Token Asian American Pastor?

Token Asian American Pastor?

Peter Park     |     FEBRUARY 26, 2019     |    3 MIN READ

“Are you open to Texas?” This was the question that changed my world.

Growing up for most of my life in Southern California, I had never considered moving, and out of all places, I never thought of moving to...TEXAS?!?

I was not looking to leave my predominantly Asian American church nor move away from all my family, friends, and church. I had no reason to pack up and move my family to the South. I was more than content living on the West Coast.

Who was asking me to go to Texas? A predominantly (75%) white megachurch in Plano (yes, Toyota’s new home city) that was started the year I was born: 1972. Honestly, my first thought was, “Are they looking for a token Asian? Then no, thank you.” Secondly, why search all the way in California when I was sure there were plenty of Asian American pastors available in the belt buckle of the Bible belt?

Not a Token

Well, to make a long story short, I was kicking and screaming “no” (for 8 months to be exact), just like Jonah. Eventually God made his will known as clear as the Laguna Beach sky. So I packed up my bags, wife, and two daughters and experienced my “second immigration,” moving to the Lone Star State of Texas. To a predominantly white megachurch. But not as a token.

Chase Oaks Church is a multi-generational non-denominational church with a diverse congregation that was starting to reflect the diverse community surrounding it. So the church wanted to be intentional in hiring more diversity on staff.

But church leaders were having a hard time finding the right person, at least partially because they just didn’t have enough candidates. I believe this is not just a reality in Texas, but the realistic situation for many churches trying to become more intentionally diverse.

After talking with many of my Asian American pastor friends, I have a few theories to why this pastor pool is so small:

  • Most Asian American pastors have very little or no interest in serving in a predominantly white mega church.

  • For those who do, they might not interview well. Most Asian cultures discourage speaking confidently about yourself and your strengths/talents/gifting. We could easily downplay the reality of who we are, which can hurt us in an interview.

  • Many may feel intimidated by, and unfamiliar with, non-Asian church environments and church culture.

  • They have a passion for a more specific demographic of their similar background.

Whatever the reason, the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few.

Lessons Learned in Texas

I just celebrated my 5th year anniversary at Chase Oaks Church and here are some key discoveries:

  • I’m not only called to be an ambassador for Christ, but I realize that I am an ambassador for diversity (at least for the Asian side) in the dominant culture. I have a voice at the table.

  • I have been learning so much about other cultures. The diverse setting has allowed me to learn so much more about African-American, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, etc., cultures. This has grown my perspective of heaven and God in a powerful way.

  • I’ve introduced Korean food (and BTS) to the majority of my staff. Their appreciation for diversity grows especially when I take them out for some amazing Korean BBQ.

  • Not only is it challenging to recruit Asian Americans to my predominantly white church, it’s tough for SoCal pastors to even consider moving to Texas.

Finally, I am learning and growing in ways that I never thought I would as I am learning the best of “both worlds” from both my Asian American church years and now at Chase Oaks. You just can’t learn this stuff at school or from a book.

Every weekend, when I look out into the crowd worshiping our same eternal Father, I see a glimpse of heaven where every tongue and tribe and nation will be represented. Particularly, in light of America’s current social climate, I’ll take that any day.

Peter Park (aka Asian Spider-Man) is a father of 2 beautiful daughters (14 & 12) and a husband of 1 beautiful wife (married for 20 yrs). He is the Legacy Campus Pastor at Chase Oaks and a graduate with a Masters from Talbot School of Theology. He's still learning and discovering more about God, life, and himself. Peter grew up mostly in CA and therefore lifelong Laker fan, but have become a Cowboys fan as a 5th year Texan. Oh, he was also the token Asian extra for “Days of Our Lives” for 3 years during college.