Dr. G. T. Ng, Executive Secretary
Seventh-day Adventist World Church
Dr. G. T. Ng was elected Secretary of the General Conference in July 2010. He is one of the three Executive Officers of the Church (the other two being the President and the Treasurer). He serves as an advisor to the Office of Adventist Mission, the Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research, the Institute of World Mission, and the Ellen G White Estate.
Dr. Ng holds a bachelor’s degree from Southeast Asia Union College in Singapore. His post-graduate work includes a master’s degree from the Adventist Theological Seminary in the Philippines and a Ph.D. from the Theological Seminary at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. He worked in Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, and his native Singapore, prior to coming to the General Conference (Image and Bio Source: https://secretariat.adventist.org/leadership/secretary/)
DL: How and when did you first see yourself as a leader? Who have been your leadership mentors?
GT: I never saw myself as a leader until much later in my career. I didn’t see it at my first job posting when I went to Cambodia as a missionary since there wasn’t any leadership expectation. Neither did I see myself as a leader upon my return to Singapore where I served at Youngberg Hospital since my area of work did not require leadership. Later, I became a departmental director at the Southeast Asia Union Mission and I still didn’t see myself as a leader. The inkling of leadership was not awakened in me until my next role.
It finally dawned on me about being a leader when I got to AIIAS, Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies. I was asked to be the Assistant Dean of the Seminary, but I was most reluctant as I was not ready to be a leader. The president of the institution became rather impatient with me as I did not respond with an answer for 3-4 months. Finally, I agreed to accept it with the condition to serve only for a year and subsequently review it a year later. After 2 years, I became the Dean. I saw for the first time that I had the leadership potential even though I did not volunteer for leadership.
Years later, I ran into a couple of “volunteer” leaders while attending leadership training at a university. They were people who overtly saw themselves as leaders. Two vice presidents took me aside and tried to impress me with their “president” wannabe overture. Wow, those were the “career” volunteer leaders that I would stay far away.
Although God has been my mentor all through the years, there was one “earthly” mentor, Dr. Mervyn Hardinge, whose humble leadership impressed me greatly. He was then the Health Director at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. A highly learned man with an MD and two PhDs, he impressed me most with his humility and dedication. Each time I heard him speak in Singapore and interacted with him, I could not help but wish to be a leader like him. His impact on me resulted in us naming our son Mervyn after him. What a tremendous example of a servant leader. We do not have a shortage of leaders. We need more servant and spiritual leaders.
DL: What is your biggest leadership lesson or “Aha” moment?
GT: There is no one single “aha” moment as it has been a continual learning process. I have learned to stay clear of “volunteer leaders” and there are plenty around. I have grown to be impatient with them because they think a world of themselves. They try to impress us and ask loaded questions. They are not shy of telling and showing how good they are as leaders. Here are a few important lessons I have learned about leadership:
- Leadership is not politics. Leaders who think leadership is mostly about politics are not spiritual leaders. They lack the spiritual foundation and thus they use politics to wield power and influence. They are on shallow ground and it will come back and bite them.
- Leadership is not position. Position is visible and temporary; leadership is subtle and indefinite. From one position to the next, spiritual leadership continues. The leadership by position is a sickness in the church, just like any other organization. It is sad that many are defined by their positions. I’m not tied to my position and my leadership continues in whatever responsibility assigned to me. I define my position and stay true to who I am.
- Leadership is stewardship. Talents, time, money belong to God. When I am called to a position, I’m the steward of the position. Whenever my term of office is up, I’ll bring an empty box to my office, empty everything, thank my staff, and bid them farewell. I may not see them again and so we need closure. I’m ready to be transferred and I have no disappointment. Unfortunately, a year before the 2020 General Conference Session, many “volunteer” leaders will sing the song “I shall not be moved”. Some will hum the GC election “theme” song: “I’m pressing on the upward way” while others :“Pass me not my Gentle Savior, Hear my humble cry”. This song is not uncommon either: “Is my name written there”. I’ll remind them to sing the song “It is well with my soul”.
- Finally, a lesson from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor, theologian, and anti-Nazi martyr who wrote the classic, “The Cost Of Discipleship”: when God calls you to be a leader, he bids you to come and die. How does a Christian leader talk about a position? Leadership is much deeper; it’s a spiritual journey with God. Your leadership continues even after retirement. It is more far reaching than a position.
DL: How has your leadership style evolved?
GT: I used to teach leadership courses for years, covering topics in leadership principles, theories, and skills. But I became disillusioned with “classroom” leadership training and I literally threw away my syllabus. I found that spiritual leadership is the true foundation of leadership. When the foundation is missing, leadership becomes superficial and political. My current leadership style is that of “directed consensus”. It is leading a team but not dictated by the group. I would sell the idea to the group and invite and value their contributions. It’s building consensus among the group guided by the group leader.
DL: Do you consider yourself a natural leader (NL) or serendipitous leader (SL) and how would you work with a NL and SL?
GT: I’m not a natural leader, but a reluctant leader. Over time, I accepted the leadership role as I could not be a reluctant leader forever. I find it difficult to work with natural leaders as they think they have the answers for everything. It’s a problem with some gifted people, but we still need to bring the team together.
Reluctant leaders need a lot of encouragement. Their talents and leadership are discovered by the group. Working with reluctant leaders, I would remind them that when they are called to be leaders, God will qualify that call. Over time, God will make you the kind of leader He has intended for you.
DL: Could you think of a question in your leadership journey that is still perplexing or inexplicable? Why has it been perplexing?
GT: This question perplexes me: “Why am I chosen?” I don’t like the limelight; it’s not my cup of tea. Why does God choose a person who prefers to be behind the scene? It scares me to be out in front.
Over time, you don’t have to let the question bother you. Yes, there was no answer to why I was chosen to be the Assistant Dean at the Seminary? No answer, but it awakened my leadership consciousness.
DL: Final thought, what’s ahead in your leadership journey?
GT: My next chapter is being written. We are in the hands of God. It’s very intriguing we are writing the book of Acts in our own way. God’s in control and our role is following his direction.