At the turn of the century (man, that sounds historical) hundreds of college students were returning or had returned to the San Francisco Bay Area from their respective universities all over the country. Many of these people were searching for a community similar to those they had in college. Going to class together, eating together, hanging out together, and worshipping together all the time. Living life together all the time. In most cases, the churches these young professionals had grown up in did not meet these needs. So they left looking for something more.
In 2001 members of Newsong Irvine planted a church in Sunnyvale called Great Exchange Covenant. It flourished. People found a contemporary worship style more in line with what they had experience in college. Strong communities were formed. Lives were changed… people were transformed. And this didn’t just happen in the Bay Area. It was happening everywhere.
I attend an offspring church of this movement in San Francisco. We are a family of people who predominantly have an Asian heritage. Read: we have lots of Asian-Americans.
We are not an Asian American church.
Part of the original draw of attending GrX for some was that, well, it wasn’t their home church. Asian-American family churches around the Bay Area panicked as they were slowly losing their young adults to churches similar to GrX. They strategized how to keep their young adults happy. They vilified those that left for what they perceived as the new hip thing. “Oh, you go to GrX” translated to “Oh, you’re one of those abandoners.”
But the draw of the “new hip thing” wasn’t just that they could miss service on Sunday morning without their parents finding out. It was structured differently. The “english ministry” wasn’t just a secondary service. You didn’t call the “english pastor” the “EM Pastor” because he was, well, “the pastor”. Fabulous. No Asian-American church hierarchy. No Asian-American church patriarchy. No Asian-American church politics.
Natural leaders emerged. They heeded the call to service, acting as what the traditional church might have called deacons at the ripe old age of 25. They ministered to each other. They ministered to others. They flourished.
Church politics are not something unique to Asian-American churches. It’s universal. As far as I see it there are two ways of completely avoiding church politics. 1) attend a church so new as to have not had to run into these political conflicts (yet). 2) attend church, but remove yourself from these politics by either not getting involved and/or by attending a church so big as to have too many layers between you and the top for you to even remotely come in to contact with church politics.
The politics came to the “new hip thing”, almost as a sign of maturity, and the dream-like bubble of the faultless church popped. It popped big.
The draw of the “new hip thing” for those that had previously attended Asian-American churches also partially involved the absence of the traditional Asian-American church hierarchy. The English Ministry Pastor was usually under the Senior Pastor. The deacons were predominantly not a part of the English Ministry. Everything was run by those that you did not necessarily commune with or even know for that matter. Things got done (building decisions, hiring, finances) all without your opinion or input. You had no say, and thus you didn’t care.
I don’t go to an Asian-American church, but I see people acting like they do. Week-in. Week-out. I am guilty of this too. In my time I have left 3 churches that I didn’t feel met my needs. I also did nothing to help myself.
In the “new hip thing” you hung out with your Pastor. You attended the same small group as one of the “deacons”. You threw back beers with the music ministry director. Everything got done (building decisions, hiring, finances) all without your opinion or input. You had a say this time, but it turns out you didn’t really care.
Many of these people were searching for a community similar to those they had in college. Now they were going to work together, eating together, hanging out together, and worshipping together all the time. Living life together all the time. In some cases, the churches these young professionals had started to grow in to did not meet all their needs. So they left looking for something more… or they grew up and, like the deacons at pastors at the churches they grew up in, they did something to fulfill their needs for themselves and others.