Unleashing the Potential of Chinese American Churches
I’m sincerely grateful for the invitation to speak at the CMC West Coast event this weekend in San Diego. It’s the 2nd time the organizers have hosted this bilingual Chinese Missions Convention. And I’ve got 2 occasions for which I’m invited to speak. One is a 75-minute workshop titled “How the Church can be Unleashed for the Next Generation” in the track “Unlocking the Potential of the North American Immigrant Church“. The other is a panel discussion during an evening plenary session (01/01/15) about this topic:
“What is holding back the Asian American church from doing the work of God?”
Here is a very rough draft of my opening remarks that I’ll have 10 minutes to share before the panel opens up for lively discussions. I wanted to get some of my thoughts written down and invite your honest feedback.
Whoa. First, I have to say that this is one very difficult question and a very big question. Notice that the question has an embedded assumption that the Asian American church is being held back from doing the work of God. One way to address this is to challenge the question itself; but for the sake of discussion, let’s assume it’s true, what then can we say?
Here’s my dilemma. I want to be a gracious guest and not come across negative in my response and point out problems. But maybe that can’t be helped with the question being posed that way. I do recognize the importance of the Chinese and Asian cultural values for harmony, respecting elders, submitting to authority, reverence for traditions, filial piety, saving face, status quo, family honor, to name few.
Let me try to do this. Allow me to share my remarks humbly. And I hope you will receive them as constructive and not critical.
First, let’s review some history. The Chinese and Asian immigrant story is one of significant hardship and sacrifice. The Chinese churches in America and missions efforts around the world have been quite an accomplishment for decades and that can be remembered and honored. The heartfelt desire of immigrant parents to sacrifice greatly for their children, so that they might have a better life, more opportunities for success, get the best education at the best schools, and bring honor and prosperity to the family too.
The Chinese church on the whole has actively and faithfully ministered to many immigrant families and helped them to adjust to living in a new world. Some have even found saving faith in Jesus Christ. The Chinese church on the whole has been diligent on evangelism and missions. Many are faithful in holding evangelistic meetings and missions conferences, even for decades.
What if all that zeal and devotion went into making the best Chinese churches? What would that look like? There is so much more to the work of God. We have so many opportunities and so much potential.
I went to college in the 80s with cassette tapes, answering machines, floppy disks, and fax machines. We are now living in the 21st century, and starting a new year 2015, and the world is changing faster than ever. The internet and smartphones are part of our everyday lives. Social media has overturned governments without a shot being fired.What’s work in the past is not working in the present and will not work in the future. New times call for new methods and new approaches to do the work of God.
At the end of the day, there is actually nothing holding back the Asian American church from doing the work of God. We’re blessed in the United States to have freedom of religion with no real restrictions or censorship. We’ve been blessed with so many resources as Asian Americans; on the whole, we are the most educated and the most wealthy. We have more resources than what we know to do with, we really do. Since there’s nothing really holding us back, to analyze the perceived issues and reasons won’t amount to much more than finding excuses or looking for people to blame.
If I were to identify 2 of the main hindrances, I would say traditions and resources. I’d say what’s holding back the church is that Asian American people are holding onto traditions and resources instead of catching the heart of God for all peoples and letting their resources & next generations be unleashed for the global glory of God to reach the world with the Gospel. Pastor Sam Chand describes this truth: culture will eat vision for lunch. Organizational culture is stronger than any other force including vision, mission, core values, purpose statements, goals, strategic planning and all the rest combined.
The simple answer to the question is to unleash more of our resources: our people, our next generations, our children as they become adults, our finances, our time, our talents, to do the work of God for this generation and the next.
That takes faith and trusting in our faithful God. And it calls for creativity to create a new future. “We are most like the Creator when we are creative.” Go in God’s grace. Go in God’s peace. Go in God’s power.