What does the future of the Asian American church look like?
Some 200 Asian American ministry leaders gathered in Southern California to learn and dialogue on the question during the third annual Asian American Ministry Conference. The event, hosted by Biola University’s Talbot School of Theology, had previously focused on themes such as mentorship and leadership. This year, the conference focused on the theme of envisioning the future of the Asian American church.
“What does the future hold for the Asian American church? I believe that there is a bright future ahead as we look at all of the talent, resources, and people involved in building towards the future,” said Dr. Benjamin Shin, the director of the Asian American Doctor of Ministry cohort at Talbot, and one of the organizers of the conference. “This conference hopes to provide a small glimpse of that future today.”
Among the diverse range of topics discussed during the conference, which took place from 9 AM to 5 PM on Saturday, was the way that Asian Americans could serve to be witnesses for the gospel in this generation. Dr. Peter Cha, professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School who spoke during the morning and evening plenary sessions of the conference, emphasized the need to “develop our authentic witness” in the modern day, as non-Christians express increasingly disillusioned sentiments toward the Christian community.
Being a "witness" is not only about sharing the gospel in distant countries, but also doing so in America, within the societies in which we live, he explained.
One of those ways to develop authentic witness as Asian Americans is to express the Asian American Christian voice, Cha said. Despite the diverse population of Christians in the U.S., Cha noted that there still exists a tendency for some to think of Christianity as ‘white man’s religion,’ and to think of ‘white people’ when thinking of the church in America.
“I think it will be our homework to figure out, what voice do we bring to the table?” said Cha. “I hope younger generation pastors will collaborate to form that voice.”
Cha also mentioned the potential role that Asian Americans have in racial reconciliation. In the aftermath of the L.A. Riots, Cha said that many Korean Americans responded and collaborated with members of the African American community.
Today, Asian Americans still can serve to be a bridge among the different ethnic groups, he said.
“This racial distrust will linger,” Cha said, encouraging those at the conference to focus on the gospel in the process of racial reconciliation. “The gospel is a more profound way than tolerance to racial reconciliation.”
Cha also alluded to the idea that though some Asian Americans may have a passion to be more involved in the greater community, Asian American churches may not be giving enough room for ministers and members to be active in those arenas. Cha said that among 18,000 attendees to the Urbana Conference in 2015, about 6,000 of them were Asian Americans, which showed “a great deal of interest and passion in our community to make an impact with the gospel.”
“Are local churches presenting the opportunities for them to do so?” he added.
“I hope that we will be able to say that all the gifts that he gave us — including our Asian American identity — we did not bury it in the ground, but stewarded it faithfully for his glory and kingdom,” Cha said.
Meanwhile, the conference also featured three sessions of seminars on about a dozen topics on specific ministries, including church planting, college ministry, children’s ministry, global missions, worship, organizing special events, conflict resolution across generations, family ministry, and multi-ethnic church.
Seventeen Asian American leaders in those respective areas were featured as speakers, including John M. Kim, church planter and current pastor of Lighthouse Bible Church Los Angeles; Steve Bang Lee, college and teaching ministries director at Living Hope Community Church; Margaret Yu, national executive director of Epic Movement; Gloria S. Lee from Menlo Church; and Angela Yee, director of mission and ministry at Saddleback Church, Irvine South campus; among others.
The Asian American Ministry Conference is set to take place for the fourth time next year on November 4.