“He will bring you across the finishing line”: Pastor Yang Tuck Yoong on staying the course in Christian ministry
Anna Cheang // July 20, 2020, 8:02 pm
"Some of us might live to our 50s, some to our 70s, some to our 90s. We don’t know when this race is going to end for us," says Ps Yang. "The important thing is to keep your eyes on the author and finisher of our faith." All photos from Ps Yang's Facebook.
“Remember the movie Terminator, when Arnold Schwarzenegger’s tagline was: ‘I’ll be back’?
“At 60, my tagline is: ‘Oh, my back!’ quipped Pastor Yang Tuck Yoong.
The senior pastor of Cornerstone Community Church was sharing with the Thirst Collective team earlier this month on the topic of How to Go the Distance in Ministry, based on wisdom gleaned from 30 years of full-time ministry.
Besides founding Cornerstone, where he cares for a flock of over 5,000 members, Pastor Yang chairs the board of Tung Ling Bible College and the annual Kingdom Invasion Conference.
At 61, he admitted wryly that he was entering a “season of diminishing returns”.
“You’re not as strong as you used to be. You don’t have the same vitality you used to have. You take a longer time to recover from jet lag. Your bones start creaking, your skin starts sagging, your muscles start aching and your plumbing starts leaking!”
But Christian ministry is “not a short 100m sprint”, he reminded.
“This is a marathon. You’ve got to prepare yourself mentally, spiritually and in every way.”
How then should Christians prepare themselves to persevere on this race? What does staying the course and finishing well look like?
Ps Yang shared his thoughts with Salt&Light:
What is a lesson you learned as you enter your 60s?
I had the privilege of sitting beside Brother Ravi Zacharias one day. We were celebrating his 70th birthday.
I had the privilege of asking him many questions and I said to him: “Brother Ravi, have you reached your sweet spot in ministry at 70 years?”
And he said to me: “You know Pastor Yang, we did a survey in America and found out that the most productive season in a person’s life is 60 to 70. The second most productive season, which actually startled me, is 70 to 80. And the third most productive season in a man’s life is 50 to 60.
And I said: “That’s interesting”, because I was just about to come into my 60s.
So I decided to check this out and found out that the average age of a Nobel Prize winner is 62. The average of a CEO of a Fortune 500 company is 62. And the average age of the 100 biggest churches in America is between 60 to 65.
And that tells us that God has somehow designed the best years of your life when you are 60 to 70.
“We don’t know when this race is going to end. The important thing is to keep your eye on the coxswain.”
Growing old is like the sport of rowing. It is the only sport in which you cannot see the finishing line because when you row your back is always facing it.
But it doesn’t matter. You just need to keep your eyes on the coxswain, because he can see the finishing line and you can’t. (A coxswain is the teammate who sits on the stern and faces the finishing line. He is responsible for steering the boat and coordinating the rowers.)
Similarly, some of us might live to our 50s, some to our 70s, some to our 90s. We don’t know when this race is going to end for us. The important thing is to keep your eye on the coxswain.
Hebrews 12:1-2 tells us that we are to keep our eyes on the author and finisher of our faith, Jesus Christ. And I think that’s really an important part of the journey.
If you listen to His voice and keep your eyes on Him, He will bring you across the finishing line.
What does it mean to finish well?
I recently read an interesting story about John Bisagno, a senior pastor of the First Baptist Church in Houston.
Back in his early 20s, his father-in-law, who was a senior pastor, told him that only 1 in 10 Christian leaders end up well in the Bible.
John couldn’t believe it, but he wrote down the names of 24 of the most significant Christian leaders in his life from his city.
Growing old is mandatory but growing up is optional.
As the years went by, he periodically looked at the page he had written these names on and scratched them out one by one. Unfortunately, by the time he had gotten to 65, there were only three names left on that list.
It is staggering to realise that the majority of people do not actually finish their journey as a Christian well. Growing old is mandatory but growing up is optional.
We saw two great heroes pass away recently, Reinhard Bonnke at the end of last year and Ravi Zacharias this year. When Ravi passed away, I never saw so much accolade and honour given to a man at his death.
And the reason we honour these men is that they finished well, they finished strong. They didn’t mess around, they didn’t play around and they didn’t live at the periphery.
They were focused on what they did, they kept the fire burning and when we look at their lives, we say: “Man, this is how I want to finish.”
Another definition of finishing well means hitting the mark that God has for us.
To find out the purposes for which God has created us, and to fulfil them. The Father has placed His aspirations within us, and it is our responsibility to find out what they are.
While you are young, give your life totally to God, and live your life with that perspective. Make the right choices in life.
Would you share how real God has been in your life?
I was born again at the age of 16. This was during the Charismatic renewal. I wasn’t a serious Christian. One foot in the world, one foot out of the world. One day in, one day out.
Then, I went into basic military training, and my father just died suddenly of a heart attack. When he died, I kind of tailspinned into decadence and sin.
But there was a meeting that I attended at St Andrew’s Cathedral and there I encountered the Holy Spirit in such a powerful way.
When the Holy Spirit came upon me, I was paralysed. I mean literally. My legs went soft like jelly. For 20 minutes the fire was rushing through my body and I couldn’t move. I felt like every cell in me was going to explode. I said: “Lord enough, I can’t take it anymore.”
Jesus said when you receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit, you receive power.
That was the huge turning point in my life. I had a God encounter. I remember not walking out of the cathedral, I floated out. I experienced joy unspeakable. Peace I couldn’t explain.
I said I am going to get serious about God.
I went to university for four years, I was on the Dean’s list, I got this great job at DBS. I knew I had a call of God for ministry, but every year, I would say: “Lord, I’m ready for full-time ministry, if you call me I will quit my job now and I will come and serve you.” And the Lord said: “You are not ready. I want you to work in the secular world for a while.”
“If I can trust the bank to credit my salary, why can’t I trust the living God to take care of me?”
So I waited. Then, one year, I got promoted, then I got promoted again. My bosses said: “You know, Yang, if you stay in this company, you have a great future.”
And the Holy Spirit said: “Now I want you to quit your job!”
It was the most difficult decision – man, I struggled because I didn’t know where the provision was going to come from. Our church was in a very rudimentary phase. I was going to pay myself $800 a month. I didn’t know how I was going to survive.
So I said to the Lord: “If You can show me You can provide for me, I’ll quit my job and come to full-time ministry.” The Lord said: “No, you quit your job, and I’ll show you I can provide for you.”
Faith is spelt R-I-S-K. When I was working in DBS, every 27th of the month, the bank would credit my salary. If I can trust the bank to credit my salary, why can’t I trust the living God to take care of me?
So I took that bungee step of faith into full-time ministry. We sold our home. We moved into a rented facility. We had garage sale after garage sale. We sold everything we could just to get by.
And I tell you this – this is my 30th year in full-time ministry and my path drips with abundance. God has blessed me beyond my wildest imagination and God has blessed the church.
So, I’m going to encourage you to trust the Lord in this journey. If He calls you, then He will pay the bills. He will take care of you.
Do you have some practical advice for running the race well?
1. Have to have a robust devotional life.
My day starts by prayer and devotion. I want to encourage you to keep your devotional life strong, keep it robust. If you keep the fire burning, I promise you the fire will keep you burning for God.
You have to fan and feed the fire, you have to make sure there is a flow of oil in your life.
I used to take walks every morning, to fellowship with and talk to God.
At the end of the day, if I finish well, it’s because God has shown mercy to me.
One day, the Lord told me: “Don’t just do your devotions the moment you get up. Set aside time every day so I can meet with you.”
So I decided to wake up every morning at 4:45am to spend time with God.
Amazingly, I am rarely woken by the alarm clock, no matter how tired I am. There are many mornings where I wake up, look at my clock and see that it’s 4:44 am. Just one minute before my alarm goes off.
When that happens, I get so happy because God is more interested in meeting me than I sometimes am to meet Him. He says: “Get up, it’s time for our fellowship!”
Thirty years in full-time ministry – the longer I know Him, the sweeter He becomes.
2. Stay trusting.
Trust His faithfulness, trust His goodness because that’s what’s going to carry you through the long term.
Romans 9:16 says that it is not him who wills, nor him who runs, but God who shows mercy.
At the end of the day, if I finish well, it’s because God has shown mercy to me.
Justice is getting what we deserve, but mercy is receiving what we do not deserve.
“Our Father has a plan and purpose for our lives – this motivates me to want to finish this race well.”
Mercy is a good deal – much like the one the 11th-hour worker received in Jesus’ parable of the workers in Matthew 20. He worked only for an hour, but he earned a whole day’s wage of 1 denarius. Like him, we all have gotten what we do not deserve from the Lord, our master.
But will you continue to be like the first-hour workers, who ended up upset with their wages and complained to the master? Will you haggle with Him and demand what you want, or are you going to trust that God will fight for and defend you?
Without trust in the Lord and His goodness, you will not finish well.
Learn to give thanks to God. Every morning, I find 15 things that I thank God for – the many things that He has done in my life. I want to encourage you to find 10 things you can thank God for every day – if not 10, then five things. But start somewhere.
Being grateful and trusting in Him is a very important part of the journey.
3. Stay connected.
Stay connected with God, and with the people God has placed in your life. This is an important part of our journey; we need one another to finish well on this pilgrimage.
4. Stay uncluttered.
Remember that your happiness is not predicated on what you have on this earth but what God has given to you.
I totally dislike clutter, and my church members even call me the spiritual Marie Kondo because I throw away everything that can be thrown away!
“In a marathon, the last 100m is the hardest. You just have to keep pressing on with God.”
The Christian life is a pilgrimage, by the time you finish the race you want to be totally uncluttered.
After all, this life is a probationary one, a dress room rehearsal, a parenthesis in eternity.
Just live this life simply and finish this race well. Recognising that each and every one of us was conceived in the mind of God even before we were conceived in our mothers’ wombs, that our Father has a plan and purpose for our lives – understanding this really motivates me to want to finish this race well.
Since God has a plan for my life, an aspiration that He wants me to achieve, I want to finish this race well, serve this generation and fulfil the will of God.
In a marathon, the last 100m is the hardest. You just have to keep moving on, you just have to keep pressing on with God.