Hong Kong Alliance Bible Seminary Outstanding Research Professor, Kowloon Baptist Church Senior Pastor, Rev. Dr. James Cheung led a youth conference as the key speaker in Australia.
Rev. Cheung shared the challenges that the overseas Chinese churches now faces and called upon the overseas Chinese to preach the gospel to western countries and China in the seminar titled “The challenges of Overseas Chinese Churches” on Dec. 15 at Sydney Central Baptist Church.
According to latest statistics of the Chinese churches, Rev. Cheung said that the Chinese people began the immigration just before the 14th century; then, the wave of immigration started for many nations in the 19th century. Counting from the 50’s until the beginning of this century, over 38 million Chinese immigrated overseas. Asia has approximately 80%; North and South America has 15%; Europe has 2.3%; the Pacific Islands has 1.7%; Africa has 0.4%. In year 2000, overseas Chinese churches totaled 7,000 churches, among which Hong Kong has 1,200 churches that are of a smaller scale, Taiwan has 3,000 churches; Southeast Asia has 1,000 churches, North America has 1,300 churches, Australia and other locations have around 500 churches.
Although the Chinese churches are developing, only about 1,000 missionaries have been dispatched. Compared with the 8,000 missionaries sent from South Korea, this figure is still very minimal. As the immigrants face difficulties in finding a suitable job and experience loneliness, they are returning to China and Hong Kong, where the economy is rising steadily. This trend of immigrants returning to their home country began in year 2000, and the numbers of those returning are increasing year by year.
In the early days, Chinese church in Canada, America, England, and Australia consisted mostly of Cantonese-speaking congregations, but the trend in the future will be where the number of Mandarin congregation increases faster than the Cantonese-speaking congregations. In this case, what kind of challenges do the Chinese churches face? As the congregation becomes mixed with different languages, cultural background, or same language but different cultural background, what kind of difficulties exists in church management?
Challenge 1, what kind of church management model will work?
Rev. Cheung said that some churches adopt the model of “One nation with One Governing Policy”, combining all the denominations as one body, but its effects are not obvious; some churches adopt “Nation Among Nation” or “One Nation with Multiple Governing Policy”, which allows for gathering according to their language, but there are still advantages and disadvantages.
He further stated that the principle of the Bible is multi-cultural; in the early churches, Hebrews, Jews, and others held gatherings together, and they didn’t just separate because of arising problems. The Bible teaches unity, becoming one body; however, while researching church growth, he discovered that congregations with the same cultural background develop much easier.
Although having services with separate languages work temporarily, there is a hidden danger that lies in long-term developments. Based upon biblical principles and tying together the actual needs, each church should determine its management model.
Challenge 2, can the churches adopt business management principles?
Rev. Cheung stated that many people in the churches are well-verse in the field of business management, so they naturally will use outside concepts to apply within the church. A seminary student once told him that some churches even use surveys to examine a minister. Shouldn’t we ask who has the sufficient credentials to judge a minister of a missionary? Is the judging accurate? Is this use of the secular culture good for the church?
Analyzing from basic church principles, he answered, “Church is a family. In the perspective of a family, judging a minister is like judging your own family members.”
As some people may dislike the minister, they ask the missionaries to report in detail what they have done each day. Pastors and ministers are the shepherds of the church, who are like the parents in a family. How can a child judge his parent? These surveys have a high probability of becoming weapons used to attack each other, so it is bad thing.
Ironically, numerous mega-corporations obtain the solutions to their problems from the Bible. He observed that many mission statements of companies are derived from the Bible. In United States, business leaders even titled a book “Jesus CEO”, which quickly became the best-selling book.
“Other people come to church to read the bible, but we, on the contrarily, are searching for answers from the business world?” he said.
Speaking about “Art of Evangelism”, Rev. Cheung said that it can be easily mistaken as a guide that teaches the secrets of evangelism, but it is actually a book that talks about business skills derived from the Bible. Christians often times look down on the Bible, but people in this world searches much deeper into the Bible than Christians.
On the other hand, is knowledge from the business world completely unfit for church use?
Rev. Cheung replied, it is not necessary true. For example, Rev. Rick Warren, author of “Purpose Driven Life”, wouldn’t have been successfully sold his book, if it weren’t for a sound management strategy. Thus, a well-written book must have a good business model to be successful.
Challenge 3, how can we view the decline of the Western churches?
“Looking at the decline of the Western churches, should we rejoice and be glad over their troubles?” said Rev. Cheung. Although they are declining, instead of looking down on them, the Chinese churches should be grateful and proclaim the gospel back to them, because the Western missionaries were the first to bring the gospel to China.
He sighed at the decline of some of the European churches. For example, in Germany, the number of witches far exceeds the number of ministers and missionaries combined. Since racial discrimination towards students who study abroad has decreased significantly, the students should become involved in Western society, interact with westerners and preach the gospel to them.
“We should proclaim the gospel back to them as a repayment to our debt, and encourage the native-born Chinese to develop church ministries,” said Rev. Cheung.
Challenge 4, how can OBC encourage ABC to lead church?
Rev. Cheung said that the OBC (overseas Born Chinese) were not effectively leading ABC (Australia-Born Chinese) in leading the church. Why are the churches finding difficulties to pass down the baton when many ABC are serving passionately? OBC are not giving them opportunities to lead the church.
He sincerely appreciates the professionalism of the ABC in their actively discussions, fast innovation of ideas and hopes that they can be trained more in preaching the gospel to the natives.
Challenge 5, Preaching the Gospel to the Chinese
In China, Buddhists are increasing quickly in number and care copying Christianity in having their own choirs and seminars. Rev. Cheung encouraged Chinese Christians to spread the seed of the gospel ahead of them.
“In the 50s and 60s of last century, many tried to open China’s door to the gospel. Now, politics is not a barrier, but the economy is obstructing. As China’s economy develops rapidly, people are now focused just on ‘money’,” he said.
He urged the Chinese churches to hold on to this excellent opportunity, because China’s market has many potential. Overseas Chinese churches are like Esther in the Bible. God sent Chinese overseas so that they can preach the gospel to their own blood, so we must prepare ourselves, for example, in the work of China, using our lives to influence other lives.
Lastly, Rev. Cheung brought up the touching life story of missionary William Borden, encouraging the Chinese to actively save the souls of the Chinese people. William Borden was born in a wealthy household in Chicago, United States. As the family heir, he traveled at age 16 to different countries just after graduating from middle school and saw the need of Asia for the gospel, so he was determined to become a missionary. His family and friends said he was foolish, but he wrote “No Reserves” in his Bible.
While studying at Yale University, he became a very influential figure on campus because of his charisma and maturity in life and often held campus bible-studies. At that time, he wrote “No Retreats” on his Bible.
After graduation, he decided to go to China, for he had this burden for the Muslims there. Unfortunately, he died from catching a disease in Egypt. After his death, people found two more letters written in his Bible that says “No Regrets.”
Rev. Cheung encouraged the young people in the crowd, “If the Western missionaries can sacrifice their lives for China, then you should study well to prepare to be used by God!”
[Editor's note: Reporter Dan Li from Australia contributed to this report.]