Advice to a Young ABC Pastor

This entry is part 22 of 24 in the series 30 Days on the Chinese Church

I’ve learned some important lessons over the years serving in Chinese churches both here in California and in Taiwan. I’ve also met my share of frustrated English Ministry pastors and had the opportunity to mentor some younger pastors. Today I want to share some suggestions to help younger ABC pastors serve effectively in a bilingual Chinese church.

Let me start with a word of encouragement to young ABC pastors: I admire your dedication to Christ and your desire to serve Him in vocational Christian ministry. I know that it was not easy for you to lay aside other options and pursue ministry. Probably some of your friends or family thought that you were making a foolish decision and wasting a fine education. I also admire your dedication to the Chinese church, and your desire to serve the next generation growing up there. I know that it frustrates you at times, but it is worth the effort. If you are a youth pastor, then your ministry is focused on the next generation at a time in their lives that you can have a tremendous impact on them for Jesus Christ. Make the most of it!

Let me share some thoughts with you about what I believe is necessary for you to be effective serving in a Chinese church. I realize that my experience is different from yours, and that each person is unique. But I have compared notes with enough other pastors that I believe that these suggestions are applicable in many if not most Chinese churches in the U.S.

  1. Deal with your issues
  2. If you have unresolved issues in your life, they are going to have a negative impact on your ministry, especially if they are issues regarding your family or the church in which you grew up. Feelings of resentment, bitterness, or anger toward parents or past church leaders are easily transferred to your senior pastor or church board. You may end up adopting a combative attitude toward them without even understanding why it is happening.

    Do what it takes to lay these issues to rest, including prayer, giving/receiving forgiveness, talking to an older, more experienced pastor and/or seeing a Christian counselor.

  3. Learn Chinese language and culture
  4. No, I’m not kidding about this! If you plan on having a long term ministry in a Chinese church it will be a great advantage to attain at least a conversational level of Chinese language. I went to Taiwan as a missionary not knowing a single word of Chinese and learned Mandarin there. If I can do it, so can you. Think of yourself as a missionary to the Chinese church. Learning the language will help you to forge a closer personal relationship with the Chinese Ministry staff and co-workers. If you are a youth pastor, it will take your communication with parents to a whole new level.

    In addition to learning language, seek to develop a good understanding of Chinese culture. If you do not have a good understanding of the core values of Chinese culture and the “unwritten rules” for social interaction, then you are handicapped every day. Find a good book on Chinese culture or ask a sympathetic older church member to explain things to you. Better yet, spend 6 months living in Asia! If you come with a humble attitude you can learn a lot.

    Of course some ABC pastors already have a good understanding of Chinese language and culture, so you are ahead of the game.

  5. Show respect for older OBC leaders
  6. Showing respect to older people, especially older leaders, is part of Chinese culture as well as a biblical value. If you don’t treat the senior pastor and older church leaders with respect you will be viewed as arrogant, self-centered, and uncouth. That doesn’t mean that you can never disagree with an older leader, but that when you do you need to know how to do it respectfully. Learn culturally appropriate ways to show respect. One example is the rule, “Don’t surprise the senior pastor.” Don’t suggest a major new proposal in the board meeting without first sharing it with the senior pastor. You can get his valuable input, and you show him respect by giving him advance notice of your plans.

  7. Find a good mentor
  8. Find an older, more experienced pastor serving in a position similar to your own. There are many things that you did not learn in seminary, and which really can’t be taught in a classroom setting. Especially for the first few years in ministry, it is extremely valuable to have someone who is willing to sit down with you once a month and talk about what is going on. He can help you get your bearings and advise you about difficult situations. I know that you are busy, but make time for this!

    Don’t expect the OBC senior pastor to be your mentor. In a few cases this might work, but usually it is not a reasonable expectation. In a multi-staff church, the EM lead pastor might be your mentor, but many Chinese churches have only one pastor for the EM. In that case you will need to find someone else in your area.

  9. Find a good “cultural informant”
  10. The term “informant” might make you think of the CIA, but I’m not talking about anything sneaky. For missionaries, a “cultural informant” is someone from the local population who is willing to be your cultural guide and help explain things to you. You must understand Chinese culture as well as the organizational cultural of your own church. It is valuable to have a lay co-worker who let you know “how things work” in your particular church. This could include who does what (which may not match the written organizational chart) as well as any particular taboos of which you should be aware. Get your informant to also teach you about the history of the church, so that you won’t make the mistake of proposing something that caused a huge controversy just before you came. Even after 13 years at CFC, I still occasionally go to my cultural informants to learn something about our church history and culture.

  11. Make a long term commitment
  12. It takes time to make a deep impact on people’s lives, and pastors who spend only a few years at each church never reach that level. If you view your current position primarily as a stepping stone to something else people can sense that. In that case, don’t be surprised if they do not take you seriously. But if you are committed to your church, you can eventually be accepted as part of the family.

    Growing disciples is more like growing a redwood than growing bamboo. It takes a lot of time to develop spiritual maturity. For a fruitful harvest, you must be patient in sowing, watering, and weeding.

  13. Embrace the bilingual church
  14. It is sometimes tempting to view the Chinese church as nothing more than the “container” for the EM that provides facilities and financial support. But unless your church embraces the “two churches sharing one building” model, this is not an adequate view of the church. If you are called to a bilingual church, then you are called to the whole church and not just the EM. Think about how your ministry is a part of the ministry of the entire church. As our current Chinese Pastor likes to say, how can we develop more synergy between the two congregations? How can we build on our uniqueness as a bilingual Chinese church?

This is a rather lengthy post, so if you have made it this far you must be truly committed! I’m sure that there are ways to improve this list. I’d be interested to hear how well they resonate with you, and whether you have any additional suggestions.

Series Navigation<< What about Asian American Churches?Advice to an OBC Senior Pastor >>

5 Responses to Advice to a Young ABC Pastor

  • Lomu says:

    Hi,
    To learn chinese language and culture, a nice website (entirely free) is Chinese-Tools.com.
    Online language lessons, painting lessons, community forums and many more.
    Hope you’ll like it.

  • Lue-Yee says:

    Maybe I need cultural informants for both American culture and Chinese culture. Do any other fluent Chinese-speaking ABCs feel this way?

  • Justin T says:

    Learning language is very critical. The Lord has been preparing my heart for this. Don’t get discouraged. I know I can easily be discouraged, but I can also fight Satan knowing he knows my weak spot. I won’t let him win. I’ll keep going no matter the cost to me (a head of white hairs at mid-30s). I am the champion and victor because of Christ working in me to minister to people. Also acknowledge your limitations. I am blessed because I was stretched. I’m happy. I had led Lord’s Supper in Cantonese just the past Sunday. Mentally and physically draining, but not impossible. With God, all things are possible!
    Felt I got an aneurysm, but it is worth it for the love of your sheep! (I’m a CBC serving in Hong Kong). I also have done Lord’s Supper in Spanish as well having ministered in a Chinese church in Central America as an interim pastor.

  • katy says:

    Your advice is certainly right on, but in reality, it’s a lot to ask for an EM pastor to do. They have to do all that, plus pastor the EM who expects them to be more “western”. They have to have multiple personalities, a gift some may very well have, but not many. In the end, I’ve seen EM pastors just burned out, discouraged because in spite of all their efforts, the OBC church did not support a further vision of the EM beyond being an adjunct ministry. I read a statistic somewhere that the average EM pastor tenure is 3-5 yrs. (Maybe you can tell me if this is correct or not.)

    Unless they really have a missionary calling, it is no wonder that many would rather go to or start an Asian American church. It may be a better use of their gifts and time.

  • PK says:

    Yes, it is asking a lot, but I think that my advice to OBC senior pastors also asks a lot. We have to recognize that serving as an EM pastor in a bilingual church is going to involve cross-cultural communication. It is just not going to work to try to carry out the EM without any contact with the Chinese side. So EM pastors need to be part missionary, and able to walk in both cultural worlds. But it is a two way street. The OBC leadership also needs seek to understand both cultures.

    There are some churches that make it almost impossible for the EM to develop beyond a youth ministry. In that case the EM pastor needs to pray about whether or not that is what God has called him to do.

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