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december: a month to thank God for.

As my ears bleed from a terrible rendition of Nobody But You belted out by the Getai singer and annoying overenthusiastic emcees who try to rouse an apathetic audience, I can’t help but to smile at God’s sense of humour. So what if I’ve gotten everything ready for later – shoes, socks, tag, singlet, watch, shades, bread, banana, isotonic – and I’m ready to sleep at an unheard-of 9pm to wake up 7 hours later to run my second 42km. There was nothing that I could do to prevent a town council dinner from taking place right below my house. I can only chuckle at the unpredictability of life and thank God that He’s in it all.

This December is more intense than the previous years. However, there’s so much to thank God for:

  • 15 intense days of school (with accompanying assignments), from 29 Nov – 13 Dec; I thank God for committed group mates and good lecturers.
  • 4 days of Rhema conference (where I’m overseeing 7 vastly different services), from 12 – 15 Dec; I thank God for a thoroughly creative experience.
  • A sermon to deliver on the weekend of 18-19 Dec; I thank God for many preaching opportunities this year and for my growth in this area.
  • A REAL reunion with my beloved REAL champs on 20 Dec; I thank God for this bunch of youths who will always have a special place in my heart.
  • A good break in Bintan to look forward to on 21-23 Dec; I thank God that I’m celebrating 3 years of God’s grace with my beloved girlfriend, Huiyi.
  • A Christmas celebration at Jadene’s house on 24 Dec; I thank God for a wonderful group of colleagues who have been such blessings in my journey.
  • A maiden baptism experience to anticipate on 25 Dec; I thank God for the privilege to baptise the youths whom He has given me to pastor.
  • 4 days of REAL lock-in camp (where I’ll take on the role of Commandant), from 27-30 Dec; I thank God for sending me youths to disciple and train.
  • 2 days of Leaders’ Retreat (where I’ll share my heartbeat and vision with the R-AGE @ GII Leaders!), from 30-31 Dec; I thank God for new leaders.
  • And to conclude the month, I’ll be performing a song during Watchnight Service on 31 Dec; I thank God for 2010 and I look forward to 2011.
  • And REAL 2011 begins 3 days later on 3 Jan (thank God I’ve already prepared everything!); before I know it, I’ll be marching on to March already.

For now, I have a marathon to run at 5am and a leaders’ meeting to chair on the same evening; I can’t wait to meet some of my favouritest people in this world! I apologise for the lack of updates and infrequent writing; I wish I had more time to think and write too, for a thought ceases to exist until it has been penned down. Do cover me in your prayers, my friends. I’ll leave you with the back of my running singlet; I hope it spurs you on, my fellow runners in this marathon of life – may we all run to win an eternal prize (1 Corinthians 9:24-25)!

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refrain: if you are good enough, you are old enough.

If there was anyone in the world I could ask to mentor me in spotting and developing potential, it would undoubtedly be Sir Alex Ferguson. One day, I will meet him, along with Eric Cantona and John Piper – these are the few people whose hands I’ve yet to shake and whose feet I will sit at to learn from.

I couldn’t help but to rack up my respect for the Gaffer with his latest statement on Rooney. Absolutely classic. I completely resound with the Boss.

… But Ferguson ratcheted up this extraordinary public battle, with a powerful and idiosyncratic late night explanation of why Rooney should have invested faith in his proven ability to spot talent and why the grass might not be as green as the striker really thinks it will be at Manchester City. “Sometimes you look in a field and you see a cow and you think it’s a better cow than the one you’ve got in the field,” Ferguson said. “It never really works out that way. It’s probably the same cow and its not as good as your own cow. Some players like to think there’s a better world somewhere else. It never really works.”

As metaphors go, it was about as memorable as Eric Cantona’s “seagulls follow the trawler” story, though and it was accompanied by Ferguson’s revelation that a lack of belief in his judgment in the transfer market had once persuaded a player – possibly Roy Keane – to leave because he thought Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo were not good enough. “He was not prepared to wait until they were good enough,” Ferguson said.

“But that’s the trouble with potential,” he went on. “People don’t identify potential. They’re very poor at it. I’ve identified it all my life – the potential in young people. I know potential. I know how to develop and have faith in young people, who surprise you when given the opportunity and that’s what this club is all about. When you see Manchester United at the moment with all these young players, 14 under 22, you can’t see Manchester United three years ahead.”

(Source: The Independent)

WOW! What a statement of intent! I could totally see myself saying the same thing as Sir Alex! I always believe that we must be infinitely patient with (young) people, because one day, they will surprise you with their goodness. I’m sticking to my guns with this philosophy in my ministry. You can even look at the Bible to see traces of older men believing in much young men to mentor and take over their ministry.

I’ve achieved what I’ve intentionally set out to do – to lower the average age of all my first tier leaders. No, it’s not meant to declare anarchy or rebellion but to simply demonstrate my absolute belief in young people – by putting them on the frontline of leadership. I’m already thinking about the members of my first tier leadership team in 2012! The first thing I told these my current leaders is to find a successor. I believe it’s all well and good if one of my leaders want to remain in young ministry and serve until they’re old like me – in fact, I’d rejoice and praise God for their commitment and passion to serve the youths alongside me! But it should and must never come at the expense of preventing another young person from rising up in ministry. As long as I’m in charge, I will never allow that to happen. Leadership must always renew itself (although I must state my caveat that the higher the position, the harder the succession, and the lengthier the process).

Never, EVER, tell a young person he is a failure and will never make it. Remember one thing – he or she is still young! They have the licence and the privilege (just as you had when you were young!) to make mistakes and more importantly, to learn from it. Our hearts with wrench each time we see a young person falter, but it’s all about the recovery process – never forget that! I remind myself time and again that I’m never looking at the final product. Youth ministry is known to be transient and quite rightly so – the young person you see before your eyes today is far from being the polished individual you will see years later. I don’t know about you, but I’m committed to play my role in cleaning and sharpening this young person.

If I may reiterate Ferguson’s words, there are two lessons to learn and two principles to cherish if you’re in youth ministry:

  1. Be patient to wait until they come good, for they surely will, with the right guidance from you.
  2. If you can’t see their potential – that’s your problem – it doesn’t mean they do not have potential!

I’ve stated it on this blog before and I’ll happily post this paradigm-shifting quote again from the legendary Sir Matt Busby:

If you are good enough, you are old enough.

The funny thing is, the reverse may not be true! Again, I’m spilling my heart out on this matter because I’m so passionate about believing in young people. You’ll do yourself and the young people you are working with a world of injustice if you merely look at ability and age instead of potential and possibilities. You can limit yourself. But never, EVER, limit a young person. OH YEAH, THE SPRINGTIME OF YOUTH!

P/S: I’ve really missed the catharsis of writing daily!

IDMC 2010: an intermission.

Probably the most annoying GIF in the world. (Source: Very Demotivational)

I’m halfway through my second IDMC and I’ve learned many new lessons as well as have been reminded of some old lessons. IDMC will always be a special conference for me because it was on the second night (that’s tonight!) that I made my decision to step into full-time ministry. What’s inspired me most so far though, isn’t what EC has been teaching but what he’s been living. Through EC’s example, I’m convinced that one of the top priorities of a preacher is to spend an abundance of time dwelling and delighting in the Word of God. I echo his sentiments in my heart for I think that’ll be one of the best things a pastor could do for his congregation. It’s time for me to dig even deeper into the Holy Bible!

Once my thoughts are organised in the right places, I’d be better placed to write something worth reading. For now, I’m excited that a good number of youth leaders in Grace AG has signed up for IDMC 2011 – the numbers stand at 19 at last count but I’m expecting the final number to swell to 25 when I register everyone tomorrow morning. On a side note, I’ve been impressed by the Covenanters’ commitment to their own conference – it’s obvious that they own it and are tremendously proud of IDMC; you could see this pride hung on the faces of all the volunteers – well, if I was one of them, I’d be proud too. It’s been a thoroughly pleasing experience for me as a delegate to be treated to their genuine hospitality. Needless to say, this is something that I’d want R-AGE youths to pick up – be it during Rhema Conferences, events, services or cells. Covenanters make me want to return to their church because of how welcoming they are – can our guests say the same thing about us? I have confidence that we will attain an excellent standard of hosting with the right training.

In the meantime, I hope you haven’t spent too much time looking at this GIF. It’s been rolling ever since I started composing this post and it still hasn’t ended. Epic GIF, no less. I couldn’t help but to post it. For now, I look forward to the third installment of IDMC 2010.

the four principles of contentment.

There are many times I wished I had bigger eyes or double eyelids, or that I was slightly taller, or that I was born with a silver (actually, I’d settle for a bronze) spoon in my mouth. I don’t know about you but sometimes I wished I had it a little better or had just a little more. In that respect, I reckon that “more” and “better” are detrimental words if you desire contentment.

In the last few months, I’ve dealt with youths who thought they weren’t good-looking, smart or capable enough; basically they felt inadequate about who they were, what God has given to them, and the roles they were to play in life – I don’t blame them, in fact, I do empathise with them.

From experience, I know that how they felt about themselves may just be a passing phase of their turbulent teenage-hood, but I also know from experience that some youths will really get caught in this vicious cycle of self-condemnation and an endless mire of comparison with the people around them. What a subtle trap this is!

I believe that, in order for you to avoid and escape this poisonous trap, you need to straighten the way you think. The following advice is what I’ve always offered to those whom I’ve had the privilege of counselling; may I offer you the four stop-starts of contentment:

  1. First and foremost, stop comparing yourself with others.
  2. Then, stop complaining about your situation.
  3. (Once you can change the way you think about your surroundings and circumstances,) start counting your blessings.
  4. Finally, start celebrating the successes of other people.

I won’t elaborate on the above because I want to keep it brief tonight. Perhaps another day I will expand on these four points. Incidentally, as I searched for scripture to support the above-mentioned points, I chanced upon something by CS that reverberated with what I’ve just written:

  1. Don’t focus on the situation, or you’ll become angry.
  2. Don’t focus on yourself, or you’ll become filled with self-pity.
  3. Don’t focus on someone to blame, or you’ll begin complaining.
  4. Don’t focus on the present, or you’ll miss the point of what God wishes to achieve in your life.

You know, each time I lament to God about my small, single-eyelid eyes, I could almost feel the Holy Smack on the back of my head and hear a deep, bellowing voice that says, “Be quiet, I gave you perfect eyesight”. The most appropriate reaction to that? -.-

life lessons learnt from a game of musical chairs.

There’s nothing more rewarding than to see people know Christ. Since I’ve entered full-time ministry, my opportunities to interact with non-Christians have been greatly diminished. I’ve always seen myself as an evangelist because of how I came to know Christ and what He has done in my life, so I am thankful for the opportunities presented to me in iJourney – where I’m able to get to know youths who do not yet know Him, and therein lies the challenge to introduce Him to them.

KK conducted an activity for the students in today’s session and he asked if I had wanted to share anything at the end of his debrief. I declined initially, but when the Holy Spirit started to deposit lessons into my heart, I took it up; I’m always quite impressed by how quick the Spirit can impress lessons into me.

These are my observations from a modified version of musical chairs, where the participants’ difficulty of movement was introduced by tying a person’s arm to his or her leg with a short string to simulate aging:

In life, there are three facts; we will all:

  1. Get old – the most certain thing about life is death.
  2. Face new challenges – for that comes with age and changing environments.
  3. Experience suffering – in various intensities and variety.

And so there are three things we can do:

  1. Do not complain – for it doesn’t change our situation, solve our problem or make us feel any better about what we are going through.
  2. Help one another – assistance is always appreciated and it increases efficiency and reduces frustration. A word of encouragement goes a long way, even if it’s just a word. Learn to look out for each other.
  3. Walk together – competition is good, but it could be venomous. Everyone gets there safely when we walk at an agreed pace, without anyone lagging behind, speeding up or overtaking; don’t leave anyone behind.

I think that when students eventually leave the world of academia and enter what’s commonly known as the “real” world (as if life as students is an illusion) they will be thrown challenges from all directions simply because of how unnecessarily cruel meeting the world’s expectations can get. So instead of fight each other, why don’t we get on the same side, join hands and do battle together? I’m idealistic, but I’m not wrong.

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!

how do you engage young people?

The iJourney team came together for a final coordination meeting on Sunday evening. Most of them were worried about whether they were able to connect with teenagers so much younger than they were. So I found the opportunity to share with them some really simple tips and insights on what I think would help them to engage young people.

However, I didn’t share this prelude with them so I’ll share it here instead. I believe that there are several important rules you must observe before you attempt to engage youths. Firstly, you need to be patient and to manage your expectations. They must be convinced that you are willing to have fun with them and that you are not here to judge them. I remember RY telling me how I have to first play with them, before they will pray with me. Before they listen to you, they must first be convinced of your sincerity.

Next, you must be willing to be genuinely interested to speak their language (or their lingo), or at least make an effort to understand what they are interested in. Failure to do so usually results in a talk-down instead of the desired talk-to. I also believe that young people whom you are meeting for the first time are usually more afraid to speak to you than you are of them; the one who makes the first move to converse usually succeeds. (On that note, I think RY has an uncanny ability to connect with youths.)

With these basic ground rules established, there are just three steps to remember in the progression of a conversation with a young person.

  1. Firstly, learn to exchange information“How do you find this?”
  2. Next, learn to exchange opinions“What do you think about this?”
  3. Lastly, learn to exchange emotions“How do you feel about this?”

Why don’t you try it and tell me if it works? The six iJourney facilitators and I will be testing this method as you read this post. Remember to keep us in prayer – may we find connect with the students and plant seeds into their lives!

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