Article: Orange County exports Asian American churches to the world

DJ_ChuangA recent article was released in the Orange County Register featuring DJ Chuang.  Here’s an excerpt from the article, written by Jim Hinch:

“I’m an experimenter,” Chuang said. “My heart is in the church, the Asian American church. But church is not known for being a place of research and development.”

Chuang left formal ministry and became a consultant, working for churches, parachurch organizations and Christian nonprofits, always aiming to help Asian American Christians become more digitally savvy and culturally responsive.

He’s helping Brea’s Ambassador Church expand its network of sister churches and advising La Mirada’s Talbot Seminary as it develops one of America’s first doctoral programs in Asian American ministry.

Chuang is a manic presence, especially online. He was, he says, the first person in Orange County to sign up for Twitter seven years ago (a distinction confirmed by the rankings website Twitaholic). He tweets throughout each day, blogs, produces a weekly podcast and talks by phone, Skype and Google Chat with a nationwide roster of church leaders. Callers make appointments via an interactive scheduler on Chuang’s website.

Last year, Chuang traveled 35,839 miles in 74 days on 16 trips to conferences and meetings. This information comes from the Chuang family Christmas card, which also details the number of followers (7,000) Chuang has on Twitter and the number of reward points he earned last year at Starbucks (50).

Since 2005, Chuang has edited two books on Asian American ministry, produced a report on current trends in Asian American churches, written 23 magazine articles and made 28 presentations at church conferences and seminars – achievements tabulated, in chronological order, on Chuang’s website.

Chuang has bipolar disorder. He has been successfully treated for the condition since 2001. But he attributes his numerous career changes and intellectual restlessness, in part, to manic episodes.

His periods of depression, he said, brought him near suicide. And they convinced him that helping Asian American churches become more culturally inclusive is tantamount to a life-or-death calling.

“It’s very hard for Asians to talk about their weaknesses,” Chuang said, explaining why he waited years before publicly acknowledging his condition and seeking treatment.

Chuang said traditional Asian American churches are especially inhospitable to painful personal problems because many Asian cultures prize a veneer of stoic hard work and moral respectability.

“I want to bring churches into a place to deal more honestly with the real person,” Chuang said.

“I would like to see Asian Americans become more healthy and whole as people.”

To read the full article on the Orange County Register website, visit here.

Also, DJ gave an inspiring talk at Urbana 12’s PANA lounge, called: “Step Up, Speak Up, Live It Up,” which you can find in transcript and audio format on his website, or in video format on Intervarsity Asian American Ministries’ website.

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Thoughts On Authority and Leadership in the Chinese Church

[re-posted with permission, originally on Facebook as Part A and Part B]

Dr. Daniel Law, an early retiree, is the Associate Director of Development for the China Graduate School of Theology (Hong Kong), operating from the US. A former biology professor and principal information analyst in the pharmaceutical industry, Dan has served in over 6 different Chinese churches throughout the US since the late 60’s.

Thoughts On Authority and Leadership in the Chinese Church

by Dr. Daniel Law

Leadership As An Issue

Weak leadership, or the lack of it, has been raised as one of the major issues facing the Chinese church today. Many lay people are secretly wishing that their pastors are more equipped to lead. Others, including the clergy themselves, have complained that our pastors are not given the authority to lead. The latter is a serious charge, since as far as we know, most Chinese churches are functioning more or less on a democratic principle, with leadership shared between the clergy and the lay. However, a lack of (or weak) leadership, or an inappropriate handling of authority, can result in serious conflicts in, or stagnation of, the church.

Authority vs. Leadership

A clear understanding of what authority and/or leadership is may help provide some insights on the current problem. Authority can come with a position, can be given, but should not be taken for granted. In the pastor’s case, his authority is based on his calling from God, his professional training (in Bible, theology, counseling, church management, etc…), and his faithfulness to his call as a servant of God. As shepherd for his flock, his spiritual leadership is to be respected and honored. However, a pastor can and will lose his authority as shepherd if he betrays his calling, or behaves in ways unbecoming of a servant of God. A pastor can seldom succeed as leader and shepherd by relying ONLY on his claim as God’s servant. Ultimately, a pastor has to earn his authority and respect.

Similar thing can be said of the lay leaders (elders, deacons or deaconesses) in the church. They are but servants called by God to serve with and help the pastors. Elders and pastors are in fact in the same role category. As servants of Jesus Christ, they are expected to labor as members in a “spiritual leadership team”.

While the pastors, due to their training as clergy, are “experts” in God’s word, they (particularly if young) may nevertheless be quite deficient in many aspects of administering a church, such as staff supervision, strategy formulation, management of projects and processes, counseling and human relations. In these areas, it may become appropriate for the experienced lay leaders to be involved or even to lead. The pastors therefore should respect the lay leaders and depend on them to complement their ministries, especially in areas where they are deficient.

The smooth and efficient operation of the church depends on a team-work between the clergy and the lay. An honest respect of gifts by both parties will make this team-work a highly successful proposition. An absence of respect will almost certainly bring havoc to the church.

Leadership, on the other hand, is a character trait. It can be in-born to a certain extent, but must be acquired via learning, education and experience. Leadership is empowered by authority, but authority is not leadership. A person can become a leader without (humanly given) authority. Further, authority alone never makes a person a leader, because leadership exudes from the being, the character, and the moral fiber of a person. It is what he believes, says and does, in front of and behind people. It is how he understands himself, others and accountability; how he puts his learning to work; how he understands management and team-work; how he thinks and plans and executes; and how he communicates, motivates and mobilizes others to accomplish his or his organization’s goals.

Leadership in clergy and lay alike is to be honored and respected. This is God’s teaching. God endows certain individuals in His church with the gift of leadership to be blessings to the whole Body of Christ.

Leadership and the Church

If a church indeed has been shown to be weak or lacking in leadership (spiritual leadership included), perhaps it is due to one or more of the following. Knowing their causes, and being alert to their potential ramifications, may help the church overcome many of her impending problems and conflicts.

  1. Role confusion – failure to understand and accept the pastors’ spiritual roles in the church; as well as the roles of the lay leaders, practiced often collectively as the church Council. In the church, the pastors and the lay should not be in competition. Role clarification and stressing mutual submission may help here.
  2. Failure to lead when called for – both pastors and Council may be afraid to face issues and to supervise for fear of confrontation. When leaders are hesitant to lead, the church suffers.
  3. Insufficient skills – the leaders may simply have not yet learned how to lead; or have insufficient training on the theology, sociology, psychology and art of leadership. The solution lies in an honest appraisal of the leadership. Seek help and receive more training.
  4. Disregard of protocols – Council or pastors who do not follow commonly accepted protocols in decision making and/or in church practices are inviting conflicts in churches.
  5. Weak “Constitutional” tradition – many churches, especially the independent ones, operate in a semi laissez-faire manner, paying little attention to their constitutions, rules and guidelines. This can become a cancer to many smaller and independent churches. As a church grows, she must lay down guidelines to safeguard her beliefs and operations. Related to this is the lack of a good leadership culture. When mentors or good role models are absent, a church often becomes disoriented and adrift. It may flounder for years and can not grow.
  6. Submission and authority – an un-Biblical understanding and attitude towards submission and authority, made worse by character conflicts, or brought about by past unhappy experiences in a local church or elsewhere, can often rack havoc and bring tremendous damages to a church. Consider the following scenarios:
    Scenario 1: An assistant pastor is rebellious towards his supervising pastor whom he considers inept;
    Scenario 2: A ministerial staff refuses to be supervised by a lay person in the Council (“How can a servant of God be supervised by one of his sheep?”) due to a poor understanding of accountability and submission;
    Scenario 3: A staff’s strict interpretation of his job, not being flexible to walk an extra mile. A ministry has become a job to him.
    The issue of submission and authority can be a huge topic in itself. Suffices it to say that I do believe in submission. However, I am convinced that much more can be accomplished, and with greater harmony, when the leadership (clergy and lay together) is willing to down play its authority, and practice Biblical accountability instead. All submissions in Christ’s church must begin with a healthy dose of humility. All must submit first to Him and His word.
  7. Reality of growing pains – as some of our churches become too large and complicated, their “structure and organization” become cumbersome, overly-taxed and outdated. These churches will need to learn to cope with and grow with their growth, to work better and smarter, and to adapt and change themselves and their church structures as needed.
  8. our sins – this of course is an issue as old as Adam. It is a known fact that most conflicts in church are not doctrinal in nature, but are due to sins of the flesh. It will take courage for the leadership to collectively return to the Cross to resolve this crucial problem before the church can resume its growth.

Where Are the Solutions?

I humbly offer the following for our church leaders’ consideration:

  1. Returning to basics – a return to the Biblical basics, teaching and stressing unity, submission, humility, accountability and the pursuit of common visions.
  2. Closer walk with God – under the spiritual role model, teaching and leadership of the pastors, practice a closer walk with God. Deal truthfully with our pride, selfishness, egos and sins.
  3. Re-commitment – re-commit our lives to God, to the church, and to each other.
  4. Improving one’s “serve” – each Council member to do a personal assessment of himself/herself. Acknowledge one’s deficiencies. Aggressively seek specific training or tutoring to improve his/her “serve”.
  5. More training in management and team-work – do not despise the M – management – word. By it, I mean much more than supervision. I mean planning, implementation, control, and leadership, etc… Some pastors will probably say that their job is only to preach and pray. But that’s an incomplete understanding of the pastor’s roles. Good leaders are often good managers, and are always well trained.
  6. Accepting scrutiny – resolve to accept supervision of, and scrutiny from, others. Beware of someone – pastors particularly – who does not accept scrutiny (or in a secular term, reviews), and who puts himself above criticism. No one in the church is above scrutiny.
  7. Forming a learning community – resolve to form a pack, to become a supportive and learning community to pray, study and learn to serve better, knowing that “two is better than one”, and that we all have rooms to grow.
  8. Growing together in Christian bond – challenge each other and hold each other accountable to grow in an open, constructive and transparent environment.

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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.

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