New wine skin Leadership for the church?

Greetings everyone –

At the end of this month, I will be heading to the Great Country of Texas – home to the world champion Dallas Mavericks and soon to be champions, Dallas Cowboys (I am such a homer).  There was a 1st generation church that asked me to consider and walk/teach through a process of cultivating a new ministry — specifically in salvaging or rebirthing an English ministry of sorts.  At the time they brought this up last year, I was not in the mood for consulting them through this.  Why bother right?   Normally, in the past, my hardened heart would turn this down, since I know the heart aches that can go with helping a first gen leadership team.  We know the arguments of 1st and 2nd gen clash.  Why teach a old dog new tricks?  I thought I would  introduce a healthy discussion and then seek advice from you who are going through these leadership dynamics and shifts in your AA church context.

As I write this, I am reminded of 2 events by a pastor named Cory Ishida @ Evergreen Baptist Church in San Gabriel, CA. First, I invited him to speak at the 100th year celebration of Protestant influence in Vietnam at the Crystal Cathedral.  If you are unfamiliar with the name, he would be one of the first few pioneers of AA church planting in the US.  In my opinion, the term “Hiving” and “Asian American” wasn’t mainstream until Pastors Cory Ishida and Ken Fong   teamed up for a period of time in the LA area.  He had so much wisdom as he shared the background stories of the “Hive”.

At the opening session, he preached on Mark 2:21-22, “New wine into Old wine skin”.  Now I have spoken on this topic too, when referring to 1st and 2nd gen churches, but it has so much more value when a elderly man who is battled tested doing it.  The audience consisted of a mixed group of young and old leaders.  It was a very touching scene, as he helped bridge the topic of giving birth to a new generation.

Now, on March 20, we are reconvening as a group in response to this urgent desire to see healthier churches for 1st and 2nd gen pastors.   Pastor Cory was invited once again to give practical and strategical advice.  I sit here today blogging away as future leaders will discuss next steps.

For those unfamiliar with this theory of new wine into old wine skin, it sets the stage for a very heated topic of immigrant churches who have a strong desire to “gather and preserve” versus those former English Ministry Pastors who just want to plant out their own.   I think we know the conversation and that is where I want to leave room for comments and feedback with my dilemma.

As I make my trip to the DFW area next week, I am stuck with a situation of varying  philosophical approaches.  How would you approach a 1st gen church who wants to grow and help their dying English generation?  Do we teach break off and start a new?  Do we say keep it in the family, we need to find ways to be unified?  Do we bother going down this road of emotional turmoil and then figure out, it was really for nothing, because we are still in the same situation as last year?  The endless questions continue and the verdict is still not set in the Vietnamese American church context.  Those brothers and sisters in the Korean and Chinese American churches —- what advice do you have for a dying 1st Generation church?  What encouragement do you bring?  What strategies do you propose?

I humbly look forward to soaking in all the comments and feedback.  Pray for fruits on this first trip.

7 thoughts on “New wine skin Leadership for the church?”

  1. I think this is a fine question, and typically we see the “extremes” you mentioned – “gather and preserve” versus… just want to plant out their own.” Maybe they aren’t extremes but they do seem to be at the opposite ends of the spectrum. I think I’ve hit one or the other of the “extremes” at different points in my life. But of late I think we’ve been seeing some middle ground here and there with great potential. Maybe “gathering” and “preserving” heritage aint such a bad thing after all.

    What is important however, is if the 1st generation is attempting to “manage” the transition. I’ve heard statements like: “this is all one day going to be yours; we’re turning it over to you.” “We’re giving you this building and this real estate.” Now that I know a little more I know how silly these assertions are and highly unrealistic, fraught with organizational, denominational, theological, and legal tensions. One congregation doesn’t just give stuff away, let alone itself. At heart is this need to “manage” the transition – and oftentimes – I say this without spite but as matter-of-factly as I can – they don’t know what they are doing. You cannot manage a transition as much as you can only grow through it. In other words, transition itself is a growing process that cannot be managed from above, but the onus is on the party below to differentiate themselves in a healthy and non-reactive manner. Sometimes differentiation doesn’t necessarily mean one has to “leave the house” nor the relationship. But decisively it has to occur, in the forms of financial independence, organizational sovereignty, and maybe legal and official incorporation.

    These are just some thoughts I’ve had, comign from my own context and how we are “learning thru” the transition as opposed to trying to control it towards some steered outcome – which at this point, no one really knows what it will look like.

    So in sum, my 2 cents: don’t manage the transition; grow through it.

  2. So glad you made this post as a part of saying hey and a check-in debrief of that gathering you’re at in an undisclosed location 🙂

    Matthew 9:17 renders it as: “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.” The last words of that verse are often overlooked, and perhaps due to its omission in parallel references in Gospels of Mark and Luke, and yet that phrase _BOTH ARE PRESERVED_ is a most hopeful insight that only caught my eyes a few years ago.

  3. I’m one of those Korean-American sisters who grew up in the Korean immigrant church, tried desperately to make that relationship work, moved onto a Korean-American EM church and tried to make that relationship work.

    If we are truly looking for new wine and new wineskins are 1st gen and 2nd gen church leaders truly willing to consider what new wine and new wineskins will look like? Sound like? Be structured?

    I’ll just put it out there. When will sisters be full partners in the leadership of the church, regardless of generation? 🙂

  4. Thank you Wayne for your encouragement. I am beginning to get to that point in this journey. Got to grow through it. However, there is something inside of me that says we don’t have to keep making the same mistakes of the past. Why not help remove some of those challenges that can be prevented. There is a sense of learning from mistakes and improving one’s outcome, right?

    For that I turn to DJ’s comment, “both are preserved”. You are right my brother. As I was sharing at this conference to some others, that I have “repented”. There’s no need for me to hate, despise, criticize a generation that help bring the Gospel to me…. to us. Why was I so bitter in my earlier years? I was saved through a 1st gen church. They did a great job of preserving and giving me a life that was free of religious persecution in their home country. We are free to celebrate here.

    So I tell many others, let go and repent man. Why fight something that did a good job for what God purposed them to do. Leave Egypt, and get them out of the slavery. The next generation had a different purpose that the 1st could not carry, and that was to go into Canaan and fight off the other ungodly tribes. So in agreement, I have taken the step to repent of my bitterness and focus on what is designed for a new generation.

    As to my sister Kathy – thank you for your insights of going through both extremes. Looking back, it makes you appreciate the diverse ministries God is working through. But yes I echo the same question you echo out… Where are my sisters in leadership? We need to see more of them voicing out their wonderful talents and gifts in this context. Blessings to all!!!

  5. I’m from the Portland Metropolitan area, where the Asian American community is still quite young compared to the rest of the west coast. People are primarily first and second generation and finding someone of adult age beyond that is rare. The majority are immigrant churches and going through the growing pains of dealing with the second generation. I have noticed that since the late 90’s many of the immigrant churches have become much more aware of the need of reaching to the latter generations by attempting to create some form of EM ministry at various progressions (Most of them are youth oriented and may have a few staggered adults). One Vietnamese church that I know of even attempted to launch a Pan-Asian American church plant but struggled financially and eventually dissolved.

    I grew up in a Vietnamese church in the area all the way through college and now in my mid-twenties have returned to the church after being away working with the Epic Movement for a couple of years. I have heard from the leaders of the church in the past casting a vision where the church will eventually move away from a Vietnamese focused ministry and become more Pan-Asian or simply a mult-iethnic representation of the demographics in the area. No progression has been made during my absence, and it made me wonder if returning to the same Vietnamese church was the best idea.

    Having the heart to reach Asian Americans and seeing the need of a Pan-American church in the area, which is nonexistence, I wondered what would be the best way to have an AA church in my community. I have personally thought of three approaches (two of them that were already mentioned in the blog post): breaking off and start a new, build off of a current immigrant church, or my ideal choice of a co-op between immigrant Asian churches in the area.

    I have always thought that starting up from scratch would be the easiest way to get going in reaching AAs in the area. You don’t have to deal with the cultural tension and church politics and can just go after it! But at the same time it also could be destructive to the local immigrant churches in the area, since the people that are most likely going to be committed in launching the church plant are also likely to be currently involved serving the youth of the immigrant churches.

    Building a full-fledged EM service off of an immigrant church will certainly help sustain the children of the immigrant church but also provides a lot of barriers. My church in particular is unwilling to let go of its identity as a Vietnamese church to one that is inclusive of the body that it desires to represent in the future. This is probably the best solution in the short term, but it also presents issues if the church wants to reach people that identify themselves as AA but not necessarily the ethnic group of the immigrant church. Most likely other Asian immigrant churches of different ethnic backgrounds are also going through the same process. What happens when a bunch of churches in the area start going in the same direction and they’re now all focusing on the same demographics (which wasn’t a problem before)?

    My best solution, but probably most difficult is to do a co-op between those local churches that all want to go in the same direction. If you can get around the church political nightmare, it would immediately give that diverse environment without feeling an overwhelming presence of one ethnic group. The best illustration that I can give is a body of river (the co-op ministry) where it is fed by multiple streams (the immigrant church partners). In business terms, it is similar to a joint venture. The churches would collaborative launch the EM service together by giving the manpower and financial resources. As a reaping benefit, the EM would invest back in the children of the immigrant churches. This solution would address the problems that could result from the other two options, but is the most difficult and I haven’t heard of anyone ever attempting.

    I’m very much interested to hear what happens in Dallas as you debrief later on and hope for best!

  6. @Nam: I am a bit late coming to this discussion, but I have often thought about your third option and wondered if it would be possible. Maybe it is too idealistic, but it would be great if a few churches would actually sign on to something like this. I am currently working with the EM at a Chinese church in the Portland area. I would love to talk to you further about this. You can contact me through the contact form on my blog.

  7. Ken thank you for adding into the discussion. Thank goodness we are all still around and the problem still exists. Hope you and Nam can find mutual ground impacting the Portland area. This is such a hot topic… stay tuned.

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