Going back to the “Skits That Teach” fiasco (mad props to Soong Chan Rah, who was a leading voice in bringing about a response from Zondervan and Youth Specialties), one of the conclusions was that Asian Americans need to develop content that is sensitive and relevant to our churches and ministries.
There’s not a lot of material out there and to be honest, it’s hard to distinguish exactly how it should be different…yet. But this goes hand-in-hand with the need for distinctiveness in Asian American theology. There needs not only to be a theological understanding for our ethnicity and how we have connected the dots between growing up Asian in American and worshipping a Jewish messiah, but also how this influences the ways we understand and live in the world with this history and unique path as strangers from a different shore. This means that our education in church also needs to be different.
Asian societies tend to be tightly organized, collectivistic, hierarchical, with greater emphasis on social order and conflict avoidance and more concern with main-zi (face) and group approval. Should Malaysian Christian faith communities follow the same approach of a discipleship program designed in the West and tailored for Western Christians? Western discipleship programs tend to be more individualistic in their approach. This is an important consideration as many Malaysian churches are buying education and “discipleship” programs from the West especially the United States. These “discipleship” programs comes in ‘packages’ which includes a content book, study guides, leader’s guides, DVDs, music CD and sermon transcripts. What is worrying is that churches are using these programs wholesale without analyzing the underlying theological foundation and the fact that these programs are marketed at American Christians. Would it have the same impact in Malaysia where the thinking processes are different? Would the faith development of the Malaysian Christians be more rapid if the educational approach should be more community based rather than an individualistic? Would it retard our own education or discipleship program development? Would it give a distorted view of Christianity as mainly an “individualistic evangelical middle class superpower white male religion”? How does it fit into a multicultural, multiethnic and pluralistic Malaysian culture?
Sadly, most Asian churches I’ve seen in the US have very little foresight into this, but the need is very present, and has a great deal to do with why the silent exodus is a very real phenomenon in our generation.
I feel like this is something that Black churches do very well, where young and new Christians have an understanding that God has brought them a long way and is continuing to form their people as well as their destiny. There is a sense that their struggle is something that lends to their identity and distinctiveness, which gives them the courage to remember and remain distinctive.
So even as there are new efforts for Asian American theology and carving out what this means for our churches, we should also keep in mind that our education and relating these aspects at the congregational level has far more mileage than just among pastors and theologians.