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Church news, Tim Tseng update

Five Deadly Cancers

Weekend Planner
Wed-Friday, Nov 10 (8:00 PM) -Nov 12 (Noon): Everglow Youth Fellowship Lock-in!  (meet at the Youth Room 160). There will be no Friday night fellowship.
Thursday, Nov 11: Young Adults Fellowship meeting at Jonathan Weng’s home. Matthew 5 (7:30 PM).
Sunday, Nov 14:
– Youth Sunday School (9:30 AM, Fellowship Hall)
– English Worship (11:00 AM, Second Floor). Pastors Peter Wang (Southbay Chinese Baptist Church) and Tim are doing a pulpit exchange. Peter will speak on “What do you expect?” (Acts 3:1-12).
– Agape Family Group meeting (4 PM Fellowship Hall): John Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted, Chapter 5

November 9, 2010

Dear Canaan EMers,

Last week, I shared about the importance of becoming a healthy faith community. Today, I want to show how a grumbling flock can become a stumbling block to God’s purpose (Rom. 14:13). A few of you may have noticed that I’m using a similar approach that Pat Lencioni uses to encourage healthy business leadership. Lencioni’s classic “Five Dysfunctions of a Team” offers great insight into why leadership teams fail. Check out his quick summary here:

By looking at our dysfunctional behavior and attitudes, we can become open to the Holy Spirit’s work of transforming our Christian character. So here is my list of five cancers that kill Asian American churches like ours:

1. Not knowing yourself. East Asian American cultures straddles a “me-first” modern individualism and an “other-oriented” Confucian communitarianism. So at times we’re don’t know how much to express ourselves and how much to defer to others. Furthermore, we have inherited an evangelical spirituality that encourages us to deny ourselves and go out to do missions.Therefore it is really hard to know ourselves. We become unable or unwilling to understand our emotions and temperament. As a result, when we face transition or seasons of change, we have a hard time understanding why we feel so bad. Some of us blame others and the church while denying that we have personal struggles. For some of us, our marginalization as Asian Americans or our prejudice against Asian culture that we are socialized to believe distorts our self-knowledge. The lack of self-knowledge is the fundamental cause for cancerous relationships.

2. Spiritual Consumerism. If we don’t know ourselves, we will uncritically adopt our culture’s values – one of which is consumerism. When this becomes a spiritual consumerism, it creates the cancer of pastoral codependency, which is a pastor “who exhibits too much, and often inappropriate, caring for persons who depend on him or her.” Have a look at Ed Stetzer’s essay, “How Christian Consumers Ruin Pastors and Cheat the Mission of God” [click link here]

The worst part of spiritual consumerism is not that we lose the ability to care for our own and others’ spiritual growth, but that we expect pastors and leaders to do everything for us. And when leaders don’t do what we expect, we criticize them and/or move on to another church where the leaders do what we want.

3. Passive Aggressiveness. This is probably the worst spiritual cancer among Asian Americans. The following picture is from a funny blog called Passive Aggressive Notes and illustrates what I mean [click link here]. The owner of the lawn put up a sign after cleaning up some dog feces left on the lawn.


I also encourage you to take a look at this helpful and brief article called “Eliminating Passive Aggressiveness” [click link here]. Passive aggressiveness behavior is found among many Asian Americans because our culture discourages direct confrontation or public disagreement. As a result we express our anger or disapproval behind the scenes. Some have criticized Canaan’s leaders for not being transparent enough or not expressing enough vulnerability or passion. But many of the complainers behave exactly the same way! Instead of speaking to these leaders directly and offering suggestions, they prefer to hide their feelings or fuel their discontent among those who agree with them! But every now and then, a grenade of negativity is lobbed over to the other side which creates surprise and anger. I say that this is the worst cancer because it hinders reconciliation and allows hurts to fester.

4. Pure Aggression. A minority of people in a church will become hyper-aggressive when they are discontent with the church. They will push their agendas without consideration of other people’s concerns or feelings. When they criticize, they will often “shoot first and ask questions later.” Much of this behavior is rooted in impatience when things don’t improve quickly enough. Unfortunately, this behavior often results in a downward cycle of discontent and anger. Those who are passive will not confront aggressive people, but will feel even more unhappy when no one else does.

5. Indifference. Others express their unhappiness by avoiding all conflict and opting out. Unfortunately, by not speaking up, they permit those who are behaving in an unhealthy manner to continue to hurt the community. Elie Wiesel once said, “the opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”

When the cancer grows unchecked, the church will die. But worse than the death of a church is that the individuals who exhibit these behaviors are not transformed into Christlikeness. If they are not challenged about their behavior, they will remain spiritual infants and will spread the cancer to other churches, too.

That is why it is so urgent that we learn how to build a healthy church before we can can become missional. We must learn how to promote shalom (Hebrew for “peace”) within our community. Shalom is not the absence of conflict, but a healthy community (Isaiah 65:17-25).

“All men desire peace,” Thomas A’Kempis once said, “but very few desire those things that make for peace.” How can we stop the cancer from growing among us? How can we reach for the things that “make for peace?

The remedy is easier than you think. To be healed – and to heal others – begin with yourself. Stop criticizing others. Stop accusing the church leaders of this or that imperfection. Start with yourself.

First, know yourself. Why do you react the way you do to different people and circumstances? Perhaps your temperament leads to passive aggression, pure aggression, or indifference? Are you in a season of life that causes frustration and discontent? Transition is always about loss and uncertainty. Perhaps these affect how you behave towards others. Are your thoughts and feelings are rooted in truth or rumor? Are you sharing your thoughts and feelings with people who may disagree with you? Are you seeking honest feedback about how you are behaving?

What does it mean to acknowledge that we are sinners? Doesn’t it mean that we recognize that there are deep flaws within ourselves that we may not even know about? Doesn’t it mean that we need a brother or sister to show us what these flaws are? We need to know ourselves before we can judge others.

Second, create a safe community. Always build up one another in love. Never tear down. Paul says “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” (Rom. 14:19) In fact, Romans 12-14 and I Corinthians 12-14 are excellent chapters to read over again and again. If you hear a brother or sister criticizing anyone in the church (whether in public or privately), encourage that person to stop. Regardless of how correct the criticism may be, there are more appropriate settings to bring up these issues (such as confidentially with the pastoral staff, elders, or other leaders entrusted with shepherding Canaan).

Why? When we build up rather than tear people down, we create a community where people can feel safe to show their weaknesses, safe to make mistakes, and safe to be themselves. In such a community, people can be transparent. People can be free to share their deeper feelings and concerns with one another. People can trust each other.

In Rick Warren’s Daily Hope blog today, he writes about “God’s Prescription for Good Health.”  Warren suggests four factors: tranquility, trust in God, integrity, humility, and generosity. He’ll elaborate on these ideas the next few days, so I recommend that you check it out [click link here] (Thanks Pastor Su for this link).

I look forward to hearing your thoughts or comments. More importantly, I invite you to help make Canaan a healthy church!

Tim Tseng


About Tim Tseng, Ph.D.

I am Pacific Area Director of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship's Graduate and Faculty Ministries. I'm also a historian, theological educator, and pastor.


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