Reforming church, culture and our city

Reforming church, culture and our city

Posts Tagged ‘exodus

The Second Generation Leadership Diaspora

with 8 comments

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