Surviving and thriving the Asian church?

random-Asian-American-Church-picSurviving and thriving in an Asian church? It’s like pulling out teeth – it is painful. For those of us who grew up and have served within the Asian church we know all too well how difficult and messy it is. A snail moves faster than trying to change an Asian church and it is easier to walk through a swarm of African wasps than it is to navigate through the culture and politics of Asian ministry. Is it any wonder that most of us have opted out for the ‘greener’ pastures of non Asian ministry. Of course, from my observations, if we truly understand Rev 2,3 even these greener pastures will soon grow painful thorns and thistles.

Whether we like it or not we need to acknowledge that God still loves the Asian churches, warts and all. When Paul tells us that Jesus loved the church and will present her perfect and blameless on that last day (Ephesians 5:25-27) he wasn’t just thinking about the Non Asians and their nice white skins. When Jesus died for the church it wasn’t just for the nice pretty churches. Remember the Corinthian church? You can’t get more messed up than that church and yet Paul had no problem telling the Corinthians that Jesus continues to love the church and will one day present this church holy and blameless on the day he returns (1 Cor 1:4-9).

We’ve got to get over our hang up about the Asian church and recognise that even though it might be more preferable to pulling teeth than it is to minister to an Asian church, nevertheless someone has to do it, so it might as well be those of us who look Asian or at least those who like eating Chicken feet and are ok with taking our shoes off when we go to people’s places.  Beside, if Jesus hasn’t give up on her,  neither should we.

So given this, how do we survive and thrive the Asian Church? The simple answer is to think and act like a cross-cultural missionary! If we remember nothing else then remember this – Asian ministry is always Cross culture in nature. It has always and will always be. Forgetting or ignoring this has been the cause of so much unnecessary heartache and problems. I’m not saying that all our problems will go away. Far from it! We follow a crucified messiah and we serve a sinful church.  Rather,  I’m staying that many of our problems are self inflicted simply because we don’t realise that we are Cross Cultural missionaries. This was certainly true in my case. When I look back over nearly 40 yrs of ministering to my own church many of my problems were not because of the gospel. They were more self inflicted and came about because I thought I understood the culture when in fact I didn’t.

So with that in mind how do we survive and thrive the Asian church context? Here are a few simple tips from many years of failure.

a. Recognise that change is slow. Sometimes it can take many many years if not decades. Sometimes we may never live to see the change. We may merely be the ones who lay the foundation for others to bring about the change. Missionaries know this and understand that they are in it for the long haul. They have learnt to be patient and to think long term. We need to think and act likewise and be OK with it. Therefore be patient and long suffering.

b. Recognise that we actually speak a different language. I’m not talking about Mandarin, or Cantonese vs. English. Even when we both speak English I’ve come to realise, ever so painfully, that our different cultures means that we can mean very different things. As a result there can often be a communication breakdown that sadly leads to conflict.

Cross cultural missionaries spends years in language studies. This might sound dumb  but we need to do the same in our Asian Context. Even if we can communicate in English it doesn’t mean we are talking the same language. Therefore we need to spend time understanding what others are saying and learn to speak their language.

c. Recognise that different cultures value and do things differently and that’s OK. Often times these issues are not gospel issues so we need to be humble enough to eat humble pie and learn to value what they value and do things their way. I might not like it but I’m pretty sure Jesus didn’t like getting crucified either.

d. Recognise that I’m not here to be served but to serve and to give my life to them so that they might grow. We need to stop worrying about what they are not doing for me and to be more concerned about what we can and should be doing for them

e. It means recognising that ministry will often look pretty messy, indeed very messy but that’s life. In fact that’s ministry. So we need to learn to live and do ministry within the messiness of church life and particularly Asian ministry. If we can’t do this we will never be able to serve in any church.

f. It means recognising that while they might stuff me around, Jesus still loves them so I need to love them even if they do want to hang me on a cross.

g. It means the key to crossing a culture with the gospel is the CROSS of Jesus, nothing more and nothing less. The best cross-cultural missionaries are those who proclaim the cross and take up the cross of Christ in order to cross all cultures. That is a cross cultural missionary.

These are my thoughts. What are your thoughts?


16 thoughts on “Surviving and thriving the Asian church?

  1. Good thoughts Ying! I’d add only one other thing – don’t blog so late at night! Have a re-read of your opening paragraph and pick out all the grammatical errors 😛

  2. Hi Ying,

    I’m glad to have found your blog and have already benefited from reading your posts. I’ve subscribed to your RSS feeds and look forward to reading more bite-sized chunks of wisdom from you.

    In Christ,

  3. Ying, seeing my church as a mission field and myself as a cross cultural missionary implies to me that I should not be overly concerned by being served. And you affirm that thinking in point e (“It means that I’m not here to be served but to serve and to give my life to them so that they might grow.”) Sometimes I need to be served because I’m not awesome and perfect and I struggle to be a Christian. If my church doesnt serve me at all, then it seems to be like I’m only getting half the experience at church.

    1. Hi Tony.

      Great question. Let me offer a few thoughts.

      a. The people I have in mind are those who are wanting to serve but will only do so with certain conditions. I remember talking to one young gun who was invited to serve at a church. He laid down the following conditions – He wanted tenure, he wanted to be paid well (not super well, but paid appropriately), he wanted a position in which his office as a preacher was respected. He wanted this and that etc. When he told me, I slammed him in no uncertain terms. He reminded him of Jeremiah, of Amos, of Paul and of course Jesus. I reminded him of guys like Charles Simeon, and Whitfield and other great one’s in the history of the church. In short the people I was having a go at are those who are not prepared to take up the cross and serve the church

      b. Of course the leaders have their own needs, so who cares for the leaders? Philip Jensen in partnership with Tony Payne once wrote a small booklet called “Fellow workers”. It was written for Church committees. In one chapter called “Who pastors the pastor.” he argues that the congregation should be pastoring the pastor. As Philip helpfully points out, a key plank in the reformation was the “Priesthood of ALL believers”. The reformation did away with the hierarchy of spirituality and in so doing placed everyone on the same level as each other. Thus everyone was a priest before God and to each other. Sadly we have forgotten our roots here and in so doing we have rebuilt the hierarchy of ministries. Therefore the pastor is to serve the congregation. On the other hand other fellow pastors are to serve each other. Still higher up, it is the bishops who are given responsibility to care for ministers. And still higher up we have the archbishop. And if we were Catholic we would go to the Pope. Anyway Philip points out the theological difficulties with this as well as the logistical problems with such a system. We need to recapture our reformation roots on this. In this it means that the pastor is also a member of the congregation. Therefore, just as we are forever teaching the congregation to look after each other, in a similar way the congregation should be looking after the pastor (or the leader etc). Not because he is primarily the pastor, but primarily because he is a member first and foremost. And being a member he is in need of encouragement and support just as any other member. So I agree with you. Just as we are called to serve the church, there is an obligation for the church to serve and care for its leaders.

      c. Having said this, it always requires one person to start the ball rolling. In my own personal experience, I’ve found that the more I give to others, the more they give to me. There is a lot of truth when the scriptures says; “it is more blessed to give than to receive.”

      d. Finally let us never forget that it is God who will serve and care for us. This is something Paul is very strong and big on in 2 Cor 1.

      Thanks for the question and the opportunity to clarify things.

  4. Thanks for sharing on this topic. I have served as the English Pastor in a Chinese church in California for the past 15 years, and I can resonate with what you say here. I think that every leader in a bilingual Chinese church needs to be part cross-cultural missionary.

    By the way, my blog is also called Reflections. Welcome to the blogosphere! I am adding your blog to my feed reader and look forward to your future posts.

  5. Hi Pastor Ying,

    I have (maybe stupidly) taken up as the chair of our deacon board. We are a very ‘mutli-culture’ church with chinese peple from various part of the world and of course their second generations…

    Only in the position for three months, I also found it exhausting and exhausting. For example, I spent the whole of yesterday (Saturday) to call people, talk to people from my church to discuss an issue we are now facing. I have a three hour meeting with some of the board members yesterday, and going to spend the whole day at church today.

    Pastor Ying, to be honest, reading you blog is very comforting; just read about we are not the only one… I am actually serving God…

    thank you!!!

  6. Hi Pastor Ying

    We met at connect in Melbourne last year! Ive been practicing your advice on saying no….but it has lead to frustration after frustration (Deep breaths). Brothers and sisters are eager to serve at first, but then “life” gets in the way (i.e too busy studying, too busy with work, too busy dating, etc, etc). I’m not too sure if this is similar amongst Chinese churches? No one seems to want to commit anymore than just coming to service on Sundays.

    All i say is there is a lot that goes on behind the scene that no one seems to wants to get involved? and it really saddens me and is really frustrating!

    I sometimes ask my self the question why? The need is there and he/she has the ability to serve but refuses cause they don’t want to… (too busy) this in turn putting pressure on an already overworked team?

    Anyways this was meant to be short….

    I’m glad to have found your blog and have been encouraged from reading your posts. Coming from a small independent church in Darwin its hard to find someone who really understands this cross-cultural ministry. I look forward to reading more blogs of wisdom from you and meeting with you again at this years Connect conference!

    In Christ,

    Sam Niam

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