Interview

Leading while you’re young: 4 senior pastors on balancing the demands of ministry, Jenga style

by Wong Siqi // October 29, 2020, 2:11 pm

YOUNG SP VIDEO

From left to right: Rev Shaun Chong (35) from Christalite Methodist Chapel, Pastor Zac Zhang (39) from Hearts Alive Church, Pastor Andre Tan (30) from The City Singapore and Rev Victor Teo (40) from Chapel Of Christ The Redeemer.

You’ve seen your favourite Korean celebrities play an intense game of Jenga while answering random questions. But have you seen your pastors do the same?

We invited 4 young pastors who are leading their churches to do just that – and they absolutely brought the house down. There were so many great answers, we couldn’t fit them all in the video… so we compiled them here for you! 

Describe your journey into full-time ministry.

Pastor Andre: I didn’t grow up in a Christian family. But I had a good, well-meaning friend who was constantly reaching out to me.

“Andre, do you know where you’re going to go when you die?” he asked. “If you were to cross the road later and get hit by a car, do you know where you’re going to end up?”

A couple of days later, I was crossing the road at Bras Basah. I started to jay walk on the four-lane road – and I got hit by a car that was going at about 70kmh.

On the way to the hospital, that conversation with my friend was in my head the whole time.

To cut the long story short, I left the hospital without a single broken bone, no bruise – nothing! There and then, I made this eternal decision in my heart to follow Jesus.

Also, I made this weird, internal vow that one day, I would work in a church. I didn’t really know much about ministry, but I knew I wanted to work in a church one day. So that’s my story.

Vicar Victor: When I was a first-year student in university, a pastor asked me to come into full-time ministry.

In the quietness of a toilet, I knelt down to pray and I asked the Lord for two things: to give me first-class honours and to let me travel around the world.

Towards the end of my graduation, I was afraid of not getting my first-class honours. I was wondering, if I don’t, does that mean the Lord doesn’t want me in service?

Miraculously, both came to pass, so here I am. God works in very miraculous ways.

Pastor Zac: Actually, I didn’t want to be a pastor for most of my life, though I felt the call when I was a young child. But I wanted to be absolutely sure of this calling, so I went to become a teacher first.

It was a time where I was reaching out to many students. I felt confirmation come during that season.

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Rev Shaun: I was sitting in service one day and the senior pastor was preaching.

I was looking at him preach and suddenly, I had this vision. I realised I was no longer looking at him, but I was looking at me as a pastor, preaching. I felt the Lord calling me into full-time ministry then.

What was interesting was that I didn’t want it and I was really scared, but every single question or doubt that I had or came to mind was answered by God immediately, through what the pastor was saying.

By then, I was convinced and that began a long journey of entering full-time ministry.

What was your most embarrassing moment as a pastor?

Pastor Zac: When people remember your name, and you just cannot recall theirs. It’s super embarrassing.

Vicar Victor: There was once I was praying for this person, and I was praying for the wrong name. She didn’t stop me, but only after the whole thing and we went back, she texted me.

Pastor Andre: Has anyone preached with their fly down before?

Vicar Victor: No, that’s a new level of embarrassment.

Share one leadership lesson you have learnt.

Pastor Zac: Many a time, we have sheep, but we forget that we are also the sheep.

For me, it’s so important to remember the secret place where we get the fielding, feeding and rest. It’s from that place where we move on with all the other things.

Vicar Victor: For me, I learned to go slow and be consultative.

Think of a leader or a pastor who goes up a mountain and comes down with their notes, things to do. It’s better to have more people on board than to run ahead, look back and realise that they’re not really with you.

And it’s important to hear the people because they too are hearing from the Lord.

So go slow, take the time to explain changes and things that need to be done carefully, and allow the process of listening together. Then I believe we can run together.

Rev Shaun: One of the best advice given to me as I prepared for ministry was to keep my eyes on Jesus. No matter what happens, keep my eyes fixed on Jesus.

Despite some of the things that people say, or the discouragement we face – have the conviction to keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and you will not be shaken.

We can be tempted to react, but we just need to wait for a while. Just pause, keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and somehow, God acts.

Pastor Andre: When you’re a senior pastor, it’s easy to want to appear perfect, put together, like you have all the answers.

I learned fairly quickly into my term as a pastor that I need people around me. And I have spiritual needs as well.

So the biggest lesson that I’ve learned is that it’s okay to be vulnerable at times, express that need, allow the community from both sides to wrap itself around you, and not feel that you have to bear the entire weight of the job alone.

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And I think it’s also important to have an accurate feel of what success looks like in church.

We think of Jesus being the perfect leader, yet among the 12, He had Judas. So, sometimes we see certain negative things in our community and we feel like “I’m a horrible leader” or “I’m not doing a good job”.

But if, instead, we base the success of our leadership on simple things like hearing God and obeying Him, I think that will keep us on a really steady road.

Describe a time you felt like giving up. What helped?

Rev Shaun: Someone wise once said that if you haven’t thought of quitting at least three or five times, you’re not a real pastor.

I definitely thought of giving up, and what really helped was knowing why we’re doing what we’re doing. It’s a call, and frankly, you can’t run away.

What really helped was knowing why we’re doing what we’re doing.

The Bible verse that really helped me during a time when I was struggling was the part where Elijah just wanted to quit.

That really helped me, to the point that I named my son Elijah to remind myself during the moments that I really want to give up.

Vicar Victor: When discouragements in ministry come, always goes back to the first principles, to the core, what the Lord has shown you.

Philippians 3:14 is my anchor verse. It keeps me pressing onwards in spite of circumstance or situation.

Also, I like to rely less on myself. It’s not about me and the load is not on my shoulders. 

Pastor Zac: We all feel like giving up sometimes. Sometimes you carry the load or the burden for too long and forget what it’s like to be a bit more normal. So for me, what helps is to hang out with friends.

Pastor Andre: One of the things that I’ve been trying to be more diligent in doing, is keeping a Word document of testimonies, things that God has been doing in people’s lives.

Sometimes, when it’s really hard, it’s easy to get sucked into a vortex of negativity. It’s very important for us to remind ourselves of the good that has happened.

Also, the importance of rest. From a biblical perspective, you see rest is important or even more important than the work that you do. It is really crucial to have a solid rest day, to practise a Sabbath.

Stuff like that is pretty helpful in restoring your faith.

What can church members do to encourage their pastors?

Pastor Zac: Buy us coffee! I feel that dropping a note, checking in, something like that here and there… those things always help.

I’m most encouraged when I find church members taking initiative to share what God is doing in their lives. There’s this progress or momentum that’s going on in their personal walk – I personally find that very encouraging.

Vicar Victor: The best encouragement is to pray for us, to pray for me and the family.

In Chapel of Christ the Redeemer, we have a team of intercessors who came up with a “pastor’s prayer shield”. With all the information, they pray for the pastors. So we thank the Lord for that.

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Pastor Andre: I’m reminded that the head of the church is not the pastor. We are very much a part of the body as well. We need each other.

There’s this wrong assumption that pastors are always good; they don’t have bad spots, or any real wrestles or questions of faith.

Which is why I’ve always been really encouraged and pleasantly surprised by short little messages like “I’m praying for you”.

Rev Shaun: Just love your pastors. We’re human – very human – just do stuff that we would like. Love our family members as well. And maybe don’t complain!

What would you say to someone who is looking to enter into full-time ministry?

Pastor Andre: I think it’s really important to discover our sense of calling and purpose.

One thing I would encourage anyone to do is to devote a considerable amount of time to seeking a word from the Lord first. I can’t begin to overemphasise how important that is.

Often times, in my most difficult moments, coming back to a particular word, verse or story that God has brought up from Scripture has been so encouraging.

It’s kept me going, so I think that it’s super important.

Rev Shaun: Go in with your eyes open, knowing that ministry is not some romantic notion.

It’s going to be tough, there’s going to be rejection and there are going to be complaints from church members, but keep the sheep in mind.

And when you answer the call to full-time ministry, you’re not perfect but it’s not the endgame. We are still growing. God shapes us. Who we were when we began is different from who we are today.

Pastor Zac: For me, I’m always grateful that I get to do this – to be involved in the eternal destinies of people. That in itself is incredible.

But it’s important to realise that full-time ministry, especially pastoral ministry, will come with a lot of disappointments, so you have to be mentally ready for that.

So spend a season praying and hopefully, it’ll not just be “I want to do it”, but “I cannot not do it”.

THINK + TALK

  1. Which piece of advice resonated most with you? Why? 
  2. What is one way you would be able to encourage your pastor?
  3. What are you waiting for? Go be a source of encouragement to your pastor this week! 🙂
About the author

Wong Siqi

Siqi often loses her footwear in the office. She is also known for her loud sneezes, huge appetite, and weird sound effects. Happens to be a writer too.