack of vision.

2. Believe in them wholeheartedly. This never, ever gets old. Being patient with and watching them blossom is one of life’s most beautiful scenes.

3. Challenge them to follow Jesus. One of the best ways to fire up a youth group is to see young people make first-time decisions for Jesus.

4. Remind them to evangelise. R-AGE, we must remember that eGig is not for entertainment and iGig is not for interest; heck, it’s not even for us.

5. Give them a platform to perform. The unpredictability of young people never fail to surprise and impress me. And of course, make me ROTFL.

6. Let them express themselves. Their creativity and spontaneity always reminds me to trust them, that one day, they will eventually get it right.

7. Watch them worship God; they will inspire you. ‎Stella’s deeply emotive performance tonight was BY FAR the best dance performance I’ve ever witnessed.

8. Create memories for them, for it galvanises the ministry; pictured above is the first combined R-AGE photograph since GI and GII became autonomous.

9. Intercede on their behalf. The highlight of my day was gathering with a few of my key leaders to pray and cry for one of our hurting leaders.

10. Thank God for them. It is my joy, pride, privilege and honour to be a part of R-AGE, and my awesome responsibility to lead and pastor them.

teamwork is everything – would you rather go fast or go far?

So, what exactly is teamwork? Obviously, this buzzword describes work performed by a team; here are the other definitions that I’ve found on online dictionaries which will form the perimeters of my thoughts today:

  • the combined action of a group of people, esp. when effective and efficient.
  • cooperative or coordinated effort on the part of a group of persons acting together as a team or in the interests of a common cause; work done with a team.
  • the cooperative work done by a team; the ability to work efficiently as a team.
  • work done by several associates with each doing a part but all subordinating personal prominence to the efficiency of the whole.
  • a joint action by a group of people, in which each person subordinates his or her individual interests and opinions to the unity and efficiency of the group.
  • when a group of people work well together.
  • the capability to comprehend and recognize the diverse strengths and abilities in a group setting and then applying them to one final solution.
  • when people work collaboratively towards a common goal as distinct from other ways that individuals can work within a group.
  • cooperative effort by the members of a group or team to achieve a common goal.

I don’t know what you have observed from the above definitions. For me, two words stick out – “people” (team) and “work” (work). I’m inclined to believe that the end result of teamwork (i.e. to achieve the objective) is actually secondary. I opine that teamwork is rooted in people involved in work, or if I may put it this way, teamwork is basically about being (people) and doing (work).

Teamwork gives the unique platform for both the task-oriented and people-oriented individuals to come together to achieve a common goal. Sometimes I wonder what carries greater significance – to achieve that goal or to come together. If a group of people accomplish something and yet kill one another in the process, then it defeats the purpose of working together. Similarly, unless it’s a machine or a computer accomplishing a task, it’s virtually impossible to get work done without involving people.

I led worship three times at the recently concluded retreat and while I celebrated at my accomplishment of playing the guitar for 90 minutes straight on the first night when I co-led it with JQ (and I’ve never played the guitar for such a long stretch of time), it was the second morning’s session which I will remember for a long time to come. I had already prepared a set of songs – complete with pre-retreat printed chords sheets for myself and lyrics sheets for everyone else. However, on that morning, just 15 minutes before the worship set, I randomly played “O Praise Him” (by David Crowder Band) and KY, who sat beside me, quickly caught the song and started to sing along with me.

SOAR247 (my youth group in Shanghai) instantly came to my mind at that point in time and with it came the triad of songs that the youth worship leaders there always led – “O Praise Him”, “Marvellous Light” (introduced at Rhema 2009) and “Prince of Peace” (an all-time favourite with the RLs). All three songs were in the key of G and I naturally medleyed from song to song. In an inspired moment (these moments do encapsulate the randomness and suddenness of youth ministry), I decided to lead these three songs for the morning session instead. Everyone around me immediately captured the idea; it was like they also wanted to be led into worship by these songs too.

It was then I saw the most spontaneous display of teamwork. HY, KY and MS took out their phones to google for lyrics; and in an instant, MW, YX and AT took out the flip charts and started writing lyrics on them. I can’t remember who else got involved but it felt like everyone chipped in without hesitation. I was moving from chart to chart, scribbling down the chords. It almost felt like a rehearsed routine except that it was second-nature for the leaders to get cracking – to make this worship session a reality. 10 minutes later, we were up and running and ready to go. I took a snapshot of that moment of togetherness in my mind’s eye and I thanked the Lord for giving us this wonderful thing called teamwork. Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed that worship session because WE led US into worship.

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. (1 Corinthians 1:10)

As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. (1 Corinthians 10:20-27)

“Family” is one of the three DNAs of Grace Assembly of God Church (and R-AGE). I’d go one step further to say that a family isn’t effective and efficient unless they learn to work together and love one another. Teamwork is absolutely essential to the core value of a family church, and in a larger context, the body of Christ. May we always remember to be excel in both our being and our doing – and there’s no better way to achieve this than through teamwork.

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” (Warren Buffet)

let us never patronise God.

If I were hungry I would not tell you,
For the world is Mine, and all it contains.

– Psalm 50:12
(New American Standard Version)

This is one verse in the Bible that severely humbles me every time I read it; it keeps me on my toes because I’d never want to patronise God and offer Him mere lip service. Do I really think that the omniscient and omnipresent God doesn’t know what’s truly in my heart, beneath every word and deed? Who am I kidding? There’s no hiding from Him my insides. Each time I revisit this verse, I force myself to examine my private worship – for that determines the authenticity and power of my public worship. I’ve always believed that spiritual authority comes from time spent with God.

How can we even offer God something that He already has? What exactly is God hungry for? I’d like to believe that He is hungry for your praise and worship, devotion and thanksgiving, and your prayer and supplication. This sound extremely far-fetched but the truth is, God is after His own glory. And when you give Him the glory that is rightfully due to Him – I borrow JP’s thoughts – you are completely satisfied; it’s a place of gratification that nothing on earth can take, to know that you’re in the will of God.

Praise magnifies God’s being. Magnification isn’t making the subject bigger, but enlarging the subject in your perspective. Faith magnifies God’s doing. When God plays a bigger role in your life, the enemy and yourself plays a smaller role. That is why when you are in trouble, you ought to worship God, so that your faith can be built and that your perspective can be straightened out through God. And like the song we are so acquainted with, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in His wonderful face. And the things of this earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.”

Our response then, in the light of this verse, is to be a worshipper – one who directs and diverts the glory to God. And I believe, as absurd as this next expression may sound, that this is how we should feed God. Then maybe, God might speak to us; perhaps this is why we conventionally have a time of praise and worship before we hear God’s Word through a sermon. Worship is like ploughing the ground and the Word is like the seed being planted.

Hence, don’t be a casual worshipper if you want God to speak to you. Remember, God doesn’t need you to worship Him, so do not offer half-hearted worship – it has to be wholehearted, nothing less! If He was hungry, He wouldn’t even tell you. After all, the whole world (including you and I) already belongs to Him.

“Speak to me / And tell me all the things I need to know / I want to hear You now / (Can You) speak to me / I’ve opened up Your Word to free me / I want to hear You now” – Audio Adrenaline

top ten ingredients of a worship leader.

I have decided to embark on a periodical series of “Top Ten” lists. To kickstart the series, I’ll share my initial insights of being a worship leader for the last 12 years. I received my calling to lead worship when I was 14 years old at a NA’s Bondage Breaker Conference (I know the topics are unrelated but I don’t decide when I’m called!). The first time I led worship was when I was 15 years old, at a Methodist Schools’ Combined Christian Fellowship Camp. I joined CAMY (before it was called CAMY) when R-AGE services first began as a 14-year-old backup vocalist (way back in 1997) and I began leading worship in R-AGE and in the adult services when I was 17 and 21 years old respectively.

Throughout the 12 years, God has always been faithful to me in assuring me of my calling – He consistently sends (at least) one person to encourage and affirm me of my worship leading anointing, for every single worship session that I’ve led, be it in school, small groups or services. I praise and thank God for His grace and faithfulness. While I sense that my calling has shifted to preaching, leading and mentoring for this season of my life (that’s one reason why I didn’t join the worship ministry in my church in Shanghai), I’m still blessed to have lots of experiences to share with current, new and aspiring worship leaders and hence the birth of this simple bite-sized list.

I’ve divided the list into two categories; the five ingredients in the “Worship” category deals with inward and internal character traits which I feel all worship leaders should possess; the remaining ingredients in the “Leader” category deals with outward and external personality attributes which I think all worship leaders should exhibit. This list is by no means exhaustive and I could probably list another 10, but these are the ingredients that come to my mind first. So here goes the alpha of many “Top Ten” lists to come:

“WORSHIP”

1. Personal worship – The songs you choose should minister to you first and your worship expression on stage should be as consistent as your expression at home, during your devotional time spent with God.

2. Private prayer – Anointing and spiritual authority flows into your life by one way only – an intimate relationship with God; you must develop a habit of regularly praying for yourself, your team and the congregation that you are leading.

3. Reliability and Reliance – Besides being a dependable and available worship leader (for your team), you must learn to be reliant on the Holy Spirit to lead you when you lead worship; failure to do so results in leading by charisma and not by anointing.

4. Humility – Realise that the definition of a biblical leader (modeled after Jesus) is first to serve before you lead, hence your team members are people you serve and not people who serve you; learn to meet their needs and always be concerned for their spiritual growth and character development.

5. Accountability – Being a worship leader means your life is now amplified for all to witness; it is absolutely imperative that a (more) mature and experienced (worship) leader watches over your spiritual well-being for there are many potential hazards as a high-profile personality.

“LEADER”

6. Excellence – Solid preparation is key to leading effectively and so you must memorise your music and your lyrics, as well as to be absolutely familiar with the arrangements, before you can even expect your team to do likewise. I also challenge all worship leaders to expose themselves to more musical genres, know basic music theory and learn at least one instrument.

7. Responsibility – Realise that you are now a public figure and hence your onstage leadership must be a reflection of your offstage lifestyle; you must be responsible for your speech and conduct for they carry a lot more weight now.

8. Initiative – As the shepherd of a flock, you should organise cohesion sessions (such as meals and meet-ups) to bond your team together as well as to give you a platform to get to know them better; take ownership of your team’s overall growth – first as believers, then as musicians.

9. Enthusiasm – If you are half-baked about the things that you do, you will end up producing half-past-six members and your worship session will also be a reflection of your personality. Hence, you must believe and be excited about what you are doing if you want others to catch your “fire”.

10. Connection – I’ve saved the most personal ingredient for the last; one reason why I am convinced of my effectiveness as a youth worship leader, is because I make deliberate efforts to get to know the congregation that I am leading (through intentional fellowship). Hence when I lead my congregation into worship, when I articulate lyrics, when I look into their eyes, (I think) I get an idea of what they are experiencing in their lives and I am to able lead and minister to them because I understand their struggles. You must feel for your congregation.

In closing, a popular perception of a worship leader is that he only needs to concern himself with the 30-minutes on stage. I vehemently beg to differ this dangerous rockstar attitude. You are the worship leader who leads others to worship God, not yourself. The glittering “glamour” of leading worship comes with the great task of leading your team during the time that you are not on the platform (which is the bulk!). Remember, a worship leader is not a superstar.

Suddenly I have a lot more to share, so perhaps I’ll write another “Top Ten” in the coming days. I sincerely hope that was helpful for you and can serve to be a simple yardstick for all worship leaders.

fast-forward 17 years.

Dinner tonight was an event 17 years in the making. Catching up with DL over a simple dinner was delightful and nostalgic to say the least. How does anyone actually get up to speed on nearly two decades of life? The last time we were close was when we were together in Primary 4 in Anglo-Chinese Junior School. These were the same two kids who, being equally short, partnered each other at the front of the class queue; the two 8-year-old kids who sneaked into Sentosa alone after school and accomplished it with cunning and enterprise beyond their age; and the same two kids who, from such vastly different family backgrounds, shared such pleasant childhood memories.

So, how do you catch up on all those years? Simple – by testifying God’s goodness over the years and by spurring each other on in ministry. You blend in common history to project a linked future. I think it’s no coincidence that these same two kids now share a passion for young people and worship; it is almost divinely appointed that these two boys now do their bit to introduce change, make a difference and leave a legacy in their church; it was affirming that these two boys, now men, subscribe to the same leadership concept and in them both resides a strong desire to impart to a younger generation.

Unlike other “old friends” whom I’ve caught up with over the years, I felt that with DL and I, there was no need to prove to each other how far we’ve come – there was no worldly comparison of one another’s achievements and experiences. I told myself, before the dinner, that if we were to spend the next couple of hours reminiscing old times, the friendship would remain in the nineties. I never expected to feel so comfortable with DL – I’d like to think that there was little or no pretense in our interaction; it was like finding a brother that I’ve always had, but lost contact with through the years. My testimony and spiritual journey was the antithesis of DL’s – a dramatic turnaround juxtaposed against traditional obedience; yet both end up 27 years later, serving the same God with similar fervour.

Instantly, I knew that this meet-up set the tone and manner for all future meet-ups with old friends, at least that is what I’d desire. There was an exchange of ministry, of knowledge, of experiences, of struggles and victories. It was more honest and candid than I had expected it to be. Our 2.5-hour dinner tonight made 17 years feel short. At the end of the day, I took home one thing – that God is indeed good and faithful and would use us for His glory wherever we are and have been. I rejoice with DL’s young marriage and the impending birth of the child in his wife’s belly this October.

I encourage you then, when you meet up with old friends in time to come, not to share about how good you’ve become or the great things you’ve accomplished, but to share with each other what God has done in your lives and how good He is indeed. And watch how God connects the people who love Him. You could never go wrong with that approach. I already look forward to the next time God brings DL and I together.

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