NEEDS of the next generation, part 2

January 14, 2007

Co “Bumble” Ho wrote a very compelling response to Peter Nguyen’s paper about how to develop a next generation church for Asian Americans. I’ve met Bumble on one occasion, and really appreciate his real-life example of sacrifice and service. The following response is posted with permission — would love to hear your response to the original article and to this:

Dear Peter,

Thank you so much for inviting me to brainstorm with you about advancing God’s Kingdom among the Next Generation Asian American Church.

After reading through your paper, it appears that the targeted audience for your paper is the people in the FirstGen group. This is why I wrote you earlier that “The problem is that if the FirstGen cares enough to listen, we wouldn’t need this paper in the first place.” I think it is very common to hear the same complaints from the NextGen people for the past few decades. So instead of talking to them about what-they-need-to-do, I would like to propose that we need to address the NextGen people about what-we-are-going-to-do.

I am going to contribute my thoughts on the matter paralleling your statements in red ink from here on…

For now, I won’t dream of any prominent role NextGen would take for Asia and the rest of the world. It might be the lack of vision, but I am still rating our NextGen ministry at the Survival end on the Survival – Success – Significant spectrum. Yes, there are a few success stories like New Song, The River and Immanuel, but across the board the situation is still pretty bleak. If not, would you need to appeal to the FirstGen for our “N.E.E.D.S”?

Despite the seemingly bleak situation, I believed that God had already equipped for us to meet our own “N.E.E.D.S”. We can invite the FirstGen to participate in what God is doing among us, but we should not depend on their helps. Even if reinforcement won’t come, we simply must face the battle of ourselves for our future. If the FirstGen of the Israelites were responsive to God, they could have entered the Promised Land 2 years after Exodus. But they were not ready and so the NextGen were destined to do the job without their parents help. Addressing our own “N.E.E.D.S” could be an option to build the Next Generation churches. It will just take longer, more blood and sweat, more scattered bodies on the battlefield, but we should be prepared to face it ourselves with God’s help.

re: NECESSARY MEANS

Yes, the FirstGen might be often short-sighted, but don’t let that mold us into the same short-sightedness. Why do we have to do things our parents’ way (allocate resources, positions “within the Church structure”) so that we can “utilize to start building the NextGen church”?

  • The Pitfall: Many FirstGen churches formally allocate necessary means for the NextGen church (budgets, positions) and inadvertently controlling the NextGen church because they held “the purse string”. “Documented resources” (in the form of teaching, structure, philosophy of ministry) might also forces the Next Generation churches into a mold not suitable for growth. Besides, FirstGen churches might not have enough resources themselves because of their immigrant root. (I also suggest that we should understand the FirstGen’s church operating budget and imagine how to raise fund for that budget alone, before thinking about what we can ask from that budget).
  • The Workaround: Be informal during start-up. Build your own resources; finance NextGen ministries out of your own tent-making income. In my own ministry, I started with teaching 6 Jr. High kids more than 15 years ago. It grew into a youth group, and a college group, and now becoming a congregation – still “within the church structure”. The whole time I and my wife working as professional and financing the operations. Now, as the next generation becomes matured professionals, they joined us in financing for the NextGen ministries here at the same church. We are even supporting our own people to seminaries and for staff salary if they choose to come back and serve us. Despite all these development, we have yet come to a fully formal structure yet: no 503(c) status, I am not a “real” pastor yet (by choice), and our paid staff are working part-time, etc. I believe that “the Church structure” should be a support component for growth1. If our NextGen Service has more attendees and more contributions than the FirstGen Service then for sure we would formalize more structures and processes to sustain that growth.

re: ELIMINATE ANY INSECURITIES

Yes, the FirstGen might often be insecure, but are we also have our own insecurity too? Our parents came from poverty and so they want to make sure that we would never go hungry again. However, we can make our own decisions about our own career and lifestyle.

  • The Pitfall: Many FirstGen churches actively calling people into full-time ministry and inadvertently shortchange the NextGen ministers from being effective among the working class, or discredit the lay-ministers’ commitment to God. The elevation of full-time ministers will also contribute to a division of spiritual ministry (the pastor jobs) vs. administrative ministry (the board members jobs) – a mindset found in many churches.
  • The Workaround: Building teams of lay-ministers with tent-making life-style. Just last Sunday, my senior pastor urged our English congregation to pray God so that I could leave my full time employment to be in full time service. The truth is when that day comes, I would be rejoicing very much. The problem is right now between my wife and I, our day jobs are still financing a third of our NextGen congregational budget. Our NextGen congregational contribution is still three years away from being able to hire our own full-time staff. The plan is simple: 1) Make sure that the High Schoolers keep their faith when they go to college. 2) Make sure that the College students matured in faith when they get a career. 3) If our ministry to the NextGen is strong enough to complete the previous two steps, then when these kids becomes a professional, they should be faithful in stewardship and give back to the NextGen ministry. Of course the financial insecurity from our immigrant parents will be passing on to the next generation, but if we are diligent in undoing it in youth ministry, we should position ourselves well to reap the benefits. If we could not “eliminate the insecurities” among the people we are ministering to right now, how could we expect the FirstGen to do so? The kids tend to listen to their Youth leaders more than their parents anyway.

re: ENCOURAGEMENT TO SERVE

I think the problem statement will need to restate that, “FirstGen has not been receptive to actively encourage or participate in development of the NextGen Church (but rather focus on the FirstGen Church), thus, creating tension, isolation, and dejection of NextGen leaders, therefore being called rebellious cavaliers against the FirstGen”. But that behavior is consistent in a local church context. Local churches made up of believers with some sub-culture affinity, and therefore their developmental concerns will reflect their sub-culture preferences. Our behavior is the same way too. We are more concerned about NextGen Church rather than the problem of the FirstGen Church, or even the Hispanic Church (the fastest growth demographic group in the US).

  • The Pitfall: It could be our own pride which motivate us to seek legitimacy, thinking that we it’s more important to do “church work” rather than “youth work”. It could also be our own impatience to rush the natural congregational formation process.
  • The Workaround: Unfortunately I think many NextGen leaders are getting distracted and thinking a structure can bring about growth. Some NextGen churches I’ve visited labeling themselves as “church” and attempting “services” while their 80% of their members are still not finishing High School. I think this is a side-effect of the Asian authoritarian culture: The FirstGen wants to maintain their authority and so they won’t let go of their grips. The NextGen wants to earn authority and so they desperately seek legitimacy from the FirstGen’s blessing. I think we need to really seek Jesus upside-down authoritarian mind set: if we want to be impact the most in the Kingdom, we should seek to serve the next generation and help them grow. Our authority eventually will come from the breadth and the depth of our services to people’s life, not because of a title or a formal recognition on someone’s org chart. In the past 15 years, I’ve always stated my commitment to the FirstGen church that ultimately the senior pastor is accountable to the Great Shepherd for the flock, not me. Since I tend “the lambs” of the flock on the day-to-day basis, I have a road map to help these lambs following the Great Shepherd, I can advise the leadership about how these lambs would react to certain policy. The leaders have the right to remove me at anytime, and when I leave I won’t take any sheep with me. But the leaders can also evaluate how well I cared for the lambs, how well these lambs “hear my voice”, and when these lambs become matured and productive sheep, the leaders also have the right to entrust these sheep to me fully as “Bumble’s flock”, then I will be accountable before the Great Shepherd just like they once did.

re: DISCIPLE THE NEXT GENERATION

You are right on this one, but if the FirstGen Church has no clue how to solve NextGen problem, how are we going to relying on them to provide any guidance on this?

  • The Pitfall: We expect the FirstGen to provide the practical solution for the problem in our context. They can’t. But on the other hand, we might think that FirstGen cannot contribute anything to help the NextGen leaders in the spiritual formation process. They can.
  • The Workaround: Be actively looking for help. American Christianity can help a great deal with the pragmatic know how to deal with the culture, but the FirstGen’s piety is a rare treasure for us the NextGen leaders to learn from. I’ve also found a great deal of helps by learning from the other Asian ethnic churches. Generally the Vietnamese churches had only recently arrived in the US in the last 30 years. We can learn valuable lessons from our Korean brothers and sisters who migrated here a few decades before us. And for a longer view, we can tap the Chinese Americans. However, we need to be aware of the subtle differences among our contexts. Both of these groups are blessed with more human resources. Korean has more percentage of Christians among their US immigrants, and Chinese has a huge population pool to draw on.

re: SHOW GENEROSITY

You are right on. I will not belabor this point again, but this is something we will need to fight within ourselves. Would our parents, with limited English, earn more money than we can? And so I am not worry about how generous they would be as compared to how generous we are becoming. This is one more reason why I think your paper really needs to address our generation and not the FirstGen. Whatever they do, it will be too little and too late. The battle is upon our own hands. May the Lord sustain us for His victory!

Thanks for a stimulating discussion.

Bumble, Vietnamese Alliance Church @ Midway City. http://i12know.that1.name

* If you find it easier to read the original paper and this response interspersed, you may view it online and/or print it out.

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Link to this article:

Bumble
January 15th, 2007

Thanks, DJ for the post – hope my ESL won’t create any barrier for the readers :)

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