This entry is part 1 of 25 in the series 30 Days on the Chinese Church

During the month of May I am going to write a series of articles on the Chinese church. Today is already May 2, but since May has 31 days I still can get in a 30 day series. I plan to write something every day, as much as possible. But I don’t plan to write anything on Sunday, since that is a busy ministry day for me. Maybe if I get especially ambitious I will write two articles on Saturdays to make up for it. This is the first time that I have attempted to write such an intensive series, so it should be quite an adventure. I hope that you will join me for the ride.

What is this series about?

I plan to write about ministry in Chinese churches in North America, with a focus mainly on the English Ministry (EM). Ministry in a bilingual immigrant church presents some unique challenges because these churches include multiple languages and cultures. All the normal tensions and differences of opinion are multiplied because of the cultural difference. Sometimes it feels like a struggle to maintain unity, and leaders in some churches wonder if it wouldn’t be easier to become two separate churches. But as long as there are Chinese speaking immigrants we must find ways to nurture healthy bilingual churches that can minister effectively to both generations.

I am writing from an EM (English Ministry) perspective, but I really am concerned about the entire church. As we often say in the Chinese church, the church is like a big family. When one portion of the family is hurting, the entire family is affected. When there is a problem to be solved, the entire family needs to be a part of the solution.

Why am I doing this?

I have held my current position as English Pastor at Chinese for Christ Church in Berkeley, CA for 13 years. Prior to that I spent four years as a missionary in Taiwan, where I had the opportunity to learn a lot about Chinese language and culture. I speak Mandarin, although my reading skills have gone downhill quite a bit since our return from Taiwan 16 years ago.

I share this information about my background so that you will understand why this white guy thinks he can write something about the Chinese church. I do not consider myself an expert, but I have learned a lot over the years. A few years ago I had the privilege in working with three other pastors to teach a course on Ministry in the Chinese Church at Western Seminary. Many with whom I have shared some of these insights have urged me to write something on this topic.

I also have a very pragmatic reason for writing this series. I am currently working on my D.Min. at Western Seminary, and my dissertation is on English ministry in the Chinese Church. I am working on writing some sections of my dissertation, and I want to share some of my thinking here and receive your feedback. I really do want this to be a discussion, as I know that there are many ministry leaders out there who know a lot more than I do. I would love to learn from you. But I will only learn something if you write a comment, so please add your comments to these articles. If you write an especially insightful comment you may even get a quotation and a footnote in my dissertation! Think of it as an easy way for you to get your name in print.

I especially want to invite the input of OBC pastors and church leaders. I believe that it is essential in this discussion that we have input from both OBC and ABC leaders, and I value your insight.

Finally, please tell others who might be interested about this series. My blog doesn’t have that many readers, and I think that this discussion would be more helpful to all of us if it included a wider circle of people.

What do you think?

  1. What do you think are the greatest challenges facing Chinese immigrant churches in reaching the second generation?
  2. What topics would you like to see discussed in this series?
Series NavigationDevelopmental Stages of a Chinese Church >>

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  1. good stuff. i’m looking forward to hearing more from your perspective and experience. i’m exploring similar things at my blog and church context. we should dialogue.

  2. Thanks for stopping by. I have enjoyed reading your blog recently, so it’s great to hear from you here. Let’s keep in touch.

  3. I just found your entries through a web search. I will be looking over this w/ interest. I am originally from the Bay Area and have served for 18 years as an English ministry pastor in a Chinese church in Toronto. I am now a professor in Christian ministry at Tyndale University College in Toronto. You might be interested in a article I wrote awhile ago on “Toward a Theological Foundation for English Ministry in Canadian Chinese Churches.” It is on my website under general downloads.

  4. I’m glad that you found my series, and I hope that it is helpful to you. I already have a copy of your paper, and have cited it in my dissertation. My readers might be interested in looking at it as well. I’d be interested in anything else that you have written on the subject since that time.

  5. Thanks for your response. What is the topic of your dissertation? I will be writing an article for the Canadian Presbyterian Record on “The Chinese Church in Canada” for Spring/Summer ’08. I have also been in conversation with Dr. Timothy Tseng of the Institute for the Study of Asian American Christianity (I.S.A.A.C.) to write an article on “English Ministry in the Canadian Chinese Church.” If you have additional resources on the Chinese church in North America, let me know. It is interesting to draw some distinctives and comparisons w/ this ministry in the U.S. and Canada.

  6. Sorry for my slow response–I was busy with a wedding on Saturday, and Sundays are always busy. The topic of my dissertation is on reaching the next generations in bilingual Chinese churches in North America. I introduced my Dissertation Proposal in an earlier blog post.

    I have a number of resources in which you might be interested. I’ll contact you be email.

  7. I’m the English pastor of a Chinese Church. Born and raised in North America (my father and I both), I feel more akin to thinking like a “white guy”. Anyhow before things get busy again at my church, I will try to take in your series and go through one or two days at at time.

    Question 2 is not moot.

    So Question 1: Many of the second generation of Asian Christians are experiencing their spiritual formation outside the church: campus fellowships, mission experiences, conferences, small groups, etc. When they find themselves in the traditional church setting it doesn’t feel like “home”. They would be more comfortable in churches that intentionally adapt their style to be more like a “campus” or “theatre” or “conference”.

    And many church elders don’t get it. They think because these students grew up attending a church, it’s their home.

  8. You have touched on an important issue. Many second gen. Asians enjoy the fellowship that they experience in college and become frustrated looking for that same experience in a church. I think that there are (at least) two reasons for this: (1) A church is not a campus fellowship. No church is going to feel completely like a campus group. On campus it is possible to spend time with Christian brothers and sisters every day, but once they start working this is next to impossible. Also, campus groups are very homogeneous, made up of bright 18-21 year olds who are largely going through the same things. But a church needs to minister to all ages. For this reason, it is essential that we help Christian college students to make the transition from campus life to the working world as Christians. (2) The cultural background of the campus groups is very different from that in a bilingual Chinese church. I have much more to say on this point, but I don’t want to go into it here.

    Because of this felt need, there have been quite a few new Asian American churches launched that have more of a “college fellowship” feel.

  9. This topic is especially real in the Silicon Valley where there are many Parents from Asian countries with kids who were born here. However, I think we should not exclude those couples whose have different native tongue (i.e. Mandarin and Cantonese) or language (i.e., Chinese and English). Although they might understand each other by a common language such as English, they rather attend a worship service of their own language. This causes them to split up every Sunday unless the Church offers literally a Bilingual service (i.e., Mandarin with English Translation). In my case, I speak Cantonese/English while my wife speaks Mandarin/English. Before we found a church in San Jose with a Bilingual service, we used to attend different services offered by one Church. She would go to the Chinese side and I would go to the English (often the ABC kids) side. This was not a very harmonious situation because we heard different messages and couldn’t have any real good discussions about them with each other. I imagine that this would be the same with the kids unless the parents join the English service. What has been your experience?

  10. My church also includes a number of mixed language couples. Some are mixed race couples as well, while others are ABC/OBC couples or Mandarin/Cantonese couples. In some cases they go to different worship services on Sunday, while in other cases they go together to a single service.

    I agree with you that translated services might be ideal for these couples, but for many others translation does not work as well. For more thoughts on the problems with translated services, especially for ABCs, see my post in this series on Why Translated Services Don’t Work.

    I think that in the long run, mixed language couples might need to settle on a “main” family language, and attend worship services using that language.

  11. Thanks for your series and for posting your dissertation presentation. I’m from a Spanish/English bilingual church and many of your points are applicable and relevant to where we are now, especially the stages of development and the translated services.

    Though our church began in Spanish, our English service is now larger, yet we haven’t fully adjusted the leadership styles to accommodate all the members. As a 2nd-gen/American-born Hispanic, I also see the tension between the services, cultures, and leadership styles. Thanks again for your work.

  12. Thanks for taking the time to read about Chinese churches and sharing your comments. It’s very interesting to learn about the similarities between various ethnic immigrant churches. I hope that we can find ways to learn from each other.

  13. Neat blog! Is your theme custom made or did you download it from
    somewhere? A design like yours with a few simple tweeks
    would really make my blog stand out. Please let me know
    where you got your design. Thank you

    1. I’m glad that you like my blog. I am a freelance web developer, and the theme is my own design. I’d be happy to customize it for you for a small fee. I’ll contact you be email so we can discuss this.

  14. “I just read a document that helped me understand how a Chinese church establishes an English ministry.
    However, the articles were written in 2007. Do you have any new updates on this topic? Also, how are you doing? Could you please share your full name with me? Thank you so much!”

    1. Hi Steve! Sorry for my slow reply. This series is now 16 years old, but I think that the basic issues are similar to those faced by bilingual immigrant churches for hundreds of years. I am considering adding some new articles on this topic, so please share any suggestions for issues that would be helpful to address. My name is Ken Carlson. If you would like to talk further via private chat, you can get in touch with me through my Contact page:

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