“Spiritual leaders not only walk in the God’s plan themselves, but also bring others into it.”
These words from Radical Discipleship Journey (in Chinese) are conviction that Pastor John Tran, the author, has lived and practiced in various contexts.
John studied in a Catholic boys’ school from elementary to high school, where he had experienced the loving care and commitment of the priests. However, he never developed a personal relationship with God. It was not until grade 11 when he attended the Luis Palau Evangelistic Crusade with his classmates in 1987 that he decided to follow the Lord and began to attend church gatherings. Majored in Business Administration in college, John graduated a few years before 1997 when Hong Kong was handed over to China Mainland. There was a wave of immigration but at the same time, there were opportunities for the younger generation. Within a few years, he obtained a number of professional qualifications as an accountant and a chartered financial analyst, together with his extensive knowledge and experience, John achieved great success in his career. In a prosperous society, it is not easy to enter the world without being part of it. But John was blessed with an impressive testimony that he heard at his college fellowship, setting him up with the right mind before setting his foot in the dazzling and bustling world, “The advice of the lawyer who shared his testimony had a profound impact on me. He said that the workplace is full of deception and too many people have lost to the world. But God wants us to testify in the workplace and invites us to do so. Then he went on and said, ‘If God wants you to serve him full time one day, are you willing?’ This was obviously a call to life-long ministry. I struggled for a while, thinking if it was from the Lord, how could I turn down? So I pray, ‘Lord, keep me and help me not to lose my battle against the world, that others may see that you are the true God, who is much greater than the world and its glamor. Lord, whenever you call me to serve you, I will leave and follow.’”
During his years in the business world, John has not forgotten the promise he made to God. He devoted himself to his work while serving as a volunteer in his church. He has led many colleagues, friends and family members to God. He was convinced and had experienced that it is possible to hold fast to the commandments and testify to God, “Will you stray from the commands of God? Yes! If you are not vigilant enough, if you think you can take the easy way out, and if you don’t want to think too much about it, you will drift away! When you don’t do what others do, when you are not being a brownnoser, then you have to work extra hard and spend extra time to see the results. But the most important thing is to be able to live your life according to God’s will, not how much money you are making. God is present in all these situations, and daily work can be offered as worship to God.”
Twelve years later, the time has come.
At the beginning of 2005, John’s career was taking off as he was in charge of the company’s Greater China region. He heard God’s calling in his prayer, “Do you remember the prayer of dedicating yourself to serve me? Do you still want to?”
John’s boss, the CEO of the company at that time, was a devoted Christian and a successful businessman. He allowed John to organize a lot of evangelistic work in the company. “I asked him once, ‘Is there anything else you are not satisfied with?’ He replied, ‘John, I have everything. There’s only one thing in my heart though. It was the calling that God gave me to serve him in my college days, I did not fulfill it.’ These words kept stirring in my heart. Shortly afterwards, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and passed away in a few months. Although he had wanted me to come after as successor of his work, he understood when he found out that I had decided to answer God’s calling. At the moment, I couldn’t stop my tears, and I really missed him.” In fact, in his journey of answering God’s calling, John struggled most in the loving relationships, obligations and expectations that came from family and work. In 2008, when John was in the third year of his MDiv studies, he was struck with the bad news that his older brother had cancer, “He passed away very quickly, leaving three children behind, the youngest was just over one year old!” While John needed to share the responsibility of caring for his brother’s family, the severe hit of the financial tsunami made him wonder if he should return to the fray, “At that time, I often meditated God’s Word with Rev. Philip Yeung, spent a lot of time talking with my wife and received prayer support from brothers and sisters. And I finally decided to serve at my church after graduation.” Now his brother’s children have grown up, and the eldest one is already working. John’s wife has done well in her job, which helps with their household income. “After all these, I have realized that things are not always within my plan. God wants me to learn to rely on Him more than myself.”
Deepening self-understanding and deepening the connection with God is the way of our spiritual journey, spiritual growth, and one of the most cherished yet often the inadequate aspects of John’s ministry experience, “Some of us didn’t realize that we see Jesus as the Goddess of Mercy, while some parents may say, ‘It’s great if you can bring my children back on track!’ It is not right for many parents to see the church as a place for character transformation while they do not take responsibility for the spiritual growth of their children. It’s more important to know that their children will only grow into maturity after their own parents. Only the life built from and transformed by God can last long, and this is spiritual formation. Believing in the Lord and becoming his disciple means that He is your God, you are willing to follow His way and no longer your own way.” With this conviction, he was motivated to serve at his church with a discipleship training model during his MDiv studies. Having completed the MDiv program, John went on to pursue his DMin studies at Fuller Theological Seminary, the US, majoring in spiritual formation and discipleship growth and pastoral care.
In addition to serving in his church, John is an independent non-executive director of a blue-chip company listed in Hong Kong, in which the initial public offering (IPO) was led and completed by himself and his team, so that he could continue to stay connected with marketplace, which is very helpful for pastoral ministry. Since this academic year, John has been appointed the Adjunct Professor of our newly-launched Doctor of Ministry (DMin) program. He is responsible for teaching the compulsory subject “Reflective Personal Growth and Collaborative Leadership”, and plans to offer “Spiritual Formation and Discipleship” and “Spiritual Leadership” courses, “I think the importance of the DMin Program is to make good use of the knowledge from the Biblical and theological studies and to put it into practice. Any principles that cannot be put into practice will turn into empty words and lies. Unfortunately, the biggest problem nowadays is that too many people talk the walk, or even talk the talk. But the most crucial thing about discipleship and leadership is to walk the talk. Your faith must be put into action for it to come alive. Anything less than that will easily cause doubt, and is all vain and worthless, as James 1:26 says.”
Over the years, John has shared his pastoral experience and insights with hundreds of pastors, through which he got a better understanding of the struggle, “Many pastors or leaders are diligent and dedicated, but they often have mixed up their calling. There are many reasons for such confusion, either comparison, a desire to be like someone in their minds, or driven by responding to needs, or out of pressure and fear, resulting in misplaced goals. In light of these, John offers his sincere wishes for his students, “Everything you do reveals your true authentic self. I hope that your study would help you find out who you are, including your temperament, identity and calling, and recognize how God would like you to take part in the church and society today, in order to live out and fulfill the call He has given you. As for the mission of the Church as a whole, how would we put into practice as a faith community, we need to embrace and envision it gradually. It is not a matter of numbers, but as a matter of life.”
For John, walking into the calling and journeying towards sanctification are not only cornerstone of the DMin program, but also the foundation of life for everyone who is convicted to become a disciple. It is especially important and precious for us today that we live authentically and walk the talk, so that we will achieve a breakthrough in various situations and walk out of the darkness.