Reforming church, culture and our city

Reforming church, culture and our city

Posts Tagged ‘missional

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.


Rethinking the face of the unchurched

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Stetzer in his book on Breaking The Missional Code has some useful thoughts on how we can be thinking missionally in reaching the unchurched. It’s important to realize that our culture and the landscape of our cities have changed. Thinking missionally begins when we ask, ‘What is the profile of the people we are trying to reach?

Firstly, we need to understand who are the unchurched in our city? What do they look like in our city, schools, universities and marketplace?

  • If you’re a worker in the marketplace, what is the face of the unchurched? The same holds true if you’re a student or parent.
  • What are the religious backgrounds of the unchurched around you?
  • What are the questions the unreached around you are asking?
  • How do the unreached around you understand spirituality, God, church?
  • What do unreached around you do in their spare time?

Did you know that in our city, there are 70,000 Hindu’s, 161,000 Muslims, 153,000 Buddhist, 1.2 million Roman Catholics, 600,000 who have no religion, and 428,000 who remain unstated?

Secondly, we need to understand the changing ethnic face of our city. The ethnic diversity of our city now means that there isn’t a homonogeous cultural group across our city. There is no longer one culture in our city, and every culture needs to be exegeted for the gospel. Thinking missionally means:

  1. Understanding people groups we are reaching or might want to reach i.e. the ethic composition of your locality and their movements in our city. The ABS 2006 Census information is a useful resource
  2. Understanding population segments of the people we might want to reach i.e. common experiences that binds people together in our city. E.g. second generation ABC’s, factory workers, restaurant workers, North Shore professionals, victims of crime, single mum’s with young children etc. These are the tribes in our city that we might want to reach or are already reaching through our existing churches.
  3. Understanding cultural environments of the people we might want to reach, because people are not just bound by their language and common experience, but by their geographical environment which often brings them together. E.g. apartments in Balmain housing Sydney university Mandarin students, Korean professional families living in Newington, Sri Lankan’s in Wentworthville etc.

Written by eugenehor

August 2, 2008 at 4:19 pm

Coffee musings: God & Godlessness …

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Was sitting in a coffee shop at Rhodes on my day off reading Bernard Salt’s The Big Picture: Life, Work and Relationships In The 21st Century. This is definitely a must read for those wanting to reach our city, engage culture and plant churches. Bernard Salt, if you aren’t aware is an Australian economist who advises corporate Australia on consumer, cultural and demographic trends.

One of the things he points out is that Australia is not the god-fearing nation it once was. In the 1901 census, less than 1% of Aussie’s said that they had ‘no religion’. 100 years later that has risen to 18%. I looked up the recent 2006 census at the ABS, which points out that 3,706,550 people said that they had ‘no religion’ out of a total population of 19,855,288. That’s 18.6% of the Australian population who believe in absolutely nothing. The number could be actually be higher given that an additional 2,223,957 people state that they have no religious affiliation, and most people unthinkingly tick the census box that aligns with their childhood religious affiliations. At the very least 30% or one-third of the Australian population have no religion. Personally I believe it’s higher as the vast majority of people who call themselves ‘Christians’ don’t actually belong or go to church on any given Sunday.

Take the Anglican church as an example from the 2001 NCLS survey on church attendance. Only 177,700 (11.7%) of those calling themselves Anglicans in Australia actually attend church on a weekly basis, even though 1,341,103 people called themselves Anglican. In fact, the NCLS survey points out that weekly attendance in 2001 would be about 1,660,000 for Anglican, Catholic and Protestant churches. This equates to 8.8% of a population of 18,769,249. As I have often said, we live in a post-Christian culture.

Bernard raises the question of “what do you think happens when a society moves over 100 years from a position where almost everyone is a ‘believer’ to a position where the majority believe in nothing?” His answer is simple and honest. If the majority of people are no longer convinced of life after death, or if they no longer believe in divine accountability or judgment, they will begin to focus on the present, and live for the here and now. He says that, “the interests – and pleasures – of the individual would rise and replace the interests and well being of the broader community, which he points out has been the story of the second half of the 20th century in Australia. In other words, in our culture there has been a move towards an individualism that doesn’t just focus on the now, but is primarily concerned with our own personal pleasures and comfort, or as Bernard puts it, the flourishing of a culture of ‘high consumerism and self-gratification’.

I love the way he puts it,

“By 1987, Hollywood would deliver unto us a philosopher who encapsulated a bold new way of thinking. The messianic Gordon Gekko was a champion of, rather than an apologist for, a virginally pure and commercial form of hedonism. Gekko’s message was simple, ‘Greed is good.’ In less than a decade, Gekko would send forth four of his finest female New York disciples, to advance the noble cause of wantonness, in Sex and the City. And verily they did gather up the poor, the lonely, the downtrodden, those in desperate need of designer shoes, and offer then hope and a way forward” p.47

Hedonism he points out is the new religion in our cities which places self and lifestyle above everything else. It is living by the mantra that says, ‘if it feels good do it’. And Hedonist seek relief from their inner torment in those dens of self-gratification – our shopping malls, our luxury good stores, our “bulky goods stores, where you can hear wailing and gnashing of teeth, ‘I want that apartment and I want it fully furnished right now.’ And after they are spent, they rest.

Living in post-Christian Sydney, it’s important for us to realize as missionaries in our city, that this is our mission field.

Generation Next …

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Last last week I stumbled upon a useful report titled, “How Young People View Their Lives, Futures and Politics: A PORTRAIT OF “GENERATION NEXT”. Put out by the PEW Research Center for People and the Press last year in the US, I think it’s a must read not just for those of us in Youth ministry, but those of us who pastor churches if we are to be missional in reaching people. While the survey was done in the US, it would be fair to say that youth culture in Sydney is not far behind. Living in post-Christian Sydney (where 4 in every 100 people are Bible believing Christians), unless we understand the tribes we are trying to reach for Jesus, we will not speak their language or or engage them in culturally relevant ways.

Here are some of the report’s finding’s of this particular tribe … ‘Generation Next’. You can download the detailed report by clicking on the link above.

Generation Next is made up of 18-25 year-olds (born between 1981 and 1988).

  • They use technology and the internet to connect with people in new and distinctive ways. Text messaging, instant messaging and email keep them in constant contact with friends. About half say they sent or received a text message over the phone in the past day, approximately double the proportion of those ages 26-40.
  • They are the “Look at Me” generation. Social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace and MyYearbook allow individuals to post a personal profile complete with photos and descriptions of interests and hobbies. A majority of Gen Nexters have used one of these social networking sites, and more than four-in-ten have created a personal profile.
  • Their embrace of new technology has made them uniquely aware of its advantages and disadvantages. They are more likely than older adults to say these cyber-tools make it easier for them to make new friends and help them to stay close to old friends and family. But more than eight-in-ten also acknowledge that these tools “make people lazier.
  • They maintain close contact with parents and family. Roughly eight-in-ten say they talked to their parents in the past day. Nearly three-in-four see their parents at least once a week, and half say they see their parents daily. One reason: money. About three-quarters of Gen Nexters say their parents have helped them financially in the past year.
  • One-in-five members of Generation Next say they have no religious affiliation or are atheist or agnostic, nearly double the proportion of young people who said that in the late 1980s. And just 4% of Gen Nexters say people in their generation view becoming more spiritual as their most important goal in life
  • Asked about the life goals of those in their age group, most Gen Nexters say their generation’s top goals are fortune and fame. Roughly eight-in-ten say people in their generation think getting rich is either the most important, or second most important, goal in their lives. About half say that becoming famous also is valued highly by fellow Gen Nexters.

Written by eugenehor

July 28, 2008 at 3:59 am

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