Being a pastor in the Asian-American church network has allowed me to meet a number of churches and pastors. As a result, I’ve had the privilege of travelling to different churches across the states for both speaking and leisure. While I’ve greatly enjoyed my time with each pastor, church, and believer, I’ve come to observe something quite unsettling when it comes to the Asian-American Church: we simply aren’t engaging in the Great Commission of the Church.
I’ve met plenty of Gospel-centered, theologically solid, and philosophically brilliant Asian-American pastors, churches, and Christians. I’ve benefitted greatly from many of them, and have often been encouraged by the friendships I’ve built. But unfortunately, I have a hard time finding those who are actively on mission for the Gospel. When it comes to the command of Jesus to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations,” we rarely take those words literally.
Maturing Disciples Instead of Making Disciples
Oddly enough, I have seen plenty of Asian-American churches who take the call to missions in the Great commission quite seriously. I can name plenty of churches that have large missions budgets, long rosters of supported missionaries, and regular short-term teams sent each summer. However, Asian-American churches that are actually making disciples in their cities and communities are hard to come by.
Somehow, we have equated making disciples with maturing disciples. We do a great job of gathering Christians into a building, putting people into small groups, and maturing them in the Gospel – all the while never making a single new disciple. We have bought into the illusion that by simply adding members to our local churches or sending missionaries overseas, we are fulfilling the Great Commission.
We say we are baptizing new believers, but in reality, we are only adding biological growth by baptizing our children who have grown up in the church. We say we are growing God’s Kingdom as we see our churches grow, but in reality, we are only adding transfer growth as existing believers join our membership. We say we are engaged in mission, but in reality, we are only reaching the dechurched, while the unchurched remain largely untouched.
“Other Asians” Instead of “All Nations”
We have also redefined “Go and make disciples of all nations” to “Go and make disciples of other Asians.” We may be great at engaging the nations when it comes to overseas missions; but we fail to recognize the many nations represented in our own neighborhoods and cities. We have become so isolated in our Asian Christian Bubble that we find it strange when non-Asians join us for worship on a Sunday morning. We stare with bewildered eyes, wondering where this outsider came from. Or when interacting in our workplaces and communities, we rarely seek to build relationships with our non-Asian peers. Whether due to fear, discomfort, or even racism, we have rationalized for ourselves a mission that never sends us out of our Asian circles.
Some reading this may say that’s simply how people gather; we cannot stop people from gathering by race or affinity. Or some may say that we can better reach those who are like us, as we are more familiar with their context and worldview than an outsider. Some may even say that churches are not commanded to be multi-ethnic. All of this may be true, but it doesn’t mean it should dictate the mission Jesus has given us. If we are to be a church on mission with the gospel, then we should do so where Jesus has placed us, regardless of ethnicity.
When Jesus sent out the disciples after the ascension, he did not command them to only make disciples of Jews, but also in “Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Revelation 7:9-10 talks of believers from all nations worshipping together in Heaven. Scripture paints a picture of the body of Christ being a multi-ethnic entity, united not by culture or race, but the blood of Christ (c.f., Ephesians 2:13-16).
Though we may be better at reaching other Asians, we should not focus only on Asians. Jesus has placed us in jobs, neighborhoods, and communities where we interact with more than just fellow Asians. Though we may say that the Gospel is for all peoples, we need to consider if the way our church looks and acts is actually barring other ethnicities from the invitation to salvation through our local church.
J.D. Greear often challenges church leaders by asking the question, if our church left our neighborhood, would anyone care? The painful truth for many Asian/Asian-American churches, is that our communities would likely never notice if we left because we rarely engage our neighbors with the Gospel. If were are sent by Christ to be churches on mission as light in the midst of darkness, our communities should notice our presence, regardless of race.
Great Commission Diagnostics
If you find yourself disagreeing with me as you’re reading this, I’d ask you to consider a number of questions as a diagnostic to how we’re doing as Asian-Americans on mission with the Gospel:
- When is the last time you shared the Gospel with a non-believer?
- When is the last time someone from the community your church is situated in has visited your worship service?
- When is the last time your church baptized a new believer (not including children who have grown up in the church community)?
- When is the last time you had a deep conversation about faith and/or life with a non-believing co-worker or friend – regardless of race?
If you or your church can answer these questions with positive results, then praise God for your desire to be on mission for the Gospel. I do not doubt that there are great churches and believers within Asian-American evangelicalism living missionally for Jesus. There may even be large numbers of Asian-American churches being quite engaged in mission. But these are my observations with the majority of Asian-American churches I’ve come in contact with. My experience is you are the exception, not the norm.
Why is it that so many of us in the Asian-American church (and the rest of American Evangelicalism, I’m sure) have such a hard time obeying the commands of Jesus when it comes to being his witnesses? Why is it that we are great at talking about Jesus within the church walls, but once we leave the comforts of our holy huddle, we never once mention his name?
These are questions I hope to answer in the coming weeks as we as Asian-Americans seek to be on mission for the Gospel which we’ve been called to. My desire is that our churches can grow together to be witnesses for the Gospel where God has placed us, and to be welcomed by the Savior with the comforting words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”