These are some helpful thoughts for young leaders. I wish I learned some of these lessons earlier. Some of these lessons I am still learning.
Integrity is your greatest asset. You cannot magically create ministry experience that will convince older generations that you can be savvy at deacons’ meetings and sensitive at a deathbed. But as a young person in ministry, you do have a certain unspoiled sense about you. You may come across as naive at times, true, but you likely also possess a certain energy and idealism that has a deep appeal to Christians of all generations. At the very least, older, “wiser” folks will be reluctant to disappoint you; at best, they will see in you a chance to make a fresh start and move beyond previous conflicts or difficulties.
Receive other generations with joy. Related to this is your ability to gratefully receive the gifts other generations offer you. A mature faith realizes that every stage of life has strengths and weaknesses because we are shaped by our life experiences. As a young father, I have a certain slant on the world that I did not before I had kids, and I will have a still different slant when I am the father of teenagers and then an empty-nester … I also sometimes chafed under the older generation, when I felt they were treating me like a kid. I had to learn that these gifts were offered with the kindest of intentions; once I could see that, I could be genuinely grateful for their gifts offered in humble kindness. In turn, they were willing to be grateful to me for my gifts. Authentic gratitude for another generation’s contribution helps them to be grateful for the gifts of your youth, rather than threatened by them.
Be aware of—and honest about—your weaknesses. In many small churches, there is already a mutual suspicion between clergy and laity. Laypeople sometimes think that clergy have designs on changing the church in an unwelcome way, and pastors are often angry that laity seem to lack their vision. Self-righteousness inflames this delicate situation when the congregation picks up on the pastor’s frustration and feels predictably frustrated with the pastor. Self-righteousness is a common coping mechanism for young pastors, and it is reinforced by many of our educational institutions and denominational structures. True, nothing feels quite so good as venting about your benighted church when you gather with colleagues for a meeting, but it is ultimately that self-righteousness which inclines people to ignore you and erodes your authority.
A lot more good thoughts in the full article.
One sleepless night wandering the internet, I came across one of the most amazing worship videos. It was one of the latest live recordings from Hillsong capturing a massive stadium filled with thousands of people going absolutely all-out in worshiping God. It must have been utterly overwhelming to witness. Part of me longed for a taste, to just experience such a breathtaking moment in God’s presence. While watching the video I thought – “This must be a glimpse of what heaven is really like.”
Just afterwards I came across another video of the same song (I’ve since lost track of the exact video). But this time it was just a small group of people gathered in a home. With a single guitar and a few voices, they quietly but genuinely lifted their hearts and voices. It took me to a place where I’ve been hundreds of times – sitting on living room floors, in small groups of good friends or even by myself, just singing out to God and resting in his presence. While watching the video I thought – “This must be a glimpse of what heaven is really like.”
These two videos reminded me of something I’ve learned over and over – that real worship is not about the crowds. It’s not about the amazing bands. It’s not even about the singing. It’s about loving God and pouring our hearts out in worship to him whether we’re in a crowd or all alone. It doesn’t matter where we are or who we are with because worship is all about Him. He is always there. His presence is always with us. And he’s always worthy of our worship.
Dave Gibbons, the lead pastor at Newsong church in Irvine, CA, is someone I admire because he is doing it right. Not because he has a huge mega-church. Not because he is famous or on magazine covers. Not because he is edgy or radical. But because he is building a church that serves Jesus.
"In February, he spoke at Rick Warren’s Radicalis Conference for church leaders. Addressing some 2,000 pastors and church leaders, he posed the question, "What would happen if all the churches were to forgo their individual names and just simply called themselves ‘the church’?" Gibbons explains, "We should be willing to be able to give up our brand. I look pastors in the eye and say, ‘If it’s really not about the church, that means you don’t have to put your name on it.’ I think I’m most successful when people can walk into Newsong and don’t even know who I am. I get greater joy when I see someone else up in front. If you ask a typical Orange County congregation member, ‘What’s your role in the church?’ They’ll say, ‘Oh, I’m here to support the pastor.’ No, it’s actually supposed to be the other way around."
The full article is worth reading.
I’ve been following MC Jin for years now, and with the recent changes in his life, I though I would try to contact him. To my surprise, he got my email was gracious enough to write back.
As you may know, MC Jin rose to fame by winning on BET’s 106 & Park’s "Freestyle Friday" rap battle competition. He was later picked up by Ruff Ryders, becoming the first Chinese American to make be signed on a major record label. His life changed drastically when he became a Christian and was baptized in 2008. Since then, the change has been obvious in his music and life.
"I know what ya’ll are sayin’ Jin done lost his mind
but thru out all this prayin’ it never crossed my mind
here’s what I advise instead of tryin’ to figure me out
open your eyes it’s time to stop livin’ in doubt
I’m on a mission to exceed the expectations
and I won’t stop ’til I reach my destination
we livin’ in times where it’s hard to survive
but not for a second do I doubt that God will provide
whatever happens I trust that it’s all in His plans
cause my destiny lays in the palm of His hands"
- "Whatever it Takes" from Sincerely Yours EP
I’m so encouraged and amazed to see what God has done in Jin’s life and wish him continued blessings and success in his ministry and music. So without further ado, here is my interview with Jin.
Greetings Pastor Tim,
Good to hear from you. I pray all is well..
Thank you for reaching out and sending over such kind words of encouragement. It is truly appreciated. I am continuously humbled and inspired by the outpour of love from the community.
In regards to the questions.. here you go..
1. What was it like being a Chinese American in the rap industry? How did you react to people who hated on your for being different?
Initially when I first started embracing Hiphop culture at a young age, I did encounter a bit of resistance. People were just not accustomed to seeing an Asian be so involved with Hiphop. For example, when I would attend rap competitions, many times before I’d even perform or get on stage, I’d have to deal with preconceived notions that I was horrible or hear racially driven remarks. Quite honestly, I didn’t pay it no mind at the time. I only knew how much I loved participating in the culture and what I wanted to contribute to it.
2. How did God speak to bring you back to Him? What has been the biggest change in your life since then?
For me, it’s definitely been an ongoing walk with the Lord. In the recent years, I’ve just come to realize how patient, loving and gracious God’s been with me. More than that, I’ve finally come into an actual intimate relationship with the Lord. In doing so, the Holy Spirit is moving in me like never before as well.
3. How is your identity as an ABC affected by your being a follower of Jesus? Has following God made any difference in how you see yourself as a Chinese American?
I think as I come closer into God’s presence, I’m learning more about myself than ever. Not just in particular to my ethnicity but my overall identity as a precious son of the Lord’s.
4. You mentioned that you, like a lot of Chinese Americans, had a strained relationship with your parents because of your interests and career. How has becoming a Christian changed your relationship with them?
My relationship with my parents is like never before. The love, appreciation and admiration for each other is stronger than ever. God is doing some major work in my family structure overall.
5. It seems like Jaeson Ma had a big impact on your life. What can young people do to help others who are struggling in their faith?
We definitely need to readjust in terms of the values that are being instilled into the minds of the youth. In regards to helping others, sometimes it can be as simple as just listening.
6. What advice to you have to give to young people who are pursing education, accomplishment, success in this world?
First off, I wouldn’t even deem myself qualified as giving advice to anyone. I would encourage the youth of this generation to be wise and bold in their decisions. The best way to learn is by experience.
Consciously or subconsciously, pastors and other ministry leaders often fall into the trap of trying to define ourselves through accomplishments. Even if we don’t express it outwardly, our hearts can easily begin to focus on unimportant measures such as numbers, attention, or even financial abundance.
These thoughts by Pastor Steven Furtick reminded me of a more important measure of success – how we can be a blessing to others.
Success is the god of our time.
It’s what almost everyone aims for. Plans for. Goes to school for.
To be a success.
In one sense this is natural and even good. No one should want to live a mediocre life. God-driven ambition is a good thing. But in another sense trying to be successful is a fool’s errand…
I’ve experienced this firsthand. Early in my ministry I would try to be the most successful preacher at conferences. Have the best blog. Pastor the most successful church. I tried hard, and I’m sure I did some good, but it was never enough for me personally. And no matter how successful I was or my church was, I could always point to another person or church that was more successful.
But then I heard my friend, Matthew Barnett of the LA Dream Center say something that his father once told him that changed everything:
Stop trying to be a success and start trying to be a blessing.
My whole paradigm shifted. Now when I went to a conference, I was asking myself what the people there needed to hear. Not what would get me invited to more conferences. What blog posts would bless people the most? Not simply boost my numbers. How could I bless the most people in my city? Not just have the most people in my church.
You could spend a lifetime trying to achieve success that will always be just beyond you. Or you could spend it trying to bless everyone around you.
This past Sunday I preached on the God’s promise to Abraham. I was reminded that from the beginning, it was God’s intention that his people would be a blessing to others. Any blessings or successes that we receive are always meant to be shared and given away rather than held for our own glory and pleasure. Instead, we are blessed to be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.
- Genesis 12:3
I came across this great leadership insight from a Bill Simmon’s reflections on a personal interview with basketball coach Phil Jackson who has won 11 NBA championship titles and coached greats such as Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.
Steve Kerr told me once that what made Jackson special – and Popovich too – was that he cared about his twelfth guy as much as his best guy. He spent time with his players, bought them gifts, thought about what made them tick. He connected with them, sold them on the concept of a team, stuck up for them when they needed him. His actual coaching — calling plays, working refs, figuring out lineups and everything else that we see — was a smaller piece of a much bigger picture. His players competed for him for many reasons, but mainly because they truly believed Jackson cared about them. Which he definitely did.
It is surprising to hear that in the hyper-competitive, ego driven, bottom line driven environment of pro sports the most important part of Jackson’s coaching was the off-court relationships he had with the players. Building a great team begins with a leader that puts in that extra effort to genuinely understand and care about each member of his team from the stars down to the 12th man. This produces leadership that is not just results driven, but motivated by true servanthood and love.
A few months ago, I was invited to a special pastor’s screening of the new faith based film, Soul Surfer, based on the life of Bethany Hamilton, a Christian teenager surfing champ whose life was dramatically changed by a shark attack. Like many Christian movies today, it arrived with heavy marketing to churches and leaders. There are curriculum packs and outreach tools, even a special resource website.
This is a well made film. It has top notch actors and production quality. It accurately portrays a true story of a young girl with a strong faith. Also, the movie will make you want to pick up a surfboard (now on my to do list). Is it a positive, uplifting, inspiring film? Absolutely. Will it leave you feeling good and even a little misty eyed? Definitely.
But is this a film that will help youth grow in their faith? Does it communicate a clear message about God? Like with any major release film, there was a lot of wrangling between the family and the filmmakers about how much Christian content to include in the film.
I understand that all faith based films must navigate a fine balance in their handling of religion. Being too overt can offend people and alienate audiences. Being too bland or compromising can upset Christian viewers.
But movies and media are powerful tools for shaping how we view God and faith. While there were many overtly Christian elements (a worship scene, a youth pastor preaching, quoting Bible verses, praying throughout the film), in the end, I felt that the film exacerbated a culturally diminished view of God’s nature that leads us to a more self-centered view of faith.
A few years ago Christian Smith and Melinda Denton did a study of the religious beliefs of American teenagers for their book “Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers” (2005). Through a series of interviews with teens, they found that there was a common thread in the view of American youth’s view of God, that they called moralistic therapeutic deism described through the following principles:
- A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
- God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
- The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
- God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
- Good people go to heaven when they die.
This is the safe, culturally palatable God that wants you to be a caring person and not be mean to others. It’s the God makes you feel good when you are sad. He’s the God that helps you win Grammy awards, hit home runs and win surfing championships, but doesn’t ask that much from you. He’s the god that helps you through your problems and helps you find the silver lining in every situation.
"In short, God is something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist: he is always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, professionally helps his people to feel better about themselves, and does not become too personally involved in the process."
While the story had a great opportunity to show God’s intention to shaping our lives through both good times and trials, throughout the film I found that God came across as a distant, unapproachable figure who is there, but never is never really involved. The characters pray, but never experience God in a personal way. In response to tragedy, they never point to God’s providence or control. At one key point in the story (as you can see in the trailer) the youth pastor figure played by Carrie Underwood says “I don’t know why things happen, but I know everything will come together.What if Bethany had not recovered, or never have been able to surf again? What does that say about God when everything doesn’t work out?
The lasting message of the film was to just hang in there, trust in your inner strength and things will work out in the end. It tells us that tragedies are there to make us better, happier people – not to trust God more. It says that as our lives are most fulfilled when we find happiness and love, instead of finding joy in carrying out God’s purpose even through hardship and trials.
From what I’ve read from the real Bethany Hamilton, I think she would have preferred God to be the star of the movie rather than her. Nevertheless, I am glad to see her story being told. Hopefully it will lead others to dig deeper into her story and hear her testimony in full. And perhaps even experience the God who is good in every situation and worthy of our worship no matter the outcome.
More resources about Bethany Hamilton:
First, we really need vacations, just as we really need Sabbath rest each week. There’s a rhythm to life. The heart beats, then it rests. It beats, then rests. We wake each morning, then we sleep every night. We wake, then we sleep. We spend energy, then we take in food to replenish what we spent. Vacation is like that. We’ve got to have periods of rest and joy and beauty in our year.
So here is what we’ve learned about vacations:
First, ask God! Don’t just assume you know what is best this summer. Ask God what he’d have you do, and when, and with whom. Too many folks squander their vacation because they don’t ask God what he has for them. We went to Kauai because we prayed about it last winter, several times. “Where should we go, Lord? For how long?”
Visits are not vacations. Most folks spend their vacation time visiting relatives. That rarely is restful and restoring. Visits are not vacations. Don’t confuse the two.
Pray over your vacation beforehand! You know there is a thief. You know he hates joy. The mistake we often make is somehow thinking that vacation time is exempt from the Battle. It’s not. I spent weeks ahead of time praying over our Kauai trip – praying for safety. For the weather. For our travel. For our love as a family to be full.
Don’t spend your vacation running. Too many times the temptation is to fill the time with busy-ness, running here and there, touring, trying to “fit it all in.” Most folks get home and need a vacation from their vacation. Don’t squander it running around. We spent most our time within a few miles of the place we stayed. Resting. Being renewed.
Don’t drop your guard. The temptation when we get to wherever it is we were going for vacation is to drop our usual prayer life, drop our armor, and think “this is time out.” It’s not. To protect the time, I got up early every morning and prayed hard over the day. Don’t be lulled into a false security.
As life gets more busy and complicated, I’ve found it harder to take time to even think about planning for vacation. But that reminds me all the more how much we all really need that time away. Vacations don’t have to be times of just escaping from the world or being entertained, but can be really meaningful times to rest, be renewed and to grow.
For the last 7 years or so, I have had the opportunity to partner with Chinese Overseas Christian Mission (COCM) to serve with the second generation British-born Chinese. This February, I was invited to speak at PHAT Leadership Training Camp, a retreat for leaders in Milton Keynes, UK. The retreat was about 70 youth from 10+ different churches around the UK (London, Bristol, Manchester, Birmingham, etc.) This was my third time with this particular group, so it was good to see a lot of old friends and see how they had grown. This camp was focused on developing leaders, particularly those serving in youth and young adult ministries at their church.
I spoke three times on the topic of leadership, spiritual mentoring and practical ministry skills. (slides: workshop 1, workshop 2.) The other main speaker was Pastor Bert Han, who is also from the US, but moved from LA to the UK over 15 years ago to pastor at a local church, Birmingham Chinese Evangelical Church. He spoke about importance of character for a leader. Bert (who is a diehard Lakers fan) had a great story about Kobe Bryant’s rough start in the NBA. (paraphrased).
Kobe came into the league as a young, talented star who was ready to win. But despite his individual talent, his team floundered. No matter how hard he tried to push and motivate his teammates, they still struggled. Finally, there was a point where his coach said – “Kobe, you want to lead, but no one wants to follow you.” He had not earned their respect as a leader. Leaders must demonstrate character worthy of respect before others will follow them, no matter how talented or successful they might be.