How to Fix the Asian American Female Pastor Dilemma

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New “PastoraLab” equips women in ministry who feel torn between their culture’s churches and their calling to lead.

When Janette Ok was growing up in Michigan, her family’s Korean church hired a woman to lead its English-speaking ministries. Seeing pastor Mary Paik administer the sacraments and send her congregation off with a benediction each week offered Ok “tangible evidence that despite what people said, women could and should preach and pastor.”

“It was this image that I really clung to during the drought of exposure to Asian American female preachers that I experienced for years afterwards,” said Ok, now a pastor and New Testament professor at Fuller Theological Seminary. “I did not see another one for years after we moved to California.”

Whether in California—home to the largest Asian American population in the country—or elsewhere in the US, few churchgoers see Asian American women behind the pulpit; less than 5 percent of American churches are led by women of color, according to the 2018 National Congregations Study. And even fewer see Asian American women pastors in predominantly Asian congregations.

Ok is one of the organizers of a new program aiming to change that. She wants to see more women like her lead in Asian American church contexts, especially if they didn’t have a role model like she did growing up.

The PastoraLab for Asian American Women Ministers, a partnership between Innovative Space for Asian American Christianity (ISAAC) and Fuller’s Center for Asian American Theology and Ministry, officially launches in March thanks to a $1 million grant from the Lilly Endowment.

The two-year cohort, designed to support Asian American women who have been called to the pulpit in Asian American spaces, was conceptualized by ISAAC cofounder and executive director Young …

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