The Shape of Chinese Ministry in the Next Few Decades

When I was in high school in the early 90s, Japanese was the language to learn. Given Australia’s proximity to Japan in the Asia-Pacific region, and given the economic and technological leadership that Japan had provided the world in the previous decades, it was the obvious choice.

Now, Mandarin Chinese is the language to learn. On the 100th anniversary of the birth of modern China (see Xinhai Revolution), China has eclipsed Japan and almost every other nation to be the global and economic powerhouse in the world. In the sci-fi futuristic film Serenity, the common speech is a combination of English and (bastardised) Mandarin Chinese. This is not so hard to imagine now that China is on the ascendancy and the U.S. is on the wane. Who knows what the world will look like in 50 years?

So I’m writing as a bit of a ramble, but not in any sense of being Chinese and feeling pride about it. In fact, China’s ascendency can be somewhat of a worry, since there’s no Christian worldview that undergirds its morality (unlike the post-Christian West), and the influence of Christians in China, though they number millions, is a shadow of their influence in the West. In other words, I worry that the growth of China in the world stage is not happening with any checks and balances that even a post-Christian worldview can provide. That’s a matter of prayer.

What I want to ramble about is Australia and Chinese ministry in Australia over the next few decades. In a conversation with RICE director Steve Chong, former Deputy PM John Anderson commented that the importance of a ministry like RICE, with its networking of Asian churches, lies precisely in the ascendancy of China in world influence, along with the strategic placement of Australia as a nexus between East and West in the Asia-Pacific region. And so I wonder if churches in Australia have thought about Chinese ministry in light of that.

My impression is that many churches are hopping on to Chinese ministry and perhaps even working with Chinese churches in order to reach the growing migrant and international student population flooding our shores. But most, as I understand it, see it primarily as meeting a current need. Rather, I think the tide of world events should make us prayerfully think about Chinese ministry in terms of the future. If, as John Anderson predicts, Chinese influence is only going to gather momentum both in the Asia-Pacific region and in the world, then doesn’t it make sense to invest heavily in Chinese ministry in order that Chinese Christians can be placed in positions of leadership and influence in the secular world both here in Australia and in China? If Australia, geographically and politically, as a nation bordering the East and West is going to be strategic for this next phase of development, then doesn’t it make Chinese ministry in Australia even more important, not just because of the needs now, but because of the possibilities in the future?

I have no idea what this might look like in detail but here are just some general initial ramblings:

  • More genuine partnerships need to be forged between Chinese churches and Aussie churches; between the RICE network and other movements and networks.
  • We need to raise up the next generation of Chinese leaders within the church, especially those who speak or are willing to learn Mandarin.
  • Strengthening weak and under-resourced Chinese churches, rather than just taking away the best of their leadership in order to serve Anglo churches, may actually be an important strategic move for the next few decades, as bridges to the Chinese community and the key influencers there are more likely going to come from Chinese churches than Anglo churches.
  • Australian-born or -raised Chinese who are part of Chinese churches ought not feel defensive or ashamed about their churches. Rather, they ought to see the opportunities advantages that lay  (perhaps dormant) within their churches. In other words, I’d love some to decide to stay in Chinese churches not out of personal preference but out of a desire to be strategic in where they serve.
  • Allowing Chinese congregations in Anglo churches which are growing and outgrowing other congregations not just to play ‘second-fiddle’ but actually to take the lead and drive the ministries of the entire church has got to be a consideration, though it might be met with resistance.
  • We need to give existing Chinese churches a vision to reach beyond their own ethnicity, especially to cross into other minority cultures, in order to allow God’s blessing to them to overflow to others.
  • Promoting and investing in Chinese (language) theological scholarship both within Asian seminaries and Western ones.

Okay, enough of my rambling. What are your thoughts? I’d genuinely love to read some interaction along these lines.

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About Pete

I am a child of God, a husband, a father of four children, a pastor, and a church planter. I live in Sydney Australia and live to see Jesus made famous in this city and be the only God people worship.

Posted on October 10, 2011, in Church, Ministry, The city and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Hi Pete

    Initial thoughts I might expand on later.

    Distinguish approaches btw students and migrants.
    Role of mission agencies eg OMF
    Role of Anglo church in reflecting local community not necessarily with a monoculture to increase mission effectiveness.

    Good topic and keen to see other thoughts.

  2. I like your thoughts, and want to affirm people staying in their church for ministry reasons, growing leaders fluent in Mandarin and building stronger partnerships.

    But to help engagement, and keen to keep reflecting on the issues, I have thought a bit more and wanted to expand on some thoughts (in no particular order):

    1. The local church (I think Anglo church is a bit rude to the many ethnicities in most churches – though I understand the logic of the shorthand) can help reach a class of Chinese people/migrant with the gospel who may not choose to attend a Chinese church (e.g. those looking to learn/improve their English, those keen to get an authentic Western/Australian experience through attending a church etc).
    In our church (though we have an ABC pastor – which reflects our suburb) a very effective ministry has been had by a few retired/older Chinese ladies who wanted to help out and serve more than they were doing, so they took a gospel decision to leave their own church.

    2. I found that some stages of life (e.g. University) are very strategic to build bridges between Anglo/Chinese churches through common ministry experience of members (and expect a long tail on this – e.g. in 20 yrs there will be many more Pastors from the two groups who went to uni/college etc together), and also to achieve the goals of Christianising the future Chinese leadership (here and there).

    3. All churches (including Chinese churches) should probably be sending churches, eg willing to send people to mission, other churches (both generic and ethnic-specific), and seminaries to see the gospel grow. But ethnic Chinese with language ability and cultural sensitivity are uniquely placed to serve in many ways that others cannot. It would be incredible (in a good way) for RICE and other like-minded movements to see many people brought not just to church plant Chinese ministry in Australia, but also to service in Chinese ministry where the Chinese people are around the world.
    Many “Anglo” churches are also weak and underresourced in trying to do their mission (which many times is a very broad and challenging one) – see below – and I know many who work and pray very hard to see the gospel grow in very difficult terrain.

    [On reflection, the next two points may be explanations of “resistance” though it is hard to tell… but the points are driven from my conviction through many conversations that most older members of churches want to see whole communities come to Christ, but are sometimes unsure about the “tactics”, and sometimes wonder what is being lost when churches change.]

    4. A cultural difference I have had to work through with my wife is partly the idea of church. Growing up in an Anglican church family, I have always looked at the immediate neighbourhood as the key mission, with the aim for whoever is in the neighbourhood to be reflected in church. (At the moment that has me thinking about which predominant groups in my part of SW/West Sydney are not in our church or catered for by another church). The model is that the church reflects God’s people in that local community, and tries to foster a concern for the immediate neighbours of the church (building and members). Dad even taught me of the Anglican minister being among other things, responsible to God for his (and his church’s) efforts to see the geographical parish come to Christ – not a bad concept to build a ministry from. My wife has a different background and is used to a Regional church, with a different focus, and where generally the members come from more suburbs and travel further, based on a common community of interest/ministry focus. I don’t know if the different types of church talk and think through these concepts as much as they should, and consider how the “focus area” of their ministry shapes direction.

    5. With the rise of the ABC, I expect Chinese churches in Australia to go through the same pressures many local churches currently feel, though perhaps faster. In the past 30-40 years many churches have faced the pressure of two generations of “post-denominationalism”, “informal church” and massive ethnicity changes in their local areas. The Anglican way of doing church was stable for pretty much 400 years since Cramner’s prayer books, and has now two generations of adults who have experiences of church vastly different to all the generations before. This has made it harder for young parents to settle in “more formal” family congregations, and stressed those who while loving the gospel growth miss many things of the old way that have gone as part of bringing in the next generation.
    I don’t quite know what the parallel would be for the Chinese churches, but I have a feeling that the tension will be around how to manage both a gradual ageing of the non-English congregations, and keeping the non-Chinese speaking generations of Chinese church parents in the church as they move into adulthood.

  3. Perhaps Australian churches (of all stripes) could learn some things from the church in Mainland China? They seem to be doing not a bad job of evangelism, at least.

  4. Hey Pete.

    Great post. Totally agree.

  1. Pingback: Resources for Intercultural Ministry - Face to Face Intercultural

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