Book Review: “Invitation to Lead: Guidance for Emerging Asian-American Leaders” by Paul Tokunaga

Paul Tokunaga is national coordinator for Asian American Ministries with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. He has also served as regional director for southeast region of InterVarsity, working in predominately white and multiethnic contexts. He is one of the authors of Following Jesus Without Dishonoring Your Parents and was both a writer and an editor for Faith on the Edge. Paul lives with his wife, Margaret, and son, Sam, in Atlanta, Georgia.

This book, handed to me by a supervisor at work, had me interested and intrigued. Never before had I seen a book about Christian, Asian-American leadership, so I was excited to see what Tokunaga had to say about the difficulties and blessings that come with this type of ministry. Tokunaga did have much to say about the topic and was clearly well informed about the subject matter. This book also received rave reviews from many other people on Amazon and other blogs. Unfortunately, I was left shaking my head at some points of the 207-page book because of his writing style, but I was thankfully able to glean some helpful tools from the book overall.

As a leader in an Asian-American ministry at UCLA, I was caught off-guard by the content of this book at first. I began reading wide-eyed and prepared to apply all that I would learn from Tokunaga especially considering his long resume in campus ministry. What I found instead in the first 100 pages was a personal biography of Tokunaga’s experiences in leadership—sometimes bordering on arrogance—with a sprinkle of Scripture here and there. I found it disheartening that personal stories were used in lieu of biblical ones and that most of the stories did not serve any deep purposes but to re-illustrate a point. I was unimpressed by things that he clearly hoped his readers would be impressed by: how he became the InterVarsity campus leader as a sophomore in college, led in many multiethnic settings, how his parents were opposed to him being in the ministry, etc. Though he did do a better job later in the book (after the first 150 pages or so), I do believe that he relied too heavily on his InterVarsity experiences rather than giving more tangible biblical examples. Tokunaga also relied heavily on Asian stereotypes, basic generalizations that I witness Asians breakingdown everyday on campus. I was a little disappointed that he, an Asian-American leader, would perpetuate these stereotypes even more in his book on leadership.

Even still, Tokunaga was good at surfacing issues that effect Asian-American ministries and Asian-Americans in ministries. He thoroughly captured certain aspects of Asian culture that are often misunderstood. By explaining stuff like the Asian “shame culture” and certain mannerisms, Tokunaga showed how culture might affect faith issues. He was able to articulate some of the historical backgrounds and misconceptions that come with Asian Christians while also hitting on multiethnic interactions. Though I disagree with some of his doctrinal statements about leadership, he was very methodical about breaking down the discrepancies that occur between Asian and American Christians. Overall, I felt that Tokunaga’s style of writing and use of biographical support was a bit too off-putting, but it may be helpful and relevant to some Asian-Americans in leadership. And for an area of Christian leadership that is rarely written on, it’s not a bad start.

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