Interpreting the signs of the times: Asian American Ministry

Photo by harry_nl. Used in accordance with Creative Commons.

Photo by harry_nl. Used in accordance with Creative Commons.

As we mature, people develop a sense of knowing the signs of change. Perhaps it’s reading someone’s face as one’s mood changes. Or maybe it’s knowing when to leave a situation that’s about to turn dangerous. We develop a sense that things are changing, and we understand that new action should be taken to respond to the things changing.

Many young Asian American leaders in churches are seeing that things are changing. Times are different. What was effective in reaching Asian Americans 30 years ago, or 20 years ago, or even 5 years ago—may not be effective today.

We are seeing that many Asian Americans are becoming more comfortable in blended ethnic groups—perhaps with other groups of Asians, other minorities, or even with a group that reflects their neighborhood or workplace.

We are seeing that many Asian Americans are thinking outside the church box. They aren’t necessarily condemning church practices, but they are sincerely asking “Why?” when it comes to the way things are done in churches.

We are realizing that many Asian Americans don’t fit the stereotypical mold. More are excelling in areas that haven’t been considered highly among their ethnic groups: graphic arts, athletics, film making, and so on. We are realizing that Asians in America are choosing less lucrative careers. We are realizing that not all Asian Americans fit into the demographic of the wealthy and highly-educated.

To remain relevant, the church must continue to adapt to the way things are changing. We need to see how things are new and offer a never-changing gospel to an ever-changing culture.

What does it look like to minister to this generation of Asian Americans? I used to think I understood. Yet the more I observe, the more conversations I have, and the more I try new things, the less assured I am. I know there’s no “one size fits all.” The task is daunting.

Let’s figure out what is negotiable and what is non-negotiable. For the non-negotiables, let’s humbly and prayerfully consider how we can reach today’s Asian American for Christ. I’m looking forward to the challenge.

 No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.
~Matthew 9:16-17

Special thanks to my classmates in the DMin program and our professors like Benjamin Shin and DJ Chuang for the dialogue.

Related Posts:

Asian Americans and Discussing Family Issues.

Asian American Church Models

Why Ethnic Specific Ministries?

Posted in Asian American Ministry, Church Ministry | Leave a comment

Memorial Day Reflection.

Today, we commemorate the men and women of the armed forces who have given their lives to defend this country. Every day I enjoy the freedom and privileges of being an American. I am free to own a home, free to make a living, free to pursue a career path, free to worship God. I am grateful.

photo by Vjerian Pavic. Used in accordance with Creative Commons.

photo by Vjerian Pavic. Used in accordance with Creative Commons.

I often take this life for granted. But today I reminded to honor those who have made this life possible. I know it came at a great cost. Whatever my opinion about the wars that our nation has fought in, I recognize the sacrifice that these individuals and their families have made in serving our country. Thank you to the brave, the honorable–our American soldiers.

Today, and everyday, I am proud and grateful to be an American.

Posted in Reflection | 2 Comments

Why Ethnic Specific Ministries?

James Chuong of InterVarsity answers the question “Why do ethnic-specific ministries exist?” He tackles some of the buzz words and most quoted Scripture passages. I especially appreciate his treatment of Galatians 3:28. For my comments on this passage as it pertains to this issue, see here.

I definitely echo the sentiment that ethnic specific ministry is legitimate, but it should not be the only thing. “We need places to focus, and we need places to integrate. Both are good, and both are needed.”

What are your thoughts on the video? What do you think about ethnic-specific ministries?

Related Posts:

Revelation 7 and ethnic-specific ministries.

“Your church is unbiblical.”

Posted in Asian American Ministry, Church Ministry, Race and Ethnicity | 1 Comment

A quick note of “thanks” for reading.

Hello everyone! Thank you to everyone who has recently told me that you find my blog helpful and worth reading. It takes a great deal of mental energy for me to write a decent blog post, and I’ve recently been avoiding blogging because of the investment and time it takes. But it’s encouraging to hear that many of you are finding it valuable. I hope I can take some time to write out a lot of the thoughts I have running around in my mind recently about church ministry, especially in an Asian American context.

I’m cautious but hopeful about the state of the Asian American church. There’s a unique and legitimate place in the kingdom of God for the ethnic-specific ministry.

Yes, there are a lot of issues that make ministry challenging in an Asian church in America. Many of them are not unique to the ethnic-specific church. The ones that are unique are often the other side of the coin when it comes to advantages of this church approach.

For now, I leave you with some previous posts that might spark a conversation:

The Baby and the Bathwater…Blaming the ethnic specific model

English Congregation: “Just an older version of youth ministry”

Asian-American Ministry Needs: Reflection from the English Ministry Pastors’ Fellowship

Posted in Asian American Ministry | 2 Comments

Why Revelation 7 is a poor reason to condemn ethnic specific ministries.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
Revelation 7:9-10

In my last post, I explained how Galatians 3:28 is a poor reason to condemn ethnic-specific ministries.

I have had numerous encounters with well-meaning proponents of multi-ethnic churches as they condemn ethnic-specific ministries. I hear that a ministry that is focused on a particular ethnicity is “unbiblical” or even “disobedient.”

Another passage that these well-meaning folks usually cite is Revelation 7, specifically the great multitude that no one could count. In this post, I will make the case that this passage is improperly used to claim that multi-ethnic ministries are somehow superior to ethnic-specific ministries.

At the onset, the big picture message of Revelation is that God is victorious, and we have to decide whose side we will be on. However, with varying views on interpreting the details of Revelation, it is difficult to make solid conclusions that inform our ecclesiology. Assuming that we can even venture to apply principles from John’s visions, my conclusion is that we cannot use this particular passage to point to a mandate that all ministries must be multi-ethnic.

Here are three reasons:

1. There is too much that the passage does not tell us.

photo by lets.book, used in accordance with Creative Commons.

photo by lets.book, used in accordance with Creative Commons.

We simply do not have enough information that will help us determine how to apply this passage to the makeup of a local church. It is not referring to a single ministry or local body. We do not know if the people in the multitude were all intermingled. We do know that John was able to distinguish different peoples and languages, making it possible that they were “grouped” together into homogenous, distinct but not separate sections. There is nowhere in the passage that gives us a command that we should do likewise, or that a local church body should look like this. We have plenty of mandates for the church that are clearly laid out in Scripture. This is not one of them. We do not have enough information for us to make the leap into identifying this as some kind of command for the local church.

2. The identity of this multitude.
This one primarily applies within the framework of a pre-millennial, pre-tribulation return of Christ. John records that these people “are the ones coming out of the great tribulation” (v.14).  This tells us that they became believers after the church age, and they were not believers at the time of the rapture. It was during the time of great trial and suffering that this multi-ethnic crowd came to place their trust in Christ. At this point, the church at large has already been taken away with the first return of Christ. It really is a stretch to apply this passage to the church or to a ministry during the church age when it takes place after the church is gone.

3. Consistency of Application.
Yes, the passage does say “all peoples.” But if we were to apply this to a local church or a single ministry and say that it should be multi-ethnic, we need to be consistent. We would need to also apply “every nation”. After all, a group of African Americans, Latino Americans, and Asian Americans is still made up of Americans. Furthermore, we’d have to apply “all languages.” Skin color can look different, but if the ministry is only run in one language, doesn’t that make it unbiblical and disobedient according to this passage? Let’s be consistent.

For that matter, what makes this crowd a picture of a local body the way God intends?  The passage just preceding this one describes 144,000 faithful that were Jews. (Now, there are some who say that this group of 144,000 is not referring Jews exclusively, but that the nation of Israel really represents all people who follow God, from other nations. But the identification of the multitude in verse 9-10 as a group from every nation implies that these 144,000 are not from every nation. For good measure, If there was any doubt, it’s erased by the fact that each tribe of Israel is mentioned. 12,000 from this tribe, 12,000 from this tribe, and so on.) Why is the uncountable multitude in vv. 9-10 taken as a prescription of the church, but somehow the ethnic-specific group of verse 4-8 not a prescription for the church? There seems to be a double standard in here. Again, let’s be consistent.

I’m so grateful for Revelation 7:9-10. It is a beautiful picture of worship and how the offer of salvation is available to everyone, regardless of race, nationality, and language. This will even be true after a possible rapture.

How about you? How have you heard Revelation 7:9-10 taught? What are your thoughts about application for this passage?

Related Posts:
“Your Church Isn’t Biblical”
Why Galatians 3:28 is a poor reason to condemn ethnic specific ministries.
Why ethnic-specific ministries exist in America, Part 1.

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