It Can Be Done
Preparing passionate young adults for the working world
One of our young men in our ministry, a fresh graduate who has just received his first salary, came back to church to give, not 10%, but his entire salary. It is spiritually significant to him, because he has been waiting for a long time to be able to support the church financially. Another girl has just turned 21. She told me that while 21 is the age of freedom and independence, she is going to dedicate that year of her life to serve God as a volunteer full-time staff in church.
For these young men and women, their purpose is unwavering and their priorities are clear. God is number one. God is the only One. Young adults being passionate about Jesus and committed to church, are more than a possibility. They can be a reality. It is not just for a few spiritual elite.
I always tell the young adults in my church as they enter the working world: “There are no more lifeguards.” “You swim alone now. You may even swim with the sharks.” “You are leaving the bubble world of school and church.” At a time when all their convictions and commitments are tested, sheltered innocence is not a virtue. Untested innocence is naïveté. Holiness is not separation from sinners, but separation from sin. The world will always be worldly. It is the character in us that will overcome the sin of this world and the influence of sinners in this world.
So the question is – how do we get the young adults to be “world-ready”? How do we inoculate them from spiritual illnesses? Well, this balanced two-prong approach has worked for us so far.
Young men and women have to be prepared BOTH SPIRITUALLY and PRAGMATICALLY. And I emphasize the word “both”. We wish life were simple. Unfortunately, life in Singapore is not as simplistic as “just love God” or “just trust Him” or “just pray”. Young adults need to be prepared practically. The Word cannot be just theological or theoretical. It must be made flesh in order to be effective. On the other hand, many young adults are practical and realistic to the point of “having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Tim 3:5).
We live life either by design or by default. Most young adults, even Christians, live life by default. They drift in the world, pulled by the currents of society and expectations. However, God has a Master plan and blueprint for their lives. If they know God’s design for them, they will walk according to it. It is their High Call in God.
1. The vision must be greater and more attractive than the world.
Make no mistake about it. The world can be pretty attractive to the point of being seductive. We have to cast a vision and sow a dream into these young hearts that is greater and more attractive than all the success, status, recognition and pleasures of the world. I tell the young adults in our church this: “You have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build one of the greatest churches in the world.” I am unapologetic and unashamed to say this because vision has to be Attractive, Big and Captivating. This is the “ABC” of vision. The competitors of Christianity are not other religions, but Apple, Google, BMW, Zouk and L4D2, etc (if you don’t know what L4D2 is, Google it). The attractions of working in the prestigious MNCs, driving a BMW, hanging out with cool people in Zouk and buying the latest gadgets are captivating our young adults. Our vision in church must be more attractive than these.
If a dog bites your favourite shoe and will not let go, what do you do? If you try to pull that shoe from its teeth, you will get into a tug-of-war and the shoe will be damaged. It is wiser to throw the dog a piece of meat and it will quickly let go of your shoe. Church leadership often enters into a tug-of-war with our young adults. It is wiser and easier to throw them a “juicy piece of God’s vision”. (Relax. I am not saying that young adults are dogs.)
2. Young adults need to be planted and rooted in the house of God.
I am not talking about just attending church faithfully. I am talking about serving in a big and important capacity. They must serve with responsibility where they have to turn up or they will let everyone down. I am not teaching that we should use ministry as bait or a trap. However, I am advocating that ministry is a commitment that causes us to grow roots in church. Let’s be honest. All of us, at one time or another, have felt like skipping a cell group or church because we are lethargic or lazy. However, because of a ministry commitment, we drag ourselves to church. After this exercise in the “crucifixion of the flesh”, we feel good and happy that we went to church after all. However, if we allow ourselves to crumble into carnality, we often feel guilty and dry. Commitment will bring us to church, albeit sometimes reluctantly, but it will eventually edify us. Commitment will halt our spiritual spiral downward and might even give us a lift up.
So leaders of young adults must create spiritual employment. The negative effects of natural unemployment are loss of income, loss of self-worth, and purposelessness. Similarly, spiritual unemployment leaves our young adults without self-worth and purpose. Consequently, it is inevitable that they seek their self-worth and purpose in the world. That is why I spend much of my time identifying the gifts of young adults, and then creating important jobs for them. Most leaders adopt a ministry structure and then get people to fill the positions in the structure. For me, I always start with the people and build a structure around them. A lot of people ask me about my church structure. The truth is that it is changing all the time, depending on who is on the team.
One more clause - all these should be done BEFORE the young men and women start work. Once they embark on their careers, it is much harder to compete against the pleasures and pressures of a career. Spiritual inoculation is only effective before a person is infected. If they are already spiritual sick, then they require medication, not inoculation. That subject is another article for another time.
Let me shout it loud and clear; we cast an attractive, big, captivating vision and create important jobs within our ministry for young adults.
Pragmatic and practical
Young adults often ask: “How do we find the balance between being idealistic and being realistic?” My answer is sustainable idealism. The world often talks about sustainable resources or sustainable profits. For us, it is about sustainable idealism.
I have observed that youths tend to be very idealistic and dream of making a difference. They can be passionate and devoted to the cause of Jesus Christ. Subsequently, when they drift into their mid-20s, the realities of life – the career-climb, bills to pay, responsibilities and expectations - hit them and so they swing to the other extreme. I have also observed Christian youths who are very committed to their faith but neglect their studies, work and even family. When they reach their late 20s, they realise that they are far behind in life, career and finances. Tragically, some blame God and leave church or even the faith.
Our idealism must be sustainable. We should not be like shooting stars but we are to shine like stars. We want to shine for Jesus from our youth till our hairs turn grey (or drop). So my approach to youths and young adults has always been holistic and not limited to the spiritual.
I don’t want our youths to be so heavenly-minded that they are of no earthly use. The spiritual is the foundation that undergirds all that we are and permeates all that we do, but we must remember that while God wants us to have eternal life in heaven, Jesus also wants us to have a great and abundant life here on earth.
I constantly challenge our young people to be excellent and successful in school and work. Earthly success and heavenly spirituality are synonymous. There is no dichotomy between the two. Listen to the wisdom of King Solomon in Ecclesiastes 9:13-16.
I also saw under the sun this example of wisdom that greatly impressed me: There was once a small city with only a few people in it. And a powerful king came against it, surrounded it and built huge siege works against it. Now there lived in that city a man poor but wise, and he saved the city by his wisdom. But nobody remembered that poor man. So I said, “Wisdom is better than strength.” But the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are no longer heeded.
If we are wise but poor, we will still be despised and our words not heard. We live in a very realistic and materialistic world. The general public, the non-Christians, will not listen to a poor man, even if he has godly wisdom. On the other hand, people pay huge sums of money and flock to listen to rich and successful people. These “successful people” may not necessarily be wise in the areas of their marriage, parenting and integrity.
I want the world to listen to us, because we have the greatest wisdom from the Bible. Paul says: “Imitate me, as I imitate Christ.” That is why our young adults need to be competent, excellent and successful. God gives us success not feeds our personal lust and ego. Success is an amplifier. Our success will amplify the voice of God through us. So I teach our young adults principles like – “prosperity with a purpose” and “affluence to influence”.
We need to engage the world with faith, not fear. We should prepare our young adults to manoeuvre in this world practically and navigate life pragmatically. We must also inoculate them spiritually with vision and church commitments. If we do that, I believe they will enter the world of work and career on the offensive, to influence rather than be influenced. Sadly, many of our Christian young adults are entering the world defensively, in a survival mode. No. We will not only survive, we will thrive. We enter the world and our careers as more than conquerors in Christ.
Tan Seow How is the Senior Pastor of Heart of God Church, which he founded in 1999, together with his wife, Pastor Cecilia, and 3 other members.