I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting lately as I step away from Trinity Life Church as one of its Lead Pastors. Planting and leading Trinity Life in downtown Toronto with Mike Seaman has been one of my greatest privileges in life. And the only reason why I had the courage to plant in a global city like Toronto was because of the influence and mentorship of Bob Roberts. Outside of my parents, Bob has had the greatest impact on my life.
Bob is a significant leader in the evangelical church and is leading the charge in pioneering global engagement between Christians and people of other faiths. Bob founded Northwood Community Church, a multiplying and multi-ethnic church in the suburbs of Dallas. He’s also known for many things like Kingdom discipleship, domain engagement, public-square, working with Muslims, planting churches, and global work in Vietnam and beyond. Check out his books on Amazon: (UPDATED)
Transformation: How Glocal Churches Transform Lives and the World (2006)
Glocalization: How Followers of Jesus Engage a Flat World (2007)
The Multiplying Church: The New Math for Starting New Churches (2008)
Real-Time Connections: Linking Your Job with God’s Global Work (2010)
Bold as Love: What Can Happen When We See People the Way God Does (2012)
Lessons from the East: Finding the Future of Western Christianity in the Global Church (2016)
Not many inner-city boys from immigrant families, like myself, have had the chance to be mentored and spiritually fathered by someone like Bob. So I’d like to share a few things from our personal conversations over the years that have shaped my thinking as a leader – in particular in the North American church.
If you have a similar background to mine, I hope these lessons will shape your thinking too!
1 \\ STOP THINKING LIKE A MINORITY.
I was coming on staff at Bob’s church and we were having lunch at Ying’s Cafe in North Richland Hills. I was struggling with my insecurity as an Asian American leader and questioning my ability to lead in a multi-cultural environment – in particular among anglos. Bob’s gentle rebuke cut like a knife. Or more like a blunt machete! He said,“Stop thinking like a minority!” He wasn’t asking me to forget about my cultural heritage or my Hmong identity. He was telling me to lead out of my privilege and identity as a child of God.
If you’re a leader with an immigrant background, there’s no way you can lead others into Kingdom mission if you think being a minority means being a victim.
2 \\ YOU WERE MADE FOR THE WORLD.
Bob and I were jogging around Hoàn Kiếm Lake in downtown Hanoi, Vietnam. We were discussing everything from Eastern Philosophy to Fareed Zacharia. We eventually sat down to catch our breath and Bob asked me, “Daniel, did you know you were made for the world?” This thought resonated with me so much because as a Hmong person I can’t point to a spot on a map where I can say that’s Hmongland or that’s The Republic of Hmong. As a Hmong-American, I now accept the privilege and responsibility of being a global citizen as well.
If you see the world as the context in which you live and work, you’ll naturally be inclined towards global diversity and a multi-ethnic ethos.
3 \\ YOU MAY EXPERIENCE THE MOST RESISTANCE FROM YOUR OWN TRIBE.
When I say tribe think denomination, tradition, cultural background, and even family. Bob and I had just visited a few museums in downtown Hanoi and were trying to catch a cab or something. I was explaining to him that I had some opportunities to “rise” in the ranks of my previous denomination, but I didn’t feel like they understood who I was and the vision I had. Bob explained to me that sometimes it’s our own tribe that will resist change the most. Often times when God calls us to do something for the Kingdom our tribe won’t understand it at first. In fact, other tribes might understand it before our own tribe will. And that might even cause more resistance.
Appreciate and celebrate your tribe. But you can’t let the traditions of your tribe prevent you from obeying the Kingdom call that God has placed in front of you.
4 \\ I CAN’T TAKE YOU AROUND THE WORLD IF YOU SHOW UP LATE TO MEETINGS.
I was on Bob’s staff for a bout a month. Life was hectic because of family issues and general disorientation from a rough transition. It was Monday morning and I forgot that there were 9:00AM staff meetings. At 9:00AM I received a text from the Youth Pastor asking me where I was. I was still casually driving to the church building. I picked up speed and got to the meeting as soon as I could. It was 9:15AM when I walked in and the meeting was well underway. After the meeting Bob pulled me aside and said, “I can’t take you around the world with me if you’re late for meetings.”
I was never late again.
I realized it then that you prove your character not in the big things, but in the small things – like being on time.
5 \\ STOP WORRYING ABOUT LIVING UP TO YOUR POTENTIAL. START OBEYING WHAT GOD TOLD YOU TO DO.
We were picking up some Vietnamese paintings that Bob had framed. I was sharing with Bob my sense of destiny and how I often worried about living beneath my potential. I worried that I knew more than what I was actually capable of doing and that I feared disappointing those who believed in me. Then in the most prophetic way this could’ve been put, Bob says to me, “Daniel, if I hear you talk about living up to your potential one more time I’m going to bop you on the head! Stop worrying about potential and just do what God is telling you to do!” From that day on I stopped navel gazing and began insisting that every action I took was rooted in the voice of God.
When you’re busy doing what God told you to do, you won’t have time to regret or to lack confidence.
(A picture of us at a missional leaders conference I founded.)
These are just a few lessons that I’ve learned from Bob in our time together. There’s more. But even if this was it, I’m forever changed as a leader and as a dreamer in the Kingdom of God.