More and more Chinese bilingual churches I am encountering are looking to hire an English-speaking pastor. For quite a few of these churches these vacant positions have been open for months, even years. I am sure they are receiving applications and resumes, but positions remain unfilled.

Ultimately, Chinese churches are looking for someone who is American-born Chinese (ABC) to shepherd their English-speaking flock. Often the supply of ABC’s applying for these positions is so small that these churches have to “settle” for hiring a white guy or an immigrant. While there is nothing wrong with this, it is far from the ideal situation these churches envisioned.

The question remains: Why the shortage of American-born Chinese returning to minister in the Chinese church?

Through many conversations, here are some of the reasons proposed:

  • Parental and worldly expectations.
    Immigrant parents often push their American-born children to accomplish great things in academics, instilling in them a value of hard work and achieving success. Parents do not consider pastoral ministry to be an acceptible career. While it is okay for others to be pastors, their children should be doctors and lawyers to support the church and support them in their old age. Because of this, many do not seek out the Lord’s calling on their lives, reducing the supply of Chinese-Americans even considering full-time ministry as a vocation.
  • Hurts experienced in churches.
    As it has been well-documented, many Americanized Asian-Americans can speak of hurts that they have experienced in churches that are led by the immigrant generation. An alarming majority of those who grew up in these churches do not return to them after college, many of them leaving the faith altogether.
  • Pessimism regarding the immigrant church.
    Concerning the bilingual, immigrant church model, the prevailing mood among American-born Chinese seminary students I interact with is one of extreme pessimism. Many of them consider the bilingual church beyond repair, and that they do not want to go back to these types of churches that they grew up in.

  • Other ministry desires.
    Many ABC seminary students/ministers are currently looking for other kinds of ministries, whether  in more progressive “multi-ethnic” churches, para-church ministry, or in the mission field. Whether this is affected by hurts experienced in the immigrant-led church remains to be seen.

The immigrant generation may view this shortage as a real problem, questioning the ABCs’ loyalty and maturity. The Americanized generation may view the shortage as a wake-up call to the immigrant-led churches to address the problems that exist within churches. As we continue having conversations, may the Lord bring us to better understanding of how to proceed in the best way for His kingdom.

**EDIT: more conversation about this topic is going on at DJ Chuang’s blog, you can view/interact with it here: