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Asian Pastor: A White-Collar Profession?

My father, having been a pastor for over twenty years, has told me that pastors are given a great deal of respect in some communities and that it is very easy for pastors to forget that they are not professionals; professionals in the sense that lawyers, accountants, doctors,etc. perform a specialty service of which they are made capable by years of study and dedication. While the part about study and dedication is true, I think there is still a distinction to be made here, pastors are not professionals. Clergy is not a "white-collar" profession. However, there are a couple of reasons why I think that we as Asians regard pastors as a "white collar" prefession.

Besides having roots in a shamanistic culture, which places courtesy to the spiritual/supernatural, I think that there is a huge emphasis in legitimizing authority. Because of the Confucian nature of Asian society with its hierarchy, it is very difficult for one to speak without some sort of credential, in this case, seminary or some other experience. Perhaps it goes back to the dynasties of old when the imperial courts would offer education to those who proved themselves prodigious. Scholars have always been held in high regard in Asian cultures and the emphasis persists even to the present.

I think the problem that I have is that this emphasis persists to the point that pastors legitimize themselves before others, and perhaps even to themselves, with solely the mark of scholarship, not necessarily discipleship. What do I mean? I remember when going through a job search how much the name of a marquee university meant to my bachelor's degree and even having the notion that my schooling made me a superior candidate for work in the business world. I have witnessed on more than one occasion, where pastors measure one another based on their seminary education and there's a judgment that takes place. There's the notion that the education makes the pastor and it is the bar by which one pastor can be measured against another.

With the number of Asian applicants increasing to seminaries nationwide, I can't help but wonder if many young adults with good intentions, are simply going to obtain an education to provide an occupation, or if they are educating themselves for their deepest pre-occupation. Let's be honest, why shouldn't they? It's a good life to do good things, to live in the church, to preach, to lead worship, to have influence, to be a good steward and be paid; but is it possible that we could be misguiding our believers that unless they go to seminary, unless they are a part of occupational ministry, that they are not advancing the Kingdom? Is it possible that more Asian Americans are going to seminary to gain a career and social status, rather than submitting to a call for a lifetime of sacrifice? Is it possible that Asian Americans are flocking to the seminaries because we do not provide enough discipleship and mentoring in our churches?

About David Park

Christian 2nd-generation Korean American; Atlanta Georgia; more details to come.

2 responses to “Asian Pastor: A White-Collar Profession?

  1. Elijah

    This is a hot topic for me. I was a pastor until two years ago, and struggled with the distinction between profession and service. I have a friend who has been in and out of ministry. He recently took a position at a prominent church but sees it as his “job” just like any other job out there. He still sees his real ministry as being outside of his church position with family and friends. I don’t know if it’s so easy to make that distinction, but he’s trying. I’m not sure what to make of it, but if it works for him and his family, that’s great. He doesn’t do it to legitimize himself, but more to make the distinction that everyone’s a minister. A position in a church is just another job.

  2. Peter ⋅

    This is the most interesting article I found in this blog so far. Excellent point was raised to question if “pastor/minister” should be considered as a professional. Most young Asian American pastors seem to think that they are professionals. I disagree.

    As an ordained pastor, I just want to say that we should come out from the illusion that our job is professional. As this article pointed out, it is the discipleship that makes a person into a pastor, not the seminary education. Seminary education came into its place to raise the level of education. Some pastors go further and get their ph. d. More educatin is great. But I personally don’t like it when people address pastors as “doctors” because they have a ph. d. I don’t mean to offend them, but the way I see it, aren’t they asking people to respect them because of their education? Just what does ph. d. have anything to do with discipleship, which is the mark of a Christian leader?

    I agree with Elijah who stated that a position in a church is just another job. Now with that in mind, every pastor should not fall into the trap of thinking that their job is a white-collar professional job. Church members and the society will continue to make us think that we are professionals. Let them think what they want, but we have to think about this. Does Jesus want pastors to become “professionals”? Was Jesus himself a “professional”? He was called a “teacher” for sure, but it was definitely not a “white-collar” job. He never got the education. He didn’t have contract or salary. He didn’t have any benefits. I would say he really didn’t have a job. He just served on daily basis. One of his disciples, Paul, followed his footsteps. Even though he was called “apostle”, he never let it get into his head. He even refused to get paid from the church. That’s the kind of thing we need to see amongst Asian American pastors.

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