Second culture is the wife

The parent-child is a relationship paradigm not a metaphor. The parent-child dynamic is the most frequently used metaphor to describe the relationship in immigrant churches between the first and second generation. The immigrant generation is the parent and the next generation is the child.

However the parent-child dynamic is not a metaphor. A metaphor compares two distinct entities whereas the parent-child dynamic describes a fundamental reality of immigrant churches. The children of the first generation make up the English-speaking congregation. Paternalism begins when the children of the immigrant congregation are born. As the kids grow, the paternalism hopefully fades. After a number of years, the Americanized congregation becomes less marginalized and matures into adult status.

The husband-wife relationship is both a paradigm and metaphor. But there is a real metaphor present. It is of husband and wife. The husband-wife relationship describes both the fallen and ideal dynamic between congregations in a multi-cultural church. In an unhealthy church, the first culture is the abusive husband who lords power over his much younger wife, the second culture. In a healthy immigrant/multicultural church living by "born-again" culture both husband and wife have equal status but complementary roles, working as team for the kingdom.            

First culture leads. Every church has a first culture. It is the dominant ethos of the church. It doesn't matter if it's a mainstream, multi-cultural, or immigrant church. Identify the de facto leadership of the church and you'll find the first culture. If your decision makers are middle-aged white males, then this is your first culture. If your decision makers are foreign-born grandmothers, then this is your first culture. Even if your leadership team is diverse demographically, a first culture is still present and active. It is often the voice of the most influential person combined with the cultural tradition and origins of the church.

Second culture follows. Every church has a second culture. It is the subordinate ethos of the church. A church may have multiple second cultures. Regardless of the number, all second cultures have one thing in common: they follow the first. Members of the second culture support the goals of the first. Being second means going last. Being second means your language is spoken afterwards. In a bilingual service, you are the last to understand.  Being second means being an afterthought. English-speaking ministries in immigrant churches are second culture. In a Chinese immigrant church, the purpose of the English ministry is to support the Chinese-speaking ministry. This is not a moral statement; it is not right or wrong. This is the design of immigrant churches - they are designed to reach immigrants not their children. By contrast, immigrant and minority groups in mainstream churches are the second culture.

First culture is the husband. The first culture is the husband. He sets the agenda for the church. He determines the destination, charts the course, and leads the church on the journey.

But biblically speaking, a husband does more than this. A husband focuses on the needs of his wife, he sacrifices himself on her behalf, and loves her as he loves himself. The picture is the first culture placing the second culture ahead of himself. This is a high calling - both in the church body and actual marriage.

Second culture is the wife. The second culture is the wife. She complements her husband. Biblically speaking, she is equal in status with her husband but her role is to follow not to lead. Like many wives, the second culture struggles with feelings of inadequacy.

Biblically speaking, a wife's role is to submit to her husband. She cannot act out of entitlement. Her husband is her head as Christ is the head of the church.

Second generation churches are planted because wives are ready to leave their husbands. At this point, the metaphor fails because new, culturally-specific churches are vital for the Great Commission. And one advantage of Asian American and other second generation churches is they allow the second culture to become the first (minority groups are often relegated to second culture in mainstream churches as well). Pastor Ken Fong writes how his Pan-Asian church was birthed out of a Japanese immigrant church. The first culture sacrificed its identity in order to allow the second to prosper and expand.

I wonder if many conflicts between first and second generation in immigrant churches could be resolved by fully embracing this marriage paradigm. Just as in marriage, both parties must change. Perhaps we have these conflicts because we don't see how marriage overlaps into important areas of life and because we have a low view of marriage.

A successful English ministry does not mean a successful marriage. A successful marriage is a union. It is harmonious and loving. Most growing English ministries in immigrant churches are not successful marriages. First and second cultures each do as they see fit. Husband and wife work independently under their respective visions. They share the same roof but not the same lives. It is two separate churches who share the same space. I don't know if its completely a bad thing but it certainly seems to fall short of the Apostle Paul's vision of church unity.

Is born-again culture the key to a successful marriage? The founder of our church, Tom Chow, coined the term "born-again culture" to describe a spiritual perspective on culture that transcends any specific culture. In a healthy Chinese church in the U.S., it is neither Chinese culture nor American culture that dominates. The first culture leads by submission and the second culture follows in submission. This is a healthy marriage paradigm. One small example of how Tom applied this is in bilingual services, he would speak in English and have it translated in Chinese. He put second culture first. Not always but sometimes. Our church has made great strides in putting second culture first. We serve Chinese food and pizza for lunch. Our leadership meetings are conducted in English. Our elder/minister meetings are relationally-oriented. There is no paternalism among decision-makers towards the second culture.

How to be a good husband: The Grecian Jews in the first century church were second culture (Acts 6:1-6). The Hebraic Jews were first. The Grecian widows were being overlooked in the distribution of food. The first culture ceded power to the second by appointing deacons. They sacrificed control in order to build up leadership. The first culture did this without neglecting their primary duty - prayer and ministry of the word.

That's what a good husband does. He focuses on his unique role and gives responsibility to his wife to support the overall ministry in her unique way. Acts 6:7 implies the kingdom of God expanded as a result of this successful marriage. Equal status but different roles. A good husband puts the needs of his wife first.

How to be a good wife: Proverbs 27:15 says "A quarrelsome wife is like a constant dripping on a rainy day." I'm a crappy wife. One of my greatest failures in ministry (and life) is being argumentative and difficult. It is so easy to give in to second culture complaining. I whine about being overlooked, protest being second-class, moan, and belly-ache. It is so easy to feel sorry for myself and sit around being the victim as an excuse not to change.

There are certain realities I need to submit to. As a second culture member, my role is to respect and submit to the authorities that have been placed in my life. As we do this willingly and joyfully, the kingdom of God will expand.


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