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We asked Louis Lee what trends he noticed in his 30 years of networking and ministering to Asian Americans. Here’s four!
1) Overseas Born Chinese (OBC) / American Born Chinese (ABC) tensions: now an ABC can become the Senior Pastor
You’ve already touched upon how things have changed like OBC/ABC tensions are improving. It seems like that was really huge in the ’80s and ’90s.
Oh yeah, it’s a lot better now. It’s the kind of thing where a lot of the tension was created by ignorance. Sometimes, when you’re on the side where you’re treated unjustly, you can overreact and make it sound like there’s this evil empire putting us down. And certainly there were a few individuals that were like that; it’s not just ignorance, you know. But I think a lot of it was just ignorance.
And to their credit, a lot of these OBC seniors certainly began to see the need for younger English speaking. They would leave church, and plug in at some other Evangelical church, Caucasian or whatever. At least they haven’t left the faith, but unfortunately, a lot of them did leave the faith completely. So some began to realize, “Oh, we have to do something.” So, the OBCs began to address it.
I think nowadays we have the model now where we see an ABC become a senior pastor of a large, tri-congregation set-up! With Steve Chin in Boston and Steve Quen in Oakland, we kind of broke through that barrier. Obviously, not every ABC is well suited for that. I know some ABCs are carnal, struggling with fleshly things like ambition, just wanting to have power and authority or whatever. That’s wrong for anybody. It’s what’s best for the church, for that context. But just to be eligible, to realize that an ABC guy could be the senior pastor, and to have that realized! [We used to think] an ABC guy could never be the senior pastor!
I’ve been out of the network for the last six or seven years pastoring here [at Chinese Community Church], but I did sense before that a lot of the younger ABCs who grew up in Chinese churches in English ministries, were consciously or unconsciously turned off by that whole [attitude that] “English ministry is second class.” [Consequently,] many ABCs who went to seminary were more focused on missions than pastoral ministry. They don’t want to return to that kind of situation, and I can’t blame them. Especially in Chinese ethnic kind of contexts. Not just Chinese but Korean or whatever.
2) Parents are more supportive of a wider range of career choices, though not necessarily to ministry.
Yeah, the whole thing about values and choice of careers: it’s not just how to make the most money, being a doctor an engineer—though nothing’s wrong with those careers. But [OBC parents now are] more open to things like social workers, teachers, people who are making a difference in the community even though the status and the bucks aren’t there.
I’ve been encouraged to see how many OBC parents really coming around, and not being so narrow minded from their cultural values. [Many are] really understanding and appreciating Kingdom values. So if their kid wanted to pursue a career like that, they would actually be supportive. I’ve seen that increasing.
Obviously, I know that there’s still far too many Christian parents—not just Chinese—but Christian parents in general who are a little confused about values. I mean, is it really Kingdom values? Or is their own cultural family of origin values?
But one thing I’ve heard from my oldest son—he graduated from UC Davis back in 2004. God led him to go on staff with InterVarsity for a while; it was really cool. My wife and I were just thrilled! But we were sad to hear him say that a lot of his Asian American friends who were thinking the same thing, their [Christian] parents were not supportive. The majority of them and not just a few!
And I hear that from Urbana experiences too: a lot of young people come back and they’re all charged up about life goals and dreams, and a lot of their parents, even Christian parents are not real supportive.
Yeah, so there’s still a lot of that, but overall, in the last 30 years, I’ve seen the trend moving in the right direction which is encouraging.
3) Increased bridge building between church and parachurch.
One of the things MESA is also concerned about is building bridges between the whole church / parachurch thing. I’ve been a pastor for a long time, but I also worked for Promise Keepers for two years, and I also have MESA which is parachurch. So there’s a real need for more partnerships and trust and relationship building between those two major groups of leaders: church pastoral leadership and parachurch leaders.
Parachurch ministries didn’t always encourage people to keep a foot in the local church. So parachurch can be very focused, and that’s why they can be so effective [especially] at colleges. But you gotta help them understand the importance of the church so when they leave, they just don’t fade away, and they don’t think that their Christian experience is just a college thing. It’s a lifetime identity with the church. Then what happens after they graduate, when they leave their campus ministries? What happens to their Christian growth and Christian Identity and their spiritual life? A lot of them would drop out. And that was something they realized.
We still got a lot of work to do because sometimes the only time you hear from a parachurch ministry is when they are looking for money. And they talk about coming along side to partner… That’s why they need to build relationships and friendships and really trust each other and not just be a project or some kind of need to raise money for, but to really know people.
By the way, MESA is just one of the networking things that God has used over the years. In NYC there’s PaLM. There’s just this need to see God raise up other people in other organizations to do similar things, to build more bridges. And I think that’s overall, it’s getting better.
4) Justice and racism are now on people’s screens.
Well, let’s just say they’re all moving in the right direction. On a scale of 1 to 10, maybe I’m not so sure—maybe it used to be a 2, and it’s a 3.5 or whatever. But we’re moving in the right direction. So that’s encouraging.
Louis Lee’s words have been condensed, edited and subtitled with permission.
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