Growing Healthy Asian American Churches, 2

Our blog-based book discussion of Growing Healthy Asian American Churches continues with Chapter 1, titled Grace-Filled Households, opening with a dizzying conundrum of a story about a fallen Asian pastor. Growing Healthy Asian American ChurchesIn our day and age, people are increasingly susceptible to sexual temptation and impropriety, and pastors are no exception. Restoring someone with a moral lapse in any church is already difficult; restoring a church leader or pastor in an Asian church is barely imaginable. The Asian American church culture largely shaped by its strong Asian heritage has a strong shaming gravity that pushes out those who make mistakes out of community acceptance; restoration is unheard of. Kudos to the book for jumping right in to tackle one of the toughest real-life issues.

This chapter presents the outrageous generosity of God as the foundation for ministry, the transformation of relationships, and the process of spiritual growth. This outrageous generosity can be the perspective that enable churches to demonstrate the healing of the Gospel in the here and now. Indeed, the Gospel narrative is about bringing restoration, healing, and reconciliation to the broken and fallen. So why is it so hard to imagine what outrageous grace looks like in an Asian American church? When I think of Asian American churches I’ve experienced, my impression of them tend to be more about tradition and purity than places for grace-exemplifying healing relationships.

Some other discussion question for starters (you’re welcome to add your own)::

  • How have you seen grace demonstrated in your Asian American church experience? Is there more of grace that you wish you could experience in that context?
  • The chapter lists Asian cultural values that most Asian American ethnicies hold in common: hierarchy, community and family, education and achievement, conformity and humility, respect for tradition and elders. Would you add any other values to this list?
  • How do you think this affects the call for the church to demonstrate the outrageous generosity of God?
  • Before we dig more into the book, it might be helpful to also explore what the book means by the term “Asian American church.” Is it talking about the 1st generation ethnic Asian church? the intergenerational ethnic Asian church? the English-speaking pan-Asian church? the Asian church becoming increasingly multiethnic in ethnic diversity?

[discussion thread]

  • dpark >> Grace is something that is considered beautiful, but not realistic; convenient for self-righteousness, but mostly considered weakness. … I get this sense of pride that places people in destructive relationships as opposed to constructive and healthy, all in the name of cultural solidarity. … I hope for the more progressive definitions of Asian American church, but I believe that by and large, we are not ready to move forward yet.
  • mezuzah >> It seems that in the discussion of the Asian church in America there is much hurt and cynicism… I hope to be non-condemning when I mention the syncretism of the Confucian values with Christianity… Leading not in a dictatorial manner but as Christ led, he was a servant leader…
  • Ken Kong >> I just got done reading a book about healthy asian american churches. Man i was encouraged these authors. Especially when they talked about evangelism being a part of life. That’s something I’ve been working in my life. Just being a natural Christians. Nothing more. Just being a light on a hill. Nothing more.
  • ibeatdrum >> For me, grace is an issue that I don’t think I have ever fully grasped. I didn’t really think about it being my ethnicity’s fault, but it kind of make sense. The first chapter kicks off with a story …. The thing that trips me out is that this story seems so right to me. As if that whole process of sneaking the pastor out is normal. That’s what I’ve come to know from the churches when I was growing up. Come to think of it, the church I grew up in went through pastors like I go through a pack of thin mints…..disgustingly fast. So I sit here and say to myself, “Wow. That’s gotta be a problem.” And this story doesn’t just apply to pastors, but to members, layleaders. My reaction itself is enough to convince me that I have not fully embraced (or accepted?) the grace and generosity of God.
  • [related elsewhere]

  • Generally speaking, Asians tend to keep things inside … it is such a shame based culture that we assume people don’t want to talk about their struggles because as it is said in an old Chinese proverb “Family shames cannot be shared.” Silence kills.
  • Dr. Jeff Jue Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary … spoke particularly on issues surrounding the Asian-American church …
  • In thinking of AACF, my thoughts always turn toward the Asian American Christian community in Seattle, and the larger Asian American community itself. My feelings are ones of sadness, tinged maybe with a glimmer of hope, because I really feel that the situation has in many ways stagnated… most young Asian Americans remain a largely un-ministered to group
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    2. Ben says:

      One thing I notice about Asian churches I’ve been in is that the confucian value of shame and the idea that you not only represent yourself but your whole family stands in opposition to Biblical Grace. You know that if people find out your shortcomings, you not only shame yourself, but your entire family. If you are going through hardship and struggles, the best thing to do is “eat bitterness” and deal with it on your own. In my opinion, most people in Asian churches (especially the first generation) continually keep other people at arm’s length and don’t get too close to one another because no one really trusts anyone else. I think the driving value there is that idea of bringing “honor” to yourself and your family…which just leads to alot of surface-level fakeness and judgemental behavior.

    3. David Park says:

      Great questions. and comments! Ben, that’s a great observation of a first generation characteristic. Again, another example of where our culture dictates to our faith.

    4. Peter says:

      I appreciate the diagnosis that Ben gave of the first generation Asian church and I have a suspicion that there is an “enabling” aspect of this for ourselves as second generation believers. Is the guilt something that is “superimposed” on an already adopted vision of self? I think that to take it a step further is to engage with the first generation on how this “shame” ethic can be transformed towards a holy edification of the lives we are called to live. Paul announces the overcoming power of Christ sacrifice but also exhorts us to live lives worthy of the body and that the impact is a corporate one that impacts the church. There are issues of discipline and pursuant standards for believers. Somehow, there is a sense of “hidden” shame that pervasive but I think that we can be part of the solution and for healing to happen, we enter in…build trust within a culture that is so mired in so many influences….but we all live in some sort of conflicting culture and I am not so sure if Western culture is benign to the gospel…whereas it represents some of the most evasive principles towards the gospel including pervasive sex, cavalier shows of power and money. So I believe that the Asian church has its issues as every culture. But to find hope and redemption in it is the first step towards healing…Jesus saw hope in the tax collector as well as the broken…we are broken but not beyond the redemptive power of Christ.

    5. djchuang says:

      Ben, I’d like to think that even within a collective culture that it would be possible for grace to be exemplified. If one’s mistakes infects the whole with shame, how much more would one’s restoration bless the whole through grace!

      Peter, astute observation that every culture has its issues, and perhaps it is the open dialogue in a pluralistic, multicultural context that helps us to critique one another and spur each other towards love and good deeds. I am a little at a loss for what open honest dialogue looks like via an Asian rubric though.

    6. William Woo says:

      I posted this elsewhere:
      I had a hard time grappling the chapter. Your comments have given me more meat to chew on. As I read your thoughts I had a thought concerning DJ?s third question The chapter lists Asian cultural values that most Asian American ethnicies hold in common: hierarchy, community and family, education and achievement, conformity and humility, respect for tradition and elders. Would you add any other values to this list?
      That thought was Enclave Mentality
      AA churches are either fighting the preception that they are forming enclaves within the broader populace?or they want to maintain themselves as enclaves.

      I wonder about how much grace is exhibited by those who have left the 1st Generation church…

    7. glenn says:

      Isn’t it supposed to be Healthy Asian American Churches as opposed to Health Asian American Churches?

      Or are you just doing an “Asian” play on that word?

    8. djchuang says:

      Glenn, Thanks for catching the typo; now it’s fixed. Any thoughts on the book?

    9. Peter says:

      thank you DJ for your comment, here are my thoughts. I think that part of the perspective is to be progressively moving towards a ministry of being a “missional” body of Christ. We are called to a renewing of our minds and to re-encounter or “grow up in our salvation.” (1 Peter 2:1-3). So part of that mission is to be culturally missional towards the church body. I believe that there are some dangerous rhetoric that we bring to the table when we speak of the overseas born brethren that create boundaries which in turn moves towards an ethic of “winners” and “losers.” So how do we engage in a sincere and deliberate dialogue? I think we are to treat each other out of humility and obedience to the leadership (outside of blatant disregard to doctrinal truths). But most of the time, I find that there is more misunderstanding and power issues than a true conflict of doctrine. I have found the first generation church to be filled with a powerful sense of duty to family, towards evangelism, welcoming of the immigrant stranger, and propriety when it comes to financial ethics. In Hong Kong, there was a finding that the local church are the most extravagant when it came to giving to the needs of the church and the poor. So I think there is a sincere “good will” when I speak of the church and I believe that we as a second generation would gain a great deal if we took an empathetic turn and understanding of engagement towards leadership, understand structures and value system that might be murky still pronounces a veritable faith. I think that with that respect and understanding, there is a critical role for us as second generation to bridge those values so there could be built trust where can negotiate with validity. But I believe when we look down or see their culture as invasive towards the gospel without a redemptive view, we do an injustice to the love we are called to reflect towards one another.

    10. Jon Ng says:

      I would like to add a discussion question before we dig further into the book…

      Misunderstandings and power issues DO occur between 1st generation immigrants and 2nd generation Asian Americans…

      With that said, what role should the 1st generation immigrant church play in helping grow healthy 2nd generation Asian American churches?

    11. djchuang says:

      Peter, thank you for your thoughtful comments. There are indeed things to learn from the first generation church, especially for those who are called to the immigrant context or Asian context. Doctrinal truths may not be the only issue for churches to multiply; differences in vision, calling, and methodology may also be legitimate for going separate ways. God does call people to different places, as He did for Peter to the Jews and Paul to the Gentiles. Some are called beyond the immigrant or Asian context and to the multicultural American context.

      Jon, good thought in surfacing the possibility of how the 1st generation can play a vital role to grow 2nd generation churches. This kind of a church would most likely be in a multicultural American context, for which they do need role models and healthy examples of family life — possibly this would connect the dots between Peter’s comment on Asian values and its contribution to the broader society. Maybe along with that, Asian “propriety towards financial ethics” would spur generosity in strategic philanthropy so that many more American-context church plants can be launched and funded.