Reforming church, culture and our city

Reforming church, culture and our city

Archive for the ‘Chinese Church & English Ministry’ Category

My friend Andrew’s exegesis of “Confucianism” …

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A terrific series of short blogs on understanding confucianism by my friend Andrew. This is a must if you are a leader in the Chinese church or a missionary working in an Asian setting. As an English pastor in a Chinese church, to work missionally means exegeting the culture we are both working with and reaching. The complexity of this in a Chinese church is that we are working with OBC’s (Overseas Born Chinese) while trying to reach ABC’s (Australian Born Chinese). Clash of cultures, values, philosophy of ministry? You can expect it. As Christian leaders in ministry we are to not just teach the gospel; we are to not just guard the gospel; we are to also point out the lies and what is false around us (Titus 1:9) in both OBC and ABC culture.

If you want to better understand the OBC mind and the culture that often implicitly shapes their thinking, have a read of Andrew’s blog on confucianism by clicking here.

You can find Andrew’s regular blogs at Andrew’s Space on my blogroll.

I was encouraged at RICEvolution!

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I was encouraged seeing the face of the next generation of ABC (Australian Born Chinese) Christians at RICEvolution on Saturday. The challenge was for them to start a seeing the great need for Jesus in their high schools, and to see themselves as missionaries for Jesus reaching those they school with.

In my preparations to speak to this group of young and enthusiastic group of high schoolers from Chinese churches across our city I discovered looking through the ABS on ‘schools’, that there are 491,000 young people in our High Schools in NSW (just over 3,100 schools). Given that only 96% of the population are unreached, it would be fair to say the same for those in our high schools. That would mean 471,000 young people in our high schools are lost to Jesus. To put this in perspective, on average only 4 out of every 100 young people in our high schools school are Bible believing, Jesus love Christians. We need to encourage the planting of missional kingdom communities for Jesus in our high schools led by Bible believing, Jesus loving high school students! I believe these young people are the generation who can and will radically transform our high schools and city for Jesus!

Pray for those who came to RICEvolution, that from this group will come great things for Jesus in our city and schools. More than anything else pray that from this group will come young people who will give their very lives to serving Jesus and his mission.

What Do You Do When You Disagree With Your Church Leaders?

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Every so often I get asked by people about what they should do if they disagree with their church’s leadership (or deacons or elders whatever tradition you come out from). One very useful way to approach this is to take an open hand/closed hand approach.

You have to work out what is an open hand issue and a closed hand issue for yourself. Open hand issues are those things which are negotiable and are a matter of style, preference and wisdom. Closed hand issues are those things which are not negotiable and are issues of biblical authority. That being said, whether an issue falls into one of these categories also depends on a church’s leadership and beliefs (even tradition in some churches) … and also an individual believers beliefs. In our church, there are several things which we consider closed hand issues which you’ll see below – which under God we believe is Biblically faithful. Whether those who church with us accept that is another matter – but as I have been saying these days in our baptism/confirmation/membership class – this is where our English senior leadership sits Biblically on these issues, so if people want to church with us, serve with us, then they have to at the very least be comfortable with our leaderships position on these closed hand issues, which we believe are faithful Biblically (if you can’t agree with it, then you’re better of churching in another place where you’re more comfortable).

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That being said, in our church we allow for differences in how we give expression to what we believe to be the Biblical teaching on issues such as women in leadership e.g. we affirm male headship and we believe that Jesus’ senior leaders/elders should be men, but that doesn’t mean that women cannot publicly teach or lead, because even as they do that, they are doing this under the visible headship of those of us in senior leadership consistent with 1 Cor.11.

We are a church governed by the Word, united/centered on Jesus & his atoning work, led by Jesus’’ senior leaders who are men, equipping all God’s people for His ministry and mission. Some matters for me are closed hand issues and others are open hand issues in leading our church. But as believers we also need to work out personally under God as we study the Scriptures what are closed/open hand issues for ourselves.

So in answering the question, I think whether a person stays and continues in ministry with a church would depend on whether having studied the Scriptures themselves and sought counsel on an issue, they can agree with their church’s position on the issue or issues in question. If you are wondering whether you should leave your church, you have to work out whether you consider it a closed hand or an open hand issue. My take is that if it’s a closed hand issue for you, then it’s highly unlikely you should stay as it will lead to you working against your conscience Biblically, and it will also eventually lead to a disrespect for your church’s leadership. Instead of working with them, you’ll end up working against them.

Luther at the Diet of Worms

Luther at the Diet of Worms

As Luther would say when confronted and challenged – “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason — I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other — my conscience is captive to the word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. I can do nothing else. God help me.” Ultimately our supreme standard and authority is the Word of God – and I would ask nothing more of believers than their obedience to it, which means that after carefully study of the issues in question they have to decide whether it will be a closed hand or open hand issue for them, and act accordingly. Submission to a church’s leadership does not mean by passing the authority of the Scriptures because ultimately a church’s leadership is to be submitted to as long as they are faithful to the Scriptures.

It’s always important to remember that our unity must be around God’’s revealed truth: closed hand vs. open hand; some issues are a matter of conscience and preference, so we need to be discerning and generous in our relationships; we need to always let the Scriptures speak and inform our decision making when it comes to issues at church and how we do church.

The Second Generation Leadership Diaspora

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missionalOver the last 9 years I’ve been an advocate for English ministry within the Chinese church. From encouraging emerging ABC (Australian Born Chinese) and ARC (Australian Raised Chinese) leaders to return and serve in English ministry in the Chinese church, to sharing my insights with English speaking leaders on how to work well with Chinese leadership by adopting a ‘missional’ strategy i.e. seeing themselves as missionaries and working with a missionary paradigm. While my views on the need for English pastors to adopt a missional strategy hasn’t changed, I am beginning to wonder if this alone will stem the exodus of English pastors from the Chinese church. As I’ve traveled and surveyed the landscape of the Chinese church it doesn’t take a genius to work out that only a handful of English pastors actually ‘last’ in the Chinese church whether Australian Born Chinese or North American Born Chinese. Many leave jaded, disillusioned, angry and cynical. Others leave to plant churches, take up new church positions or join para-church ministries.

Speaking to Chinese leaders the refrain I constantly hear is the need for more English pastors (because of the constant exodus of English pastors from the Chinese church). Alongside that I also hear the most common solution put forward, that if there were better dialogue, communication and understanding between them and their English pastor all would be solved. Would anyone care to introduce me to an English pastor who has served in a Chinese church long-term because there was better dialogue, communication and understanding between him and the Chinese leadership of the church?

exodusThe reality is that there is an exodus of English pastors from the Chinese church. It’s happened in North America and continues to happen. And the only reason why we haven’t seen it here in Sydney is purely because we haven’t got as many English pastors in the Chinese church. Here in Sydney, I can count on one hand the number of ABC’s and ARC’s who have been English pastors serving more than 5 years in the same Chinese church. It’s too early to tell what will happen with our English pastors serving in the Chinese church in Sydney. But what I have observed is that Chinese churches in Sydney are not too different from Chinese churches in North America. Will we see an exodus in the years to come? Only time will tell.

There are many reasons why English pastors leave the Chinese church. I have met godly faithful English pastors who have been treated so badly that I have often wondered whether those in leadership in their church are believers. But I have also met Chinese pastors who have had to deal with culturally insensitive, proud, self-serving English pastors. Sometimes the breakdown between English pastor, and OBC leaders or OBC senior pastor in the Chinese church is a godliness issue that stems from our human sinfulness. But for many others the issue is not a sin or godliness issue.

Different Paradigms For MinistryWhile godliness issues lead to the breakdown of relationships, much of the conflict, disagreement, differences also stem from different values in ministry between English pastor, and OBC leaders or OBC senior pastor. It’s not so much a godliness issue, but a breakdown caused by two different paradigms of ministry. Some people call it a cultural issue. I think it’s more than a cultural issue, which is easily solved. We’re called to bridge our culture to be all things to all people to win them – this also applies for English pastors who are called to do the same within the Chinese church in their relationship with both OBC leaders and OBC senior pastor. This has been at the heart of what I have often called adopting a ‘missional’ mindset as an English pastor working in a Chinese church. Relational cultural issues are easily solved. But differences in values in ministry, differences in paradigms of ministry are much more difficult to solve. Ministry cultural issues are not so easily solved. It should be obvious that in the Chinese church there are effectively 2 different cultural groups: English speaking Chinese who are locally born and raised, and Chinese speaking overseas born and raised. And these 2 different cultural groups because of their culture will have different values and paradigms for ministry. An English pastor can be all things to all men in his relationship to OBC leaders or the OBC senior pastor in the church. But what happens when there is a clash of values and paradigms for ministry with his OBC leaders or the OBC senior pastor in the church?

Does being all things to all people to win them or working missionally with OBC leaders or the OBC senior pastor mean putting aside his values and paradigms for English ministry? Should an English pastor sacrifice his values and paradigms for English ministry and adopt their values and paradigms for ministry? It’s not a matter of telling an English pastor to be humble, stop insisting on his rights and consider others better than himself. Because what of his relationship to those under his care in English ministry? Isn’t he also called to be missionally faithful to them? Left or rightIsn’t he called to be all things to all people in meeting the needs of the English congregation as well? Isn’t he called to pastor those in the English congregation in a culturally relevant and appropriate way, with values and a paradigm that will meet the needs of English ministry? What the Chinese church needs to realizes is that there are different values and paradigms for ministry between Chinese and English ministry.

I can sum it up best in a conversation I’ve often had with English pastors when I’ve said, ‘on the one hand, English pastors are employed to grow the English ministry of the church. On the other hand, the expectation is that the Chinese church also expects the English pastor to grow the English ministry the ‘Chinese’ way by adopting their values and paradigms for ministry.Driving handsThe reality is that if the Chinese church and her OBC leadership think they can build and grow a better English ministry than their English pastors, they should do it; and they should also stop lamenting that their English pastors are leaving the Chinese church. Or they should let their English pastors do their job, their way.

What frustrates me is that every time I hear of an English pastor leaving or there is a fall-out, the Chinese church laments the lack of perseverance of its English pastors; it laments the short-sighted view of its English pastors; it laments the lack of cultural sensitivity of its English pastors. Yes, there might have been lack of patience, love and godliness, even sin on the part of both parties. But if the ‘exodus’ problem lies with the calibre of English pastors, then from my perspective there must be lots of English pastors who are lacking in perseverance, short-sighted, and culturally insensitive. Because there’s more leaving the Chinese church, than there are those coming back and staying on in the Chinese church. Maybe the exodus of English pastors is saying more about the Chinese church and it’s leadership than it’s English pastors. These days I am finding it more and more presumptuous to think that what we need are better English pastors. One might just as well argue that perhaps we need better Chinese churches, better OBC Chinese church leadership and better OBC senior pastors.

I used to say that what we need are English pastors who are able to think and work missionally with Chinese leadership in the church. I still believe we need that. But what I have never said is that while there is a need for a missional horizontal relationship between English pastors and their Chinese OBC leadership and senior pastor; there is equally a missional horizontal relationship between English pastors and their English leadership and congregation.

Old vs new What people don’t realize is that these two missional relationships are often totally at odds, because they represent not necessarily two different theologies, but two different approaches to ministry, two different values in ministry, two different paradigms for ministry, two different perspectives on how to do ministry.

What happens when an English pastor’s missional relationships clash? On the one side, this is what English ministry values … on the other side, this is what Chinese ministry values. What happens when as an English pastor your missional values for English ministry goes one way, and missionally what is expected of you and the English ministry from the Chinese leadership goes the other way. It’s not just a matter of godliness, perseverance, short-sightedness and cultural insensitivity. In fact, at that point, when an English pastor finally leaves having dealt with these two missional differences/conflict, they leave because it’s the most godly thing to do (rather than fight); it’s perseverance in that they are continuing to persist in English ministry, just not with that particular Chinese church; it’s not short-sightedness because they are looking to pioneer, develop and grow healthier second generation English ministries, and for some multi-ethnic churches; it’s not culturally insensitive – culturally insensitive perhaps to the Chinese church and her OBC leadership, but culturally relevant in reaching and growing a second generation ministry with similar values and paradigms for ministry.

Raising Questions Why does the Chinese church continue to lament the loss of their English pastors when they keep driving them out? We don’t need understanding, we need real change if the Chinese church is to keep it’s English pastors. The bottom line as I see it, is that if the Chinese church and its leadership think they can better run and grow English ministry than their English pastor, then let them do it. If not, they should empower and free their English pastors to do what God has called them to do in a way that will best reach and grow the second generation.

Everytime an English pastor leaves the Chinese church, rather than lament the loss of English pastors, perhaps we need to lament the state of the Chinese church that has led to the exodus of it’s English pastors. Yes, there are issues of godliness and sin that has led to the exodus of English pastors from the Chinese church. Often the issue involves ungodliness and sinfulness on both parties. But added to that is the issue of the differences in values and paradigms for ministry when it comes to growing and developing English ministry. Being missional as a pastor to an English speaking congregation is often at odds with the missional expectations of the Chinese leadership in a Chinese church.

I used to think, ‘what was the problem with … when he left the Chinese church … was it his inability to work cross culturally … was it his lack of perseverance …’ Having met English pastors in North America, godly, effective, mission minded ones, good pastors who have left the Chinese church, more and more I’m asking, what’s wrong with the Chinese church? I have served in my church as an English pastor for the last 9 years. My friend Ying one of the longest serving ABC pastors in the Chinese church has been in his church just over 15 years. I said to him recently, that perhaps it’s not the pastors who have left who are the abnormal ones, but those of us who have stayed. Maybe, just maybe those of us who have stayed are the anomaly and not those who have left. Or maybe, for us, it’s just a matter of time.

growthAs I reflect on the state of the Chinese church, I am optimistic, not because I think things will change, but because it might just be God’s way of growing his church. The diaspora of the early Christians led to the spread of the gospel, the planting of churches and the crossing and breaking down of cultural barriers as new Christian communities were formed. The diaspora of English pastors from the Chinese church might actually not be a bad thing in God’s economy.

Written by eugenehor

November 5, 2007 at 6:34 am