- Reference Points
- Asian American Christians
- Asian Americans
- Christianity in the World
- Christianity in America
- Spectrum of Views
We’re in a series that shares the thinking behind the 7 challenges that inform our mission. We have been discussing challenge 2: the perceived irrelevance, and today, we will address how we’re sometimes thought so by multiethnic churches and ministries.
- Asian American ministries are very much needed because not all of us are ready, perhaps multiethnic ministries are not even ready
- Our ministries are not exclusive. We are diverse, and have welcomed many non-Asian Americans.
- Asian American ministries need the multiethnic church
Many multiethnic churches think Asian American ministries are irrelevant.
Asian American ministries are too exclusive; it’s not Biblical.
We (AsianAmericanChristian.org) realize not every member of a multiethnic church thinks this way—but this is the most common critique we’ve heard to date. You are likely to have heard it too.
By “multiethnic” church, we mean churches that directly espouse this value, and perhaps even call themselves “multiethnic” or “multicultural.” Because it will be evident to many that their churches too are “multiethnic,” we also mean churches whose demographics are multiethnic or multicultural, though they many not explicitly champion this as a value.
These working thoughts are those of AsianAmericanChristian.org alone. They are not meant to represent all Asian American Christians or Asian American ministries.
Asian American ministries are very much needed because not all of us are ready, perhaps multiethnic ministries are not even ready.
There is still much to do. And there is much work to be done to pave the way towards our common goal of unity in Christ.
Asian American ministries is necessary because there’s still:
- The task of evangelism
While multiethnic ministries certainly evangelizes Asian Americans, God uses Asian American ministries to reach some also. Asian American ministries and churches are still needed for the task of evangelism because:
- 74% of us are foreign born. English can be a difficult language to learn. Fluency in pop culture, in geographical slang, in Christian terms, in the jargon of our workplaces can be difficult to acquire.
- It is natural to evangelize to groups that naturally socialize together. Like most human beings, many Asian Americans hang out with people have similar interests, who are most like them, who will “get” them. Hipsters hang out with hipsters, Wall Street people hang out with Wall Street people; so do some Asian Americans. Ministers have long recognized this. Forming ministries for athletes, Washington DC movers and shakers, business men, women, pastors, etc. has helped ministers more effectively incarnate and preach the Gospel to these particular audiences.
- The task of discipleship
While Multiethnic ministries certainly disciples many Asian Americans, God uses Asian American ministries to mature many in Christ as well. Discipleship is about working out how we live and think as Christians, how we make Christ our Lord. Since discipleship mainly is an incarnational task, Asian American ministries and churches are still needed because:
- 74% of us are foreign born. Language issues abound.
- It is natural to disciple groups that naturally socialize together. Evangelism and discipleship often go hand in hand. When someone becomes a Christian and her life starts changing because she is a Christian, a good friend naturally will become concerned, interested and perhaps involved. Many come to follow Jesus in this way.
- Groups that naturally socialize together go through experiences nuanced in a way that are unique for that group. Mothers for example will be more concerned about parenting issues than college students. Asian Americans, too have experiences that Asian Europeans, for example, will not be able to relate. Like mothers, Asian Americans will need to meet God in and through these experiences and to grow in their relationship with God.
- People who want to grow in Christ will look for role models, mentors and resources that can relate to their experiences. As mothers will look to Christian parenting books and older mothers for help (more than say, a Christian bachelor), so to will some Asian American Christians. However, with 74% of Asian Americans foreign born, it can be difficult to find Asian American Christians who have come before us. Most of Asian American Christian popular titles were published in the 1990s-mid-2000s and assume an East Asian American experience of marginality. While these materials are still helpful for some Asian American Christians, these materials need to be updated and contextualized for other Asian American Christian experiences.
- The task of trying to unite among ourselves
- The task at hand is not yet unity: it’s to get together.Asian American Christians have yet even to come together as Evangelicals. While Mainline organizations have long championed multi-ethnicity and have funding it accordingly, Evangelicals are only just starting their efforts. There is no umbrella group of Asian American ministers; we are still being introduced to one another, we are still forming relationships with one another. The task at hand is not yet unity: it’s to get together. It’s to know our own voices, stories and what God has been doing in us.
- Asian American Christians also need to figure out who we are together, so we can better contribute as a whole to multiethnic ministries. While we certainly have many gifts to share with multi-ethnic churches as individuals and perhaps subgroups, we as a whole have yet the opportunity to work on our sense of identity. When you think of the African American Church, or the Latino Church or even the Native American Church, you can think of distinctives. While some have tried to name such distinctives on the Asian American Church, these definitions are still in a nascent phase. In large numbers, we are still too new to this country and Christianity. America’s doors were closed to us in large part until 1965. We have yet to form our own “culture,” our unique flavor and contribution to the greater Body of Christ.
- Asian American Christians need eventually to try to unite together, so we can more deeply unite with the worldwide Body of Christ. In truth, the task of unity feels too far away; perhaps something many generations away. Asian American Christians are that diverse of a group. However, if we do not work to find unity among ourselves, among people we are perhaps most alike (though not necessarily)—then how can we have a deeper unity with you? Unity of the multiethnic church is only as strong as its weakest link. We do not want to be that weak link.
Are multi-ethnic churches and ministries are ready for Asian American Christians?
- We may communicate differently. All human beings have different ways of communicating, and this is true also for Asian American Christians. While how Asian Americans communicate may or may not feel different depending what one’s accustomed to, some differences can be significant and shocking. For example, silence to some Asian Americans does not necessarily mean agreement or willing compliance.
- Sometimes our voices tend to get lost. Some Asian American ministry leaders have noted that unless a senior pastor is Asian American or there’s a critical mass of Asian Americans, our voices tend to get lost in multiethnic ministry churches and circles.
- Are multiethnic ministries ready for Asian American Christians who may not fit your existing ideas? God is making all things new (Revelation 21:5) including Asian American Christians! We are a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17, et al). While you may recognize us by our fruits in the Spirit, Asian American Christians may not necessarily fit your pre-existing ideas of who we should be and what it looks like for us to grow in Christ.
Perhaps you’ve heard it said that Asian American ministries and churches are “exclusive” and insular. While there may be elements of reality in this, AsianAmericanChristian.org does not believe this is the full truth.
And as many Asian American ministers have noted, many “Asian American” churches are far more multiethnic than the average multiethnic church: Asian America is that diverse. At a Chinese church for example, Chinese Americans from Hong Kong, mainland China, Taiwan, Singapore, and Indonesia can be found—sometimes a Chinese American might be from South America or Europe! Cantonese, Mandarin, Taiwanese, and/or English services are commonplace.
It’s also not uncommon to see non-Asian Americans. Just as people of many ethnicities have flocked to multiethnic churches, non-Asian Americans come through friendships and marriage, or they’re just simply attracted to Asian American Christian communities and services.
Some English services and Asian American churches in fact have become “multiethnic churches” in the way that most imagine. One blogger has heard it described in multiethnic ministry circles that Asian American headed multiethnic churches are a kind of a silver bullet to transcend black and white racial differences and to sometimes even, to ensure a good mix of ethnicities. If this is true and you do think this, then you indeed know that we are able to welcome many non-Asian Americans!
Asian American Christians obviously do not all go to ethnic churches. Many go to multiethnic churches! Many even feel more comfortable at multiethnic churches. Multiethnic ministries is very needed.
Multiethnic ministries helps Asian American Christians to know ourselves and grow. As all people learn about themselves in relation to others, multiethnic ministries exposes people to lives and ways that are different than one’s own, modeling ways that Asian American Christians perhaps did not see in our families and churches.
Multiethnic ministries helps Asian American Christians know what is really Christian, and the vice versa is true too. Multiethnic ministries and Asian American ministries are like iron sharpening iron, irons that helps us figure out what things are really “ethnic” or “American” or “Christian.”
Multiethnic ministries helps Asian American Christians see a different picture of Christ, a fuller picture of Christ. When we come together as a diverse body and fellowship: when we witness to one another how God has met us through the joys and pains that are intwined in life’s circumstances, we see a deeper and fuller picture of Christ.
Even before Jesus came in the flesh, God chose Israel to make himself known to the world. He told Abram in Genesis 12:3 that “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Israel’s calling was to be a nation of priests that made God known, as a light to all the nations (Isaiah 40-55). And their light has long been attractive, drawing many non-Jewish God-fearers in their midst like Ruth of Moab and Rahab of Canaan, Gentiles that Matthew names in Jesus’ genealogy.
Through Jesus Christ, non-Jewish believers were grafted into Israel (Romans 11:11-24), and a multiethnic church was certainly addressed in the New Testament: from the early church in Antioch (Acts 11:19-26; 13:1) to Paul’s pleas for unity in Christ in his letters, to the John’s vision in Revelation 7:9: “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”
Our witness to the world is intertwined with our unity in Christ. As Jesus prayed to his Father: “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you loved me.” (John 17:23b) This verse in fact is the ultimate stated vision of AsianAmericanChristian.org.
We eagerly long to be one, to see his Kingdom work through us and in us, to be a light to the nations in our unity. But we are not yet fully on the other side of the Kingdom: heaven is not fully here. And there is much work to be done to pave the way towards this unity in Christ.
Some feel that the “Asian American church” (or “Latino American church” or “African American church” or “Native American church”) is at the expense of the multiethnic church.
While Asian American ministries seems “exclusive,” while Asian Americans do not always attend your churches in large numbers, “he who is not against you is for you.“ (Luke 9:50, Mark 9:40) We live for Jesus and minister in his name, just as you do. As your brothers and sisters in Christ, we are very much for you.
The existence of ethnic specific ministries does not threaten multiethnic ministries, but enhances and makes multiethnic ministries even more relevant. Ethnicity, race, culture, social class, etc: all this matters. Multiethnic ministries believes this too. Asian American ministries makes space to work out how this matters to us, to figure out our own voices and issues, so we can better work out our gifts. Asian American ministries allows us potentially to develop much larger and richer gifts to give back to the whole Body of Christ.
AsianAmericanChristian.org wants to help Asian American Christians prepare for our eventual unity in Christ. We want to help our churches and ministries be like the wise virgins who have oil with them in their lamps. (Matthew 25:4) We want to make the church ready for our Bridegroom, Jesus Christ.
We need your voices, but we need to first know and hear our own.
Eventually, we very much want to sponsor an on-going dialogue between other ethnic American Christians and even with Christians in other parts of the world. We very much want to cooperate and contribute to ongoing discussions on becoming one in Christ. We have so much to learn from non-Asian American Christians and are excited to have deeper fellowship and cooperate. We are also excited to contribute to the Greater Church in American and the World.
To start though, Asian American Evangelicals need to make sure we are a “we” or even at least a fledgling “we.” AsianAmericanChristian.org wants help us become that eventual “we” by doing our part to gather our own stories, to have a better sense of how God has been growing and blessing us. We need to figure ourselves out a bit more, so we can eventually enhance your churches and ministries even more, for the sake of Christ.
Many perceive Asian American ministries as irrelevant.
ethnic churches – multiethnic churches – Asian American churches – emerging generations – seminary-trained Evangelicals – Asian American ministry alumni
We’re in a series sharing the thinking behind the 7 challenges that inform our mission. Our mission is to ask what God is doing in us, to hear and gather all Asian American Christian voices and to build inroads necessary for understanding, reconciliation and fellowship.
AsianAmericanChristian.org is a proposal for a new ministry that offers a framework and a way forward. If you’re wondering where these ideas are coming from, read this. If you’re interested and would perhaps like to join our feedback sessions this Fall, join our mailing list.
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SUMMER AND FALL 2015
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