Thinking about Asian-Australian Ministry Leadership

I think that second and third generation Asian Australians are uniquely positioned to serve as future ministers of our churches and leaders of our organisations/institutions.

None of these points are particularly new. But I’ve felt them in a fresh way in just the last few weeks. I’m writing particularly to 2nd and 3rd gen Asian Australians who may have never thought about how their background can be an advantage to Gospel Ministry.

1. Australia is becoming increasingly multicultural. It has been for the past 50-100 years. But we’re seeing a greater saturation across our city. We need culturally aware and culturally intelligent people to respond to this growing need. Lots of people can learn how to do it and many do it intuitively. But Asian Australians live and breath multicultural lifestyle. They’ve learned to behave as Asians at home and Australians at school, work, and play. They can see, taste, and smell the differences. And they’re constantly trying to navigate these worlds in such a way that they are understood, seen, and heard. It’s the reason why lots do indeed feel lost and confused. But that illustrates our need to live between 2 and sometime 3 worlds. Having the cultural intelligence to navigate multiple worlds and cultures is an incredibly powerful tool.

2. Living in multiple worlds deepens empathy. One of the reasons groups like SAT (subtle Asian traits) has taken off like crazy is that we relate to so many shared experiences of living as migrants. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an Asian-Australian, American, Canadian, European – we all recognise that there is a deep sense of belonging and exclusion. And we’ve bonded over that. Additionally, we also recognise the unique challenges of living between multiple worlds. For example, with a bit of age and maturity, we now understand how some of our parents’ harsh comments were rooted in innocent love. Many Asian Australians are able to enter into another person’s world to feel, hear, and experience what it’s like to be them. That’s because they’ve had to do it on a daily basis. This ability to empathise is crucial to reaching the world with the Gospel.

3. Many Asian Australians speak, understand, or at least understand the dynamics of another language. And inherent to language is culture. So to be able to speak another language is not just having an extra set of ears. It’s having access to another worldview, values, and systems. And then, it’s to be able to communicate within that world. There was a week when I had to teach at a seminary in English, counsel a family in Mandarin, and then chat with a mother in Cantonese. I did none of them well of course. But I had basic fluency that gave those audiences confidence in approaching me with their needs. I remember the time when our family flew to Australia to permanently migrate to Sydney. I vividly recall sitting on the plane and thinking to myself ”yay! I no longer have to speak Chinese again!” Little did I know that God in his kindness would use my poor and broken Mandarin and Cantonese to connect people to the hope of the Gospel. Furthermore, seeing as Christianity is on the rise in Asia (particularly China and India), could we be positioned to reach the fastest growing people groups in the world?

4. Having the ability to navigate multiple languages also means that Asian Australians tend to have a keen ear for accents. On the one hand, it means that they tend to be able to understand people with heavy accents well. And this is a huge advantage as we relate to multicultural Australia that has an increasing harmony of accents. On the other hand, it also means that we can adjust our accents to our audience. Not in a patronising way. But genuinely in a way that helps them to hear our words. Through and true, profit and prophet, lick and rick – if you read that with a smirk on your face then you know what I’m talking about. If sermons aren’t meant to be preached but heard, then how we speak to be heard is critical.

5. Living between cultures, languages, and worlds means that we stand in a unique position to critique both and allow the Gospel to correct all. It’s easy to be unaware of our own cultural blind spots. And what we need sometimes is to step outside of our dominant culture to identify our blindness. This is why people love travelling overseas. For example, it’s by going to the US that we realise how big of an issue tall poppy syndrome is, or by going to India that we realise how individualistic we are. But it’s also so helpful having someone points these things out to us. It’s when people ask “why don’t you share your dishes over the meal table” that we realise “oh yeah…why do we do that?” But to be able to live in multiple worlds and see it with clarity and personally is another advantage. Whenever the Gospel enters into a culture, it doesn’t make it Western or Middle Eastern. But it certainly affirms that which is good while also correcting deficiencies or errors. Having the ability to compare and contrast multiple cultures will help us to see ”yeah you know what, that’s different. I wonder what the Bible has to say about that” rather than “that’s how things have always been”. It puts us in a grest position to identify and address heart idols and present the all satisfying hope of Jesus.

This obviously does not discredit the work or necessity of non Asian-Australians. I just don’t think we’ve sufficiently thought about how our upbringing, experiences, and insights can be uniquely used by God for the spread of his glory. These are accidents or coincidences.

What other points have I missed?

*if you’d like to talk about training for Gospel ministry then drop me a line 🙂 I’ll be taking a short break from training apprentices in 2024-2025 (to focus on my studies) but we still warmly welcome interns and student ministers. I’m currently training and supervising 6 people, one of whom is involved in Mandarin ministry. I’d love to see how we can help each other. I’d especially love to hear from you if you’d like to think about ministry in the PCA!

2 responses to “Thinking about Asian-Australian Ministry Leadership”

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and the opportunities this presents asian australians. I’m curious, how do you think this should this impact the cultural make up of church congregations? Can a church be ‘too Asian’?

    1. That’s a great question.

      A few things to consider

      1. It’s overly simplistic to think of Asian as a homogenous group. There are so many ethnicities and cultures within Asia that to lump them all into one class or category would be impossible. Let’s even take China for example. You’d be hard pressed to convince a person from Guizhou that they share the same culture as a person from Beijing.
      2. I think concepts such as churches being “too Asian” or “too Anglo” risks being quite imperialistic and racist. Not only does it fail to take into account the diversity within those groups, it risks idolising the idea of multiculturalism. It’s significant to recognise the church in Revelation 21 as an eschatological vision of the global and universal church. And it’s an eschatological ideal now but we’d have an over realised eschatology if we insist that doing otherwise would be unfaithful. It’s also helpful to recognise it’s a uniquely Australian thing. It’s because we are quite multicultural as a society. No one points to a church in Japan and says “they’re too Asian”. Why? Because they are a reflection of the social networks.
      3. I think a church can be “too Asian” if they consciously exclude people of other groups and tribes. Like they’ll actually say “you’re not welcome here because of the colour of your skin”. That’s a sin of pride and prejudice and ought to be repented of.
      4. But most predominantly Asian churches aren’t like that. They are the way they are because of their social networks. They bring their non believing friends to church and they happen to be..Asian.
      5. Does that mean we ought to be encouraging our churches to engage with people outside of their cultural comfort zones. Absolutely. But I think we can see how complicated that is, and how it doesn’t always have to be a sin issue. People bond over so many different reasons. Chemistry, shared history, circumstance, work arrangement, hobbies, family, and the like. I’m not sure why one set of arrangement needs to necessarily be morally superior over another
      6. What I think churches ought to keep working hard at is being welcoming and warm to all. We can be really excellent at reaching a group of people. But let’s keep labouring so that those who don’t fit the profile of who we’re good at reaching feel loved nevertheless

      Just some thoughts!

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