Last week, I shared my unsettling observation of the Asian-American church and how we struggle to obey the Great Commission in making disciples. Before offering any solutions, I’d like to offer a diagnosis of the problem to help us consider what is keeping us from a life lived in mission for the Gospel. So, here are three common barriers I’ve observed across Asian-American churches that keep us from our witness. (These barriers are not necessarily unique to the Asian-American church, but I have nuanced them in a way that is more relevant to it).
1) Lack of Evangelism Reveals Lack of Worship
At the heart of it, we don’t evangelize because we don’t worship. In an essay entitled, “A Word About Praising” (in his book Reflection on the Psalms), C.S. Lewis reasons that true worship must be shared:
“I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. …It is frustrating to have discovered a new author and not to be able to tell anyone how good he is; to come suddenly at the turn of the road, upon some mountain valley of unexpected grandeur and then to have to keep silent because the people with you care for it no more than for a tin can in the ditch; to hear a good joke and find no one to share it with.”
Though Lewis here is focusing on the Christian’s duty in worshipping God, his words can also be applied to evangelism. If we truly find God worthy of praise, we will also find him worthy to be shared. In fact, we won’t be satisfied until we get to share him with others.
I often tell my church that we are natural evangelists for that which we treasure. We don’t have to try to tell people the things we find valuable, interesting, or praiseworthy; we simply declare it to any ear willing to listen. Why is it that when we’ve found a good restaurant we tell everyone to try it? Why do we take pictures of our meals and post them on social media for all the world to see? When we have found joy in someone or something, it must be shared. If the Good News of Jesus is the greatest joy we have found, then it should be the easiest news to share.
If we haven’t tasted joy in Christ, then we aren’t going to evangelize. The sad reality is that many of us in the Asian-American church have simply yet to taste the goodness of the Gospel. We don’t talk about Jesus with others because we don’t find him something worthy to be talked about. We don’t evangelize because our love for Christ has gone cold, or was never there to begin with.
2) The Holy Huddle of Christian Community
One thing Asian American churches do undoubtedly well is community – almost to a fault. We love being within the church community, so we rarely leave the confines of the comfortable nest. We loiter in the church lobby after service; we meet for hours in weekly small groups; we set up hangouts with other believers for “fellowship.” While none of these are bad – in fact, they are largely good – we rarely stop to ask if we’ve over-involved ourselves in church.
Our well intentioned desire to get people “plugged in” to our churches has created holy huddles that never engage with the outside world. A quick look at our church’s website would give us a different ministry or program to join for every day of the week. We turn every gathering of Christians into an official ministry (think, “Basketball Ministry”, “Dance Ministry”, “Cooking Ministry”) and have become so busy planning events that we don’t have time to even think about evangelism, let alone spend time with non-believers.
When I was in college, I became heavily involved in my local church and campus ministry. Every day of the week I had some ministry, meeting, or small group to attend. Outside of the one night a week dedicated to campus evangelism, all of my time was given to the church and fellow believers. While I greatly enjoyed those years growing close with my Christian community, I noticed a part of my discipleship was missing as I had cut off nearly all my relationships with non-believers.
Whether intentionally or not, we have used the Church to get away from the world. And the more we spend time only with believers, the less comfortable we get being around non-believers. We’ve become content with allowing our churches to only be for believers, all the while forgetting she also exists for the salvation of the lost.Our busy, us-focused church lives have trained us to largely ignore those on the path to hell.
3) The Asian-American Christian Dream
In his book Radical, David Platt talks about the “American Christian Dream,” and how we have attached the American Dream of comfort, safety, and security, to our Christianity, creating an unbiblical, syncretized faith. I believe the same is true of the Asian-American church, and it has resulted in comfortable and compartmentalized Christians who have little desire or energy to engage in mission.
Many of us have grown up seeing our immigrant parents working hard to make a living and provide for the family, ultimately in hopes of attaining the American Dream. Whether to honor them and make them happy, or simply mirror what we’ve seen modeled, this drive for success and comfort has seeped into our discipleship and churches.
We want to be a good Christian and a good student. We want to be a faithful believer and a successful worker. We want salvation in Jesus and security in the world. Though these may be good desires, if they do not ultimately submit to and serve our following of Christ, they will high jack our faith. Our pursuit of success has trumped our pursuit of Jesus, and hence, obedience to the mission.
Additionally, our pursuit of the Asian-American Dream has created incredibly compartmentalized lives. We choose where to live not based on being a light in the darkness, but being safe from the darkness. We are willing to live miles from work and church so our kids can attend a better school. Thus, our lives are split across multiple locations for home, work, school, and church (this is especially true of those living in a suburban context). The result is a compartmentalized life in which missional opportunities decrease exponentially as relationships don’t overlap into multiple spheres. The pursuit of comfort results in a compartmentalized life, and therefore a compartmentalized faith.
These are only a few of the many barriers to our witness as Christians (especially those in the Asian-American context). But the more aware we are of our barriers, the better equipped we will be in overcoming them and living faithfully and obediently to our Lord’s call to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth.