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Lent 06: this is why I love my job.

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.

2013开工餐

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take, take, take it all in now.

Last weekend, I preached the second installment of the sermon series (Spiritual Disciplines: Training In Godliness) that will take my youth ministry until the end of the year. As always, I pray that will bless you and inspire you to SPEND TIME WITH GOD EVERYDAY. That’s my sole objective. You can download the audio recording here.

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replacing vs raising: i’d pick the latter anytime.

Let me declare this from the onset: I’m not in the business of replacing great leaders of the past, but in the business of raising good leaders in the present, so they can become greater leaders in the future. After all, I believe that youth ministry is about seed-planting, not fruit-plucking.

R-AGE is going through a season of transition and that means over the next half a year, we will see key leaders move on to another season of their lives. I think this is good for them, and honestly, I also think it is good for the ministry. People come and go, but the Lord’s work continues to be done; when the Lord tells me it’s time for me to go, I will leave, knowing that God has been, is, and will always be in control of my beloved youth ministry.

I share the same sentiments as Sir Alex Ferguson – you can never replace (great footballers like) Scholes, Keane, Giggs or Beckham like-for-like, but you can raise other players to take over their responsibilities. But you must also recognise that their roles in the team on and off the field will never again be duplicated; everyone brings something different to the team.

Even though I’m not in the football industry, I see many similarities in the succession-planning principles between a trophy-winning football team (like Manchester United) and a thriving youth ministry (like R-AGE).

I stand true to my principle of leading young people to lead young people. Look at the recently concluded R-AGE Olympics – it was led completely by a team of youth leaders who were leading a team of youths. A total of 145 people turned up and 38 of them were newcomers! What a mammoth effort by Bradley, Tiffany and their team, for a groundbreaking event such as this!

When I joined the pastorate in 2009, I told myself not to meddle in events planning – that’s not what I joined full-time ministry to do. Yes, I will still get involved, but never on the same level as the committee members. I believe in young people wholeheartedly and that includes taking risks with them, to simply let them lead (while I walk alongside them).

I’ve always told my young adult leaders that they can stay in youth ministry for as long as the Lord leads them to (or for as long as they want), but they should never remain at the expense of another youth leader rising up. This sounds a little cruel and makes me out to be a little unsentimental, but my heart beats for the long-term future and sustainability of the ministry, not to mention a certain kind of cultures I want to imbue into the youths.

I’ve repeatedly told many of my youths leaders that as their youth pastor and ministry leader, I don’t really care for their contributions towards this ministry. No, I care more about their growth. If they spend two years with me in shepherding position and yet have not grown, I have failed as their youth pastor in shepherding them.

For the record, I’m not here to grow the ministry. No, I am here to grow the ministers. If the ministers grow, the ministry will naturally grow. Conversely, the reverse can’t be said. There is no ministry without ministers. You may win or lose if you invest in a project or programme, but if you invest in people, you always win.

The youth ministry leaders of old (are different from the leaders today and) have added to the ministry in their unique ways. From the bottom of my heart, I thank the Lord for them and what they have done. But the truth is, we can never do what the yesteryear leaders have done. No, I don’t plan to match their achievements.

I plan to surpass it.

But only if God wills it and gives me the grace for it. My mentor often tells me: Obedience is the highest expression of stewardship.

By God’s grace, I want to lead and pastor a youth ministry that will be remembered for all eternity, and not as one that tried to live up to their inherited expectations. And if you think you belong to yesterday’s group of youth leaders, don’t rest on your laurels and start fading out of the ministry – may God forbid that! Instead, do whatever it takes to help this generation of leaders surpass you and all that you’ve ever accomplished. I pray that you will find great joy in doing behind-the-scenes work as you mature in your faith and ministry.

So come on, dear friends… Regardless of your age or season of life, let our good God blow your mind on the minister He alone can transform you into. And if you’re working with young people, be patient with them… One day they will surprise you with how good they can be.

We can’t replace good leaders, but we can raise better ones.

Redeemed youths redeem youths.

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.

ten quick and random thoughts after Rhema opening night.

1. I really enjoy working with young people, regardless of whether they are experienced or emerging ones.

2. R-AGE really has an abundance of talented and committed youths and I am grateful to God for all of them.

3. It is my prayer that you will thrive in faith, hope and love. We are ready for You… Are you ready for Him…?

4. There’s nothing we can do to manufacture God’s presence but we can do everything to do our best for Him.

5. I thank God for the young adults who serve in R-AGE for they play an integral role and contribute significantly.

6. We have a delightful batch of 13-year-olds at both GI and GII; what a joy to see them serve God as ushers or in the choir.

7. If given a choice, I’d rather not do productions because it’s tiring, but it’s immensely gratifying to see a vision come to fruition.

8. From recording the above video from the gallery, God reminded me of my calling and duty towards this youth ministry.

9. This is a fantastic opportunity for me to put more names to faces and to know these precious youths a little better.

10. I really, really, really, love young people and I consider it an honour and privilege to be able to pastor this youth group.

12 things we hate about youth ministry.

I don’t normally cut and paste wholesale but this insightful article is a fantastic read. My dear young people, do remember to find pockets of time to get some rest and not burn yourself out with ministry demands. Let’s be excellent but let’s also think long-term! And above all else, remember to pray and enjoy the ride! I have so much on my plate but I am learning to take it a task and a day at a time, knowing that tomorrow has its own battles!

The full article is found here.

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12 things we hate about youth ministry

by Doug Fields & Matt McGill

Serving in youth ministry is great, but sometimes we allow our priorities to get mixed up and give it more than we should. When the needs of the ministry consume and devour our lives, and it results in no margin, no accountability, and no joy…it’s time to change things. Here are some of the warning signs, 12 things we hate about youth ministry:

  1. Fatigue can result in poor leadership decisions. This season, get some rest!
  2. The nagging feeling that we may have given up too early on that one high maintenance kid.
  3. Overload leads to taking short cuts and doing what’s easy rather than doing what is best (or right).
  4. Sometimes we’re tempted to skim in our spiritual lives since people really don’t know if we skip our personal devotions.
  5. We can take criticism personally and use it as a club to beat our self up.
  6. We believe the lie that our ministry is the most important one in the church. We become territorial and build high walls around youth ministry within the church.
  7. Insecurities and fears feed one another until they’re consuming. While cocooned, we rest on our laurels, refuse to take risks, and become satisfied with the way things are.
  8. Our drive to be faithful and grow the ministry can move us from honest persuasion to manipulation.
  9. We feel like unsung heroes, wallow in self pity, and then feel guilty for having a need to be affirmed.
  10. We get confused or indignant when other leaders seem to love the ministry as much as we do.
  11. We let success feed the self-deception that says, “I did this on my own power…or…I can do this on my own power.”
  12. The pressure to perform and please others distracts us from trusting God.

Christmas is a great time to step back and remember the important things in life: God’s love for us is unchanging, uncompromising, and unconditional. He loves our students more than we do and is working within to draw us closer.

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finally, the winner is…!

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.

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