- New Series: 30 Days on the Chinese Church
- Developmental Stages of a Chinese Church
- The CFC Story: Moving toward Maturity
- Why Translated Services Don’t Work
- Growing Pains
- Models of Ministry in Chinese Churches
- A Tale of Two Mailboxes
- Why we don’t have a Senior Pastor
- Unity and Diversity in a Chinese Church
- Maintaining Unity in a Chinese Church
- The Resource Pyramid
- Why Leadership Training is Job #1
- How to Equip Spiritual Leaders
- Leadership and Culture
- Leadership and Culture (Part 2)
- The Jerusalem Council: Consensus Decision Making
- English Ministry Pastor Shortage
- Reaching Adults: The Importance of Ownership
- The Power of Vision
- Caring for Co-workers
- Culture and Biblical Truth
- What about Asian American Churches?
- Advice to a Young ABC Pastor
- Advice to an OBC Senior Pastor
- Reflections on a Series
There is a shortage of pastors to serve in English Ministry in Chinese churches, and those who do serve there are often subject to discouragement and drop out. There have been a number of articles and studies designed to explore this problem.
A Shortage of New EM Pastors
It’s difficult to find hard statistics on the issue, but there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that there are not enough EM pastors. Many Caucasian seminary graduates have to spend considerable time searching for their first ministry position, but young ABC pastors usually receive multiple inquiries while still in school. While a young man from our church was in his first year of seminary I received several inquiries from pastoral friends asking when he might be available. Six months before graduation he already knew where he would serve, while most of his classmates had no idea where they would end up.
Anlast March stated:
Asian American churches are going through a “crisis of leadership” because seminaries are not preparing a new generation of pastors to work in multi-generational and multicultural settings, Asian American Christian leaders say.
The article says that the problem is particularly pronounced in California. The author decries the shortage of Asian Americans in seminary, but the examples are from liberal seminaries. Later in the article we find the statement that 80% of Asian Americans attending seminary choose an Evangelical institution. According to Peter Ong, Western Seminary in San Jose is 40% Asian American, Fuller is 22%, and Talbot is 25%. But even with these numbers, there still seems to be a shortage.
The LA Times article cites a 2005 Duke Divinity School study,which lists generational clashes over cultural differences and the view of younger pastors that immigrant churches are dysfunctional as two of the most acute tensions in Asian American churches. This brings us to the second problem.
EM Pastor Discouragement and Drop Out
An earlier study by Justin Der on “ABC Pastor Discouragement and Dropout” found similar problems. He lists the top four reasons for ABC pastor discouragement and drop out given by ABC pastors:
- Conflicts with OBC senior pastor
- Cultural differences and demands
- Frustrations with lack of power/voice
- Conflicts with OBC non-pastoral church leadership
It would be helpful to prepare this with a similar study of mono-cultural churches to see if conflict with the senior pastor is a major problem in those churches as well. This may not be a problem unique to Chinese churches. But it does still seem clear that the cultural differences between the generations is a contributing factor. I should add that it is important to remember that where there is conflict the fault is almost never entirely on one side. Usually there are plenty of things that both parties need to learn.
Currently, Professor Jonathan Kim at Talbot School of Theology is doing another study to try to determine why many Asian American pastors are getting burned out, discouraged, and even leaving the ministry. It will be interesting to see how his study compares with what has been done so far.
The cultural differences in a bilingual Chinese church can create additional stress beyond that which is part of pastoral ministry in any church. EM pastors serving under OBC leadership are especially vulnerable to discouragement or burn out because they are usually younger and have less influence. We need to do a better job of preparing pastors for these roles and creating healthy environments in which they can receive the support that they need to be effective in the long run. But these problems can’t be solved by EM leaders alone. We must work with the OBC pastors and lay leaders to improve communication and cultural understanding, and to create a climate in which both congregations can thrive..
Now it’s your turn. . .
- Do you know of any EM pastors who have moved to a non-Asian church or dropped out of ministry completely? What do you think were the factors in that decision?
- What sort of preparation and support do you think that an ABC pastor needs to serve effectively in a Chinese church?