Oct 122011

A handful of events and networks have crossed my radar recently that cultivate dialogue around the contextualizing of Christian faith for/with/by Asian Americans.

October 15th / 22nd @ Dallas / Houston
Legacy Dialogue 2011: Trust Factor – how to build trust between two generations in ministry – the future of next generation English ministry in the Asian-American church (Partnership of Asian American Churches in Texas)

October 19th @ 11:30am PT in Irvine
NexGen Pastors Gathering with Pastor Jim-Bob Park via NexGen Pastors Fellowship [Facebook group]

October 26th @ 2pm ET – online webinar
“Asian American Ministry and the Deconstruction of Asian American Christianity” Webinar with Dr. Timothy Tseng, sponsored by Judson Press

Like many churches in North America today, Asian American churches are experiencing the loss of their young adults. The new “Silent Exodus” is also about the erasure of Asian American identity and history within American Christianity. Will being Asian American matter in a “post-racial” generation? What does the deconstruction of Asian American Christianity mean for ministry to Asian Americans? What can Christians do to respond to this crisis? Join presenter Dr. Timothy Tseng as he explores and addresses these critical issues.

October 27th @ 9:30pm ET – online livestream
Q&A with Ken Kong, director of Southeast Asian Catalyst

Recordings (audio and video) [iTunes podcast feed] for the Asian American Ministry Program’s Inaugural Conference at SPU June 2011 with Timothy Tseng, Peter Cha, Soong-Chan Rah, Eugene Cho, Gideon Tsang, Ken Fong, Wayne Ogimachi, Nancy Sugikawa, Paul Kim, Bo Lim, Billy Vo, and more

December 27-30 in San Diego
CMC West Coast with Francis Chan and Greg Ogden [Chinese Mission Convention]

19 videos of the Asian American Equipping Symposium at Fuller Seminary, February 2011, with Richard Mouw, Eugene Cho, Bo Lim, Timothy Tseng, Young Lee Hertig, Amos Yong, Chloe Sun, and more

APA Faith Matters – a blog category at 8asians.com curated by Mihee Kim-Kort, with a periodic interview of Asian Pacific American (APA) leaders in various religious contexts

Inheritance Magazine – bi-monthly publication that tackles contemporary topics and issues that each Asian American Christian deals with in his/her life

Other networks that meetup in-person:

Know of other public connection places, on-line or on-site, for Asian American church and ministry leaders? Add a comment, please.

Jun 022011

2 fast-growing religions were made in America: Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses. They may well still be on that growth-spurt, not just in the United States, but around the world. Both are adapted from Christianity and yet have diverged in ways that many call unorthodox or heretical. Most obviously, both make very significant additions and/or changes to the Bible that 40,000 other Christian sects & denominations around the world uphold as Gospel. Both exhibit qualities of conservative values and extremely high morals and American salesmanship. one might say they’re the ultimate of religious franchising.

And now they’re mainstreaming.

The “Book of Mormon” is a runaway hit on Broadway. Yes, a musical comedy in downtown New York City, sold out for months, with tickets running as high as $900. On Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. 3 videos on CBS News: The irreverent “Book of Mormon” + Creating the runaway hit “Book of Mormon” + “Book of Mormon” cast and company. Broadway Buzz rolls out a month of Mormon video series every day since mid-May.

And on the Jehovah’s Witness side of things is KNOCKING, a documentary movie is making its rounds, featured as an indy film on PBS back in 2007 (cf. NPR).

Apr 252011

The recurring question of the times in 21st century America is: “What is the church?”

My flight is cancelled. That gives me time to blog. As I’m trying to get to Orlando for a couple of days at Exponential Conference with 4,000 other church leaders getting invigorated about church planting, there’ll be quite the mix of questions in its partnership with the Verge Network, where the conversation will veer towards more about being the church, and that typically looks different than a weekly worship gathering.exponential

One question in the rethinking church subtext that’s rarely ever discussed is: if the church isn’t about the weekly worship gathering, who gets paid? (And, along with that, what kind of buildings are needed?) On the one hand, ministers who are doing the work of pastoring can be paid and deserve it. In, he Apostle Paul explained that laborers deserve to get paid, but he decided to not exercise those rights. (cf. 1 Cor 9:13-17)

At this inflection point of the church, and there may well be an increasing number of churches that would no longer have a weekly gathering. And since the church is the people and not the building, so the thinking could go, there are other ways for people to stay connected, other ways for worship to be done. Meaning, there may not be a need for a full-time paid minister. At least not a pastor as we commonly know of one as clergy. With thousands of people who have invested years in seminary training for professional ministry, if the format of church changes, what happens to their livelihood? Bi-vocational work is one option, but there’s got to be other options. New kinds of ministry jobs may well emerge.

As someone who has worked as a paid pastor, this isn’t a hypothetical question. Just thinking out loud.

[update] and found this timely post in one of the Forbes blogs about “The Seminary Bubble” by Jerry Bowyer, where he describes “the prospects are worse clergy than for other forms of professional education…” and how all that seminary training doesn’t really hone the necessary skills of preaching and leadership.

Mar 232011

We live in an amazing time in human history — the leaderless revolution in Egypt was fueled, by social media tools. And we don’t hear as much about the details about how it all happened in mainstream media, because there’s not one person to interview nor one person to represent the revolution.

It’s pure people power. This is Revolution 2.0 and no one is the hero. Wael Ghonim spoke at TEDxCairo, telling the back story of the past two months, “Inside the Egyptian Revolution,” when everyday Egyptians showed that “the power of the people is stronger than the people in power.

This is a striking contrast to how leaders and organizations have historically done things. Now, more than ever, a loosely connected group of people can achieve great things via the wisdom of the crowd. Love it!

What does that mean for the church? Could the church thrive even more, in a revolutionary manner, if she were to highlight the voices of the everyday followers of Christ rather (or, in addition to) the leading voices of gifted communicators and organizational leaders?

2 sociologists has described this social dynamic of faith and religion, Max Weber and Werner Stark. Max Weber’s theory of the organizational psychology has been popularized in the “church growth movement” that casts a shadow on how the American church has organized itself during recent decades. In essence, the success and life of a church revolves around a gifted individual leader,

…. With the magic-like power of charisma, the leader gains the personal loyalty and devotion of a circle of followers. Charismatic authority is centered in the personality of the leader. The bonds of personal loyalty become the basis of a “charismatic community.” … The prophet is the religious founder or reformer who initiates religious change by delivering new revelation… The prophet possesses genuine charisma, a personal power and authority…

The above quote is excerpted from “The Collective Charisma of the Catholic Church: Werner Stark’s Critique of Max Weber’s Routinization Theory” (a paper by John L. Gresham, Jr. in The Catholic Social Science Review, Volume VIII, 2003.) My colleague Chuck Fromm pointed me towards this contrasting insight of Werner Stark, the lesser known sociologist ::

… As a sociologist, Stark questions Weber’s extreme individualism. Stark finds a certain blind spot in Weber’s outlook: Weber recognizes the role of individual charisma in founding and forming a religious collective but fails to recognize the role of a religious collective in fostering individual charisma … closer consideration notes the connections among outbreaks of charisma in such movements as the Benedictines, Franciscans, Jesuits and others. Each and every movement represents a variation and expression of the charisma of Christ, pointing toward a social collective charisma. … Stark emphasizes the role of the community or institution in communicating charisma.

I confess that I too get lost in the academic-speak. What I gather is that there’s a charisma — a gift of grace — that can be embodied in an individual or in a collective group. This dynamic that starts and sustains a religion can start revolutions too.

cf. Read the paper, The Collective Charisma of the Catholic Church: Werner Stark’s Critique of Max Weber’s Routinization Theory

Jan 312010

Question >> “do u know a place to get stats on how many churches close a day, month, year etc and the same on pastors and leaders leaving ministry?”

djchuang >> Good question. (And, in case you can’t tell, this question came in via a text message.)

The latest research on church attendance can be found in The American Church in CrisisThe American Church in Crisis by David T. Olson, with research based on data from 200,000+ churches. And, the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, has analysis based on interviews with 35,000+ American adults.

Here’s some other statistics I found (so far):

Excerpted from this Christian Century 2008 article, Church-closing rate only one percent:

A new study finds that only 1 percent of U.S. religious congregations go out of existence each year, “which is among the lowest mortality rates ever observed for any type of organization,” according to an article to be published in the June issue of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.

Dave Olson’s research shows that in the 1990s about 3,200 churches closed each year–or 1.1 percent of U.S. Christian congregations. And, Olson added, “In the 2000s, it has been 3,700 a year.” [cf. graph]

American church statistics have reported [via Goodmanson]:

  • In America, 3500 – 4000 churches close their doors each year
  • Half of all churches last year did not add one new member through conversion growth
  • Churches lose an estimated 2,765,000 people each year to nominalism and secularism

The 3,500-4,000 U.S. churches annual closure count is also cited by Ed Stetzer in “Planting New Churches in a Postmodern Age.”

Excerpted from The Condition of the Church in America, complied by Andy McAdams [via #mmi, 2005]:

  • 1,400 pastors in America leave the ministry monthly.
  • Only 15% of churches in the United States are growing and just 2.2% of those are growing by conversion growth.
  • 10,000 churches in America disappeared in a five-year period.

Fifteen hundred pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches.” [Source: “Death by Ministry" (slides + audio) by Darrin Patrick @ The Journey. It was re-published on Mark Driscoll's blog -- no longer available.]

One blog post attributed these findings to Shiloh Place Ministries (shilohplace.org), which drew its information from Focus on the Family, Ministries Today, Charisma Magazine, TNT Ministries, and other respected groups:

  • 1,500 pastors leave the ministry permanently each month in America.
  • 7,000 churches close each year in America.

[update] additional statistics & commentary about the challenges of pastoring noted by Ken Sande via desperatepastor

Oct 062009

Small talk is not my forte’. I can talk about weather or sports for maybe 30 seconds tops. Those are the conventionally safe topics. Work usually comes up early in the conversation, as in “what do you do?” People too quickly associate one’s identity with their work / profession / career.

There are some topics not good for small talk: “… it is not safe to discuss subjects that society deems controversial such as religion or politics.” Yet, politics get lots of air time, even though it’s controversial. Lots of mainstream media and social media time at that.

One British etiquette website describes what’s safe and not safe for small talk conversations:

Which topics are safe for small talk? …

- The weather, eg “It’s a lovely day today, isn’t it?”
- Sport, eg “Have you been watching Wimbledon?”
- Hobbies, eg “What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?”
- Work, eg “What sort of work do you do?”

… Which topics are best avoided for small talk? …

- Money, eg “How much do you earn?”
- Politics, eg “Who did you vote for at the last election?”
- Religion, eg “Do you believe in God?”


What about philosophy and religion? Now these two topics make for much more INTERESTING conversations!

Oct 072008

So there’s this new movie out about the ridiculousness of religions and faith by Bill Maher. No link love, but he sure gets quite the mainstream media attention. Both rationalists (aka atheists and/or agonostics) and religious folks say there is media bias for the “other” side.

The thing is, everyone has their own explanation for what the things of the world means, and the stuff that our disciplines of learning have not fully exhaustively addressed. And the thing is, they haven’t, and I think that’s why they’re called fields of inquiries.

Here’s my napkin sketch for how the stuff of life and faith fit together: science, money, relationships, tasks, people, nature, things, arts, etc. Or, to use labels of academic disciplines: Fine Arts, Humanities, Social Sciences, Life Sciences, Physical Sciences, Mathematics. [aside: so much faster & easier to draw on paper than to use Photoshop, after wasting 15 minutes trying]

Faith assumptions are the answers we have to the question of things we don’t know concretely. (cf. “What don’t you know and how will you learn it?”) And I think this is a good way to think about it, that faith gives perspective and insights into the rest of the world and how the world of learning is figuring out how all the stuff of the world works. And faith definitely colors how we place value on the stuff of life.

[update] Dan Kimball saw that one Religulous movie and commented at length. Not having seen the movie, what I don’t like is people being ridiculed, even if some people are kinda different.

Mar 062008

Here in a symposium on religious faiths, affiliations, and ethnicities. Fascinating talk just began w/ Russell Jeung. He made a provocative statement as I started blogging– “To be American, you need to have a religious identity.” “And, Asian Americans are the most unaffiliated religiously.”

I did wire up Russell with my digital voice recorder, so I should be able to post audio and perhaps even slides — over at the L2 blog. [update] both audio and slides now online >> — thanks Russell for granting permission; Russell wants to hear from you, so check out the presentation and add a comment!

Since I’m blogging from my Blackberry, and I forgot my tethering cable to cnx w/ my laptop, I can’t type as fast or as much as I’d like/want. Special tnx to Peter Ong for suggesting I can tether my laptop to my Blackberry Curve, and use my data plan as a mobile modem.

[+] Also, if you’re in the Los Angeles / Southern California area, come listen to Russell Jeung, who is giving 4 talks this weekend at Bread of Life in Torrance; the series is titled “Asian Americans in the Lions’ Den: A Study of Daniel“.