LA Church Planting: Part 4: An Interview with Ambassador Network’s Ray Chang
Ray Chang is a church planter and trainer with the Evangelical Free Church of America. With Peter Lim and DJ Chuang, he leads Orange County, Calif.-based Ambassador Network, which works to launch a movement of multiplying, multiethnic and missional churches, both locally and globally. Chang also planted and leads Ambassador Church in Brea, California. As a Korean immigrant growing up in the Korean church followed by internships and leadership positions in the evangelical church, Ray Chang has learned a lot about what it means to invest in leaders. Below, he shares about his church and Ambassador Network and some of those leadership learnings.
Why did you start Ambassador Church and Ambassador Network? What needs were you trying to meet?
I came to the States when I was 6. And when I came to America back in the ‘70s, the Asian-American community was relatively small. One of the challenges of growing up in an ethnic environment has always been, “How does Christ transcend culture?” So often, my culture was the thing that defined me as a Korean or as an Asian. So growing up in that context, serving in a Korean church, I felt frustrated because one of my biggest challenges was that I wanted to learn. I wanted to become a better pastor, I want to become a better leader. But because of my cultural context, there were a lot of limitations to that, whether it was a lack of mentoring or lack of discipling. So I left the Korean church, joined the Evangelical Free Church, and became an intern at EV Free Fullerton. And my eyes were just opened.
I saw ministry of the same gospel being applied in different ways, and it extended my opportunity to live out my faith. So that experience kind of, planted the seeds of, “Hey, what if we had a church that would be for all people?”
After that experience at Fullerton, I got a position as an associate pastor back at a Korean church in Washington, D.C. I remember looking at all of the different embassies and flags of the different nations. So that’s where the name Ambassador Church came from, II Cor. 5:20–that we are Christ’s ambassadors.
And so that became the foundation for planting a multi-cultural church in the D.C. area back in 1996. We had 11 people meeting in our apartment. We really didn’t know a lot about church planning, but in a year and a half we grew to about 150.
We were reaching all these young adults and young couples and college students who had left the ethnic church. They were frustrated in the same ways I was frustrated. We felt the need to be a church that would represent all people, all nations. So the mission statement of our church became “to make and equip disciples of all nationalities as Christ’s ambassadors to all the nations.”
The second transition came in wanting to see how I can now help guys like myself. So at EV Free Fullerton where I served as outreach pastor, we started an Ambassador Fellowship, which was basically a training ground for five seminary students. That eventually became Ambassador Church.
The greatest concern I had was, “Okay, if we’re going to impact the nation, we’re going to have to impact young leaders.” There’s a whole segment of young leaders that will not be impacted, especially in the ethnic context. How do we pick these next second-generation guys and really invest in them? So while there’re a lot of national networks for church planters, a lot of these guys we’re discipling don’t have access to these kinds of networks yet. They have no point of relationship or connection. So it’s really hard for a young, second-generation Korean-American or Hispanic to go into some of these mainstream ministries. I felt like, “Why not take what God has given me, in this city, and see it as a benefit for the kingdom rather than as a curse?”
Growing up, I always struggled with my sense of identity. And I think a lot of kids, especially ethnic Americans, are asking, “Who am I? Am I Korean? Am I white? So I wanted to say, “Look, there’s a whole segment of young leaders out there that are not being ministered to or developed for leadership.”
Ambassador Network really came out of that desire to say, “Look, we want to be a place, a bridge” and connect these young leaders into some of these other things that God’s doing. We want to provide support, development and leadership for some of these kids.
What are you learning about pouring into leaders as a result of the work you’re doing with Ambassador Network and Ambassador Church, as well as your previous experience as a young leader?
Leadership development starts with a person, not a program. I think the No. 1 principle of any leadership development is assessment. You have to understand someone’s calling, their background, who they are. And that’s the uniqueness of the person. It’s like a football player. You can draft a quarterback and make that guy fit the system, or you can look at the player and say, “Okay, how can we make this guy succeed?”
Nobody is where they should be or where they will be. We are all in development. And part of our job as leaders is to help get leaders to go where God wants them to go. So one of the things that I say to a lot of young leaders is, “Look, my job as a pastor is to help you get to where God wants you to be.” And I am that transitional person. So I want to lead you and encourage you along that path. Really in some sense, that’s what discipleship is.
A support system is non-negotiable. One of the things that I’ve found among a lot of young leaders Is that more than the finance tools or a monetary investment in their church, what they need is people investment, life investment.
Young leaders have always told me that they would rather have somebody invest in their life for the long haul versus a paycheck or donation.
It’s about life investment. My relationship with all the guys that we train is an ongoing coaching life relationship. What I never had as a young leader was that life coach who would stick with me all the way through. So I sort of live life with the philosophy that I want to do for someone else what was never done for me. It’s about the person, the individual. It’s about the disciple. We need the models and the learning—that’s all good—but the information is not what’s going to make planters succeed. It comes down to how we invest in them. Leadership development is about life. It’s a long-term commitment, a marathon instead of a sprint.
Ray Chang is one of 75+ leaders speaking at Exponential West Oct. 7-10. Check back tomorrow for part 2 of this interview with Ray Chang, as he talks about the challenges of multi-ethnic ministry and how church leaders can practically overcome these obstacles to plant and grow multi-ethnic and multi-cultural churches.