This entry is part 17 of 25 in the series 30 Days on the Chinese Church

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.

An LA Times article last 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, “Asian American Religious Leadership Today,” 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?
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Join the Conversation


  1. Re: Shortage of EM Pastors

    Hi! I am of Filipino ethnicity. I have served part time in EM. My current part time ministry (EM) will end this month. Is there a website I can look at to look for EM position in Chinese Churches?


  2. Hi Angelo,

    I don’t know of a web site that lists EM pastoral positions, but many areas have some sort of network of local pastors. They would probably be the best way to find out about any openings.

  3. The cultural differences many times play a big part in correct communications and unity. I totally agree with the list of 4 areas that cause tensions in EM pastors who are foreigners.
    Conflicts with OBC senior pastor
    Cultural differences and demands
    Frustrations with lack of power/voice
    Conflicts with OBC non-pastoral church leadership.

    As I served in Taipei, Taiwan as the pastor of a bilingual church called House of Praise. Many times the independent nature of Americans can get in the way of unity and understanding. Ethnocentrism, can be a problem. Coming under authority for Americans can become a problem. Showing respect and honor to those who are older can be a problem.

    Thank you for sharing your article. Well done.
    May we put Christ first to reach out together to reach the nations for Christ.

    Where are you serving now?

    In Christ,

  4. Hi Kirt,

    Thanks for stopping by. I can see what you mean about tensions due to a lack of cultural understanding by non-Chinese EM pastors (I assume that’s what you mean by “foreigners”). But the survey that I cited above listed those factors for American Born Chinese (ABC) pastors. No matter who the pastor is, cultural understanding is essential.

    I used to live in Taiwan, but am now serving as the EM pastor at a Chinese church in California.

  5. As a 3rd gen ABC who served in EM for 18 years before becoming a Christian University ministry prof (also seminary teaching), I do bemoan the paucity of EM pastors. I am committed to mentoring and coaching EM pastors in my school (Tyndale University College & Seminary, Toronto) and in the local context.

    ABCs have options for ministry. They not only can serve in a bicultural Chinese church but in other types of churches (Chinese, Asian, non-Chinese), parachurch organizations, mission work, and marketplace. We do pray for more ABCs and others to serve in the Chinese church. We have prayed and worked toward that end and have seen many from our midst take up the challenge.

    That challenge of serving in the Chinese church is not easy – often there are language, cultural, and generational barriers. Many times it is personality.

    In my years of serving in the bicultural Chinese church as EM pastor I can say that there was only 1 person in the church that was similar to me in age and background – a Canadian-born Chinese. In many ways you are like a “missionary” in the church, working among people with much differences but of course, many similarities.

    I have written previously of the need for the non-ABCs like OBCs and non-Chinese to serve in EM ministry (see my website under General Downloads and “Toward a Theological Foundation for English Ministry in the Canadian Chinese Church”). It is exciting to see not only Caucasians but also East Indians and African-Americans and African-Canadians serving in the Chinese and Asian churches. There is one EM pastor in our area who is originally from Africa.

  6. It’s great to hear from an experienced ministry leader such as yourself. Thanks for sharing your resources with us. What motivated you as a 3rd gen ABC to serve in a Chinese church?

    I agree that mentoring is essential, especially for younger EM pastors. Many times they will not have peers in their ministry setting, so they should seek regular fellowship with other pastors serving in similar situations. That can go a long ways toward helping with loneliness and isolation.

  7. I was motivated to serve in a Chinese church so I could minister to other ABCs. This was also part of finding my roots and serving in immigrant Chinese churches. Even as a professor of Christian Ministries at Tyndale University College in Toronto, I continue to speak and ministry primarily in Chinese churches. However, I have appreciated the opportunity to minister to other settings like English congregations in Korean churches, African-Canadian churches, and other churches.

    I listened to your dissertation presentation. You have great insight and experience in the bilingual/bicultural Chinese church. May God bless your ongoing ministry.

    I continue to think about some of the differences between Canadian and U.S. forms and future of English ministry in Chinese churches.

  8. Hello, I am a Hispanic Pastor that is married to A Korean. We lived in Korea for 4 years pastoring an EM church. I am looking for a church to pastor in the California area preferably at an Asian church. There might be a shortage of EM pastors but I would like to help alleviate that. Please contact me should you know of a church looking! [email protected]

  9. Hi! I am a senior pastor of a Chinese bilingual church in Vancouver. I am quite interested in this topic as our church is also looking for a suitable English pastor for some time. I also agree that both the pastors and leaders of English and Chinese speaking groups shall work together in order to help the English pastor grow in the ministry. If anyone knows any English pastor would like to serve in Vancouver, pl. let me know his information. I may be contacted through [email protected].

  10. Do you think it’s (im)proper to go into the ordained ministry for a season of life because there aren’t enough people serving in that role and you feel the need rather than because you feel some qualitatively different call? Because I know I’m more a prof type, and I’d be able to do substantial work in academia, but sometimes I do wonder.

  11. I think that it is always important to have a clear sense of God’s calling to go into ministry (or do anything else). The need alone does not constitute a call, otherwise we would all be missionaries. But I believe that God may sometimes call a person to enter full-time vocational ministry for a period of time, and then call that person to do something else.

  12. Perhaps a pastoral staff made up of ALL ABCs/CBCs reaching out to high schools/colleges will be effective. Still, it reaches to Koreans, Filipinos, Japanese, Vietnamese, and such a church will reflect the passion for God, as well as for reaching unsaved Asian Americans/Canadians. OBC pastors have a lot of life experience to share with us and wisdom that we rarely have; yet our styles don’t always concur; cultural styles are undebatedly different. Why not plant an ABC church – a community church and then branch out from there? I know of one in Houston. Any others?

  13. I don’t mean to say that people should leave their posts and start one out of frustration – but to have a very clear vision from God and passion for shepherding His people, fully conscious of the needs of the Asian Americans/Canadians in this generation.

  14. Very interesting , if I were preaching , I’d gladly go to a Chinese church , as I’m learning mandarin . Can’t help but to wonder if there would be any in the Knoxville area .

  15. They like Western pastors a lot and the expectation on them is not as high. The automatic assumption is that if an ABC pastor was hired and serving, they would be expected to be raised with typical Confucius mentality of filial piety, subservience to the Senior Pastor and so forth. When they show themselves too “Americanized”, why not just hire a Western one since the Chinese one doesn’t fulfill the expectations placed on him culturally. He betrays his own cultural identity, so just invite in a Western guy to serve. Not much difference.

  16. Hi, I am a bilingual Malaysian Chinese pastoring with my wife, with whom I have been pioneering a church for the last nine years. ( We have English and Chinese congregations ).

    I lived in Australia for 4 years and did my theology degree there before returning to KL, Malaysia where we are pastoring.

    I am looking for a pastoral ministry opening in Canada, especially in Vancouver or Australia or USA.

    Please contact me at [email protected]

  17. Hi,I’m a pastor here in the Philippines and I’m a church planter,I’m interested to pastor a Filipino congregation in the US. or in Canada if there’s an opening please contact me at my email

  18. Hi Rev. Jeff,
    Yes, I saw your name at CCM USA’s website. I’m just underneath your ad. God bless your search and more importantly, where God leads you, He must go before you. I will go nowhere until the Lord God goes before me first, and He prepares the hearts of both the congregation and the pastor.

  19. Dear Servant of God,

    I am an English Pastor since 2007 and was also teaching and overseeing ministry activities in different organizations,bible colleges and Mission agencies respectively.I am now looking for English church in America or Canada. Please help me to find. I have completed B.Th,B.D,B.D(Quali),M.Div,D.Min and D.D. I have got 16 years ministry experience in above fields respectively.

    Thank you.
    rev.Dr.prophet Naik

  20. This is an interesting post. Although I’m late, I’ll just chime in my 2 cents.

    As a ABC/CBC pastor myself, my family sort of discouraged me from seeking a position in a Chinese setting because he knew it might be toxic. I don’t think this is necessarily true but I do hear of many Chinese pastors having high turnover rates. Is this an issue of concern?

  21. I’m glad that you stopped by. There are some toxic churches, and of course many of them are not Chinese churches. But there are additional pressures involved in ministry in a bilingual, bicultural setting. I’m not sure how the turnover rate in Chinese churches compares to that in other churches. Maybe someone has studied that.

    The main thing is for each of us to do whatever the Lord calls us to do. Even if it isn’t easy.

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