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To Be a Franchise Player…

The following comes from a clip out of’s Daily Dime

It was roughly a month ago that we reveled in the some of the overt signs that Yao Ming believes in himself as a franchise player more than ever.

The evidence then: Yao’s willingness to joke and bang and make you believe, through his body language, that he’s no longer awed by Shaquille O’Neal, all of which came through on the night he rung up 34 points and 14 rebounds against Shaq and Alonzo Mourning in Miami.

The latest evidence: Yao’s very Americanized reactions to a couple of big baskets in a recent road win over the Clippers.

Which was your favorite? Mine was Yao pounding his heart with his right fist after an and-one bucket … but there’s also a popular video clip circulating online that shows Yao celebrating a crucial late turnaround jumper by bellowing: “You can’t [expletive] stop me.”

Count them as two more examples of things we didn’t see from Yao in his first few seasons.


I can’t help but wonder if this is a comparable motif to Asians working in American Christianity. I once asked around some non-Asians to see if they could think of any prominent Asians or Asian Americans at the forefront of Christian leadership and the best answer I got was Paul Young-gi Cho. His claim to fame? Building the world’s largest church in Seoul. But let’s be honest, we’re wondering if he’s gone off the deep end.

When I asked some Asian Americans the same question, I got a couple of quizzical looks. At the forefront of Christian leadership? Well, no names yet. But doing substantial work to our specific demographic, yes. There’s Ken Fong on the West Coast and there’s uh…lots of churches on the East Coast. And Paul Tokunaga has written a book on Asian American leadership…and uh…you said forefront? Yeah, uh…

No offense to the many pastors out there, but I was thinking to myself, so nobody plays in the big leagues? I mean the Red Sox pay top dollar for Matsuzaka, but Asian pastors are a dime a dozen?

So here’s this NBA player, 1st round, 1st pick (an absolute first for an Asian) overall in the 2002 draft– Yao Ming, and within three seasons (although he suffered a knee injury last week), is close to becoming what is considered a true franchise player, perhaps the most dominant center since Shaquille O’Neal, and perhaps the center in the West for the next forseeable decade, and here he is playing at the highest level of basketball. And he is being praised for reacting in Americanized ways–beating his chest, trashtalking with appropriate expletives. He’s being praised for shedding this passive, quiet, and let’s just say it, weak disposition.

I know the analogy of the church to the NBA isn’t a smooth one, I do. But what does it take to be a leader at that level? At the Rick Warren level, the TD Jakes level, the John Piper, Rob Bell, and Andy Stanley level? I understand, sure, the easy thing to say is that’s not our bag. We aren’t megaphones, we’re thinkers. We ain’t no dog-and-pony show, we are trying to do the real deal. This isn’t marketing, this is deeper than the megachurch phenomenon. I understand — you may not agree with their theology, valid reason. You may not like how church is commercialized, duly noted. You don’t like their preaching style, fine. I understand that…I can’t even say that I have what it takes to be on that level, but it just makes me wonder if we don’t enjoy banging in the paint enough. It makes me wonder if many of us just aren’t willing enough to pound our fists on our chest or just be a little bit aggressive with our speech and challenging our communities enough. Out of the legions of Asians pastoring across the country, not one of us stands out? and the last guy that comes off the top of a non-Asian’s mind is a guy whose biggest claim to fame happened what, almost forty years ago?

Because after all, Yao Ming was already a household name in China, he didn’t have to come here. And I don’t necessarily like his game, but I’m glad  that he’s here and dropping thirty points on Shaq. I’m glad to see one Asian guy dominate at this Western game. He’s just one guy. I would settle for one.  What does it take?

About David Park

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

13 responses to “To Be a Franchise Player…

  1. david
    thanks for the post. the hard thing, in ‘banging in the paint’ and pounding the fists is that IF an asian pastor could do that, it would be pretty downright painful since you’ll basically be criticized by asians and other asian pastors – both 1st and 2nd generation.

    humility is such a virtue in the asian culture that it’s clearly gone overboard that we now venture in false humility.

    some day, i’d just love to play ball with you.
    peace bro.


  2. djchuang

    There are more than 1 or 2 who are at “that level” but not mainstream. For instance, there are more than a dozen megachurches among 1st generation Asian Americans and among African Americans, but they aren’t known in the mainstream, which requires media attention and/or publications to get “known.”

    Aside from the ethnic churches, there are 2 influential church leaders (who happen to have Asian blood) that should be on your short list: Dave Gibbons and Gideon Tsang. (boy, that Asian culture is so dominant, I feel a little uncomfortable to even mention their names in public.)

    In a recent conversation with a church consultant (who knows more Asian American church leaders than the average mainstream Anglo church consultant), and he commented that great Asian church leaders are out there, but they’re “flying under the radar” and quietly doing their ministry, or words to that effect.

    So, all this to say, to get at “that level”, you’d have to reach a mainstream audience, like an NBA that reaches a mainstream audience, and (at least) 2 Asian faces have done that in Southern California, ministering to predominantly Anglo congregations: Francis Chan and David Chow.

  3. danny ⋅

    those big dog leaders named in the post don’t transcend race lines. only us asian-americans pay attention because we tend to assimilate into majority culture so defenselessly. td jakes, while popular among non-blacks, still has his primary audience among blacks. and after visiting northpoint and willow creek, i can confidently say andy stanley and hybels appeal chiefly to other whites. warren might be reaching beyond his race, but that authority is derived only after establishing saddleback. along these lines then for an aa pastor to make it “big time”, s/he would have to lead a megachurch that demands media attention.

  4. elderj

    Forget competing in the :major leagues.” The race is to the bottom, not the top whatever that means, and I would hate to see folks sell out more than they already are to wind at the game of American celebrity Christianity-ism. TD Jakes is only big because he’s making a splash, but he did what he does by being unashamedly Black and pentecostal. He is in no way mainstream and frankly doesn’t give a rip about whether White people like him at all. he’s popular and known nnow but he wasn’t always.

  5. e cho

    just call me scott padgett.

  6. pscrah

    Why are we trying to gain a name for ourselves in the “white” mainstream? Why does pastoring Anglos become the measure by which we are successful? It’s still a power thing. White American Christians continue to have power, so in order to get “in”, we need the affirmation of the white community. Maybe we need to rethink what it means to be an evangelical. Maybe we need new definitions that transcend American evangelicalism (i.e. – the white church).

    Anyway, my first post here. Just thought I’d drop in to say hi.

  7. Thanks Eugene, I would love to play bball with you someday. I just need to heal from my last game…and I agree with you, I think that an Asian pastor would be very much going against the grain in order to try something new, but isn’t that already the case with 2nd gen? Aren’t many of our youth and young adults venturing out? Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like many 2nd gen pastors are sticking too closely to the script that the 1st gen approves as opposed to walking out what is clearly a need in the community. It’s a shame that AAs are outperformers in a great number of other circumstances and yet working counter-productively in this funny niche of ethnic church.

    I find it very strange that many Asians assume pastors became pastors because they couldn’t cut it with a “real” job and they sort of, unconsciously (I assume), look upon ministries as otherworldly (in a negative sense) and pastors as poor examples of leadership. These are obviously poor and hasty generalizations, but they are not uncommon across the very demographic we are most invested in.

    While I agree wtih ElderJ and Pscrah that the point isn’t to sell out to get an Asian face in the celebrity Christian pantheon, perhaps what I’m really asking is why is there no foil for rising AA leaders at all? Perhaps this is a result of our lack of solidarity as Asians (we still heavily identify almost exclusively within our specific ethnicities) and regionalism since DJ notes AA leaders are on the rise but in certain locales and still quietly.

    What I am pointing is not that we should somehow manufacture celebrities, but simply that we either do not have a good way of working together to raise up leaders (i.e. you’ve never heard of the best Korean worship leader in Atlanta and moreso, I might not have either and I live here; but for some reason I can tell you that a few influential churches are led by a Stanley, Yousef or Bishop Long–and I haven’t even been to 2/4 of those churches); or AA leaders are simply not at a level that transcends current American evangelical levels of leadership.

    I understand we might not have the latter because we lack the former, but from where I sit, it appears that my African American brothers who aspire to leadership in churches have precedents historically to follow, to challenge them and to serve as foils for how to develop as leaders. They have prophetic voices that speak for them and for better or worse, create caricatures to those of the dominant majority. I just think that it’s ironic that Yao Ming has done that for basketball, but we don’t have nearly a comparable figure for us in evangelical circles. Wouldn’t our demographic wake up a little more and take the average Asian pastor even more seriously if all kinds of people were scrambling to hear what we had to say? Or is it that we don’t have anything interesting to say to earn the adequate amount of media attention that Danny says we would need?

  8. elderj

    omg soongchan rah posted on your site – ur big time now!!!

  9. Josh

    whoa, this is heavy. Coming from a 20-year old seeking older role models, you’re right, I haven’t found any big-time AAs to look up to. (Actually, I’m pretty excited that I found you all’s little circle of blogs here 🙂

    I wonder, is the unpopularity of AA leaders directly correlated with our culture of humility and “small footprint”? It might just be that AA leaders in churches are just serving in such a way that they don’t get noticed. Not that they aren’t qualified to be “popular,” it just doesn’t happen because of the circumstances. Just my thoughts.

    By the way, I just got back from Urbana and picked up “Invitation to Lead.” I haven’t started on it yet but I’d like to know if you guys recommend it.
    I also learned a lot about how cultures can do well to learn strengths from other cultures. Coming from an AA who does not intend to minister to purely AAs in the future, is it that we’re trying too hard to stay to an extreme? Do we have to “strictly stay away from American evangelism” or “totally embrace the loudness and boldness of Americans” to be “successful”?

    I totally agree, I want to see more AA leaders out in the league of the John Piper and Rick Warren. But I do also consider that I’ve been in this country since I was 9, haven’t gone to an AA church but for a few years, and currently attend an anglo-dominant college (VT!); I wonder sometimes if my views are more “Americanized” than most other asians.

  10. Thanks for the comment Josh.

    I highly recommend “Invitation to Lead”. It’s well-written and has helped me digest a great deal in understanding who I am as a person who stands between two cultures and generations. I hope you enjoy it.

    I think part of the problem in some Asian circles is that they are limited to serving the target audience: the immigrant community of a particular ethnicity. Therefore it is perhaps only now beginning to be possible for our generation to step in arenas that transcend that. Highly assimilated or as you say, “Americanized” leaders may have more opportunities for that, but they do that at the expense of speaking to their own kind. It’s not intentional, just a natural opportunity cost. In a previous post, there is a notion, that there are two different speeds and approaches to assimilation:

    It seems that we’re going to need a range of leaders to speak across different Asian groups and generations to create solidarity first before we can say someone is truly being Asian.

    But there is no simple short-term solution, as Pscrah points out, we are still defining our structures with association to those with power and influence, meaning that we will always ascribe preference to the Rick Warrens, Andy Stanleys, and Bill Hybels as being more authoritative than our own leaders. But we need more people from our generation, like yourself, to speak out and carve out our distinct voice.

  11. elderj

    Josh, Invitation to Lead is a good starting point. As a non-AA who finds himself somewhat unintentionally in ministry to AA’s I find that there are unique challenges and opportunities that AA’s face. I think it is important that AA’s have people to mentor and look up to as they grow, but also that they mentor and develop others who are not AA – people like me who need the wisdom and input of AA’s.

    josh it will be people like you who define the next generasian church and leadership.

  12. djchuang

    Josh, from my work with L2 Foundation over the past 6 years, we’ve found your yearning to be so widely prevalent from the 20-something all the way up to the 40-something for role models and mentors. You are not alone in desiring that, and I think what we’re learning is that we can have peer-based “mentoring” as we move together towards a Kingdom vision, and not be paralyzed for not having more readily-available mentors in our lives. It’s my dream that the Internet would be at least a way for us to virtually connect via words and skypecasts, so we can get further down the road than if we were isolated and apart.

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