Geoff, I think you’re right. I think it’s rare for Asian American churches to go outside of their own walls.
We sometimes see Asian American pastors or church leaders fellowshipping with or partnering with other Asian American pastors. (My dad who is a pastor of a Chinese American church regularly gets together with other pastors of Chinese American churches.)
We might see Asian American churches having joint retreats or events with other Asian American churches. (When I was serving at my dad’s church volunteering in youth ministry, we had a joint youth retreat for Chinese churches in CA every other year called RYCE…Retreat for Young Chinese Evangelicals).
But it’s somewhat rare to see Asian American pastors fellowshipping with non-Asian pastors. (We just hosted a Weekender** here at CHBC last week. 93 pastors, seminarian and church leaders attended. And out of the 93 men, there were about a half dozen of Asian descent. And I think all of them were in either Asian American churches or international churches.)
And I think it’s even rarer for Asian American churches to have joint events or partner with non-Asian churches. I mean, unless you’re going to count being part of something like the SBC (Southern Baptist Convention), where churches give money to the Cooperative Program for mission work.
But these examples are not the norm. I think there a few reasons why:
1) Asian American churches are often made up of people who gather with other Asian American because it’s comfortable and of kids of that first group. “Fellowship with others who you aren’t comfortable with…why do that? That’s not comfortable.” So they stay where it’s comfortable…within their own church.
2) The kids in those churches in #1 grow up, and they go to college. Unfortunately, many of them carry the same “do what’s comfortable, stay with the same” mentality when choosing a church or choosing a fellowship group. So many end up going to an Asian American fellowship group and/or to an Asian American church. Though they are venturing out a little since they’re not with their home church nor with the friends they grew up with, they’re still staying “safe” and “comfortable” fellowshipping with other Asian Americans.
3) I’m sure there’s some baggage leftover from Asian Americans feeling like outsiders in America. And maybe there’s this strange sense that since “all” of non-Asian America treats us differently, they’re going to protect themselves and not venture outside of the Asian American community unless they absolutely have to (i.e.-work and school). Unfortunately, this carries over into how people view churches as well. “Have joint events with that non-Asian church? That’s not safe. That’s not comfortable. Must protect self.”
4) Asian Americans being vulnerable? Eh. Not a usual trait. This fear of being vulnerable, of being open with your thoughts and emotions, of being transparent with your spiritual state…unfortunately, this seems to be more of the norm for Asian Americans, even if they’re true believers. And that’s just with people who you’re already close with and already in community with as members of the same church. It’s hard enough to be in significant relationships inside your own church, let alone trying to minister to those in another church.
And to get past any of these hang-ups, it takes effort. So just getting the ball rolling takes motivation. But our common faith and belief in the Gospel, and our desire to see our churches reflecting God’s glory should be enough motivation to partner with other churches, and other pastors, and other Christians that aren’t like us. I’m encouraged by those who are already crossing the lines that seem to divide churches from one another. And I would encourage all of us to consider if we’re not partnering with other churches (non-Asian or not), why not?
I had the opportunity to attend the annual meeting for the association my church is involved with. Besides the time there with fellow staff, it was great to build relationships with leaders of other churches and hear about the ministries going on in our region. One striking observation I had during my time there is simply how few Asian churches were represented (few meaning zero. I was joking with my staff that they were going to put me on their promotional material) …which made me wonder why that is.
In my experience with Chinese churches, very few of them have ever been very engaged in traditional denominational structures. At most, they might be listed on their rolls. But as far as real participation and partnership, I’ve not seen much of that. In fact, as I think on my experience in these churches, even outside denominational affiliation (if there is any), there has usually been very little meaningful partnership with non-ethnic churches at all. Rather, the Chinese churches I’ve known have tended to be rather isolated in their ministry.
Has this been your experience? Are there any reasons for this? How could Asian churches benefit from seeking meaningful relationships with other non-Asian churches or within a denomination?
We like to think we’re stronger than we really are. Or wiser. Or holier. It’s easy for us to convince ourselves that we don’t need anybody except ourselves to accomplish what we desire. Praise the Lord that He’s opened our eyes to see our need for a Savior, to see that we can’t save ourselves. We need God to change our hearts, to give us new hearts.
But even though we’ve humbled ourselves to God in salvation, many of us still act like we don’t need anybody else’s help, especially in our walks with the Lord. It’s just me and Jesus, and that’s all I need. We act like Lone Ranger Christians. Maybe we’re making acquaintances or friends as we pass through this life, but we’re not really depending on anybody else. We’re not letting people really know us, and we’re not digging deep to get to know other people.
We deceive ourselves when we think we don’t need to be in relationship with other people when it comes to our faith. We weren’t meant to live this life alone. Praise the Lord that He gave us the church. Hopefully, most of you have true brothers and sisters in the faith who you meet with regularly to help you grow spiritually. But I’m guessing that the people who you spend the most time with are people who are similar to yourself. Maybe the same age, same life-stage, same ethnicity, or even same socioeconomic level. We can tell ourselves that we just get along better with people who are like us. Or that we don’t have to explain ourselves to these particular people because we’re…alike.
But when we spend all of our time with people are just like us, we are limiting ourselves from the full blessing that God has given us in the people of His Church. Have you considered what you’re missing out on when you only fellowship with people who are just like you? I understand that it’s not easy to get to know or spend time with people who you don’t naturally just flow with. Sometimes it takes so much effort, or we see little fruit when we do make the effort, that we get discouraged. Is it really worth it?
Yes! It is!
What can we do to build unity in our churches? How about learning from those who are different from you?
This could apply to those in the “other” congregations. But it could also apply to those who are in the same congregation as you, but who you don’t normally interact with. Maybe it means someone who is married with kids in college when you’re a single, young professional. Maybe it means someone who is your parents’ age.
There is so much to be learned from others, especially from those who are older and have many more years of life experience than us. The Lord seems to grant an increased measure of wisdom to those with more years of life experience. And no matter how old we are, we don’t know everything!
So what are ways we can be taking a posture of humility and sitting at the feet of others to learn from them?
1) LISTEN TO THEIR STORIES
You can learn a ton about the Lord’s work and about people by listening. Listen to their conversion stories, to their life stories, to how the Lord is growing them, to their struggle stories. We tend to be a generation that only wants to talk. And when we’re not talking, we only want to listen to things that interest us. And even then, we have short attention spans. But pray to the Lord that He would make you genuinely interested in knowing other people. Yes, sometimes it takes patience and endurance to listen to someone tell you the same story for the umpteenth time or to give you the long version of a story. But as we die to ourselves, and not worry about how we’re being inconvenienced (or even better, that we consciously decide to be inconvenienced for the gospel), we will be blessed in the wisdom and life stories of other saints.
Ask good questions. Be engaged in the conversation, showing that you’re valuing the other person and what they have to say.
An example in my own life of this is my relationship with one of the senior members of our congregation. Ms. Jeanette. She was Caucasian women, never married, and 50-60 years older than me. She had been using her “retirement” years faithfully volunteering in the church office every week. She would do her “jobs” each week, keeping our paper membership cards updated and making new ones for our growing congregation, and she would reset the pew bibles and hymnals after each Sunday. And she made sure I knew how to do my job! The Lord took her home a few years ago, and I miss seeing her every week and having good conversations with her. But I learned from her what it meant to persevere in the faith for all those years. And what it meant to serve the church sacrificially, even in your “retirement” years. And what it meant to trust the Lord even when things change around you. Here she was as an older member of a church for decades, and lots of things changed about the church culture…lots of younger folks became members and as the music changed and as the choir went silent. But she continued to love and invest in the people, and continued to serve with joy.
2) INITIATE THESE RELATIONSHIPS
How about taking the first steps and crossing the dividing “line”? Maybe it means inviting older, single members over to your house for dinner. Maybe it means asking a younger women over to your place to join you for lunch if you’re a mother with kids, inviting her into your chaotic home life. Maybe it means having a deeper conversation with someone you never had a conversation with before instead of your friends after service. I’m sure you remember how it felt when someone invited you to something or spent the time to talk with you for the first time. Reach out to those around you. And get to know them. And let them know you!
3) MENTORING RELATIONSHIPS
How about taking this “learning” to a deeper level? How about asking an older Christian to meet up with you regularly so you can learn from them? Maybe it’s reading a book together. Or asking him questions about his family and what it means to lead as a husband and father. Or asking her how their family does family worship or how the instruct and discipline their kids.
Any other ideas?
Jer, thanks for the good reminder for us to check our hearts, when it comes to our attitude toward other congregation(s) within the Asian church. I can definitely identify with an attitude of wanting to separate and segregate, rather than to serve and support. As I thought about this question of how to foster unity among the English-speaking and immigrant congregations, the thought that came to my mind was service.
In the church that I am serving in, the median age is currently about 60, but there is an increasing number of young people coming in. So we have a wide demographic gap between those who are older and have been coming here for decades versus those who are younger and have just started attending. It would be all too easy for us to have two congregations within the congregation.
From my experience in Chinese churches across the country, this is all too common. The English-speaking congregation will usually be younger than the Chinese-speaking congregation, creating not only a difference in language, but in culture and age. And yet, precisely because of that difference in age, here is an opportunity to foster unity through service. As the Chinese-speaking congregation grows older, opportunities for the younger English congregation to serve practically will abound. Particularly in the Asian context, if the service is well-organized and communicated, then it would very appropriate for the younger to serve and care for the older, which could very well create opportunities for the older to also interact with the younger. So, to English pastors who are leading English-speaking congregations, whether they are mostly youth, or young adults, or young families, work to model and lead your congregation to develop a culture where you are looking to serve and care for the needs within the ethnic congregation. Communicate with the pastors of the ethnic congregations to see if there might be practical ways your congregation can be serving them.
So what could this look like? Just a few ideas off the top of my head:
- Organizing groups of youth to go over to a home of members who are shut-in, in order to rake leaves or clean their home.
- Arranging for a team of young adults to give rides to older members to church.
- Encouraging college small groups to visit a member in the hospital or nursing home.
- Providing responsible youth who can babysit for parents who want to go on a night out.
I could keep going, but you get the idea. This sort of intentional care and service could be a powerful way to apply the gospel to the lives of the younger English congregation, as they love those who are very different from them, but with whom they have Christ in common.
To recap: You’ve joined us in the middle of a series on how English Ministries can take the initiative and responsibility in the fight for a church-wide gospel unity in their local church. For more info see these previous posts: Series Introduction- Stop Grumbling About Them and Start Fighting For Them, and Are You Praying for Them? (part 1 of 2).
Are You Praying for Them (part 2 of 2)
Last time, I left off asking the question- “Could you be praying more for the other congregations in your church?” Let me continue by encouraging you in a few specific ways.
First, evaluate whether you see the importance of praying for the other congregations. If you would have asked me then, I would have said – Of course I think it is important. But my actions didn’t testify to my convictions (which to some degree should make us question the genuineness of the conviction). We pray for what we value. How much prayer airtime are you giving to the older generation?
Second, as you pray, adopt the Apostle Paul’s prayer priorities. He was after all an apostle, called to lay the foundation of the entire Church. Thus he knew how to pray for his people. Take the time, even right now, to examine Paul’s prayer priorities. Check Eph 1:15-23, Eph 3:14-21; Phil 1:9-11; Col 1:9-14, and 1 Thess 3:9-13 to name a few. May Paul’s prayer priorities be yours to an increasing degree. If you struggle with knowing what and how to pray for others, check out D.A. Carson’s A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers. By God’s grace, this book revolutionized my prayer-life; when I started putting what I learned into practice, what I once felt was drudgery, I began counting as delight.
Third, develop a prayer plan to pray for everyone in your church. My spiritual mentor set a fantastic example for me as he prayed for everyone in his church, name by name. What he’d do is grab his church directory, and pray through one page day. If it was Jan 1st, he’d pray through page 1. Jan 2nd, he’d pray through page 2. When the directory had 30 and 31 pages, it worked out precisely. But when membership increased, so did membership-directory pages. Then, he’d just pray through multiple pages a day. Don’t just use your directory as a phonebook, use it has a shepherding tool!
Fourth, tell them you have been praying for them, and tell them how. What better way to let people know you spiritually love them, than to tell them you’ve spent yourself on your knees before the great and good Father, asking Him to give them good gifts- that God would cause them to know the hope to which He has called them (Eph 1:18), that God would remind them of His great delivering power throughout life (Eph 1:19), that the Spirit would help deepen their knowledge and grasp of Christ’s love for them (Eph 1:19), and on and on.
Fifth, if you pastor an English-speaking congregation, lead your people in praying for your church’s other congregations. A great time to model this is in the “pastoral prayer.” There are plenty of things you can pray for that would a) foster cross-congregational care, and b) foster a genuine excitement about your gospel partnership. To help foster cross-congregational care for example, pray they would continue to hold out the gospel of Jesus Christ with great clarity for their own sanctification and as a witness to those who don’t know Jesus. To help foster genuine excitement in gospel partnership, pray for the other congregations as they fulfill their calling to carry out the Great Commission. Often times, members in these language-specific congregations have unique opportunities to engage in evangelism. Are members in the congregation hosting visiting scholars? Are some from those congregations going on specific mission trips? Are folks engaging their marketplace coworkers and friends about the crucified and resurrected Christ? Help your congregation to take spiritual initiative, by taking the initiative yourself.
How can you, labor for church-wide gospel unity for the sake of Christ? Give yourself to praying for the other congregations in your church.
I think praying also helps us see our own hearts, and the sin that we bring to the table.
It opens our eyes to our own self-centeredness. Our grumbling shows us that our hearts are mainly focused on ourselves. We think that it’s all about us…about how we’ve been wronged or treated poorly, or about how we’ve been offended. Why do we not pray for others? Because we’re too concerned with ourselves. We have our heart idols that we worship. And not only do we fight back and get defensive when our heart idols are being attacked, but we actually want our idols to worship us. And we want others to worship us. We want to be worshipped!
And our grumbling also shows us how self-righteous we are. We complain when we don’t get the “good” (ie-respect, honor, etc) that we think we deserve, or we complain when others give us the “bad” (ie-disrespect, lack of graciousness, etc) that we think we don’t deserve. But what we deserve for our wretched idolatry of self-worship and self-righteousness is judgment, death and hell, not God’s grace and love and forgiveness. But in His kindness, He’s given us Christ! And salvation! And all the promises of heaven, which are given to us in Christ! And so when we pray, we need to remember the Gospel. Humbly acknowledging what we deserve because of our sin but what Christ has given us instead. Which in turn helps us not be offended when others do actually treat us poorly, and which hopefully encourages us to treat others as we’ve been treated by God in Christ.
That’s a couple of ways how the Lord uses prayer to work in me as I pray for others.
The other thing that I’d encourage us to do when praying for others is to thank God for the evidences of grace that we see in them. It’s a good exercise to thank God for the good fruit that we see in others as the evidences of a changed life in Christ. And hopefully our praying for others in this way will lead to actually acknowledging these thing to those people, verbally encouraging them with the specific evidences of grace that you see in their lives. Or even writing a note or email. And hopefully that humility, warmth and graciousness will start to smooth the way towards unity…breaking down walls of hostility and division.
If you are joining us for the first time, please see my previous post. JEng, Geoff and I are addressing ways in which English Ministries in particular can fight for a church-wide gospel unity.
Are you praying for them? (part 1 of 2)
Ouch! Frankly, I lacked the godliness to pray for other congregations. With my jaundiced view of the “one church, multiple language-specific congregations”, I grumbled about how the other congregations hampered our English Ministry (or how I perceived they did at least). I struck an “us versus them” battle stance. Thank God for sanctification! According to the Word, gospel maturity and wisdom leads not to disunity, but to unity in faith and Spirit. True gospel maturity and wisdom brings gospel cooperation despite disagreements, legitimate differences, and even sins committed against one another. As I reflect on those days, sadly not once can I recall strategizing for their spiritual good in Christ! In relation to prayer, why didn’t I pray for their growth in Christ? Why wasn’t I going to God on my knees for them, my brothers and sisters, Christ’s blood-bought children? (Ugh! As I write this, I’m ashamed of my immaturity and foolishness! Thank God for the blood of Christ!)
I wish I would’ve stopped grumbling about them and started praying for them.
If you are already fighting for church-wide gospel unity through prayer, praise God! If not, let me encourage you to pray for their faith in Christ.
For some of you, it’s odd to think about praying for those in the other congregations. Perhaps you think this spiritual initiative falls on the shoulders of the older generation. Or perhaps it’s odd for you to conceive of praying for those people you don’t/can’t even communicate with! But friend, if you have wedded yourself to that church, with its warts and all, laboring for their faith through prayer is your privilege! It’s your responsibility, and it is our- dare I say the word we’re all too familiar with- duty!
Could you be praying more for the other congregations in your church?