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Leading While Young: Andre Tan

Discipleship is for the young, the middle-aged, and the old

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Andre Tan is the Lead Pastor of The City, a thriving church in Singapore. At only 30 years old, he is the first pastor ordained by Bethel Church in Redding, California who operates full-time outside of the United States. In this exclusive interview, he shares some of his key takeaways from taking on a responsibility that is usually reserved for his older counterparts.

What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of leading a church at a young age? 

The advantages are many. As a younger person, I have higher capacity, high levels of energy, and greater appetite for innovation. I think I’m definitely a lot more innovative at this stage of life, since I’m younger. There’s more space to try things and more time in general, with no kids as of yet [Editor’s Note: Andre and his wife Emi are expecting their first child, due to be born early in 2021].

Having the space to innovate and do more is an advantage in my current season in life. This really influences the way we do church. Every year is not the same, but we strive for constant improvement.

Being young, there’s more grace given me to experiment, and there’s grace that allows me to fail in that experimentation. I’m not talking about moral issues, of course, but rather I can try something, and if it doesn’t work out, we can just make changes.

Andre and his wife, Emi, Singapore, 2020

 

The biggest disadvantage would be my general lack of experience, in many ways. I pastor a church with a range of different demographics – people my age, people younger than me, people married with kids, and people significantly older than me. It would be foolish to think that I alone would be able to meet the needs of this entire range of people.

I definitely lack the wisdom and understanding to speak into specific stages of life – for example, parenting and marital issues. So this is a disadvantage, but it also can function as an advantage. It causes me to lead the church more as a team than as a solo project.

I have people surrounding me who are able to speak into these areas that I can’t speak into. The need equals an invitation for other people to step up and take leadership.

What would you advise other young people in church leadership to do? How should they approach their ministry?

I thought of 4 things young ministers should do, and they rhyme!

1) Take risks to experience grace

John Wimber said, “Faith is spelled R-I-S-K.”  There’s uncertainty in getting out of the boat. It’s in faith that we expect God’s grace – His divine empowerment and enablement. When we are in scenarios where we are in over our head and lack strength, that’s where we experience grace.

I can’t describe the number of times I’ve looked back while going through a tough season. I realize, “God has done that in the past, why won’t He do the same for this situation?” The miracles I’ve experienced in the past awakens a sense of faith for the future.

2) Be committed to your current place

Statistics tell us that the current generation will leave their jobs within an average of two years. We are a noncommittal generation. The same holds true in ministry, and younger pastors also tend to leave easily.

“I want to see people become culturally resilient, courageous in times of adversity, and committed to covenantal relationship.”

But in Scripture, the Lord likens people to trees. If you’re a tree that is constantly uprooted every so often, is growth ever really possible? Being rooted down is a prerequisite to growth.

Be committed; don’t second-guess; give yourself time in your current place.

3) Adopt a sacred pace

I had a health scare two years ago, partly from pushing myself too hard, not sleeping, and not resting, plus my unbridled ambition. I hit a really rough spot in my physical health, and also in my spiritual and emotional well-being.

In this season, I was blessed to come across books by authors like Richard Foster and Dallas Willard, about having spiritual practices in a regular rhythm. These really helped me.

The practice that really helped more than any other is the practice of the Sabbath. Every Monday now, I practice Sabbath for the entire day. I don’t reply to calls or e-mails. I do things that enrich me, that nourish my soul – I go for a walk and cook for my wife. This has been a regular fixture in my life for the last two years.

The Sabbath is not just a divine suggestion, but is a command.

4) Seek His face

We live in the age of Google – we have this infinite access to all sorts of knowledge. If you don’t know how to do a certain thing, you just Google it and the answer is there. In that advancement, we have become largely independent and don’t need people as much.

This sense of individualism also bleeds into our faith. We become increasingly independent from God. You come across an aspect of Scripture you don’t understand, you just Google it. We’ve lost that art of seeking the face of God in prayer.

What would you say is your life message? 

My life message is that of discipleship. You see it in the Great Commission. Dallas Willard, who is probably my favorite writer of all time, says this, “If the goal of the church is discipleship, there are two fundamental questions: what is our plan for discipleship, and is that plan working?” How am I being a faithful disciple of Jesus, and how do I see other people come to discipleship?

Andre during a time of ministry, Singapore, 2019

 

This is such an important principle and concept, and has incredible potential for life. My life’s mission is helping people to live lives that reflect and model Christ.

I want to see people become culturally resilient (in a time when norms subvert Biblical values), courageous in times of adversity, and committed to covenantal relationship.

 

Andre’s Backstory

Did you grow up in a Christian home? How did you start walking with the Lord?

I grew up in a non-Christian home. At the age of sixteen, I had a really profound experience that caused me to re-evaluate my life.

A few well-meaning friends were actively witnessing to me and a buddy asked, “Do you know where you’re going when you die? What would happen if you were hit by a car?” Wouldn’t you know, that very evening I decided to jaywalk in a really busy part of the city.

Next thing I know, I wake up in the hospital, with a doctor and the driver nearby. “How fast were you going?” the doctor asked the driver of the vehicle. “About 70 kilometers per hour,” he replied. The doctor turned to me and said, “You’re very lucky to be alive.” I didn’t even have a single broken bone, and the doctor couldn’t figure it out. It was a miracle.

“I saw how the power of God and the love of God is so evident. It really wrecked me. It’s His power we’re after, but His power reveals His love.”

I made my way out of the hospital room, and experienced this deep sense of peace. I gave my life to Jesus and in that moment decided that at some point in my life, I would work in the church. That started my trajectory into the ministry.

What an experience! How did you go from this to actually becoming a pastor?

Fast forward several years, and I was at a crossroads, deciding what to do with my life. I had a 10-year plan mapped out – finish school, get a good job, and then give everything up to become a pastor or Bible teacher. I thought maybe I would be about 40 years old at the time – I would make my mark in the secular world and then give it all up.

But then, for the only time in my life, I had an open vision. I saw the exact timeline I had worked out in my mind – where I was, what I was going to do, ending with me working in church – and I saw everything in the middle and the beginning and the end coming together. Instinctively I knew what I needed to do – it was time for me to embrace this call to ministry.

I then had to go through the very difficult ordeal of telling my business-oriented, non-Christian Singaporean parents – who wanted the best for their child to have a decent living and reasonable career – that I wanted to do ministry. I tried to appeal to their business acumen by having this whole Excel spreadsheet showing the pros and cons of ministry versus traditional schooling.

My dad said, “Andre put that away.” He looked me in the eye and said, “Is this your dream?”

I said, “Yes, it’s my dream.”

“Is this something that you’re willing to give your life for, to do this for the rest of your life?”

“Yes.”

“If this is your dream and what you want to do in your life, we will do everything in our power to help you do it.”

They had no clue what it was about, yet they funded me for three years of ministry school. It was such a blessing to have their belief and support.

You had the privilege of attending the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry (BSSM) – you were ordained through them. What would you say are the most life-defining moments you experienced there?

When you’re in an atmosphere like Bethel, a few things really impact you. When I first went there, I thought I was the most spiritual person on the planet. I had left my girlfriend, given up some opportunities, and I felt really too good about myself. I felt that in my going there, God saw my sacrifice, and He would surely honor me.

Andre with Bill Johnson, Redding, California, USA, 2019

 

But then on my first day of school, I was sitting between two different men. I turned to the guy on my left and asked the typical first questions, “Where are you from, how did you come to BSSM?” He replied, “I’m a medical doctor, and I’ve come to the end of myself. I sold everything I owned and moved up here with my family. We just want more of God.”

I turned to the guy on my right, and he told me, “I’m from Africa, and I just want more of God. I gathered all my possessions, my house, everything I had, and came here. Right now I’m living out of my car, and trusting God for provision.”

I looked straight ahead, dumbfounded. I thought, “Where am I, and what is this place?” The most definitive experience is being surrounded by people like that – deeply passionate people who paid a price, willing to do whatever it takes to seek God.

Beyond that, what stuck out is seeing miracles happen almost on a daily basis. We saw tons of miracles, things that you can’t really explain away. As Bill Johnson describes these miracles, they were, “signs that make you wonder.” It’s not just the moment when the power of God touches a person, but also seeing the life change that is produced from that.

I remember the first miracle I saw. There was a guy who came in, who could hardly walk with his back hunched over. His daughters helped him walk into the room

He had been in almost perpetual pain for 30 years and came wanting a miracle. We prayed for him two or three times. After the third time, we felt this sense of relief.

All of a sudden he jumped up straight and started jumping up and down. All the pain left him instantly. Of course, while celebrating the miracle of how God touched the man, the scene that really touched me was him hugging his two daughters, they were just so grateful.

I saw how the power of God and the love of God is so evident. It really wrecked me. It’s His power we’re after, but His power reveals His love.

Andre Tan and his wife Emi reside in Singapore. He is the Lead Pastor of The City, a church community who identifies as existing “to help all people be with Jesus, become like Jesus and do the works of Jesus in our city.”