Work in Process at Exponential West 2013

I love the Church capital C and all of its complexity, flavors, and even occasional messiness. During the past few days I was invited to teach 2 workshops, an overview of the multi-site church revolution and the Future of the Asian American Church. I love being with church leaders, affirming them, supporting them, connecting them with resources, and dreaming about a better future. So energizing for me!

This has been more than just an event; I’ve also been invited to the table, participating in several meetings of next-generation Asian American pastors during the Exponential West planning process — cf. A Vibrant Future for Asian and Hispanic Church Planters: Facing Opportunities and Challenges @ Exponential Blog. The intentionality, the genuine learning posture of learning I’ve experienced with the Exponential key leaders, Dave Ferguson and Todd Wilson, along with their team, have been particularly refreshing, hopeful, and empowering. (Having been around my share of majority-culture-wanting-to-diversify strategy meetings, I’ve experienced the disappointing let-down of quick discussions that get factored into short-term goals and getting tasks done.)

As we American evangelicals learn how to become a multiethnic church, we are venturing into uncharted territory and there will be turbulence at times. (Actually, becoming multiethnic is just plain messier but also more rewarding.) Unexpectedly, we hit turbulence on conference day 1 when the comedic element of a parody video based on Karate Kid unintentionally triggered uneasiness and offensiveness for some attendees, in particular, Asian Americans, because of its portrayal of Asian stereotypes like bad accents and kung-fu fighting. (I use the ambiguous term “some” to avoid quantifying or marginalizing because every person’s perspective and voice is significant in the Kingdom of God methinks.) Concerns and frustrations were voiced thru email, in-person conversations, as well as the public square of social media.

I started working the back channels to bring about a better resolution to this incident than “a quick apology and let’s move on.” I commend the Exponential team for attending to the feedback, while upholding their immediate responsibility of running a conference for 2,000 people, and making room in their busy schedule to meet, to learn, and to begin working towards healthy change.

Let me give a brief update to open up healthy communications and how we’re working towards a better long-term resolution. After the end of the conference, a meeting of 4 leaders from the Exponential team met with 4 Asian Americans and myself (so that makes 5 Asian Americans). We met for almost 30 minutes and the Exponential leaders held a sincere posture of listening and learning, not defensively rationalizing, and I believe everyone felt heard. What’s confusing for non-Asians, perhaps, is the diversity of reactions to the very same video – some were offended, not so much for themselves but for the sake of the Gospel witness if an Asian American who was not a Christian were to see it, while at the same time, some Asian Americans were not offended at all and found the video hilarious.

As the conversations wrapped up in prayer, there was a genuine consensus for all parties involved to stay engaged conversation to work out a new redemptive story that’s different from the past, to deepen mutual understanding, to keep a learning posture, and to stay on mission together for the sake of the Gospel.

I’m anticipating this will be the first blog post of several, or even many, as this is a multi-layered conversation with lots of history, frustrations, offenses, and strained relationships. As much as I love social media, it’s too easy a place to air dirty laundry and escalate misunderstandings; it’s a terrible place to work out lasting reconciliation and institutional change. This is a work in progress.

To my Asian American brothers and sisters – I kindly ask you to not to respond to this incident by venting more of your hurts and frustrations from this and past incidents all over social media, but do find a good & safe place in real space with people to express those hurts where it can move towards healing, and learn with us and seek understanding; stay tuned as we continue working on this incident. I sincerely invite you to add a comment here so we can have constructive conversations that will craft a new future together. You may also give me a call at 949-243-7260 so I can unpack more of this with you in real-time, and I will do my best to be a good listener; my doors are open for dialogue.

And to my Anglo and non-Asian brothers and sisters – empathy is hard work and the role that media has in powerfully shaping and distorting our perception is particularly hurtful to minorities in a majority culture. You have no idea, granted. I’ll say this for starters as someone actively engaged in multiethnic relationships and dialogue: Anglo cultural humor is comparatively much less sensitive, thus insensitive, than minority culture humor. Only in Anglo culture can you have a comedian that gets laughs by insulting people. Offensive everywhere else. Hello. Unheard of in any other cultures. This is a huge opportunity and open door to bear with one another’s burdens, hear one another stories, choose love over cheap laughs… And I confess, I’m not as sensitive as more high-context culturally shaped people, so I’ve made my share of unintentionally offenses, even refraining from communion for a whole year (cf.Mt 5:23-24) to show my contrition.

The internet opens all our churches and ministries to public view of the entire world. How we carry conversations online bears much witness to what God can do when we take the time to listen, connect, and stay engaged.

Forgive me for words I’ve chosen imperfectly to express my encouragements; if you have better words to carry us forward together, let me know graciously. I’ll gladly receive all the help I can get.

[update 10/12/13] Exponential Addressing Asian-American Leaders’ Concerns
Exponential Addressing Asian-American Leaders’ Concerns


23 responses to “Work in Process at Exponential West 2013”

  1. Thanks for writing up on this. My question is simple. Have they not learned from the Deadly Viper incident with Zondervan? Our collective frustration is this. How many times do Asian bros and sisters have to voice out before this kind of stuff just stop?

    1. Hello Sam, thanks for chiming in. I would venture to say that a majority of evangelicals are not even aware of the Deadly Viper incident, so no learning is possible when you don’t know what you don’t know. Asian brothers and sisters continuing to voice out in the manner that’s been done thus far has not been effective. Whether that implies more voicing is needed or an entirely different approach is required, that’s yet to be seen. I am putting my energy and time to the latter with this opportunity.

      1. DJ, I appreciate the heart of what you’re expressing here. Working these things out in real relationships is good and necessary. However, I don’t agree that expressing frustration about the issue in the public square is a negative thing. Yes, it can be done in a hurtful, destructive way. But if, as you’re saying, “no learning is possible when you don’t know what you don’t know,” maybe no one is learning b/c no one has expressed that frustration and brought it to light in a public way.

        The reality is that social media has become the public square, yes with all the pitfalls of never talking to the other face to face and saying horrendous things online. But we’ve also seen how it can be a positive thing as well, to help people see another person’s perspective and hear their feelings about it. To not put it out there for others to engage would be to hold back important truth (and truth can come in the form of frustration and expressing disappointment) that they can then respond to. There has to be grace AND truth. The way our black brothers and sisters have done this historically is a good example to Asians who like to have peace on the surface b/c it makes us uncomfortable to engage in public.

        So I say yes, relationships are important. Face to face conversations are important. But if this wasn’t expressed on a public way on some level, if you really love the Church capital C, then only those few people would have learned something and we’ve robbed the Church of something really valuable that would help it grow, create understanding and move us forward in our witness to the gospel.

        I would also say: if I am the one who has hurt my brother or sister, while yes, we are all responsible to take initiative and engage, I would say that the onus is on me to reach out. I would hope that that would be true of me. If someone expressed their hurt and frustration to me, I hope that I would take down their name and number and say, “Let’s get together and talk more, face to face,” rather than, let me talk with my few other Asian friends and see what they think. Yes, get their perspective of course, but if someone came up to me after an incident happened that hurt them, I’d take the initiative to reach out to THEM personally. That’s working it out in relationship. I say this b/c I couldn’t help but notice that your comments about venting frustrations publicly on social media and instead making face to face contact were directed to your Asian brothers and sisters, some of whom actually did reach out personally and didn’t get that great of a response. Initially at least. I’m encouraged that the meeting happened eventually. I appreciate “mediators,” but relationship building goes both ways.

  2. Hi Christine, thank you for taking the time to stop by and offer some very very helpful and practical things to move towards a healthier resolution. Some of us know of the past incidents being mishandled and remaining unresolved, and there’s got to be a better way that has to be created.

    This is brand new territory for most in Asian-Anglo Christian evangelical relations, I don’t know how to do it and don’t have all the answers. But from my vantage point, past tactics have been largely ineffective for those incidents, so that prompted me to try a whole ‘nother approach, drawing from my Asian culture’s practices of indirect mediation, and giving dialogue ample time to work out better resolutions and to keep people engaged long-term.

    Personally I’m with you on being conversant in the public square of social media, and personally I’ve had more experience navigating that because that’s my personal preference and I’ve been having online conversations in the open since 1999 before blogging was invited, so years of practice has helped inform how I craft my words. I’m finding that organizations, especially Christian organizations, do not have that experience and have legitimate (and legal) concerns about how to engage in the open.

    And in a phone call this morning with an Anglo brother who does have multicultural competencies developed in a context like InterVarsity, we had an aha-moment that there is a significant gap in how a multicultural/ prophetic person/organization engages an issue very differently than a typical Anglo-dominant ignorant-of-cultural-sensitivity person/organization. So it’s not just a race issue, it’s a theological framework issue too, and many other layers too as we’ll discover as we stay engaged on this. Specifically related to this is 2 very different interpretations and applications of the often referenced Matthew 18 passage. #gasp# One group believes the public approach is appropriate; the other group believes the private approach is the biblical way. Can you say dyn-o-mite? 🙁 Your advice? Help!

    1. sam tsang Avatar


      I hope my blog helps you iron out Matthew 18. I personally think that we’re missing the understanding of what biblical geography can teach us. I’ve written a book on such texts this year and hope to keep educating the church on this issue.

      Aside from all the ugliness, the very fact many white evangelical leaders are not aware of the Deadly Viper and in many cases conveniently ignore the incident causes us to want to make a louder noise. I know they’re saying, “Please don’t make noise. Please don’t tarnish the name of Christ and divide the church” (always great to appeal to unity conveniently). My question is, “Who is doing that when a offensive stereotype is ignored?” Not the victims!

      I do want to congratulate you for being a healing voice in all this and i want to let you know that my prayer is with your effort and your ministry. May you be the bridge builder that God has put you in, during a time such as this. Honestly, you need to tell such leaders that we ALL need to have a big sit-down and have some kind of “let’s iron this mess out” session. YOu know what I mean? Just a few “Asian voices” will not adequately represent our corporate concern. The ball is in THEIR court. As always, keep a great attitude and be the blessing that you are, bro.

      1. I’ve read and re-read several times your exegesis of Matthew 18, and find it to be a viable one. I also know that among biblical scholars, there’s not consensus on this or many passages, for that matter. We Protestants and Evangelicals have this heritage of splitting hairs and having quite a wide variety of beliefs and practices, to the tune of 3000+ denominations & sects in the USA and 30,000+ in the world. #sigh

        Yes indeedy. We’re need the big sit-down, many of those. By God’s divine appointment, we did have one small one yesterday, with prayerful anticipating of many more and larger ones to come, as grace, understanding, learning, and forgiveness brings forth repentance, change, and transformation. And, yes I’ll be the bearer of that message, with you on that.

        The “please don’t make noise” in part draws from an application of 1 Corinthians 6, I think a case can be made for that. Another good passage to exegete and adapt perhaps?

    2. I don’t think this isn’t an either/or. We see examples of both kinds of approaches in Scripture. (Galatians 2 is an example of Paul publicly talking about his confrontation with Peter. I’ve always wondered if Peter was a bit peeved about that. Interesting that it was also an issue of ethnic reconciliation…) We can always interpret Scripture passages to support our particular approach. I think what’s more important to remember is that when something is systemic, you have to engage the issue on multiple fronts if you want to bring about systemic change. Another gift of our Asian heritage is the ability to affirm “both/and” thinking and hold things in creative tension with each other. We need face-to-face dialogue, relationships and conversation. We need to openly share about our personal experiences (including frustrations and painful experiences), as well as frame the conversation in terms of its broader implications for our gospel witness as the Church capital C, like with an open letter.

      We are all learning as we go along and we don’t have all the answers. But it is important for us not to undermine the various tools we have in our toolbox to bring about change, and embrace the reality that each of us has our different gifts and bents. One is a behind-the-scenes relational convener. Another is called to write publicly and articulately frame the issues for the larger Church. Still another is to be a prophetic “stirrer of the pot” who agitates and gets people’s attention. The hand can’t say to the foot, I don’t need you. We are all called to use what is at our disposal on multiple fronts and only then, together as the body of Christ, can we effectively move forward together in any meaningful way.

      1. Christine, thank you for the well-articulated and holistic picture of both Scriptures, cultures, and different parts of the body of Christ at work using their gifts & bents. Totally agree.

        My reflection on how a better resolution on this particular Exponential incident was the use of multiple approaches and tools and gifts to work it out, and you know that you’ve definitely had a pivotal role in it, so thank you for that, sincerely, very grateful I got to meet you & talk with you. And, to contrast, to my knowledge, there were no face-to-face conversations with any of the previous incidents that were less than ideally resolved.

        I would also add this, that these 2 paragraphs you wrote so well, Christine, are rarely ever clearly presented together, particularly in the majority-culture evangelicalism, and that adds to making it harder to resolve any emotionally charged conflict.

      2. Yes, I absolutely believe that all are necessary when you’re talking about systemic change, and to shut one down would be to shoot ourselves in the foot. It can be hard to separate the personal from corporate, the micro from the macro. It also makes me think that as we continue this dialogue more intentionally as a Church, if I have been (past tense) on the receiving part of the critique, I could potentially feel like, “Can we just let this go already?” I totally get that. I’d feel like people are harping on the issue and it would bother me, especially if I personally have apologized for it. But that is micro thinking. That is me being unable to see the issue beyond the personal and how I or my organization is experiencing it.

        My hope is that Exponential and Rick Warren would not respond that way, but move beyond the micro and the personal and see these things as an opportunity to engage the macro and the corporate. They can actually be a credible voice in that dialogue, model that for the people they lead b/c they’ve experienced being in the heat and thick of it.

      3. Christine, thank you. I share the same hope with you. Exponential thus far has responded differently, humbly, and keeping the doors open to more. I’m hopeful with you and many others that we’ve got an opportunity, here and now, to join our voices together to engage the macro and corporate.

  3. DJ, I’m so glad you’re working on this. I will be praying for you.

    I’m also praying that bringing this up in the public square is more helpful than hurtful to your efforts.

  4. Here’s the next step of progress of this work in process: the Exponential planning team has posted this clear and sincere apology = Exponential Addressing Asian-American Leaders’ Concerns

    “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” ~ Lao-tzu, The Way of Lao-tzu

  5. DJ
    Thank you for bringing a ministry of presence from the Asian American perspective. As a Filipino-American in vocational ministry for the better part of my adult life, I appreciate very much what you and others are doing on all of our behalf.

    1. Dr. Lumanog, thank you for adding a comment with your encouragement. Much appreciated, blessings.

  6. DJ – Thank you for the posture that you’ve taken in addressing this sensitive matter and for the dialogue you’re seeking to create. I’m also grateful for the comments from people like Sam and Christine who have shared their perspective on the manner that they’ve chosen to address it. My prayer is that this would help to bring about change within the evangelical community. If any of you have further suggestions/advice on how organizations like the one I am a part of, Cru, can be a part of the dialogue, I would appreciate your input.

    1. Scott, thank you for adding your comment and encouragement. I have tons of ideas as an ideator, happy to connect with you and Cru and Epic Movement to accelerate the long overdue dialogue to collaborate for a better future. Let me know when we can connect at and i’ll be able to give my undivided attention.

      1. I will do that, DJ. Looking forward to talking.

  7. DJ, I’m glad that you were part of that meeting. What has happened beyond and since?

    I am in the midst of writing to Dave Ferguson as well. One note: 30-minutes seems, while a good starting point, probably not going to result in significant change. The Open Letter, and, I imagine, the actual meeting, was filled with grace towards the Exponential team, as it should.

    The power of grace, I feel, is sweeter in light of the truth. I respond more greatly to God’s grace the more clearly I see the truth in my errors and wanderings.

    To that end, I think one step is for the team to better understand the truth — specifically, the hurt from that video. It’s not clear whether 30-minutes would be enough, again, not for the sake of harping on the impact, but because grace received becomes so much greater.

    1. Tim, thanks for your comments and appreciate the questions. What I can say is that there is notable conversations happening on the back channels (off-the-record, behind-the-scene) and I’m only aware of a small slice of off-the-grid activities. As you might already know, whether in Asian culture or American culture, a majority of institutional changes most often happen because of conversations in private meetings.

      Your observations are right on the mark, that a 30-minute discussion will not result in significant change in and of itself. We’re dealing with something that’s had decades of history, and it may well take decades of on-going efforts to develop the change that’s overdue. I think we all recognize that it was the first of many steps, and you can read public statements from Exponential stating as such.

      And having personally engaged with the Exponential team prior to the incident – see – Exponential has previously shown, did show, and my hope is that they will continue to show, the intentionality and effort towards developing new solutions and working collaboratively to become a more effective missional church for all peoples.

      1. Hey DJ, thanks for getting back. Perhaps some of this could best be done over a call.

        Where I am at is here: I’m not clear purely private meetings is the best way. I recognize some of that has to happen, but, as I noted above, it abstracts the truth to those at Exponential.

        I have reached out, for example, directly to Dave, inviting him to learn from our Asian community; but my hunch is, because the back channels are done, he’ll feel that he’s covered his bases through back-channels. As a result, transparency will be limited. And without transparency, there’s unlikely to be accountability or responsibility.

        The best listening and leadership is done broadly, probably in conjunction with the back-room for sensitive issues and diplomatic reasons; but things ultimately should be brought to light.

      2. Hey Tim, happy to talk with you by phone – my number was in this blog post and under the Contact menu item, or I’ll just put it here so you don’t have to scroll or click around – 949-243-7260 California time. Look forward to connecting.

        One small difference in word choice: I did not say private meetings are “the best way” – I said “a majority of institutional changes most often happen because of conversations in private meetings” – more of a quantitative comment than a qualitative one.

        I’m of the belief that there are more than 2 ways to accomplish something cf. and I too hold a strong value for transparency, being a blogger myself since 1999, that’s what I’ve done personally, but I also recognize the reality that most organizations are not into that value for various reasons, some of which is due to legal advice.

  8. Aaron Nelson Avatar
    Aaron Nelson

    There has been a significant change in the perceptions of Chinese Americans. In as little as 100 years of American history, stereotypes of Chinese Americans have changed to portraying a hard working and educated minority. Thus, most Chinese Americans work as white collar professionals, many of whom are highly educated, salaried professionals whose work is largely self-directed in management, professional, and related occupations such as engineering, medicine, investment banking, law, and academia. 53.1% of Chinese Americans work in many white collar professions compared with 48.1% for all Asian Americans and a national average of 35.1%.

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