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.