This week I had a valuable conversation with Michael Low, who started his career as a lawyer, then a banker, and later went to Bible school at Regent College (one of my dreams!).
We met in a class when he came back with his wife 3 years ago. Since then, he has taken up a role as Advancement Consultant with reSource Leadership International, leveraging upon his experience and networks to help communicate and grow the vision of building Christian leaders all over the world. He is also serving as youth and young adult pastor in his church, as well as a BGST adjunct lecturer, and a trainer.
You can read more about his story in an earlier interview by Salt and Light here.
Michael’s area of expertise and passion is in helping people (especially young adults) find their calling. In this conversation, I hope to learn more about his insights about calling, wealth, and ministering to young adults.
Me: Thank you for your time, Michael! There is so much to learn from you about finding our calling in life. I am curious: How does this process of finding your calling looks like for you?
Michael: Glad to chat with you, Marcus. I’m still very much on the journey of finding my calling, and perhaps my biggest takeaway thus far is that finding our calling is a process and journey, not a destination.
Me: Amen to that! May I know which industries have you ventured into before? What do you see as your current vocation now?
Michael: I have been a lawyer and a banker before I went away to Regent. Since coming back, I now have 4 part time roles: youth and young adult pastor, fundraiser, lecturer, and trainer. What do I consider my vocation? Helping people to find or be effective at theirs.
Early Working Life: Searching for Integration
Me: That is so important for many of us today. So Michael, in your interview with Salt & Light, you shared about how you once felt you were leading a double life as a young lawyer. Care to elaborate more for our readers here?
Michael: Certainly. I was working in a high-stress, toxic work environment then. Many of my colleagues were smoking and using filthy language, and I sort of blended in. If you had seen me in the office, it’d be difficult to imagine that anyone would know I was a Christian.
But on Sunday, I’ll be a different person. I was a worship leader in the church, and we would also open our house for cell group gatherings on Friday nights, although both of us were so busy with work that we were seldom around! At most I was early enough to say goodbye when they are leaving. Deep inside, I knew something was not quite right.
Me: That must have been a difficult experience, to feel that you are leading two distinct lives.
Michael: Yes. It’s like a lack of integration, between our faith and our work. I saw them as clearly separate areas of my life, and at some level, without realising it, felt quite keenly the discomfort of the dichotomy.
Me: The sacred-secular divide. In hindsight, how do you think you could have handled the struggles better? What kind of advice would you give your younger self?
Michael: That’s a good one. I would say this: build spiritual friendships. Have the space to share authentic struggles at work, in life, at home, with friends who are with you in your spiritual journey.
Me: Were you able to find this kind of ‘safe space’ to discuss your work struggle in the church?
Michael: That’s the thing… I’d never know because I didn’t try asking. I guess at that time we didn’t have the culture to discuss this kind of thing. We seldom talk deeply about our work lives in church. We did not have a deep, robust theology of work to process some of these real-life issues. So I might have thought, it’s up to me to figure it out. And because I was not able to manage it, I decided to leave the practice (in a sense, running away). In hindsight, that was a time I really needed spiritual friends or a mentor to walk through the issues with me.
Me: Thanks for your honesty. After you left legal practice, your next stint as a professional trustee was a happier place. Care to share more about it?
Michael: Sure. I worked 15 years as a professional trustee in different banks. I was better able to handle the stress. Part of the reason was that my wife and I learned to protect our marriage by protecting our time. Previously, we used to work very long hours. Learning to find a better work-life balance helped give some margin to our lives.
Me: I could see that you are a very people-oriented person. What role does personality play in influencing your process of discerning your call?
Michael: Yes, I do love to work with people. In fact, working as a litigation lawyer allows me to meet people from a broad spectrum of society too. But I guess the nature of litigation work is such that, the relationship is more transactional. Whereas as a trustee at the bank, I can build a longer-term relationship with the clients.
Me: Yes. That is certainly a place you can flourish in!
Michael: True. I am also a problem-solver. So in a sense, my tendency to problem-solve and to work with people comes together, both in my work as a lawyer and as a professional trustee. The main difference is that people who came to a lawyer were already in a problem, while people working with the bank and the trustee are pre-empting the problem. I also enjoy variety, and every case is different – whether in the courtroom or in the bank – giving a fresh challenge each time.
Build spiritual friendships. Have the space to share authentic struggles at work, in life, at home, with friends who are with you in your spiritual journey.
Finding Congruence in Faith and Work: The Road to Regent College
Me: So, what makes you decide to go to Regent College?
Michael: Even as I was very happy in my job, I couldn’t make the connection between my work and my Christian faith. I’m looking after money for rich people, but how does this help serve the Kingdom of God? Does God actually care about what I do in my 9 to 5?
It was through a book, The Other Six Days: Vocation, Work and Ministry in Biblical Perspective, by Paul Stevens, that I began to learn about the theology of work. That piqued my interest to go deeper and learn about how God designed work to be good in itself. This led me to apply to study marketplace theology at Regent College.
Me: What was your key takeaway from Regent with regard to your calling?
Michael: My biggest takeaway about calling in general and my own in particular was that there is no “one size fits all” prescription and that it is really a journey to be walked and discovered. In Parker Palmer’s words, our callings are gifts to be received.
That really was my experience, which came most vividly in one class I did with Paul Stevens, where we spent 10 weeks visiting people in their places of work. We visited a whole range of people, from a helicopter maintenance engineer (former missionary), a family that had owned and ran one of Vancouver’s oldest egg packing plants, the owner of one of Vancouver’s best spas, a not-for-profit program coordinator, as well as one of Vancouver’s best-known shoe designers and manufacturers, and also the owner of one of Vancouver’s up and coming coffee chains, and many others. My biggest revelation was that God met them along each of their journeys, and they were all very clear about their calling when we met them, but they also shared that it had been a challenging, complex, and at times difficult journey to understand, and embrace, their calling.
It was a great comfort to me to know that each of our journeys is OURS, and that God would lead and guide us along our own journeys, with HIS best plans for us. Keyword being HIS best plans, and not ours, so it required a large element of faith, trust, and surrender, but all the while knowing that we are in the hands of a good God who loves us.
Me: Amen! Truly He knows the plans He has for us. Trusting and obeying Him is the journey of every Christian.
My biggest takeaway about calling in general and my own in particular was that there is no “one size fits all” prescription, and that it is really a journey to be walked and discovered. In Parker Palmer’s words, our callings are gifts to be received.
Building Spiritual Friendships with Young Adults
Me: Let’s talk about your role as a Young Adult Pastor. Working with young adults seems to be a very prominent theme in your life. What drives your passion for ministering to young adults?
Michael: Did you know that between the ages of 15-30, our young people go through an incredible number of transitions in their life. Going from an adolescent to an adult, from structured school to self-directed learning to work, from dependent to economically contributing, and on top of that trying to date, find a life partner and settle down. It’s a frightening, tumultuous, but yet also amazingly exciting period. My wife and I believe that our role is to be mentors in that critical stage of their life. As mentioned, I wish I had a mentor when I was a young adult to help me navigate some of my struggles in life.
Me: How do you usually minister to them? Is it primarily through your teaching, or through your relationship with them?
Michael: I would say it is primarily through our relationship with them – over meals! We love to invite them to our place to talk over meals. Teaching is important, but teaching without relationship can be merely information transfer. The old adage, though cliche, is true: ‘people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.’
Me: So true. And this is also inspired by your time at Regent? When you learned and experienced what it is like to have spiritual friendships?
Michael: Yes. Spiritual friendship is not like a discipleship program or spiritual counseling. You don’t come in with a set agenda. The relationship is for its own sake. And when the young adults feel that they can trust you, they will open up to you when they need help with their life direction. It’s a principle we try to live by. We call this the ‘100 hours for 30 seconds’ principle. It means we must be willing to spend 100 hours (or more!) in building that relationship, for that 30 seconds that they actually ask us for help, at the critical inflection points of their life. I am so touched when young adults tell me years later about something I shared with them that set them down a certain path; sometimes I don’t even remember that conversation!
Me: Wow. That is a lot of time put in. But I’m sure that when you do so with love, it is like cultivating a garden where the flowers of friendship can blossom. No wonder I see so many photos of your meals with them on your Facebook feeds!
Teaching is important, but teaching without relationship can be merely information transfer. The old adage, though cliche, is true: ‘people don’t care what you know until they know how much you care.’
Advice for Young Adults on Wealth and Calling
Me: In your interactions with young adults in Singapore, what are the common themes / questions when it comes to finding their calling?
Michael: Actually, some of them would ask me about wealth. “Is it okay for Christians to be rich?”
Me: And what’s your answer?
Michael: I would tell them, “Yes, God has blessed several people in biblical times with wealth and financial means. The bigger question is, if God takes away everything from you overnight, if He says, “don’t need it anymore”, are you okay with it?”
Me: Exactly! It is the question of whether we are possessed by our possessions.
Michael: Wealth is not about ownership, but stewardship. If we recognise that all our wealth comes from God, given to us as resources to be stewarded, then we won’t put our hope and security in wealth.
Me: Was it easy for you when you have up your job at the bank to go to Regent?
Michael: To be honest, I did struggle with it at first. Even though I was earning a high income, there’s always the sense that it is never enough. It was only as I slowly learnt to understand the true nature of stewardship that I was able to entrust this aspect of my life to God. It is still a struggle at times, especially in affluent and expensive Singapore, but we get better with practice.
Me: I had my struggles with financial insecurity during my 30’s as well.
Michael: It is a common Singaporean struggle. The growing affluence comes with all these symbols of wealth that we see flaunted all over the place – huge bungalows, expensive cars… it can sweep us into thinking that we should be entitled to these things. When we realise that we are but stewards of all this wealth, we learn to hold them lightly, and not let them have a hold on us.
Wealth is not about ownership, but stewardship… When we realise that we are but stewards of all this wealth, we learn to hold them lightly, and not let them have a hold on us.
Me: So, what are some steps or advice you would commonly give a fresh graduate (ITE, polytechnic, university) when it comes to starting out in their vocation?
Michael: Based on what we discussed above about calling and vocation, my best advice to any fresh graduate searching for their calling is:
- Your calling is far more than your job or occupation, it is the root of who you are. Our jobs are merely vehicles for the expression of those callings. What do I mean by that? Someone may be clearly called to the mission field without being a missionary in the traditional sense; he or she may be a nurse, businessperson, diplomat, but with the very clear sense of sharing the gospel where they are. Conversely, there are pastors in church who may not have a pastoral calling and find themselves struggling to fit into the expectations placed upon them in caring for people, managing a church etc, when they might be far better suited as IT engineers writing code that will bless millions of people around the world.
- In that light, as a new graduate, every job that comes your way is a great test bed/lab to try out and see if this suits the expression of your calling. We often wander or stumble into some expressions of our calling that we, never in our wildest dreams, would imagine would suit us…but they somehow, by the grace of God work out.
- It is therefore important to recognise that much as we seek out our callings, our callings will also seek us out. This is done by discerning in solitude (in quiet moments with God and Scripture), and confirming in community, by seeking wise counsel from close friends, leaders and trusted family (and most importantly your spouse).
Every job, especially as a fresh graduate, is a possibility and a potential answer to your search for calling. And even if it doesn’t fulfill that function, you are likely to build friendships along the way that will stand you in good stead in that journey of discovering your calling. And as you discover your calling, you will also discover deeply who you are, and how God has made you.
Enjoy the journey, especially the revelations that God will show you. May Psalm 119 be true for you as embark on this journey.
Me: This is so good! Really appreciate the depth of insight in your advice! It sure comes with many years of experience and reflection and walking with the Lord.
Every job, especially as a fresh graduate, is a possibility and a potential answer to your search for calling… And as you discover your calling, you will also discover deeply who you are, and how God has made you.
Me: In closing, are there any books or resources you strongly recommend when it comes to finding your calling?
Michael: Yes! Here are some really good books you can check out:
- Live Your Calling: A Practical Guide to Finding and Fulfilling Your Mission in Life, by Kevin Brennfleck & Kay Marie Brennfleck
- Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good, by Steve Garber
- Courage and Calling: Embracing Your God-Given Potential, by Gordon T. Smith
- The Voice of Jesus: Discernment, Prayer and the Witness of the Spirit, by Gordon T. Smith (my book review)
- Consider Your Calling: Six Questions for Discerning Your Vocation, by Gordon T. Smith
- Make Your Job a Calling: How the Psychology of Vocation Can Change Your Life at Work, by Bryan Dik & Ryan Duffy (my related posts here, here and here)
- Workship: How To Use Your Work To Worship God, by Kara Martin
- Workship 2: How to Flourish at Work, by Kara Martin
Me: Great recommendations! I have read some of them myself. They have really shaped my view of God’s calling for the whole people of God.
It is truly an honor to have this conversation with you on all things related to calling, Michael. You are such an insightful teacher and brother. I have so much takeaway from our chat! Thank you so much for your time and for sharing your life with us!
Michael: Don’t mention it, it’s my pleasure and privilege as well.
If you are interested in taking Michael Low’s course on “MM101 Vocation, Work and Ministry” offered by BGST, check out here.