Book Summary: That’s Not How We Do It Here! (Kotter and Rathgeber)

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John Kotter’s 2016 book “That’s Not How We Do It Here!” is a story about how organisations rise and fall and how they can rise again. It’s about navigating change. Kotter encapsulates it in a story much like his previous bestseller “Our iceberg is melting“. Previously, it was about a group of penguins, this time it’s a clan of meerkats.

If you have no time to read the book, you can watch this summary video:

Kotter presents two meerkat clans that operate with different styles: Management or Leadership. However, you cannot have one without the other. Obviously, without both, you’re doomed. Check out this key chart from his book:

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Management was the in-thing for a long time till the 1990’s when leadership books entered. John Maxwell, the guru of leadership, almost single-handedly influenced everyone in organisations to become leaders. Whatever happened to managers? That’s unfortunate, because Kotter asserts that organisations need both leaders and managers. Often, pure leadership works well in small organisations that need to innovate and roll with the punches. And when these organisations grow to a certain size, they need to add in management to the mix. Policies and procedures are put into place which are good. But the danger is that innovation becomes disregarded. This makes organisations slow to adapt to changes all around – especially in our rapid times. Thus, the key is to have both Management and Leadership in order to grow further.

I think this story represents churches very accurately. Often small churches are able to try many new things and change direction quickly (leadership). Everyone knows everybody and one person can take on multiple roles. That’s what makes it so dynamic and exciting to be around. But when it grows to a certain size, management needs to come in. Everyone doesn’t know everybody – it’s too huge. Furthermore, it can’t be a one-man show any longer. Roles needs to be distinct and specialised.

Some churches fossilise. They are just machines running week after week with little innovation. It’s just about managing the status quo: Having enough musicians, getting ushers, maintaining church grounds. Being faithful to the traditions, rules and rituals are crucial. No creativity is expected since everything is working well (even though the rules or traditions were formed years ago in a different era). As some people say, if it’s novel, probably it’s heresy! It all goes smoothly, till it doesn’t.

People vote with their feet. People have left the traditional, management style churches. Usually, it’s the creative types that leave first. The trendsetters who are told not to rock the system. “That’s how we have done it for the past 50 years young man/lady!” Then the innovators leave. Others leave because church seems alien, disconnected from daily life. It’s as if they stepped into the twilight zone. The songs are from the 18th century, the preaching is dry as dust and the liturgy seems wooden (though some say it’s really meaningful). So they leave for more modern churches that innovate and connect with today’s culture. Sadly, some just leave church entirely.

The church today needs leadership and management than ever before. Both of them. We need innovative trendsetters who have a finger on the culture’s pulse and are ready to adapt. We need analytical workhorses who are able to run the church efficiently and create systems to support growth. You need to be both a manager and a leader for churches to grow.

Movie Review: Paul, Apostle of Christ (2018)

Image result for paul the apostle moviePaul, Apostle of Christ is an excellent introduction to the life of Paul.  He wrote roughly half of the New Testament Bible and fills up the second half of the book of Acts.

This movie begins after the book of Acts has ended and Paul is waiting for execution. He had been falsely accused by the Roman Emperor Nero of starting deadly fires in Rome.  It is a time of immense persecution and the story writers use Aquila and Priscilla as lead characters (although Acts 18 says they left Rome for Corinth long ago). They are harbouring a group of Christians in their compound and face a terrible dilemma: Stay or leave Rome. Also, the movie focuses on a Roman guard and his sick daughter. This is rather extra-biblical in my opinion and I would have preferred if they focused more on Paul’s life chronologically. There is so much material in Paul’s life that can be brought to reel-life!

Starting from Saul’s persecution to conversion, his night escapes, his punishments, his miracles – there is so much to show. However, the directors wanted to analyse Paul’s life from a different angle. That being said, the movie is beautifully shot and the acting is top-notch. It also explores several key themes of persecution, redemption and love. Sadly, it ends without mentioning the Gospel of Jesus and how one can be saved. Some movie-goers might have walked away without coming to a face-to-face encounter with Jesus, just as Paul had on the road to Damascus.

On the road to Damascus, Paul asked Jesus two questions. All of us must ask them too.

1. “Who are you, Lord?” (Acts 22: 8)

After Jesus confronted Paul on the road to Damascus, he had an life-changing epiphany. The idea that he was serving God by persecuting the church was demolished in that instant. He wasn’t serving God but persecuting Him! What a revelation. Even though he was a Pharisee, he did not know the Lord. He did not know Jesus.

You can be attending church,  serving faithfully, a Bible expert but still not be saved. Have you ever encountered the risen Lord Jesus? Do you have a relationship with Jesus? If not, accept Jesus as Lord right now. He died on the cross for your sins, was buried and rose from the dead. Ask Him to save you from your sins.

2. “What shall I do Lord?” (Acts 22:10)

After Paul knew the identity of Jesus, he asked about his task, his mission, his destiny. Don’t get the order wrong! Knowing who Jesus is precedes serving Him. You cannot serve out of a vacuum. If you are still not sure what God wants you to do, wait before God for instructions. Meanwhile, stay faithful to what He has assigned you. If it’s teaching Sunday School or singing in the worship team, stay there. Stay faithful till God brings you to another season. If you’re not faithful in His task now, how can God bring you to greater things?

May you echo the words of Paul as he neared the end of his life:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

2 Timothy 4:7-8

Book Summary: On Being the Antioch of Asia (W M Syn)

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Singapore has been labelled by Billy Graham as the Antioch of Asia. Have we lived up to our calling? Syn analyses how local churches and mission agencies can be properly related to each other for greater effectiveness. The recent trend is for Singapore local churches to directly send missionaries to the field and bypass the agencies. Why? Churches nowadays are well-informed about missions and have the funding to carry out work themselves. But is this the best option? Syn interviews many church and agency leaders to get their opinion. It must be stated that he is a director of a mission agency so there is conflict of interest. Since the book contains unnecessarily long-winded interviews, I shall highlight key findings that struck me.

Two key trends in missions:

1. Decrease in the availability of people for long-term missions service.

2. Direct sending by local churches.

…leads to two Symptoms:

1. Singapore missions system lacks cultural intelligence.

2. Missionaries and missions programmes are not venturing to the hard places (Unreached People Groups).

Local churches need to recognise that agencies are specialists in certain mission fields. For example, agencies have cultural intelligence, networks and crisis preparations to assist missionaries on the ground. However, many churches see agencies as competing for their own missionaries. This should not be the case as most pioneer mission work (even in Singapore) were started by agencies first. Think of the London Missionary Society (LMS) that started many Methodist schools in Singapore. The mission agency usually sends missionaries to plant churches in a new place. How can we overcome this break in relationship?

Syn proposes that mission agencies must adapt their roles drastically in order to partner with churches. There are two possible models:

1. Code Sharing Model

Code sharing has been used by the airline industry with great effectiveness. It is a model that finds ways for churches and agencies to share and collaborate without losing their own identity. He highlights the 25 Elements Model as a framework to delegate the responsibilities of a church or agency. The responsibilities are not split in an either-or fashion (church or agency) but differing degrees of responsibility.  This allows the local church to remain engaged on many levels.

2. Consultancy Model

The agency has specialised information that the church could tap on: crisis training etc. There is a need for formal consulting service by agency staff much like a consultant in the corporate world. Churches would pay the agency for the cost of their service. Normally, we think that ministry should be freely given but in many parts of the church, there is already fee-for-service! For example, training programmes, Chrsitian entertainers or Christian speakers. Why not missions consulting services.

Syn lists several characteristics of a mission consultant:

  • Facilitation skills and the ability to help the church develop their missions vision and programme.
  • Some preaching and teaching skills to inspire and impart knowledge.
  • An understanding of the needs and workings of the local church.
  • Some good missiology and theology of missions to help lay foundations.
  • Some strategic thinking skills to help missions committees think through their plans.
  • First-hand field experience which would be an advantage to share as a practitioner.

Agencies need a dedicated strategy to priorities consultancy service to churches.

Overall, this book provides a good overview of missions in Singapore and how we as a nation can truly fulfill our calling to be the Antioch of Asia by working together.

Book Review: The One Minute Manager Balances Work and Life (Ken Blanchard, 1999)

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Management guru Ken Blanchard, who is a Christian, highlights the importance of staying healthy. As we work, we tend to neglect our health and life. The problem is that when we become unhealthy, we become worse employees and our work suffers. If you’re the boss of a company, you pay out more money for employee medical issues and productivity drops. Your whole company suffers.

Blanchard reminds us to take care of our life to ensure we remain productive in our work. This is very important for those in ministry, especially pastors and missionaries. He notes that “even success could kill you” (p. 19)! Firstly, we need to recognise that some stress is good. Too much stress leads to Burn-out while too little stress leads to Rust-out. Neither is ideal. Blanchard wisely notes that “in early life, people give up their health to gain wealth. Then, in later life, they give up some wealth to regain health.” (p. 70) Don’t reach that stage!

The question is how do we deal with stress such that it doesn’t become strain (burn-out or illness)? There are four moderators to make sure we are in good shape: 1) Autonomy, 2) Connectedness, 3) Perspective, and 4) Tone (p. 32).

  1. Autonomy is the state where people have many choices and relatively able to control their lives. They find that their daily activities move them towards achieving their goals. Also it is the ability to move to other jobs if we want to. I think we need to learn to set goals, vision and improve our skill sets regularly.
  2. Connectedness gives people strong positive relationships in their home, work and community. It’s important to have good friends and support. This would preferably be a Christian group in your church or workplace to offer mutual support whether it be through exercising together or not tempting each other with unhealthy food.
  3. Perspective has to do with the meaning of life. If we have a big picture view of life, the little stresses don’t affect us so much. For Christians, we know our approval is from God and that earthly gains have no eternal significance. Our work should not define or control us. Someone once said, “No one on his deathbed ever said, I wish I had spent more time on my work.”
  4. Tone is how we feel about our body and physical appearance. We can manage this through exercise and a proper diet. Having a healthy body improves our self-esteem and reduces stress. The tone is the easiest to start with as we can measure the number of kilometers we jog or the number of push-ups we perform. Blanchard notes that when we take care of ourselves, we are then better able to focus on other’s needs better (connectedness).

There are some simple ways to stay healthy (p. 50-51):

  1. I love my job/studies.
  2. I use safety precautions.
  3. I am within 5 pounds of my ideal weight.
  4. I know three methods to reduce stress (not drugs or alcohol).
  5. I do not smoke.
  6. I sleep 6-8 hours each night.
  7. I engage in regular physical activity at least 3 times per week (20-30 mins of sustained physical exertion). Stick to your program!
  8. I have 7 or less alcoholic drinks a week.
  9. I know my blood pressure.
  10. I follow sensible eating habits.
  11. I have a good social support system.
  12. I maintain a positive mental attitude.

I think as church workers, we tend to over-indulge in food. Gluttony is a sin that is not condemned in churches enough (Prov 23:2,20-21; Phil 3:9; 1 Cor 6:19-20). I know a pastor who is severely overweight and had to undergo a back and knee surgery due to the strain on his body. He took a long medical leave as a result. Sadly, his unhealthy diet hasn’t changed. What a shame it is to let your uncontrolled love for food shorten your ability to do ministry! How would you explain to God if you meet him ten years earlier than you were supposed to die? Let us stay healthy so we can do more for the Lord’s work.


Movie Review: The Case for Christ (2017)

The Case for Christ tells the story of Lee Strobel, a journalist that aimed to disprove Jesus death and resurrection. Lee’s wife, Leslie, is the first to become a Christian but Lee finds it hard to accept it. He begins his search like any good reporter would and finds the evidence for Christ overwhelming. There is a sub-plot on a gang informant that shows Lee’s biasedness in his investigation for the truth.

There are many good quotes throughout the movie that make the viewer question his beliefs. It also encourages spouses to pray that God would soften their partner’s heart. The theology is solid and would speak to those who question if Jesus is really the Messiah.

Finally, this movie has high production value unlike many other Christian movies (I’m looking at you Flywheel!). The 1980s setting is authentically replicated with huge computers, phone neck cradles, and old typewriters. The acting is pretty solid and the plot is tight. I think that’s because the actual Lee Strobel is the executive producer of the movie. If you need more in-depth material, check out his best-selling book of the same name. I strongly recommend this movie for evangelism purposes and church groups to strengthen their faith.

My First Year in Theology School

Before you know it, one year has passed. I previously wrote my first month review here. This second half was not a lot harder but much busier with more school commitments. Let me share some new lessons that impacted me greatly.

1. Own Your Theology

I’m not talking about making up your own theology but that you need time to wrestle with theological issues. There are a plethora of views for each doctrine, verse, and even word. Scholars can’t come to a mutual agreement so what is the student to do? For one, don’t accept blindly what you are taught. You got to go back to the source (ad fontes) the Word of God to find the answer. If you struggle reaching a proper conclusion that your conscience allows, struggle some more. Struggling shapes your critical thinking in ways that will help you later.

Until you have struggled sufficiently, you have not owned it.  Until you’ve owned it, you cannot live it. Until you’ve lived it, you cannot teach it. Like the Bereans, they checked whether what Paul taught was in line with the Scriptures. Imagine that! They even checked the Apostle Paul. We must have the same attitude.

Acts 17:11

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

2. Don’t Bury Yourself in Books

It’s important to be reading books. There are tons of reading material assigned for each module and it’s hard to keep up sometimes. It’s tempting to skip a chapel, a coffee, a family group or a gym workout just to study. Well, don’t! There must be a balance in your lifestyle. Seminary is not all about studying and cramming as much information into your brain. Building relationships, having fun, and praying are all important to a holistic spiritual formation.

I often hang out for a drink in a nearby shop with a few classmates just to talk about reports, relationships, or just pray. I believe head knowledge is insufficient to survive in ministry. You need heart knowledge too. Having good relationships might even trump knowledge in the ministry. How do you relate to others? Do you see classmates as rivals, as irritants, or as family? Will you help a weaker classmate?

When I look at Jesus, a certain event touches me greatly. He wanted to bring his disciples to an isolated place to rest and relax. However, the crowds caught wind of it and followed him all the way there. But Jesus wasn’t angry for interrupting his rest. His compassion drove him to teach them and later on, feed them with two loaves and five fishes. Jesus was the ultimate source of knowledge. But he also was the ultimate source of love. He never turned anyone away. He made time for them. We need to keep this balance too.

3. Learn to Serve

Serving is one of the ways to grow. This half of the semester, I joined the Community Living committee and we’ve planned a few events so far. I believed it has helped me to grow by working with others and seeing the events foster unity in the community. It has also taught me new skills such as planning and budgeting. Thankfully, I work with two great brothers who help complement my weaknesses in many ways!

Serving in student council is an exposure to future appointments we might take up in the future. It allows others to observe our skills, abilities and weaknesses. All these help us to grow if we have a humble attitude to learn. Without serving, students are dangerously close to becoming armchair practitioners who know a lot about things “in theory”. My advice is to serve!

Book Review: A Sense of God and A Feeling of Heaven (Robert Kee)

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Robert Kee’s book is an inspiration for all Christians. He’s a normal regular joe but God put it in his heart to do something to help the poor and the orphans. Thus, in this book, he documents his journey of how God called him from being a workaholic to find greater meaning in life. He has started orphanages in Cambodia under Operation Hope Foundation.

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The key purpose of this book is to:

“bridge the gap between Sunday sermons and what happens on Monday.”

Robert challenges us to do more than be a “good” church member who attends Bible study, ushers, attends prayer meetings or sings in choir. A more “chim” (difficult) phrase would be:

Orthodoxy must lead to orthopraxy. 

Or in normal English, Joseph Prince says:

Right believing leads to right living.

The Bible truths must lead us to truly love our neighbour when we hit the real world. There must be congruence between what we know and what we actually do. If we say we love God, we must love others. Many say they love God but don’t love others. Just look at number who go for mission trips versus nice holidays in your church. Can they be considered true disciples of Jesus? Are you willing to live out what you believe and to help the poor? How else would they know the love of God?

“If it is true that Scotland has no more sons, I will pack up tomorrow and be off to the shores of Ganges and let the people of India know that there is one poor old Scotchman who is ready to die for them! ”

Dr. Alexander Duff

One of the lessons I learnt was, “What is a call”? Robert defined it as “a persistent thought that would not go away. A thought that is Christ-centered and nudging one to go on an unknown quest to obey and serve his purpose.” Throughout the day, his mind would be roiling with thoughts of how to help the poor through projects and other ideas.

Does your heart get warmed by a certain group of people? Does it cause you mental and emotional distress if nothing is done for them? Do certain ideas keep bubbling in your mind? Maybe God is purposely and gently persuading you to make a decision.

Helping the poor is not always about giving money. Sometimes, money can be an excuse from doing anything that could cost you physically, mentally or emotionally. Give yourself first! Allow me to conclude with a beautiful quote by Mother Theresa on loving others:

“Let us not be satisfied just by giving money. Money is not everything. Money is something you can get. The poor need the work of our hands, the love of our hearts. Love, an abundant love is the expression of our Christian religion.”

Book Review: Live Smart (Dan Dumas, 2016)

In Dan Dumas’s book, Live Smart, he teaches wise living for youths in regards to four relationships: God, Others, Self and the Gospel.

His writing style is simple and engaging for youths who want to get a broad base of ways to live wisely. However, it would be too superficial for older people, even young adults. Also, he skims the book of Proverbs too lightly and the lessons can be rather common sense.

I would suggest this book only for youths or new Christians. It is a short read and not meaty enough for further spiritual digestion.

What I liked

Look for THIN mentors:

Time: Able to make time to meet you regularly.

Holiness: A godly person you respect.

Imitation: Look for someone imitable.

Need: Person who can meet your need.

Be a FAT mentee:

Faithful: Be dependable

Available: Make time to meet, sacrifice.

Teachable: Be humble to change. (p. 71)

“I love the church because Jesus founded it, died for it, and loves it.” (p. 40)

“Sin makes you stupid.” (p. 104)

“A true friend will not stab you in the back, but he may hit you in the face.” (p. 111)

“A professional sermon listener is a ‘hearer’ only.” (p. 113)

“You want to build a rock-star reputation in heaven? Then start engaging in gospel business.” (p. 134)

“Once to Every Man and Nation”

This post relates to my movie review of The Mission a few days ago. I’m actually watching it again as I felt I missed out some deeper truths. I came across an apt hymn written by James Lowell, an American poet (1819-1891). He was opposed to slavery and wrote a poem “The Present Crisis” to pro­test­ against Amer­i­ca’s war with Mex­i­co. The poem has been condensed to this hymn. These words remind us that we all have a choice to make whether good or evil, much like Father Gabriel and Rodrigo.

The movie ends with the verse:

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

John 1:5

Once to Every Man and Nation

By James Russell Lowell

Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, some great decision, offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever, ’twixt that darkness and that light.

Then to side with truth is noble, when we share her wretched crust,
Ere her cause bring fame and profit, and ’tis prosperous to be just;
Then it is the brave man chooses while the coward stands aside,
Till the multitude make virtue of the faith they had denied.

By the light of burning martyrs, Christ, Thy bleeding feet we track,
Toiling up new Calv’ries ever with the cross that turns not back;
New occasions teach new duties, time makes ancient good uncouth,
They must upward still and onward, who would keep abreast of truth.

Though the cause of evil prosper, yet the truth alone is strong;
Though her portion be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong;
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above His own.

Movie Review: The Mission (1986)

All I knew was there was a movie screening in class. I never thought I would be so deeply affected. It’s a movie called “The Mission” (1986) revolving around two Spanish Jesuit priests, Gabriel and Rodrigo, who reach out to the Guarani tribe in Paraguay.

I’ll try not to reveal the plot too much. The Jesuits converted the Guarani tribe and set up a mission station. However, due to the Treaty of Madrid, the Spanish cardinal Altamirano had decided to hand over the land to the Portuguese. The Jesuits try to convince the cardinal that the Portuguese merely want to use these tribes as slaves, but to no avail.

Against church orders, Gabriel and Rodrigo decide to stay with the village, though each taking a different path. Gabriel chose the path of non-violence while Rodrigo chose violence. In a seminal scene, Rodrigo informs Gabriel that he plans to fight back. Gabriel replies:

If might is right, then love has no place in the world. It may be so, it may be so. But I don’t have the strength to live in a world like that, Rodrigo.

That got me thinking: Does non-violence always mean love? Can’t violence be love too? I believe even violence can be acts of love in a “strange” way, a term used by Gabriel in the film. I understood Rodrigo’s use of violence to protect the ones he loved. In the end, both die as martyrs, with only a handful of village children surviving at the end of the massacre.

Has the Mission been lost? In the closing scenes, the remnant of children float away on a boat. But before they leave, a village girl retrieves a violin from the lake. We can tie this in to the opening scenes where Altamirano wrote:

The noble souls of these indians incline towards music. Indeed, many a violin played in the academies of Rome itself has been made by their nimble and gifted hands.

After watching the movie, I’m ashamed of my short-term mission trips that seems more like a holiday. Watching the Jesuits climbing up steep cliffs, setting up missions in a far off land and embracing martyrdom has fired me up for future mission work. The Jesuits were truly the pioneers in spreading the Gospel to the utmost ends of the earth.

I will leave you with a last quote from the last scene. Altamirano sent a report to his superior that hauntingly summed up the impact of Jesuit martyrs like Gabriel and Rodrigo:

So, your Holiness, now your priests are dead, and I am left alive. But in truth it is I who am dead, and they who live. For as always, your Holiness, the spirit of the dead will survive in the memory of the living.