Why An Asian-American Doctor of Ministry Program?

By Ben Shin Jan. 22, 2013 1:25 a.m. Christian Education, Church Life, Culture, Ministry and Leadership


            I am very excited to announce that Talbot School of Theology will be launching a new Doctor of Ministry track in Asian-American Ministry in June of 2013. This is a 2-week residency that will run from June 3rd to the 14th, 2013. This track will be taught and guided by some of the most experienced leaders, instructors, and practitioners in Asian-American ministry. The track is geared towards anyone who pastors or leads Asian-Americans in a church or parachurch.

            The big question that is often asked is “why an Asian-American Doctor of Ministry program to begin with?” Shouldn’t seminary training or a bible college degree be enough? These are excellent questions and there are many valid reasons  for this program. First, most seminaries in America are typically geared towards preparing student to serve in more Westernized churches and ministries. While this kind of training may be helpful in learning one’s theology, learning how to preach, studying the Scriptures, and grasping church history, there are some important cultural aspects that are missing. The Asian-American church is very different from Westernized churches. The people are different. The languages are different. The theology is different. Even the humor is different. But most all, the way that Asian-Americans do church is pretty different as well. For this reason alone, a program such is this at Talbot should be valuable. Our goal here is to re-train pastors and leaders in order to empower them in their cultural context of ministry.

            A second reason is that many Asian-American pastors and leaders are very tired and discouraged. They are desperately in need of renewal. The original intent of a Doctor of Ministry program was to help pastors who have been out of seminary for a few years to get some re-tooling and renewing for personal learning and growth. After serving in an Asian-American church for many years myself, I knew that I needed some refreshment and renewal for my own soul. Being a part of a group of fellow co-laborers who are together for 3-5 years will create a supportive accountability group that should aid the person in his ministry.

            A third and final reason for the track is to bring training to reform the Asian-American churches in the future. This will hopefully happen through the training and mentoring of leaders so that they can be equipped to train and mentor future up and coming leaders. The whole goal of this is to raise up the next generation of pastors and spiritual leaders. This includes healthier and better equipped leaders who will be able to affect the Asian-American community for the future.

            We have gone to great measures to bring a team of stellar teachers and practitioners to be a part of this track. These instructors understand both the culture and ministry through years of experience in serving the Asian-American church. First, we have Reverend Cory Ishida, the founding lead pastor of Evergreen Church San Gabriel Valley. He has served at the church for over 35 years and he brings over 40 years of ministry experience to the track. Next, we have Dr. Sheryl Silzer, a Japanese-American missionary who has served in Indonesia doing Bible translation for many years. She is also a cultural expert in Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism and continues to train missionaries in cultural awareness. Our next instructor is Reverend Michael Lee who is the lead pastor of Young Nak Celebration Church, the largest English speaking Korean-American ministry in the United States. He is a former church planter, an amazing preacher, and denominational leader for the Korean Presbyterian Churches of America (KPCA), one of the largest Korean-American denominations in America. In addition, we will be having Mr. DJ Chuang, who works as a strategy consultant for the Ambassador Network for Multi-Asian and Multi-Ethnic Churches. He is probably the most well connected Asian-American in the United States through Twitter, his blogs, and Facebook. His vision is to bring support and resources to pastors and leaders. Finally, I will be the directing faculty mentor for the program. I have served as a pastor, professor, and parachurch leader for over 20 years. I hope to bring not only experience and encouragement, but also guidance and mentorship to all the participants in the cohort. My main focus has been in working closely with Korean-American churches in the United States.

            I am thrilled of the prospects of this new Doctor of Ministry track. Talbot School of Theology has supported this new program fully. I believe that it is a unique program and a first for any Evangelical seminary in the United States. We hope to limit the number of students for each residency to 20 so that we, all of the cohort instructors, can have a personalized and focused emphasis on mentorship with each student. Please inquire further for more information at http://www.talbot.edu/dmin/asian-american/. You can also apply online at the same site. Hope to see many of you as a part of this program this June!


  • Tim Jan. 24, 2013 at 2:46 PM

    Could it not also be said that Filipinos, Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, etc all have different languages, different humor, different culture, etc. If you are trying to resolve differences each Asian culture should have it's own Doctor program. There is as big a difference between these Asian cultures as there is between east and west. I might even suggest they have a bigger unity in western church in that they all have pulpits and pews (except in some persecuted areas.) I just got a picture from my brother in law giving a leadership seminar in Myanmar. Sure enough, there were pulpits and pews in the church there.

    Does this effort reinforce assumptions driven by mens traditions that believes cannot grow to overcome these relational barriers with the power of Christ and His indwelling Spirit?

    Are we not reversing God' design for His body when He said "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus"?

    Does not this separating system of church life nullify this declaration of God?

    Are believers showing to the world that we have no supernatural power to resolve, relish, and rejoice in relationally unifying the multi-diversities that God has brought to mankind?

    I know the solution is difficult in view of years of tradition and flesh preference acquiescing systems, but should we not struggle to remove these spots and wrinkles in the bride of Christ?

    Is it not possible for Talbot to take the lead in transforming the house hold of faith from it's seeking to build the institutions of men to building the kingdom of God among men?

    Is there a student at Talbot who can address my questions if the teachers are maxed out?

  • Matti Jan. 25, 2013 at 12:17 AM

    I had same kind of questions as Tim above. Shouldn't we train leaders who believe in the culture-transforming and unifying power of the Gospel? Paul seemed to labor with these matters for example in Romans 14-15.

    I find it curious that especially Asian-Americans pastors are tired and discouraged. Do you think there is something about the Asian culture that causes this?

  • Tim Jan. 25, 2013 at 10:22 AM

    Tiredness and discouragement is not unique to Asian-American pastors. These symptoms are common to every Pastor who sees themselves as the ones to do 99% of the expression of truth when the saints gather, and where they do not see the saints with whom they minister as capable to mutually strengthen their soul. Look at any advertisement for the multitude of Pastors Conferences and Retreats. They all address this symptom but will not address the systemic cause - God never asked for Pastors, Elders, Overseers to maintain a perpetual dependency ministry. But that is what happens in a dynamic dominated by one way communication rather than "one another" communication Heb. 10:24,25, Col. 3:16, Eph. 5:19-, etc.

  • Ben Shin Jan. 25, 2013 at 4:47 PM

    Thanks Tim and Matti for your good questions and comments. I do want to take time to respond to some of your thoughts and concerns.
    I will answer this in 2 parts because my answer is so long.

    As for the question regarding having separate Doctor of Ministry programs for each Asian culture, the point is not necessarily to resolve the differences but rather to appreciate and celebrate the different cultural expressions of faith this side of heaven. Revelation 5:7 and 7:9 both show that there will be representation from every tribe, tongue, and people which demonstrates that there will be diversity there with the unified worship of Jesus the King. Sometimes the West doesn't notice, realize, or celebrate this difference because of the dominance of its ideology. The program is just an attempt to see the different parts of Christ's body within the greater mosaic of God's work.

    In terms of the power of the Gospel and of the Holy Spirit, I totally agree that that is what will unite us as believers. I assure you that Talbot as a whole and this program specifically is committed to this and will continue to instruct its students according to the Scriptures. We definitely do not follow the systems of the "world" nor do we use secular programs or manuals in guiding its students on how to do church or the Christian life. We are completely committed to the inerrant Word of God. And we certainly believe that it is the Gospel of Jesus Christ which unifies and breaks down the barriers between all people groups. But we need to see that the communication of the Gospel also needs to be contextualized in order to be effectively heard and applied. This is the basis for all evangelism and missions. And I do believe this applies as well to doing ministry with believers. For example, the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 speaks about "becoming all things to all people in order to win some." He is clearly speaking about the power of the Gospel but realizes that he must meet them where they are at first in order to connect them to this supernatural power. He does so to the Jew, the Greek, the weak, and those under the Law. All of these are different contextualized approaches. Our program is yet another means to communicate and contextualize the saving power of God through His Gospel to the different cultures and people of God.

  • Ben Shin Jan. 25, 2013 at 4:48 PM

    Here's Part 2
    One quick side not to Tim regarding your quotation of Galatians 3:28. This passage is often quoted to suggest that there is an erasure of culture, class, and gender roles once a person enter into relationship with Christ. My insight on this idea is that the context of the passage actually does not teach that but rather is emphasizing the aspect that no matter one's culture, class, or gender, that all can have access to Christ. This was big in light of the situation at Galatia in which some possible Judaizers were teaching contrary to this. Also, even though a person enters into relationship with Christ, they still maintain their difference and uniqueness (i.e. male and female are still uniquely different from one another on many levels). Hope this makes sense.

    Matti, as an Asian-American myself who has served in the Korean church for the last 23 years, I've seen a lot of the exhaustion that the Asian church often brings that is unique. I was actually born in the the U.S. and went to all white churches for the first 25 years of my life. But when I joined the Korean church for example, they told me that I needed to do something called morning prayer. To my surprise, this meant coming to church by 5 a.m. and praying for a few hours before starting my day. And this lasted for an extended duration of time! One of the noticeable differences of the Asian church and its culture is that there is no sense of what we would typically call "boundaries." This is a foreign concept to many who serve in this context and is considered largely a Western concept. Today as a professor in seminary, I see many of my Asian students either falling asleep or drinking high volumes of coffee during my lecture. They have just returned from morning prayer. I think there may be a few more things that Asian-American pastors and leaders do that may increase their tiredness. But I also agree with Tim that all people in ministry are tired and even exhausted. This comes with the territory.

    These are just a few preliminary responses to both of your comments. I think you guys asked some very good and valid questions and it truly did make me think. Thank you for this! I hope my responses might have brought a little insight and light to what we''re trying to do with our program. Blessings!

  • Matti Jan. 28, 2013 at 5:43 AM

    Ben and Tim, thanks you for your interaction. I'm a part of multicultural church and sometimes the cultural issues bring challenges. Understanding the Asian mentality is helpful.

  • Tim Jan. 28, 2013 at 9:28 PM

    "We definitely do not follow the systems of the "world" nor do we use secular programs or manuals in guiding its students on how to do church or the Christian life. We are completely committed to the inerrant Word of God."

    I did not suggest worldliness. I suggested men's traditions that are trumping God's Word.

    "But we need to see that the communication of the Gospel also needs to be contextualized in order to be effectively heard and applied….And I do believe this applies as well to doing ministry with believers."

    So are you saying that to "contextualize" means to establish and reinforce gathering systems where believers prefer to only meet with mono-cultural dynamic?

    Does "becoming all things to all people in order to win some" mean we must acquiesce to believers personal meeting preferences that nullify instructions and identity function established in God's Word? How can mono-cultural gatherings communicate and contexualize our baptism into one body and answer Christ's prayer that we all be one as He and the Father are one?

    "This passage is often quoted to suggest that there is an erasure of culture…"

    I don't think I referred to erasure. I appealed to submitting our cultural preferences to the preferences of Christ where we refuse to allow cultural differences justify separation or distance in relationship, but rather embracing and sharing with those differences, just as we are gifted differently and are called to share and exchange maturities so all can be built up to the fullness of Christ.

    "…but rather is emphasizing the aspect that no matter one's culture, class, or gender, that all can have access to Christ."

    Certainly this is true, but this is only half baked. The finishing of the baking is that since we all have access to Christ we all have a need to receive from each other what we receive from Christ. We have no basis to separate but to connect with full dependency on Christ.

    'Also, even though a person enters into relationship with Christ, they still maintain their difference and uniqueness (i.e. male and female are still uniquely different from one another on many levels). "

    So how does a cultural difference or uniqueness justify separate gatherings, collections of only similarities to serve Christ? It cannot. It only serves our flesh, our comfort, our ease, our preferences. This is a great hindrance to believers learning the full depth of mutual submission, washing one another feet, looking out for the interests of others, etc.

    I know the great swell of popularity and support of highly educated experts is on your side. Your scriptural support is not cutting straight. Please cling to the Word, not traditions or swells of interest. Perhaps you have some other scripture that spells out mono-cultural ministry in communities set up by God to give perfect opportunity for demonstrating the full scope of the beauty of Christ's body in action.

  • Tim Jan. 28, 2013 at 9:31 PM

    Please share some of your challenging cultural issues for dialogue. Does your fellowship speak openly about these issues?

  • Brian Feb. 10, 2013 at 7:23 PM

    This is a good discussion. There seems to be an unavoidable tension between unifying believers of different cultures within American churches and "contextualizing" our ministry to those cultures. Wisdom dictates that we have to contextualize what we do in order to minister to different cultures, but the "catch 22" is that uniting different cultures into a "culturally diverse" church is sacrificed. It seems like both are necessary, but one inevitably suffers at the expense of the other.

    How do we solve this problem. Is it solvable? Is it simply the nature of ministry in today's America where cultures seem to be assimilating less?

    An Asian-American Doctor of Ministry program would be in support of "contextualizing" what we do in order to have the biggest impact on that community. This is a noble idea. But the program should take into account Tim's concerns. I had the same concerns when I first read Dr. Shin's blog post. Who knows, maybe a future course for the program could deal with how to seek diversity, or build community with other cultures...or with how to reach out to other cultures within a church's local area. just thinking out loud...

  • Tim Feb. 11, 2013 at 2:02 PM

    Thanks for jumping in Brian.
    "Is it solvable?"

    Yes. I believe solution lies in developing the kind of love for one another God asks for. The solution calls for a replacing the institutional orientated love that flows from crowd, and platform oriented gatherings where the quality of relationship is severely diluted down by a focus on what do I get; with believer participation oriented gathering where intimacy and mutuality are expected with a focus on what do I contribute. Now the gathering is driven by all the unique cultural elements of those present, rather than a preset niche driven by hired experts needing to gather enough attenders to pay their salary. The solution requires 3 prerequisites from Hebrews 10. "Let us draw near" + "let us hold fast our confession of faith" + "let us consider how we can spur one another on to love and good works". This is not required for the platform driven crowd oriented meeting of God's people. It is required for the solution.

    I don't think cultural separation and segregation can ever be said to be "contexualization". When does contextualization mean that I only see a profitable meeting when only people in my niche are present, or when the expression is limited to my heritage comfort zone? From my understanding contexualization is communicate truth from God to man and man to each other. My understanding is that for this to truly happen, we need to come together, not segregate. Jesus contexualized himself across every boundary to connect directly in relationship. He is our example and our power source.

    I think the tension is between truth and traditions of men. Traditions of men often use proof texts to justify legitimacy and thus sound holy.

  • Brian Feb. 12, 2013 at 6:58 PM

    I believe you are on the right track. However, your answer assumes that the solution is simple and that the problem is not complex. Life is not math...difficulties cannot always be solved with simple formulas derived from a few scriptures.

    I was not implying that culturally segregated ministry is contextualization. Let me clarify what I mean by contextualization. I will not use "proof texts" but give an example of what I mean.

    I live by an ethnically Mexican community, most of whom exclusively speak Spanish. I am an English speaking Christian. Further, the culture I was brought up in is different than the Mexican culture. If I feel a burden to reach that community with the Gospel, then I should learn to relate to the culture and speak the language. Training would be helpful, maybe even necessary. A ministry program that would help me reach the Hispanic community would be a huge benefit. If I don't take these things into consideration, my church gathering will not have any diversity because no culturally Mexican person who speaks Spanish wants to come to my gathering in the first place. My church will have others culturally similar to me because I haven't considered cultural sensitivities. It would not mean that my aim was segregation within the Body of Christ. Again, the challenge is to be mindful of culture in order to be effective, while still working towards unity and diversity within the church.

    The issues you raise about "institutionally oriented" and "platform oriented" consumer-type churches is a separate issue all together. It definitely exacerbates the problem, but it is not inherently the cause of the problem.

    Your views are helpful, and in the right direction...but there is more to the discussion than you might think.

  • Tim Feb. 19, 2013 at 4:27 PM

    The solution is very simple. That is how aboriginal peoples with zero education, with zero examples put before them as to what to do, can do exactly what God calls for in His word. In a brief period of time, an aboriginal people group is going all over their island preaching the gospel establishing fellowships across great language and cultural barriers, even centuries old rivalries. (Torches of Joy) A verbal witness to the truth is all they need. The great equalizer is the power of the Spirit. The solution is also supernatural. It must involve the filling of the Spirit. Eph. 5:19 - tells us this is marked with "speaking to one another in psalms hymns and spiritual songs". Clearly this is a highly relational dynamic rather than a performance / ceremonial one. When we systematize dynamics that are the opposite of what God asked for, then a whole realm of other things God asked for become impossible, not just a little difficult or complex.

    Have you been in a simple gathering of believers where everything said was translated between Chinese, Spanish and English? We all sang the same hymns, just in our own language. I have. It was very simple and supernatural. It gives a whole new meaning to the spiritual gift of tongues (languages according to Acts 2) and interpretation of tongues. These gifts are essential in a gathering for the neighborhood you described. Our flesh cannot drive this. Only being filled with the Spirit can produce it.

    The complexity is clearly in dealing with our flesh and it's war against the Spirit. The American system of church, much of it handed down through generations as godly, is very flesh oriented. The clergy-laity division is carnal. Everything the church does flows through that bottleneck of tradition. I have wrestled with my flesh for 20 years in this system seeking to "throw off the things that hinder and the sin that so easily entangles so I can run the race marked out for me..." Most of the saints I was connected to in the pew or pulpit are enamored or mesmerized (addicted maybe) with this system. The scripture I showed them was really meaningless to them. It is amazing that the Spirit can work to some degree in that system. That's grace. But we don't want to continue in sin so that grace may abound. May it never be. He can work so much more powerfully when we walk in the Spirit rather than in tradition. We must persevere. We must compare what we have been told with the scriptures to see if its true. Acts 17:11

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