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  • Behind the Scenes
  • Developing a Pastoral Heart as a Worship Leader

    By Trisha Khoo

    As you read the title of this blog post, you may wonder why a worship leader would need a pastoral heart. Wouldn’t that be the pre-requisite for someone with the title of “Pastor” rather than a worship leader? I used to shudder whenever I heard the term “pastor” used in the context of worship leading, or worse, if someone used it on me. The pressure was almost crippling. But as I further understood the role of a worship leader and what it meant for the congregation I led each Sunday, I was gradually convicted that to steward my call well, I needed to develop a pastoral heart.

    The English word ‘pastor’ comes from the Latin word pastor, which means ‘shepherd’. And the primary role of a shepherd is to care for, lead, guide and protect his sheep and anyone who fulfils these functions serves as a shepherd. As worship leaders, we may not occupy the office of a pastor, but we have the most awesome task of putting scripture, prayer and faith-filled declarations on the lips of our congregation members weekly. The very songs we lead in corporate worship can be used by God to encourage, convict, align and draw people to Himself. This is especially powerful when it is coupled with a unified message brought from the pulpit. So what is necessary for developing a pastoral heart? Let me give you 3 points to ponder over.

    First, we need to realise that Jesus is the ultimate Shepherd. In John 10, He declares Himself as the true and good shepherd and exemplifies what a shepherd is and does. Psalm 95:7 says “For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand.” When we lead in corporate worship, we serve the function of under-shepherds to the True Shepherd. We operate under His authority. As He has called us to lead, He will empower us as we step out in faith to shepherd His sheep. Now, that’s liberating!

    Second, understand that our task is to lead our congregation to Jesus, not to ourselves. It is important for us to intimately know and be known by our Shepherd. Put simply, if our hearts are aligned to Jesus, we will lead and shepherd from a place of revelation; and our congregations will follow us because we lead them to the very One we follow ourselves. And that’s powerful!

    Finally, we care for our sheep and learn to put their needs above our own. Here’s where practical issues like song choice and style preferences need to be considered. For example, the latest Bethel song would sound amazing and the band will do a superb job with it. But if it’s going to distract, or worse… hinder others from encountering Jesus in the time of corporate worship, we miss our mark. Or if we choose songs that have questionable theology, we also do our congregation a disservice. We need to know the people we lead, care for them and be responsible in our roles as worship leaders.

    So be encouraged. As you invest in developing a pastoral heart, you will serve your congregations well, and the True Shepherd will be glorified!

  • Blog
  • My 2.5 Star Review: Dealing with Criticism

    When I launched my album ‘The Kingdom’ back in 2014, it was a joyous night of celebrating the accomplishment of the songs that the Lord had given me in that season. I was very proud of the work because I was deeply satisfied with the revelations and the messages these songs carried, which I knew would have a significant impact on people’s lives. It was also a dream to have recorded it with Ed Cash’s studio in Nashville, Tennessee, which had always been a lifelong dream of mine!

    I remember the next day being pleasantly surprised that there had been a critic at my launch and they had written a public article reviewing my music. Curious of course, I logged in straight away to read it. Interestingly though, the article was not quite a positive one that I would have ‘shared’ enthusiastically over my social media. In fact, the album was given a 2.5/5 review for its work.  

    I remember sitting there, having a brief moment staring at the computer screen. I knew I could allow my heart to go either of two ways: 1) I would let a number dictate or destroy the works that I knew to be powerful, or 2) listen to God’s voice, and be confident in the value of His work done through me. I chose the latter.

    I know for some people receiving difficult criticism, especially in a public setting can cause one to spiral into condemnation and question their self-worth. First, your work is separate from your identity as a child of God, so don’t foolishly let a ‘performance’ dictate your value. Secondly, if your art has a greater purpose than just to ‘impress’, then that in itself is invaluable.

    For me personally, I was and still am very proud of the work of art the Lord had given me. Not just because of the production and the effort put into the art of songwriting, which I personally thought was done phenomenally as a team, but also because of the fact that I’ve had very REAL testimonies of miracles that have been released because of these songs! One woman received a miracle baby (his name is Lucas) after declaring in faith the lyrics of ‘Hand in His’. This song also gave couples, who were suffering in marriage, the courage to love again with the strength of Christ. Do these songs have value? Absolutely.

    As artists and creatives, especially if you know you are a son or daughter of God; having purpose in your art beyond simply ‘entertaining’ or ‘impressing’ others is vital. Art can be used to heal, uplift, and invite Heaven’s government – it is a conduit to express the very heartbeat of God. Your primary role is not to win the praises of man, but it is to be faithful to the assignment entrusted to you by the Father.

    I pray that the Lord will release His grace upon you to create without fear but to create instead from the overflow of a steadfast confidence that He loves you and will partner with you to release His goodness across the earth.  

    You can find the link to listen to my album ‘The Kingdom’ here!

  • Behind the Scenes
  • Collaboration: The Model of Kingdom Creativity

    By Shawn ‘Walrus’ Wong

    God loves collaboration. Right from the beginning of time in Creation, we see the Trinity collaborating in perfect unity to form life.

    The Father who spoke, the Word of God (a.k.a. Jesus) was released. By the authority inherent in the Son, the Spirit of God, who had been hovering over the waters since verse 2, empowered the atoms and molecules into motion. The earth, hitherto formless and void, scrambled to align itself to the command that was spoken, like paint adhering to the motion of the Painter’s brush on canvas.

    As wonderful as the outcome of Creation was, let us pay attention to how it came about. Notice that each person of the Trinity had an integral part to play in the eventual result. It was a combination of the Father’s command, the Son’s authority, and the Spirit’s power. An example of perfect teamwork – 3 distinct persons acting with aligned values, demonstrating the spirit of unity like no other. That, we believe, is a model for what creativity was meant to be for us – collaborative.

    In January, AG held our first-ever Songwriting Retreat, where songwriters from different churches and denominations gathered to craft songs for our next live worship album, which will be recorded in July. We were so humbled by how the Lord blessed us with original, powerful worship songs that we believe will impact the nations.

    (Above: AG Songwriting students working together on a song.)

    One of those songs started out with a lyrical idea that I had about God speaking light into darkness. As a group, we came up with a melody for those lyrics, added more sections, and worked tirelessly to refine it into the best version it could be. After two days, we had finally completed the song!

    What struck me about the whole process was that by the end, 7-8 songwriters had contributed to it. The people who helped finish the song were totally different from the ones who started on it. There was no way I could have written the song on my own, without the group’s collective input.

    We were never meant to operate in a silo. The Bible is replete with stories of people coming together for the success of a specific purpose or project.

    When the Lord saw the Tower of Babel being built, He said, “Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them.” (Gen 11:6) Remember, God was saying this about a project that He did not even support! What more, when we begin to listen to His heart and come together in unity to create pieces of art that are Spirit-breathed?

    Let us decide today to throw out the spirit of competition, and to put on a spirit of humility that says, “Yes, though we may be quite different, I’m willing to learn from and work with you.” If a brain had an idea, it would do little good without eyes to look for the pen and paper to write it down, or legs to get to the desk when it finds them, or a hand to pick them up. We were always created to operate as One Body. As Lou Engle put it, “We can only fly UNITED”; and he wasn’t talking about the airline.

    We believe collaboration is the model of Kingdom creativity, that no piece of art can reach its utmost potential apart from a community – friends who love one another, are rooting for one another, and whose values and goals are aligned. Remember, if we are one people and have the same language, nothing which we purpose will be impossible for us!

  • Community
  • Ministry Burnout // Part 2: Prevention and Warning Signs

    Interview with Calvin Hong by Shawn Wong

    S: So, other than counting the cost, how can burn-out be prevented? Especially amidst fast-paced lives, busy schedules, pressures, and the constant emphasis on getting stuff done.

    C: One way to prevent burnout is to be around people who are full of passion, and understand their value and identity. I like the analogy of the coals. When you isolate one block of coal, it fizzles out over time. But place it among other blocks of coal, it keeps burning and has synergy with the rest.

    So, when I find myself feeling discouraged, or when I don’t see any positive outcomes despite my efforts to achieve something, I find friends around me who are encouragers so I can receive from them and lean on them. Sometimes I watch inspirational videos on YouTube, or testimonies of people.

    The necessary things to do are:

    1. Understand the vision for your life (that God gave you).
    2. Ask: What do you need to stay filled for the long haul (to fulfill this vision)?
    3. Find ways to sustain yourself.

    It applies to other areas as well, like sports, work, and relationships. What keeps you burning? Is it your vision, or your emotions (how you feel)?

    I’ve also learnt to watch and take care of myself, especially in ministry, by learning to say no. It’s learning to say yes to the Lord, but no to the things that can clog up my life. We sometimes find it hard to say no because we don’t want to let people down or miss out.

    S: So have you experienced burnout in your life before?

    C: In all honesty, I’ve not experienced burnout to an extent where I say, “God, I don’t want to walk with You anymore.”

    S: That’s pretty extreme!

    C: The reason why some may get to that place is because of their unrealistic expectations of how God ought to come through for them, but God somehow always comes through and gives us a reality check, which propels us into greater depths of knowing Who He is, without the selfish ambitions or motives.

    God makes a very poor servant, but He makes a very good Father, if you let him be your Master.

    I have had seasons in my life where I had nervous breakdowns. As humans, we break down due to pressures of life or circumstances. It could be a death in the family, or a loss of job or relationship.

    That’s where the Lord brings His comfort through the Holy Spirit. For me, the question is, when these circumstances occur, do I have the courage and understanding to take time to rest? That’s why companies have Annual Leave. Businesses that are not making profits take time out to reassess things and recalibrate, but to say that one is totally burnt-out means that they want to stop pursuing their objective. They have overexerted themselves doing too much, with the wrong motivation.

    I don’t think we can ever get burnt-out loving God.

    S: Is it possible for someone with the right motives to burn out, even if he is doing so as an expression of loving God?

    C: It’s possible. It’s just like the story of the ‘Starving Baker’ that I read in ‘Habitudes’ by Tim Elmore, which I love.

    There was a baker who had a passion for baking. Over time, he realised that a lot of people were coming for his bread. When he saw that his business was growing, he focused on baking even more, instead of training somebody up to assist him. He eventually starved to death.

    It’s very hard when you’re running things all by yourself and don’t delegate. The role of a leader is to lead by example, and to serve, but it’s also to delegate. It’s not a one-man show. I see leaders taking on ten tasks, which looks glamorous on the outside. But inside, they’re drowning.

    You know you’re becoming a starving baker when, instead of growing joyfully and bearing fruit, you go in the opposite direction. What was supposed to be exciting becomes an obligation or a chore. That’s a sign that something unhealthy is already happening.

    This story is probably the best analogy for someone who started out vibrantly, with the right motives, feeding people, but he forgot to feed himself.

    A good question to ask is: Are you feeding yourself and allowing yourself to get fed?

  • Community
  • Ministry Burnout // Part 1: What is ‘burnout’ & what causes it?

    Interview with Calvin Hong by Shawn Wong

    Singapore has always had the reputation of being a ‘high-pressure society’. Sometimes this high performance drive infiltrates even the church and affects the way we do ministry.  I sat down with AG Mentor & Senior Leader Calvin Hong to have a conversation about the dreaded ‘ministry burnout’ and how to avoid it. 

    S: ‘Burnout’ – It might be a term that not everyone’s familiar with. What exactly is it?

    C: To be burnt-out means there’s nothing left inside of you to keep going.  For example, the oil in the lamp: If you don’t keep refilling the lamp with oil, it will run out. When people burn out, they usually have a loss of value, identity, or passion.

    I don’t think burnout is necessarily spiritual; I think it’s usually relational. “I don’t feel like I fit in” or “I’m so disappointed in this or that person.” It could be a result of bad leadership or poor decision-making. But if you say, “I’m spiritually burnt-out”, it means that there’s a disconnection from the Holy Spirit. It happens when you rely too much on your own strength, have become task- or talent-orientated and results-driven, but you don’t see results.

    When people say they’re burnt-out in ministry, it’s because they’ve allowed their work to be the lord and master of their lives, rather than allowing the Lord of the work to be their sustenance.

    S: What causes ministry burnout?

    C: Ministry itself is like work. If you don’t prepare enough food for the journey ahead then, at some point of time, it will run out.

    Luke 14:27-30 says, “And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it— lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’?”

    People often burn out because they had not counted the cost. There are many Christian leaders who keep saying yes; they don’t count the cost of their commitment.

    They’ve put ministry in priority over themselves. Rather, there must be a healthy tension. My life should revolve around what Christ is doing through me. It must be Christ-centred, not results-orientated to get recognition.

    It’s about guiding yourself by asking: What is the best lane in which God has called me to run this season?

    S: I love what you said about preventing burnout by counting the cost first, before diving into a commitment. What about people who have already committed, and then are starting to feel burnt out?

    C: Sometimes mistakes are how we grow and learn. We need to think: How can I do this or that better?

    For young believers who esteem to achieve something great, there’s something called Process. You’d have to go through the process of life and the school of hard knocks. And if you stick around long enough, you’ll come through it. The important thing is to always do a reality check of where you’re at.

    Sometimes, because we’re so passionate, we overwork ourselves. That’s why all the best athletes have more than one coach for each aspect of their training – conditioning, technique, nutrition, etc. – each warns the athlete when they’re about to overwork themselves or are developing in a wrong direction.

    S: So, other than counting the cost, how can burnout be prevented? Especially amidst fast-paced lives, busy schedules, pressures, and the constant emphasis on getting stuff done. 

    Get Calvin’s answer to this question and more in Part 2 of this interview! Stay tuned for updates!

  • Blog
  • Dealing with Offence, the Number One Relationship Killer

    by Alarice

    Have you ever known a particular ‘easily-offended’ person whom, after a while, would consecutively get offended by every one of their friends and systematically start to cut them off from their circles of influence? It’s not long before you would see them completely isolated, offended by everyone – it becomes them against the world. 

    THIS is the NUMBER 1 strategy of the enemy to steal the abundant life that God has for us.  It says in John 10:10 that the ‘enemy comes to steal, kill and destroy’, and he loves to do this by sowing seeds of bitterness and offence that ultimately lead to the destruction of God-given relationships! Friends, our Christian life MUST be done in the context of relationship, community and family – it is the foundation of Heaven’s culture. There is so much richness to be found in doing life in community – it is where our callings and our identities are affirmed, where we are positioned to fulfil our destinies, and where we are sharpened and experience growth. It’s time we got smarter and realised the enemy’s schemes, learn to forgive, and let go of offence so that we can enjoy the abundance of being ‘set in a family’. 

    So how do we overcome offence? How the Lord has personally shown me, is to ask the Lord to give you a revelation of WHO that person is DESTINED TO BE. Sure, they may have flaws (we, too, have flaws), but it’s not to stumble over who they are not. Instead, we are to celebrate who they are! They are sons and daughters, God sent His Son for them, they are called to do great and mighty exploits in His name! Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against powers and principalities – we have a common enemy and it is NOT your neighbour. Ask the Lord to give you eyes to see the greatness in that person and you soon will find that you will be able to release your hurt and release that person into the fullness of their destiny in Christ.