Archive for April, 2015

francis-chan-preachingHow many Asian American pastors can you name that are nationally recognized in the Christian community? Maybe one – Francis Chan. Even though Asian Americans are one of the fastest growing ethnic groups in America (18 million) with over 7,000 churches, there are only a few Asian American pastors who are well known and being invited to large Christian conferences. Why is that?

Being limited into a certain type of leadership mold fostered by the Asian culture may have something to do with it. In a Forbes Magazine article called “Why Aren’t There More Asian American Leaders,” Wesley Yang, a talented writer, explains that “children who grow up in traditional Asian homes do not learn the cultural lessons they need, in order to play a dominant role in most workplaces. The most important Asian values include filial piety, deference to authority, humility, hard work, harmony and sacrificing for the future. Though there may be a place for leaders to display deference, in order to get promoted into a top job, workers have to be their own boosters and show they can be independent and driven.”

the-boss-by-yang-liu1There is great beauty in the Asian culture and heritage that emphasizes communal harmony, a sense of social awareness, and deference. However, only embracing the cultural strengths of family, sacrifice and respect for elders and authority can potentially limit the ability of Asian American leaders to have a greater voice and presence in the Western context. Based on my own personal experiences as an Asian American pastor and observations of other Asian American leaders, below are 3 ways Asian American leaders can stretch themselves to make a deeper impact in their communities in America.

My goal isn’t to encourage Asian Americans to be Francis Chan or to be more “popular” or recognized on a larger scale. And there is of course so much diversity even within the Asian community that some particular points in this article may not even apply. But no matter what their background is, my desire is for Asian American pastors to self-examine and be aware of how their cultural upbringing has shaped their leadership styles, and how God might be calling them to go outside their comfort zones. The world needs great leaders to lead the next generation, and my hope is that Asian American pastors will continually develop holistically to have more of a voice for not only the Asian American community but also the larger Christian community in America and the world.

FOREFRONT LEADER

Leadership-abstract-007Many Asian American pastors find themselves more comfortable in the background. Me too. I am happy to do the hard work behind the scenes rather than be in the spotlight with the microphone up front. And I have found this to be often true of student leaders in youth ministry. If you have led a multi-ethnic group of students, you may have found that Asian American students wait to be invited to help or speak up, rather than volunteering or self-promoting even though they are eager and hungry to help.

This is a beautiful leadership trait that looks to the needs of the community first, and highlights a diligent work ethnic and willingness to support the community in any areas of need. I believe, however, that Asian American pastors should challenge themselves to transition from being background leaders to being forefront leaders.

I’m not just talking about having the microphone in your hand more. I’m talking about having more ownership and voice on all relevant issues that affect the church. There are so many hot button issues (sexuality, immigration and racial issues) that the church needs to address especially from an Asian American perspective. It’s easy for us to shy away from these controversial issues and to focus on our own communities. But in order to be relevant in our rapidly changing world, we need to engage more with the greater community, join in on the conversations, and share these thoughts with our congregations. The Church needs to hear from the Asian American perspective and it will only happen when we engage and share. One way you can do this is by writing a blog about anything you’re passionate about and post it. Let people give you feedback and grow in your ability to communicate and share.

FEELER LEADER

communicationbrainpostTraditional Asian cultural tends to embrace thinkers rather than feelers. This f-word was never brought up in my home. I was never asked about my emotions and there was an unspoken expectation to hide the “bad” feelings for the betterment of the community. This handicapped my ability to articulate my own emotions later on and affected how I handled situations where I felt frustrated or insecure in my ministry. “Feelings” was something I considered to be secondary to many other things when it came to my spiritual life. Often, I viewed it as a distraction or weakness that interfered with the commitment required to serve God through all challenges. My lack of emotional introspection and awareness almost even caused my finance and I to break off our engagement.

What saved our marriage and helped me turn a corner was a conference for pastors held at the church my wife attended in New York City called New Life Fellowship. The pastor, Pete Scazero, who wrote the book, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, pointed out that while many leaders could be so versed in scriptural knowledge, they were often like immature infants when it came to handling emotions. But Christ’s transforming power was not just for our mental knowledge – but something that should touch all areas of our lives, including our feelings.

This conference and book propelled me on a journey towards emotional health where I have been challenged to be vulnerable and grow in the way I express, communicate, and handle conflict. It has not been easy but it has helped me renew my strength throughout the various stresses in life and ministry. I see too many pastors and their families burnout because of a lack of emotional health (i.e. limits and setting boundaries). I recommend reading Pete’s book and taking the steps to really embrace emotional health through counseling, mentors or seminars. This will help you last longer in ministry or show you when you need a break from ministry.

FEARLESS LEADER

fearless_leader_mugAmericans tend to play it safe in life. That’s why our parents push us towards financially secure jobs such as doctors and lawyers. For me, there was nothing wrong with this until I noticed that I was playing it safe in my ministry. I didn’t dream big or lead with a big vision. I didn’t take leaps of faith when we planned our programs and events. I took just enough risk to see some fruit to make me content while making sure things were never out of my control. I was too fearful of failure and too afraid of criticism and complaints to step out of my comfort zone.

But I’ve come to realize that I need to lead fearlessly and swing big.  We need Asian Americans to take more God-sized risks and trust in God’s ability to do God-sized things. We need to allow God to move in ways that go beyond our own capacity and limited dreams.  I believe that Asian American pastors can’t play it safe anymore. We need to muster our courage to take more ground for God’s kingdom in whatever ministry capacity He calls us to take.

I believe that God is calling Asian American pastors to take charge for our generation and the next. Our time is now to lead our communities in fresh new ways. To this end, I hope we can continue to examine the influence of our heritage and challenge ourselves to grow holistically as a leader.

 

mean girlsMy two year old daughter came running to me in tears at the park. “They said I can’t play with them” she cried, pointing to a couple kindergarten aged girls. I gave my daughter a big hug while scenes of the movie, Mean Girls, flashed through my head. “It’s all happening too fast,” I thought to myself, wishing I could keep her protected longer from the harsh realities of the world.

But we can’t protect our kids forever. As parents, we deal with situations like this everyday, whether it is the sting of social rejection or any other issue that generates uncomfortable, painful, and frustrating emotions. But moments like these are excellent emotional coaching opportunities for your child. And as I shared in my last post, the best person to be their emotional coach is YOU, the parent.

The emotion coach is a concept that John Gottman, a relationship expert, coined to help parents understand that emotions and feelings need to be taught to your children in order to help them navigate through life’s ups and downs. This coaching can start as early as three years old, and the results validate its significance. Studies have shown that children who are coached in their emotions perform better in school, are physically healthier, have better friendships, and are able to cope with life’s stressors much better than kids who haven’t been emotionally coached.

emotiona coachingSo how do we do emotion coaching? John Gottman provides five steps in his book, Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, which I have summarized for you below. The first three steps creates an environment of dialogue by help us have the right mindset and informing the child that their feelings are valid. The fourth step helps the child learn to identify, label and put into words what they are feeling. This is crucial because this gives the child the tools to remain calm and talk about their feelings rather than throw tantrums. The last step helps your child to think logically about the situation, while empowering them to problem solve through different options. This gives the child the ability to take ownership of their emotions and handle them productively in the future.

1. Be aware of your child’s emotions

It was easy for me to be aware that my child was sad and hurt by the rejection in the park – because I was focused on playing with her that afternoon. Most of us are aware when our kids are sad, upset or happy. But as we go through the busyness of life, it’s easy for us to become less conscious of our kid’s emotions or ignore them when we are trying to deal with the never-ending tasks on our to-do lists. It’s important to remember that our children experience emotions based on life circumstances just like we do, and so it is always a helpful reminder be mindful of our children’s emotional state even when our schedules may be busy.

2. Identify your child’s emotions as an opportunity for intimacy and relationship bonding

When my child throws a tantrum in public, my first reaction is that this behavior is a problem that needs to be fixed… and fast! My thoughts rush to determine the action I need to take to change her behavior immediately, especially as people around me are starting to give me the look. It is important, of course, to take the appropriate disciplinary measures when our children act up. However, Gottman encourages us to take our mindset one step further and see these stressful situations as an opportunity to deepen our bond with our children, and not just a fire to put out.

3. Listen and validate your child’s feelings

I’m a problem solver. You throw an issue at me – my instinct is to try to fix it. So at the park when my daughter was crying, my first reaction was to jump to the conclusion. What should we do? Should we go yell at the girls? Should we go to a different park? Should we play our own game? Finding solutions is not a bad thing, of course, but Gottman encourages parents to take a moment to acknowledge and validate your child’s feelings. So I asked my daughter what happened and she explained the story. As she was sharing, I reminded myself to first just listen and validate. “You felt sad? I’m so sorry. You are right – it is a sad situation.” You will be surprised how much the tone of the conversation can change by not rushing to fix the problem and first acknowledging the feelings.

4. Help your child label their emotions in words they can understand

Often my child can’t describe her feelings in detail because she’s only two. But this doesn’t mean that what she is actually feeling is simple or basic. Teaching our children different words to describe their emotions – such as sad, happy, angry, frustrated, disappointed, and mad – can really empower them to express themselves in stressful situations. Teach your child different emotions either through books, videos or personal examples. For instance, our daughter learned the word frustrated when she was driving with her frustrated mom stuck in traffic.

5. Assist your child to find options to handle their situations that are causing these emotions 

After I listened and validated my daughter’s hurt, I worked to help her address the situation that made her sad, by providing some options that she could choose herself. Older kids may be able to come up with different options on their own. I shared that she could play with other kids in the park or play hide and seek with daddy. My daughter chose to play with me – excellent choice if I do say so myself. Soon her mood was elated again as she was screaming and chasing me around the park.

Now this park scenario was just a very small incident, but by making it an opportunity to be coached emotionally, my daughter experienced that her feelings of sadness are legitimate and that there are ways she can embrace, address and move on from her hurt. And hopefully, as my wife and I continue to coach her emotionally, our daughter will be equipped with a valuable tool to confront greater challenges in the future.

Whatever stage of parenting you are in, don’t stress or be hard on yourself if you haven’t been the emotional coach you want to be. Parenting is a learning experience and a journey, not a perfect science. Be encouraged that you can be the emotional coach that your child needs. As a parent, your influence and ability to help coach your child through these everyday situations can really change their lives. Try it out and let me know how it goes!