June 23, 2010
Dear Canaan EM sisters and brothers,
Have you heard about the “Glass Ceiling”? This is a term applied to the experiences of Asian Americans and women who may reach mid-management level in their careers, but are generally by-passed for top positions in their companies. Though things have changed greatly in America, I believe that the “Glass Ceiling” [or what my friend Jane Hyun calls the “Bamboo Ceiling”] still exists.
Several of my Asian American friends overcome the “ceiling” by working in Asia. There are often greater opportunities for growth there. Others become activists and try to fight the system by direct action.
A large part of the “Glass Ceiling” problem is that Asian Americans are not given or do not choose opportunities to exercise leadership. Most of us are raised to be excellent performers, but not strong leaders (there appears to be an implicit, but misplaced, faith in American meritocracy). Therefore, we are not taught the skills needed to navigate the leadership landscape. We unwittingly contribute to stereotypes that Asian Americans are ineffective leaders.
Let me extend this analogy to Asian American churches. Immigrant churches do a poor job of training their youth and young adults to exercise leadership. In some cases, authoritarian leadership styles in the church do not empower young people to lead. Also, many parents focus on preparing their children to study and perform well, but do not encourage them to learn the social skills needed to be leaders. Is it any wonder why so many Asian American Christian young adults leave their churches or are viewed as lacking initiative?
In order to break the “Bamboo Ceiling,” we need to raise up a generation of strong young Asian American leaders. And the Asian American church is in a strategic position to raise up Christ-centered and ethical leaders to transform church and society.
One doesn’t have to serve in a formal position to be a leader at Canaan. I like Fuller Seminary professor Bobby Clinton’s definition: “Leadership is a dynamic process in which a man or woman with God-given capacity influences a specific group of God’s people towards His purposes for the group.” Leadership is about nudging and moving people towards God’s purpose.
Our English leadership team has been working hard at discerning God’s purpose for us. We believe that God wants us to be more missional, supportive of families, and able to grow people in life transition. But we cannot lead without co-workers and supporters.
I’m glad you’ve read this far because it is at this point where I want to appeal to you to consider serving as a leader at Canaan. There are at least three types of leadership roles you can play:
1. Leading in a ministry project. These are short-term or occasional programs that have a beginning and ending. Examples of ministry projects are Vacation Bible School, Short Term Missions, and Retreat Planning.
2. Leading in a regular program. These are ministries that we have committed to maintaining long-term. Examples are Sunday worship, Youth fellowship, and Community Groups.
3. Serving on Leadership Team. These are elected positions (elders and deacons) that provide direction, make day-to-day decisions, and provide oversight for all ministry programs and projects at Canaan.
In addition to these areas of leadership, I hope that all of us are involved in disciple-making or mentoring relationships. Here, we help lead younger Christians to become more mature followers of Jesus or are being guided by someone who helps us to grow.
Canaan’s nominating committee will soon identify people to serve as elders and deacons. I hope that you might be open to serving, if asked. And if you are interested in serving, please do not hesitate to ask.
One last point. We are blessed with several families with babies. Many of the parents have been active leaders in the past and would very much like to serve now. But I think it is only fair to allow these families a “pass” because the infant years are so physically intense. So we should go out of our way to support these families.
Nevertheless, it is important to ask parents of infants if they want to serve as leaders rather than assuming that they are too preoccupied and not ask. It’s perfectly fine to say “no” without guilt.
But don’t turn down an opportunity to lead just because you don’t feel ready or confident! Go against the grain! By learning to lead in the church, you’ll gain skills that will help you break the “bamboo ceiling”! [be like Martin Luther King, Jr.!]
See you Sunday!
Tim Tseng 曾 祥 雨
Interim English Pastor
Canaan Taiwanese Christian Church
P.S. If you’re interested in volunteering for CityTeam, go this weblink:
J. Robert Clinton, The Making of a Leader: Recognizing the Lessons and Stages of Leadership Development (NavPress, 1988)
Jane Hyun, Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling: Career Strategies for Asians (CollinsHarper, 2003)