How God Used an Asian American in a White Church to Start a Multi-Ethnic Ministry
MarK Lee | FEBRUARY 28, 2019 | 4 MIN READ
After you read the title of this article, you would think that I set out to accomplish this all long. But I just wanted to make a non-believing immigrant father proud.
Trying to Make it
I was saved in a Korean church. But I had never had much church experience up until that point. In fact, when I went to college, I was only interested in 2 things: getting drunk and meeting girls. Yet in some profound sense of providence, I ended up at church, in the basement no less. It was weird. Were we going to sacrifice animals? Certainly, whatever we were about to do was going to be irrelevant at best, I thought. But I would have never suspected that what I would see next would forever change my life: I met Jesus.
However, after serving 10 years in the Korean church, I was hungry for a different experience. All my Christian heroes were men like John Piper, Chuck Swindoll, and John MacArthur. So in my overachieving Asian mind, the destination seemed clear. I needed to serve at a white church. Then I will have arrived! Soon after that, I was hired on to be the Young Adults Pastor at the Evangelical Free Church of Diamond Bar.
What I do know is that my hire was strategic. The church was filled with mostly white people in an ever-growing Asian demographic. While I was extremely grateful to be offered a job at a critical juncture in my family’s life, I also knew that my color was at least a factor in the decision. A favorable factor, but a factor nonetheless.
I always joke that I was the token Asian on staff, which I know was not true. But even if it were, would I have been offended? ABSOLUTELY NOT! This was an open door, and I knew if it was handled right, this could lead to other doorways. I knew my performance would stand on level ground with everyone else’s. After all, I wasn’t just hired to serve any young adults. These were the dear children of the pastor, staff and elders. I better not screw this up!
So I immediately thought of the lessons my immigrant father taught me. He never complained about a part-time pay for a full-time job. He would make it a point to work a 40-hour-week because “you don’t work for what you get paid. You work for what you want to get paid.” And so that’s what I did.
Three years later, the Evangelical Free Church of Diamond Bar was looking for a leader to bear a greater mantle: to start a new church in a growing and diverse community. I was chosen over an-all white candidate pool, and my departure would include one of their best staff members, 30 faithful members and a $630,000 check to help the new VantagePoint Church purchase a 10-acre property.
Asian American as an Advantage
I am told I stand in the minority of the Asian American experience, and I never stopped to appreciate the gravity of this moment. I am an Asian American pastor released by an white church reaching a mostly multi-ethnic church (35% white, 35% Hispanic, 15% Black, 15% Asian). However, this was not my primary objective. The bullseye on the target for me was to save as many people as possible regardless of what gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation they were. Come one, come all. I just wanted to tell them about Jesus.
What I realize in retrospect is that there were key factors that helped those who were diverse feel as though they were truly welcome. I myself am a person of color. I am part of an interracial marriage. My launch team was diverse. More important than a sermon or a church value on multi-ethnicity is the reality of seeing that value sitting in your pews.
Now this is my personal opinion, but multi-ethnicity is not the goal. A multi-ethnic church is not in itself inherently better than a uni-ethnic church. The goal is not diversity. The goal is to make our city the hardest place to go to hell.
With that being said, if you do want to reach beyond the Asian American walls, I want to encourage you that the time is now. Not only do we live in a culture that more accepting of Asian actors, Asians movies, Asian music and Asian food, but by many we are seen as a “bridge” race. White people do not consider us a minority (e.g. Affirmative Action), and minorities don’t see us as white.
Father to Son
Today there are a lot of reasons why I love VantagePoint Church. We are a church with good standing in our community. There is unity amongst a diversity of ages and races. Our staff team is annoyingly optimist. However, the reason why I love my church is more elusive.
It’s the church my son loves to attend.
Recently, a fellow football player asked him if he would still be in church if his father weren’t the pastor. His response? “Of course. Church is cool!”
The more important article that I hope we can all write as pastors is “How God Used an Asian American Pastor to Save His Asian American Son.” That’s a much harder article to write.
Mark Lee is the founding pastor at VantagePoint Church, which is best described as the church he would love to attend even if he weren’t the leader. He has been happily married for 20 years and has 5 kids, with the last one fulfilling a lifelong dream of adoption.