Opportunities and Challenges in Asian American Youth Ministry

by: Mike Park |  June 27th, 2016  |  Students  | 

The following excerpt comes from Slingshot Group Student Ministry Associate Mike Park, from Part 1 of a series on Sticky Faith in multicultural contexts, born out of a recent think tank with leaders from Asian American, African American, Latino, Urban, and Multiethnic ministry contexts. The goal of the gathering and subsequent research is to help ministry leaders better understand and respond to particular cultural realities of these groups, as well as to help leaders within culturally-specific contexts adapt Sticky Faith principles and practices in authentically contextual ways. You can read the full article here.

“If a non-Asian youth leader walked into almost any Asian American youth ministry in America, it might feel fairly familiar.

If that leader was you, you would likely recognize the songs, maybe play an icebreaker game you’ve played before, and hear a message from a youth pastor who attends the same leadership conferences that you do. You would break up into small groups and hear questions and conversations from students who largely speak and act just like the students in your church.

The one main difference is that these students and their families happen to be Asian Americans. And the question is, does that make a big difference in how we think about and do youth ministry with these specific young people?

As the number of Asian American churches continues to grow across the country, it’s important that we’re beginning a discussion about the critical issues for youth ministry in the Asian American context. If we want to better serve a significant number of students, families, and leaders, then it’s a conversation that needs to keep happening in youth ministry and church leadership circles. But it’s a daunting task for two reasons.

First, the Asian American context reflects a range of ethnicity, culture, and immigrant experiences that is both broad in scope and rich in history. To list the variety of Asian American experiences from second-generation East Indian American to fourth-generation Japanese American could take much more than the length of this article.

Second, it’s easy to rely simply on stereotypes or superficial generalizations to describe the experience of Asian American teenagers and families. Does every Asian American church or family function in the same way? No. Is every Asian American mom a “Tiger Mother”? Of course not. Does every Asian American teenager excel at math and get accepted to an Ivy League school? My parents hoped so, but clearly that is not the case.

To begin this conversation about concerns and needs pertaining to youth ministry with Asian American teenagers and families, we need to recognize that first we have to do a lot of listening and a lot of learning. This is both for those who are in the Asian American context of youth ministry and for those who are trying to understand and partner with youth workers in this context. We’re not looking to create definitive cultural summaries; we’re brainstorming talking points to help us better understand how God is calling us to care for and disciple Asian American students and families.”

Continue reading the rest of Part 1 of this series, in which Mike addresses three critical issues surrounding Asian American youth ministry: difficulties with identity formation, a performance/works-based understanding of faith development, and cultural and language barriers between generations.

Mike Park

With 12+ years of experience in pastoral ministry, Mike Park is passionate about helping churches and leaders thrive!  He has led student ministries in churches in California (where he’s from) and New York and has worked with leaders in diverse… Read More