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How do you define church?

Before I address the question from the subject line, let me state this: I am not quite sure how the intersection of church and Asian-American culture can really exist in the same sentence. I feel as if I’ve killed off some brain cells pondering this question.

steepleHow do you define church?

Can we come to a clear consensus as to what church is so that we can then explore the context of church and faith from an Asian-American perspective?

When I spoke with Daniel So yesterday I began to wonder if our perspective should be the church focusing on Asian-American awareness and cultural issues or if it should be used as a way to compliment American culture at large from a third culture mindset, as Dave Gibbons discusses in his book The Monkey and the Fish: Liquid Leadership For A Third-Culture Church.

Should we be defending our right to gather as Koreans, Chinese, Vietnamese and Hmong or rather should we be reaching out to other Asian cultures and inviting them to begin the process of being a third culture church? Can we be critical of the American church if we don’t first look to engaging other Asian cultures within our church settings first?

Again, the question to ask first is, how do your define church?

About Dave Ingland

13 responses to “How do you define church?

  1. Dave,
    Great question. We often talk about the fact that for early Christians the church was a community you belonged too rather than a place that you went once a week. Maybe that would change some of what you are grappling with here. I also thought that you might be interested in some of the articles from our recent MSA Seed Samplers on Majority Future and Suburban church. You can check out some of the articles here

    • Christine: If people could effectively relate the theological perspective that the church was intended to be a community of Christ followers–not a destination for entertainment and having selfish needs met–maybe people could come to know Christ and want to follow him as well.

  2. bwojcik

    If the Nicene Creed is correct, and I believe it is, the church should be a place where people gather around the gospel and the sacraments and other unimportant distinctions should be laid aside.

  3. daniel so

    Dave — Thanks for asking some great questions. I apologize if I was responsible for the killing of any of your brain cells!! 🙂

    I’ll echo Christine’s comment above — the church is not a building or center for distributing religious goods & services; we are the church.

    Church is people, and everyone comes from a cultural background. There is no “culture-neutral” person. In that sense, any honest discussion of church must include a discussion of our ethnic/cultural identities as well.

    Embracing our God-given identities (and, in many cases, allowing God to restore and heal them) — including our ethnic/cultural backgrounds — and discovering how that helps us join in God’s mission in the world is a very important part of what it means to be the church.

    For example, in our small, predominantly Asian American church community, many of us grew up feeling alienated because of our sense of being “neither/nor” (not quite fitting in 100% with either Asian or American culture). As God restores and redeems our lives, though, we have begun to see that our pain can become a gift — instead of focusing on the frustration and alienation, we hope that our experience of liminality will lead us to be more empathetic towards those who are suffering (whatever their background).

    • Pastor So: I’m actually going to use your reply to springboard to the next topic. For now, I’m curious about your comment on the pain we as Asian-Americans feel being seen as a gift. Any possibility that the pain endured as being a cultural misfit is really the result of our inner self rather than the spirit that indwells within us? Could it be us Asians being overly sensitive or seeking to be recognized as being equal to white, Anglo-Americans?

  4. Hi,
    I like the questions. I like Daniel’s comments.
    I’ve been living 11 years as a Brazilian-Canadian christian in Canada. I’m sure the heavy-weight can speak with all the social theory behind them, but I’ll write here my 2 cents.
    Yes, a person will have a certain ethnic identity. This person will also have a story and a History. Similary, thinking collectively, groups will have a History (a ‘collective consciousness’). This is part of what they are.
    Ethnicity is a way of categorizing that we do more or less easier. The problem gets even more complicated when we begin to throw in other categories! Church traditions, political views, affiliations, etc.
    I suppose that when we think about (local) church – in this debate, a grupo of people of different ethnicities – we must thrown in all this: the ‘multicultural’ ( whatever that is ) view of the neighbourhood where the church/group is, which is embedded often in a larger ‘multicultural’ view of the country.
    In my case, I came to the conclusion that I’m Canadian and Brazilian at the same time (whatever that means). My quest when I put my Brazilian hat is to deconstruct Christianity and the inherited categories from North America and Europe. Brazilians must develop their own theological thoughts – of course, in conversation/cooperation with other nations. But only when christianity makes sense to Brazilians will it be meaningful.

    • Gustavo: You mentioned that: “only when christianity makes sense to Brazilians will it be meaningful.” I have heard this resonated throughout much of the Asian-American gospel community as well. However, how much of this is truly God working in our individuality and how much of it is really us working in our *own* reality and selfishly wanting more credit given to us and our ethnicity? Not a criticism, just me thinking out loud 🙂

      • (Dave, I like your question too)
        My 2 cents: I think that in the fabric of our identity is our language, our culture, our experiences, etc. Much, if not all, of our concepts and categories and constructs arise from our culture. That is, Gustavo can only conceive the world with the categories that he learned. I think that an ethical identity preceedes a judgement of applicability. That is, the fact that I’m Brazilian (even when in Canada or the US) is by itself not good or bad. What I meant to say was that I think that to speak seriously about Christian theology and church, the ethnicity in question must construct their experiences and ‘exercise’ their theology with their own categories. Otherwise it will be meaningless. That too, I think, happens before anything. 🙂


  5. Oh, yes, going back to the question: what is church? Falling into the trap of oversimplification, I would say that church is people of Christ together.

  6. Cliff


    That’s a great question. One that I pose in my church as well.

    My church is a Chinese Church with a mix of first and second generation. It seems we are very well at reaching the first generation of Chinese. When it comes to the surrounding community (which is made up of mix culture and race), we seem to be not as intentional.

    • Cliff: I’m curious if your Chinese congregation would embrace other cultures if they came and worshiped with you. May be not being intentional in reaching cross-culturally is actually intentional for the context of your ministry?

  7. jadanzzy

    church is anywhere with any group of people when, in the name and remembrance of Jesus, meals are eaten together, laughter is commonplace, prayers are lifted, songs are sung, tears are shed, scripture is wrestled with, wisdom is flatly shared, the poor (literally) are defended, the oppressed (literally) are liberated, repentance is embraced, forgiveness is expressed, and silence is practiced for God to speak.

    none of these things need to happen all at once.

  8. ella

    thanks, i got some idea for my school assignments

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