Asian parents love their children. Really, they do. It’s just that their way of expressing their love to them is to point out their faults. They criticize. They vocally identify the places where their children fall short. Why do they do this? Because they love them. Asian parents want their children to strive for the best. They know that they can do better, and their form of motivation comes in the negative: pointing out faults.

I wonder how this affects the Asian American’s understanding of the gospel. If we grow up with hearing criticism often, then we will resonate with the idea that we are sinful, wretched, and we fall short of God’s glory. But I openly wonder if the motivation of seeing one’s shortcomings leads to legalism. Does an Asian American with a performance-driven mentality try to earn God’s favor with good deeds? Shouldn’t our understanding of approval have more to do with being God’s child than doing good things?

Affirmation really does have a positive effect on Asian Americans. We just don’t hear kind words about us enough. We don’t hear enough that we are fully accepted and loved by God, and I dare say that we don’t believe it. We don’t hear that we have come a long way in maturity since we accepted Christ, so we wallow in the sin of self-pity.

Yesterday I attended the English Ministry Fellowship Tri-Annual Gathering (formerly Fellowship of American Chinese Evangelicals), a time of fellowship and discussion for those serving in English-speaking Chinese ministries. We discussed how to motivate our laypeople to embrace spiritual disciplines. In my small group breakout, we discussed how our tendency is to see how the believers around us fall short of the finish line. Pastor Ken Ly (of Alhambra True Light) recalled how it is more effective and more encouraging if we stay away from pointing out their distance from the finish, but point out how far they’ve come from the starting line.

I wonder how this kind of affirmation can help us transform our thinking in ministry to Asian Americans. How can parents use affirmation to motivate their kids? How can pastors encourage their flock to continue striving as they have done so well?