Chinese Church, Asian Church, Community Church
Few people embrace changes. Most of the time, we change because we have to, we need to, or we are forced to.
To be honest, I still don't know how to program our VCR. Why? The programs I watch are mostly time sensitive, like news. Who is interested in taped old news? Besides, my wife knows how to do it.
I have been observing and participating in the development of the Chinese church in North America for the past 40 years. During these years, the number of Chinese churches have doubled and doubled and doubled again. We have moved our service time from after lunch to before lunch. We relocated our meeting places from rented quarters to multi-million dollar buildings. We increased our church staff from one part-time worker to several full-time workers. We matured from mission churches to mission-minded and mission-planting churches. We multiplied our church services on Sunday from one to two or more. We emerged from monolingual churches to bi-lingual and multi-lingual churches.
On another front, we have moved from Chinese churches that used only Chinese to Chinese churches that use Chinese and English and Chinese churches that use only English. And from the bi-lingual Chinese-English model, some have moved on to the Asian church and community church model. On both ends of the continuum and everything in between, we see endless variations of every possible combination of language, structure, doctrine and country of origin.
And the changes continue. With every influx of new immigrants into North America, we see shifts and changes along every segment of this continuum. In addition, the continuum moves as a whole toward the West, toward the culture of the dominant society.
Changes do not necessarily mean progress but progress cannot be made without changes.
The reality is, we want progress but we resist change. We want progress within our comfort zone. We want progress but we want to maintain our status quo. We want progress at our speed and at our convenience. Unfortunately, the "we" of the young are not the same group of people as the "we" of the "not so young;" the "we" group of the English-speaking is not the same as the "we" group of the Cantonese-speaking group which in turn is not the same as the "we" group of the Mandarin-speaking and Taiwanese-speaking.
We all have different comfort zones and we move at different speeds. Your convenience may come at the expense of my inconvenience. Your progress may hinder my progress.
With so many different "we" groups in the Chinese churches, how can we make progress so that all can benefit? How can we let another group of people, who are so different from us but are in the same church, prosper and multiply without seeing it as competition and losing control? More positively, how can we actively support and encourage another group of people so that they can prosper, multiply and mature in their own way?
The challenge of the Chinese church, or any church, lies mostly with the people in leadership positions. In order to make progress, leaders should allow, better yet, actively encourage and initiate changes knowing full well that there are risks involved. With every change, there is potential discomfort, disagreement and tension. Further, changes, if not handled properly, may result in confusion, contention and conflict. And conflict, if prolonged, may result in division and hurt. But there are risks involved even without change. Without change, we run the risk of becoming irrelevant and eventually dying a natural death.
Changes are difficult. They are difficult for almost everybody, especially for leaders who confuse responsibility with control, unity with conformity and faithfulness to God with preservation and maintenance.
The compositions of our congregations are changing. The world around us is changing. These changes call for creative responses. The message of the Gospel does not change but the method and medium of presenting the Gospel has to change from time to time.
The Church of Jesus Christ will last until our Lord's physical return, but the form, structure and certainly the name of the church may have to go through many changes.
Chinese church, Asian church and community church are all reflective of their particular leadership structure, target groups and cultural affinity. Each is trying to serve and to reach out to people suitable and attracted to that particular model. Each is trying very hard to be as fully as possible the kind of church that truly worships God, disciples its believers, and reaches out to the world.
The monolingual Chinese churches have been used by God and are still used by God. At the same time, other models have emerged to meet the changing needs of people inside the church and new challenges of people outside the church. God is also pleased to use these later models.
Models will come and models will go, but the Church of Jesus Christ will remain.