“For some reason, a lot of English ministries seem to have generational conflicts between the first and second generations. The English ministries would have differences in budget, ministry activities, and the main thing would be the purpose of the English ministry. A lot of times, the Korean and English pastor would have conflicts and leave. From what I’ve seen, the Korean congregation thinks the English ministries are an older version of youth ministries, not a ministry that can stand on its own. I guess English ministries want the freedom to minister and worship the way they felt was right.”
-Cameron, as quoted by Russell Jeung, Faithful Generations, p. 58

For many of us in an ethnic Asian church model, the statement above is all too familiar.

The history of each church sounds similar. A church is started by an immigrant (Chinese, Korean, etc.) congregation. As the families grow, a need for youth ministry develops. An English-speaking congregation emerges, and is made up of younger folks.

As the English ministry matures, much of this congregation is American– they’re American-born, identify with American culture and values, and many don’t even speak the mother tongue fluently.

Differences emerge. The more vocal in the English congregation are looking for the ministry to transform. Maybe a more modern music style, maybe a ministry to the neighborhood, or a philosophy about who to reach.

Like Cameron, many of us have experienced that the mother-tongue congregation (Chinese-speaking or Korean-speaking) leaders are still in place. Often we (English-speaking congregation) get the feeling that we’re not taken seriously. Even though the English congregation has more adults, they’re still generally younger than the key leaders in the church.

When I was an upperclassman in high school, I’d think “Wow, these freshmen are getting younger and younger.”  Yet the truth is, they’re no younger than I was when I was a freshman. It’s all perception.

I get the feeling it’s like that in many bilingual Asian churches. They’re started by immigrants–maybe when they were grad students or young adults. In their 20s and 30s.  Those individuals are now the long-time deacons and elders of the church. And as an English congregation emerged, it produced leaders in their 20s and 30s. Yet the same mother-tongue congregants who started the church at that age seem to look down on the ability and opinions of these English-speaking adults.

Maybe that’s why these churches are losing some of the best young leaders. Maybe this is a major reason we’re seeing these churches split. Maybe there needs to be a mutual submission and respect. Maybe there needs to be a “passing of the torch” as the mother-tongue leaders empower the young, more Americanized English-speaking adults to lead.

Have you had an experience like Cameron?
What have you seen?
Do you think God can redeem this?

Related posts:
Working Under a Chinese Senior Pastor
On the Shortage of American-born Chinese Pastors.
Asian American Churches Face Leadership Gap