April 14, 2010
The man in the red pullover shirt lay sprawled out on the ground, his arms and legs uncomfortably bent and eyes shut. Two men see him from a distance and quickly walk up to him. The first kneels beside the motionless man for a closer examination. He turns to the other man and says, “he’s dead, Jim.”
The other man, presumably Jim, is visibly upset and says, “That’s Captain Kirk to you, McCoy!”
Okay, okay, that scene never happened on Star Trek. But were there times when you felt unsure about addressing someone on a first name basis?
When I was a doctoral student, I never could bring myself to calling my adviser by his first name (which happened to be Jim, too). It was always “good morning, Dr. Washington” or “but I did turn in the seminar paper, Professor Washington.” My unwillingness to address him by his first name was, in part, because I genuinely respected him. But it was also due to my upbringing as an Asian American. I was always taught to give special honor to my elders. Not until I started teaching did I realize that my efforts to respect protocol and show deference were considered “odd” by most of my peers. I discovered that informality is highly prized in mainstream American culture – and I liked it! If mega-churches like Willow Creek could be so informal, so could I!
I then mandated informality in my classrooms. Seminary students were required to call me by my first name – and they were delighted! Except for Asian Americans students. They refused to call me by my first name. I tried to persuade them that mainstream culture would value them more if they were less deferential, but they simply could not do it. Later, when I joined the Chinese for Christ Church of Hayward, where the English ministry was predominantly youth and young adults, I was shocked to be called Uncle Tim by people in their late twenties! It was a rude awakening to realize that I looked visibly older to others. These episodes convinced me that Confucian-influenced cultures reinforce generational gaps by expecting younger people to defer to their seniors.
Now, not all of this is a bad thing. Youth and wisdom are not normally spoken in the same breath. Young people can learn a lot from those who are further along life’s journey. But I’ve observed that few Asian American congregations do adequate jobs of developing younger disciples and leaders. Many default into the family village model where respect for authority is exalted at the expense of cultivating leaders. It is in these churches where the “silent exodus” of young people occur most frequently. After all, if church participation is experienced as deference to authority, how can a young person grow up and become a leader? How can Asian American Christian young adults survive in a mainstream American culture that values individual expression if their churches don’t prepare them?
I don’t want to move too far ahead of Canaan’s English Ministry Leadership Team envisioning process, but I’ll risk sharing my personal vision for Canaan: I want us to be known as THE Bay Area Asian American ministry to go to if one wants great discipleship and leadership training. I want us to excel at two “E” words: Empower and Equip.
By empowerment, I mean giving each other the freedom to take initiatives and risks. It is freedom from the fear of failure. The ultimate goal is not numeric or programmatic success, but cultivating disciples who exhibit boldness in spiritual growth and leadership. So if calling me “Pastor Tim” hinders you from getting better acquainted with me, call me by my first name. I promise never to pull rank. Also, if you feel led to do something for the Lord at Canaan, don’t wait for me or other leaders to come to you. Let us know and we’ll help you do it! I want us to be empowered to grow spiritually, to use our gifts, and to lead.
For most of the past fifteen years, my job as a seminary professor was to equip seminarians to become good pastors. Most started off with incomplete notions of what pastors do. Some thought that delivering dynamic and inspiring sermons was a pastor’s most important task. Others thought that pastors are spiritual CEOs who lead by exercising decision making authority. Still others thought of pastors as counselors who help individuals navigate life’s difficulties. There is some truth to each of these roles, but, according to Paul in Ephesians 4:11-12, the central role of pastors is to “prepare” or “equip” church members to do ministry:
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.
A pastor is more like a football coach or baseball manager. His or her ministry is to equip church members to do God’s work!
I’ve seen how much positive influence that empowered and equipped believers can have on their families, work, and communities. The character and testimonies of such believers attract people to Jesus. They are multipliers who triple or quadruple the impact of their God-given gifts and resources. I look forward to the day when Canaan folk will unabashedly say that being empowered and equipped is the best experience they’ve ever had. Impossible? Not!
[okay, okay, if you’re still uncomfortable using my first name, you can still call me Pastor Tim – or Gus]
P.S. Take advantage of opportunities to be empowered and equipped this summer before the openings are filled up! Consider volunteering in the following areas:
- Vacation Bible School (Aug. 3-7), contact Shirley Tai
- College and Young Adult Fun! contact Jonathan Weng
- Children’s Ministry, contact Nicole Lu
- Youth Ministry (female counselors are especially welcome!), contact Jeremy Lee
BTW, another way to be empowered and equipped is to find a mentor. Take the initiative – don’t wait!
Tim Tseng 曾 祥 雨
Interim English Pastor