Helen Lee is one of the editors who worked on the Growing Healthy Asian American Churches book we’ve been discussing here. She is also cofounder of the Best Christian Workplaces Institute, and formerly an editor at Christianity Today.
I was able to find a way to pull together an interview, asynchronously conducted over email amidst our crazy adventure-filled lives: For Helen, that’s being a Mom of 2 young ones, among other things; for me, that’s being a guy of 2 jobs, and lots of ideas on the side.
DJ: Thank you for playing a vital role in being a part of a team that put this book together. What did you enjoy most about the book project?
Helen: The project began while I was living in rural Iowa, where my husband was teaching at a small Christian college in the northwestern part of the state. As you can imagine, I was dying for fellowship with other Asian American Christians, so when I was invited to participate, I was overjoyed. We met at the same location, the Renaissance Hotel in Long Beach, for each of the three years we convened. Our times together as a small group of about 15 people were characterized by great discussions, times of sober reflection and hearty laughter, and of course, wonderful dining experiences! I loved being able to soak in what was happening in Asian American ministry with people who were so gifted and committed to their respective congregations. It was a joy to listen and learn from them all. I was extremely honored to be a part of it as the only non-pastor or professor.
DJ: I’d imagine many Asian American Christian leaders would have enjoyed being a fly on the wall at one of those Catalyst forums mentioned in the book. What memory stands out for you as a forum participant?
Helen: In the evenings, after the “working” part of our times together, we spent a good portion of the evening hearing from one another on a personal level. We had the chance to just listen to everyone’s stories, struggles, praises, and prayer requests. It was just a special time of sharing and the trust we all had to reveal what was going on beneath the surface was truly refreshing and restorative. And did I already mention the great food we consumed? Let’s just say that we all have a new understanding of what the word “churrascaria” means.
DJ: What topic(s) had to be left out of the book due to space and length?
Helen: Actually, I did a whole chapter on “Preparing for Asian American Church Leadership” that had to be cut. It’s available at the Intervarsity Press website for free download: www.ivpress.com/cgi-ivpress/book.pl/code=3325
Please feel free to pass it on to others! The more the better!
In my chapters, I felt we could have expanded so many topics; it was so difficult to only be able to cover so much. The whole question of vision, for example, was something I barely was able to touch on. Conflict resolution is another area where I wish I could have provided more practical tools. And so on. But you have to draw the line somewhere!
DJ: Do you see regional differences in how Asian American churches develop?
Helen: Obviously, the West Coast has certain demographic advantages that are difficult to emulate elsewhere, particularly California. And two of the churches that we profile in the book, Evergreen Baptist Church-LA and Lighthouse Christian Church, both benefitted from connections to longstanding Asian immigrant congregations. That is not something you typically find in the Midwest or East coast, Asian congregations with nearly 100 years of history behind them. But interestingly, all the churches deal with the challenges of being commuter churches rather than primarily local churches, even those California churches that have Asian Americans in large numbers who live in their midst.
There are also regional differences when it comes to things such as preaching style; for example, on the West coast, Newsong Church senior pastor David Gibbons believes there is more of a need for pastors to be vulnerable in the way they communicate with their congregation, to share their heart. On the East coast, (particularly in a place like Cambridge, which is where one of the churches profiled in the book is located), Soong-Chan Rah says that engaging the head is equally important. All goes to show how important it is to understand your particular area’s tendencies and preferences when it comes to designing church services, sermons, and such.
DJ: It has been almost 10 years since you wrote the Christianity Today article titled “Silent Exodus,” which has served as a clarion call for a number of church and ministry leaders to try new things to reach the next generation of Asian Americans. What progress have you seen in the last decade?
Helen: Scary, isn’t it, that it’s nearly been that long! On the positive side, there are certainly more choices today than ten years ago. More Asian American and multiethnic churches in the works all over the country, or more activity from first generation churches that are trying to support sister second/third generation congregations. That’s all good news. But the supply does not meet the need at this point, so I don’t think we’re at the point of saying that the “Silent Exodus” will not continue to be a phenomenon. Without more of these types of ministries being launched–and being run in a healthy manner–subsequent generations may just repeat the mistakes of the past. That is one of the reasons we wanted to write this book. To provide some guidelines of ways to approach ministry so that we do not repeat past mistakes for the sake of the future generations.
DJ: What would you like to see happen in the next decade, perhaps in response to this book?
Helen: More leaders, more healthy leaders, more healthy Asian American and multiethnic churches!
DJ: What would it take to get you to blog?
Helen: Funny you mention this! I just started! My blog is at momhelen.blogspot.com. I have no idea how to do a lot of the technical stuff but you gotta start somewhere, right??
DJ: Welcome to the blogosphere! Thank you for staying up late to entertain a few questions with me and being a part of this interview!