Professor Daniel Wong at Tyndale Seminary recently presented at a workshop on “The Art of Preaching in Asian American Settings” and I talked with him about his insights about the distinctives of Asian American preaching. Watch the video:
Keen observers here at my personal blog may have noticed a change of pace with blog posts as of late. This disruption of rhythm involves 2 things.
One, I’ve been rethinking how I can better communicate my own voice while representing 2 important leadership organizations. Something that’s dawned on me is the stewardship of leadership. In recent years more than before, God has opened more opportunities for me to be more than an amateur color commentator on the Asian American and multiethnic church, which is still how I prefer to see myself. And a lot of this comes from my employment and association and affiliation with L2 Foundation and Leadership Network.
This means there is more “weightiness” to the words I use when I speak, and when I write or blog, because that will inadvertently reflect on those 2 organizations. And while I personally prefer to be a full-disclosure open-book kind of guy, and speak in a stream-of-conscious thoughts-in-progress kind of manner, that is not the best way to come across in a world where public statements are taken as on-the-record and more “authoritative” rather than my idle thinking-out-loud what-if speculations. This also means my personal commentaries and opinions have to be more restrained and diplomatic, at least that’s how I’m reframing my thinking about this adjustment. Napoleon Bonaparte said that “A leader is a dealer in hope” and there’s some truth to that. While I’ve wanted to avoid delusional optimism for most of my life, this doesn’t preclude me from talking points that are more positive and hopeful. I write all this to say that this is a new aspect of leadership for me, and I’m in the midst of that learning progress.
Many who regularly attend Sunday worship services in church hear over 2000 sermons during their lifetime.
This free three hour seminar is presented by Aaron Leung. It is for those who desire to learn more about the purposes of sermons, how they are crafted, and how to become more effective listeners of God’s Word through the ministry from the pulpit.
Topics include: The Importance of Listening.
The Goals of Listening.
Your Listening Profile.
How to Listen to a Sermon.
A Listening Improvement Plan.
Listen in on my sermon [mp3] titled “Why does it hurt so much?” based on John 11:17-36, delivered this morning at Great Commission Community Church in Arlington, Virginia. I stayed in the moment and somber mood of the past week, so the tone is a little bit on the heavy side.
Additionally, 2 days ago, I asked Ellie Hsieh, a graduate student in the Marriage and Family Therapy program of Virginia Tech, for her perspectives into (1) an Asian American family’s dynamics and (2) the ministry opportunities that a church has to better serve this grouping. Hopefully, it will encourage more dialogue on this issue::
1) Asian immigrant families deal with multiple stresses as they attempt to acculturate to life in the U.S. For instance, there are language barriers, cultural conflicts, the loss of one’s social support network back in Asia, financial stresses, racism, etc. One major one is the conflict between cultural values. For instance, the parents may still adhere to the cultural values they grew up with in their country of origin. So in some Asian families, they will assume that it’s ok to hit their kids and leave marks because that’s how they were disciplined when they were growing up. But U.S. law would describe that as child abuse.
So Asian immigrant families may lack the education and experiential knowledge on U.S. values and customs that can impact their families. This is just one example, which may be more uncommon these days because research has shown that immigrants really do know that in the U.S. things are done differently. (See “Judgments about Intimate Partner Violence: A Statewide Survey About Immigrants” by Susan B. Sorenson, in Public Health Reports 121:4, 2006) However, knowledge about the laws does not always translate into adherence to the law… this of course, is what happens in churches as well (i.e. we know what is the right thing to do, but do we always do those things?).
For most Asian immigrant families, the struggle is learning how to mix 2 different sets of values together and to make compromises so that your children who grow up with American values getting taught to them in school, in the media, and elsewhere, can grow up with a healthy balance of their parent’s culture and American culture. These struggles usually occur when the kids become adolescents because that is also the time most adolescents begin to seek greater independence from their families and greater understanding of their place in the world. So teenagers might begin to question and reject why their parents push them so hard to perform well in academics. And it might be acceptable practice to compare their children to other children, or to use criticism to encourage a child to perform better. These are customs/values that go contrary to American values… where as my parents would say, “children get praised for even mediocre work”.
So these acculturation stresses impact how an immigrant family functions. Many 2nd generation Asian Americans have experienced a “role-reversal” in their own families. Because their parents didn’t speak English well, they had to serve as interpreters and deal with adult matters at a young age. They might have to speak to insurance companies, doctors, business people well before they even need to. And so the parents come to depend on their children to serve in these adult roles and if the parents never really become competent in English, the children might begin to disrespect their parents… see them as incompetent or incapable and thus, the role-reversal: children acting as adults, the adults acting as children in certain situations, especially in public matters.
2) I think Asian churches have a lot of power to impact the Asian American families they serve. First off, churches are commonly viewed by Asians as a social support and since most Asians commonly avoid seeking the help of public or government institutions when faced with a dilemma, pastors are typically viewed as “elders” (respected members of the community), people who know more and can give them advice. Second, churches provide Asian families with a social support network, a community where they feel comfortable, they belong, everybody seems to be similar to them. This means that you can provide language classes, education on U.S. customs/values/laws that would enable immigrant families to better adjust to life in the U.S., employment opportunities, etc. So… the church if it is willing to address, not only the spiritual aspects of its members, can also reach out and impact all the other aspects of living. I think most Asian churches do a lot more in this regard. That is, they do provide a lot of community support to their parishioners because they are more than just a spiritual center, they are also a community institution. (This is discussed in the book: New spiritual homes: Religion and Asian Americans by David Yoo)
So, if Asians continue to view counseling as a stigma, churches can also help change that perspective. They can bring in Asian counselors to do workshops to help Asians view counseling more positively, make counseling more approachable and acceptable, to view it as a resource, just as they would view relatives as a resource when family problems arise. Moreover, in light of the recent tragedy at VA Tech, I truly hope that our Asian community will finally awaken and have its eyes opened to the value of counseling. The media continues to discuss it and I wonder what fellow Asians think about counseling now, especially those in my parents’ generation.
I’ve just finished my sermon outline for tomorrow. I’ll be guest-speaking at Great Commission Community Church in Arlington, Virginia, the next county over from Centreville.
The preaching date was scheduled months ago. I was actually on the phone with the church coordinator who invited me while the tragedy was happening, talking about what was happening at the church, while the horrific tragedy was happening at the Virginia Tech campus. Now it feels like a divine appointment. I couldn’t possibly recycle a sermon. I felt compelled to be in this moment to hear from God anew.
I based my talk on the text in John 11. Jesus’ words are the best when I can’t decide between the many good passages in the Scriptures. Unlike some Type A personalities, I do not do well with pressure. This week’s sermon preparation was very different for me, as it’s been more of an emotional preparation of grieving, mourning, and listening.
While I affirm that the Gospel is more than enough, we need more than a generic plain-vanilla Gospel. We need a Gospel that speaks into the Asian American experience specifically and deeply. We need a lot of redemption there. Many (most?) Asian churches, pastors, and lay people avoid addressing that. I’m going to try through my sermon for the first time, even though I’ve been exploring it for years on my blog and in email-based discussion groups and in my work with L2 Foundation.
I won’t reveal more yet. You’ll have to come out to hear it live if you’re in the metro Washington DC area, The talk should be recorded, and I’ll link to that when/if it’s posted. If you’re inclined to pray, please pray that I can speak honestly and emotionally, more than I’ve ever tried.
What a full day! So after my sermon yesterday morning, I needed to get myself rehydrated. Stopped by the Tenleytown Whole Foods and grabbed a bottle of Naked Juice Mighty Mango. Then an afternoon nap, leftovers for dinner, and get our monthly skypecast going. I looked around for a way to record the skypecast, and there are a handful of softwares out there you’d have to pay for to record. PrettyMay was the most generous in its trial/demo version, and allows you to record up to 30 minutes for free. So that’s what I used.
I felt good that I’m no longer the only Asian face interested in the emergent conversation. It’s also fascinating to hear how the emerging church conversation in Malaysia started up and has many similarities (far as I know) to how it started in the US. It really is best labeled as a conversation.
And, Tim had these great thoughts as a closing remark:
In my experience, AsAm churches tend to be even more conservative in terms of practice than American churches. They tend to be slower to adapt to changes and are rarely forerunners in ministry innovation. Many people (such as Dan Kimball) see the emerging church as a response to the contemporary worship movement. But in my (Chinese) church, we are barely contemporary. We still have those who feel that drums are of the devil. So I think the Asian churches maybe just need more time to catch up. Also, I wonder if anyone else notices the overlaps between the postmodern culture and the Eastern/Asian worldview? For example, preaching in narrative and in non-linear flow of thought is normal for Asians. When I preach to the 1st genearation adults in my church, they love to hear stories and narrative. Its already part of how they communicate. Another example is the emphasis on community and relationships in the Emerging church. Its already is a central part of asian culture. So in a lot of ways, I could see the AsAm church very welcoming to some aspects of the emerging church if it is presented in the right way.