Surviving 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?