Relationships between older and younger people in an Asian setting tends to be considered in a negative light, and is thought to be stiff, hierarchical, and not very comfortable. However, church leaders have recognized that there is a need for relational and deep mentorship in order for the younger generation to be raised up as the next leaders of the church and of society as a whole.
In an effort to build a movement of mentorship in Asian American church culture, the Asian American Ministry cohort of the Doctor of Ministry (D.Min) program at Talbot School of Theology in Biola University decided to host its first annual Asian American Ministry Conference (AAMC) on November 7, and to focus on the theme of “Mentoring for a Lifetime.”
“Mentorship is the future of the church,” said Cory Ishida, the senior pastor of Evergreen Church in San Gabriel Valley. Ishida spoke during the second and last plenary session at the one-day conference. “We need to mentor so that we can be sure that the church will be in good hands.”
The conference, which took place at Biola University, focused on three main aspects of mentorship. What is mentorship? Who should be a mentor? How should we mentor?
Benjamin Shin, the director of the Asian American D.Min cohort at Talbot, defined mentorship by describing that across the decades, different terms had been used for similar ideas, including discipleship, mentorship, and coaching, but that each term focused on a different part: discipleship focused on the heart; mentorship focused on the hands; and coaching focused on the head.
Shin, who spoke during the first plenary session, went on to say that only those who are “mature, grounded followers of Christ” should be mentors.
“People who look for mentors are looking for stability, not instability,” he added.
Jen Shin, Benjamin Shin’s wife, emphasized during her breakout session on mentoring women that an older woman or man “who is surrendered to the Lord,” and is self-aware should be mentors.
How one should mentor was discussed in detail in two different breakout sessions, both of which had six options of lectures to attend. Specific areas of mentorship that were discussed in these sessions included mentoring youth, mentoring women, mentoring through media, mentoring children’s ministry, mentoring missionaries, mentoring worship teams, and mentoring pastoral staff, among others.
Attendees were also able to ask practical questions on how they can mentor in their specific contexts during a Q&A panel discussion session with the “mentors,” the term that was used to refer to the speakers of the plenary and breakout sessions. For instance, when asked what to do if a mentee refuses or does not want to be mentored, the mentors encouraged attendees that they can still mentor them by being a model in their lifestyle and character. Another attendee asked what a mentor from a para-church should do if the mentee’s church members or parents seem to dislike the mentee’s involvement in the para-church. Pastor Clark Fobes IV, who is serving as a youth pastor at Sunset Church in San Francisco, advised them to reach out to the mentee's church or parents, and remind them that they are on the same team in desiring to bring the mentee closer to Christ.
The mentors at the conference also generally advised them against a mentoring relationship between man and woman, but there can also be exceptions depending on the specific context. Pastor Steve Kim, who is currently the director of the children’s ministry at Ttokamsa Mission Church, for example, said that when he sought after mentorship specifically for children’s ministry, the only available mentors around him were women, and that their mentorship trained and enabled him to become a more effective children’s minister.
Ishida also spoke on how one should mentor during the last plenary session, and specifically focused on three aspects that a mentor should focus on: accessibility, independence, and friendship. He emphasized that though a mentor should be accessible for mentees, mentors should not “micromanage” the mentees’ lives, and to build in them an independent spirit.
“If you’re going to be in ministry, you have to be able to take initiative and be a self-starter,” Ishida pointed out.
Ishida added that being friends and developing a fellowship in which the mentor and mentee can support and love one another is important. Benjamin Shin expressed similar thoughts during the first plenary session.
“Mentorship should be more organic, and should be carried out relationally, spiritually, and lovingly,” Shin said.
Shin referred to the idea that when considering an “Asian” relationship between an older person and a younger one, it’s often hierarchical and sometimes directive. However, Shin said, he hopes that the culture of mentorship in Asian Americans would be egalitarian, and that mentors and mentees would be able to speak honestly to one another.
Despite the relatively short process of three months to plan for the conference, it had a large turnout of about 350 attendees—most, if not all, of which were of the second or younger generations. Most attendees seemed to be Korean Americans or Chinese Americans, and some non-Asians were also present. Some churches came together in groups, such as one church that brought 13 people to the conference.
Benjamin Shin said that AAMC was started with hopes that the Asian American church would be edified, and “to simply give back to the local church and build up the saints to do the work of ministry.” In order to continue this work of building up the Asian American church, AAMC will take place again November 7, 2015, focusing on the theme, “Lessons on Leadership.”