I started out in Primary School as a really good boy.

After all, I was enculturated with polished manners because of my church and mission school upbringing.

However, I was very restless on the inside.

Learning about the idea of Kingdom assignments made Samuel Tan (right) start “thinking bigger”. He is pictured here with (from left to right) David Pong, co-founder and CEO of Wateroam, Samuel’s mentor Galven Lee, co-founder of Sound of Art, and Professor Freddy Boey from NUS.

I had no outlet for my adventurous nature, and eventually I let myself loose: I misbehaved so that I could be sent out of class almost everyday, and I almost bullied 3 Sunday School teachers into quitting.

I derived some thrill from my deviance, but I was deeply unsatisfied.

I hated the mundanity and regimentation of the classroom, and I had no avenue to explore life and take risks.

Life was dull. I felt like a bird trapped in a cage gazing at the sky that I could never touch.

The Boys’ Brigade taught me to fly

However, my life took a turn when I entered Secondary School and joined The Boys’ Brigade (BB).

There I was exposed to many adventurous activities that I never imagined doing before.

I loved the overnight cycling, night hikes and kayaking. But most of all, I loved that I was being mentored.

Samuel (first in line) as a Secondary 1 student in the Boys’ Brigade.

In Secondary 2, my Officer, Nicholas Lim, pulled me out during CCA time to tell me that he wanted to mentor me.

I had no idea what he meant, but since it entailed spending more time with BB friends, I gladly accepted the offer.

He met a batchmate and I on weekday evenings to discuss leadership through the Biblical lens.

My mind expanded: I never knew that the Bible could be so relevant to my life!

I learnt how Moses delegated work to the 70 elders. I learnt how Nehemiah rallied a nation to build a defensive wall in 52 days.

I began to love the Bible, and appreciate the practical leadership wisdom it gave me.

That was how God rekindled my love for His Word.

Eventually, I discovered that Jesus was the ultimate model leader, and I wanted to imitate His style.

My mentor also gave me the confidence to take on responsibilities. Soon, I was planning camps, commanding platoons and chairing recruitment projects in BB.

He also sparked my reading habit which I continue today; he lent me leadership books to learn more about how to lead effectively.

I also sourced for marketing books from the National Library so that I could run BB recruitment more professionally.

In fact, because of the recruitment projects I was given to try, and the marketing books I read, I am now studying marketing in NUS Business School.

The mentoring journey has had a huge impact on me till today. Indeed, my mentoring experience in the BB made me feel like I was released from a bird cage into the skies.

There was much for me to explore as I learnt to fly and conquer the unknown.

Gleaning ministry insights from a mentor

When I entered St. Andrew’s Junior College, I joined Saints for Christ, which is the Christian fellowship on campus.

I was then mentored by Jerome, who was in charge of pastoral staff there. He taught me to play the guitar and he shared with me many insights into ministry.

For instance, I learnt about the tensions leaders face such as walking the line between getting results and nurturing people.

During his first year of university, Samuel organised a series of marketplace talks for his school’s Varsity Christian Fellowship, where he invited Christian marketplace professionals to share how they integrate faith and work.

I came to see that leaders who are task-oriented like me tend to place a heavy emphasis on getting results like ensuring an evangelistic skit or a well-structured camp is of high quality.

However, in doing so, it’s easy to neglect the welfare of those we lead.

JC was a tough time for many of my friends, but I needed to ensure that the expectations I placed on them were reasonable, and that they were ministered to even while ministering to others.

I also realised that managing brothers and sisters who serve in church is not the same as managing employees.

These insights proved incredibly useful.

Honestly, as I still struggle to manage this tension today, I have learnt to look for co-leaders who can complement me in this area.

For example, since I am a project builder, I find a community builder to look after the welfare of my ministry team in Varsity Christian Fellowship (VCF).

While I push the team toward our vision, my co-leader keeps me in check by highlighting needs like team bonding, rest and creating a safe space for each other.

The lasting impact of my mentors

To this day when I’m in university, I still approach Jerome for advice like navigating romantic relationships.

I really like how he breaks down my complex thoughts into manageable bite-sized questions to manage and how he offers me insights from his relationship with his wife.

I also approach other Christian uncles like Dr Goh Wei Leong and Jason Wong for advice.

When I face big decisions like starting a ministry, navigating relationships or choosing my career path, I confide in these Christian elders who care for me and have great wisdom to guide me.

Finding mentors for my friends

However, I’ve realised that having mentors is actually a rare thing.

Many of my contemporaries do not have the benefit of seniors who can guide them in important life decisions.

As a result, I see my peers struggling alone especially when it comes to choosing their career path and managing workplace challenges.

Samuel at Jerome’s wedding.

Some of them cannot find meaning in their work and get sucked in by the rat race. Others have been asked by their bosses to do unethical things, and they feel that they have no voice to say no.

There are those who have experienced failure in their work, and thus worry about their reputation and career prospects.

Others still, have experienced early success at the expense of their time with God. They lost touch with God and left their churches completely.

If only they had the counsel of Christian elders in the marketplace to journey with them!

I felt deeply frustrated with this problem, and I decided to try to solve it.

So, I created a mentorship programme that enables mentors to journey with university students and fresh graduates.

During this nine-month programme, students will discuss pivotal decisions with their mentors, like how to discover your calling, how to manage failure, how to handle moral challenges in the workplace and practise the Sabbath.

I met over 100 potential mentors one-to-one so I could be confident that they are suitable to look after my friends.

It took me six months to put this together.

I took a gap year instead of completing my fourth year in university to meet over 100 potential mentors one-to-one so I could be confident that they are suitable to look after my friends.

I also read a lot of books to write out a Mentors’ Guide for mentors who have no experience.

My hope for my generation

Why did I do this? I want to see my generation make an impact for God in the marketplace.

We are not influenced by the world; we are salt and light that influence the world for Christ.

And we don’t have to do it alone. We have nurturing mentors in the Marketplace Mentorship Programme who will walk with us and pick us up when we fall.

With mentors by our side, we can be like birds soaring in formation. We need not feel caged by the challenges in this world.

Instead, we can have the boldness to take a risk with God and adventure with Him to touch the sky.

Looking back on my life, I realise that God has always shown Himself to be real to me through my mentors.

If not for my mentors, my life would have gone down the gutter from unwise decisions.

My mentors were Jesus to me. They lifted my head when I felt down, called out my strengths, corrected me and showed me the path of holiness.

I wish this for everyone; everyone needs a mentor.

And if you are a student or recent graduate, it would be my pleasure to find you one.

Samuel started a Marketplace Mentorship Programme after noticing that graduating students transiting to the workforce may struggle to live out the Christian faith in the marketplace.

Through the mentorship programme, he hopes to help them to become salt and light in their specific industry. Registration for this year’s intake closes on April 20. Visit www.faithx.one to learn more.

  1. Do you have a mentor? Why or why not?
  2. What are some areas of your life in which mentorship might be a benefit or help?
  3. Get a mentor and start learning! Why not start with FaithX?