Interview with 7th CCOWE English Committee Chairman

( [email protected] ) Apr 30, 2006 08:13 AM EDT

In 2006, the 7th Chinese Congress on World Evangelization (CCOWE) will provide a parallel English track in order to reach out to American Born Chinese by including them into the CCCOWE movement. The Gospel Herald has conducted an interview with the Chairman of the 7th CCOWE English Committee Rev. Dr. Paul C. Wang through email. Wang is the Senior Pastor of Evangelical Chinese Bible Church in Burnaby, Canada.

Gospel Herald Reporter: GH

Rev. Dr. Paul C. Wang: Wang

GH: For the first time in the history of CCOWE, a parallel track conference purely in English will be hosted alongside with the Chinese one. What is the significance of the English track?

W: I still can recall vividly when the ETF (English Task Force) gathered for the very first time in November 2004 to meet up with the 7th CCOWE visionary leaders, represented by Dr. John Kao and Dr. Philemon Choi. They shared how the 7th CCOWE Strategic Planning Committee envisioned the crucial need to recruit the English-speaking Chinese Christians to be actively engaged with the CCCOWE Movement. They reckoned that there are indeed myriads of talented ethnic Chinese Christians around the world, but most of them are held back from participation with the CCCOWE Movement by their lack of Mandarin as a main dialect, and probably even by their sense of being neglected by church leaders in the past. By the commissioning of a parallel English Task Force and by rendering foremost priority for the English-speaking leaders to take on the challenge in nurturing the next generation of church leaders ushered in this new era of having a parallel track conference purely in English for the 7th CCOWE. We humbly accept the mandate to serve with our utmost trusting that only God will fulfill what He has entrusted.

GH: As the English Track Conference will be focusing on the needs of the younger generation Chinese, what are the highlights of the workshops? And how can these workshops help the young people?

W: The vision cast by the English Task Force for CCOWE 2006 is: To raise up a new generation of leaders and full-time workers who will develop inter-generational partnerships to bring the gospel to our society and to the nations.

Based on the vision statement, one definitive goal is to see that every English congregation in the Chinese churches around the world has English minister who is gospel centered, biblically based, humble in spirit, culturally sensitive and strongly mission minded. Undoubtedly the goal requires tasks that are awesome and terrifying.

Nevertheless difficult as it is, it is still a task that we need to set our minds and our energies to. Being realistic we know that it is impossible to raise up an army of men and women for the gospel overnight. However, we can at least start a process that hopefully will carry on for many generations to come.

In thinking through this strategy, the ETF leaders have considered the following factors:

a. We need to understand as best as we can the hurdles and core problems Chinese pastors face as they try to challenge people to consider full time ministry. While there may be problems we all have in common, there undoubtedly will be problems and issues that are unique to each region of the world.

b. It is worthwhile to explore what resources are currently available to achieve the vision and to highlight the workable models that have been tested in different regions.

By listening to the heart issues (a) and by charting an actionable strategic plan (b), the workshops and plenary sessions are designed to be informative and interactive. In the end, the realizable value of the workshops lies in reinforcing the vision of the conferences. It does this by bringing the vision down to earth and giving it some flesh.

GH: The main reason for hosting an English track is to help to raise the English-speaking second generation leaders so that they can provide pastoral care for the more to come. Can you explain in details the challenges faced by North American Chinese churches or Canadian Chinese churches in this aspect?

W: The vision of the ETF to raise up the next generation of pastors and teacher is certainly no easy task. The number of churches throughout the world lacking pastors is enormous. In addition to this, we have the vast population of the world who still need to hear the gospel. Yet the available workers who will bring the good news of the Lord Jesus to the needy world are in short supply.

But the critical news is that the drop out rate of seminary graduates and young pastors who worked in the Chinese Church is extremely high in North America. The average survival rate is three and a half year. One recent occurrence in one of the major cities in U.S. relates that 5 English pastors resigned within a period of five months, while two more are considering. The mood among that English ministerial fellowship was quite gloomy, as you can imagine. These are the issues we are trying to address, to surmount and by God’s grace, to rise above.

GH: How is the attitude of the Chinese pastors in general in face of these challenges? Have they ever tried to overcome it? What are the ways they have used and how is the result?

W: You can just imagine the whole array of reflections and sentiments when faced with the above challenges. Many had tried in various seasons with various means to resolve these issues. Some have survived and thrived as a result, but most ended up with memories of talk fests and unresolved disillusionment.

Regardless of past successes or failures, we can only work hard towards what the Lord has entrusted us for CCOWE 2006. Definitely, we dare not claim to be the valiance of this generation, for we simply trust the Lord’s wisdom in calling us to this task. We know for sure that we can never do it alone, after all this is a parallel track. Letters addressed to our advocates in this venture have been sent out to many Chinese pastors in various regions. Firstly, we have requested them to consider sending their church’s next generation of potential leaders to come and consider prayerfully what the 7th CCOWE has to offer. Secondly, beyond this initial "lighting of a spark," if at all possible, we have invited them, as our advocates to come and attend the English conference track either personally and/or by leadership delegates, such as the local deacons, elders and key leaders who directly impact the promising next generation. We are convinced that their presence and advisory remarks will affirm that the leadership baton of the Chinese Church is a serious matter we are all accountable for. May all who come behind us find us faithful, well beyond just the 7th CCOWE conference, until we face our Savior!

GH: Many second generation Chinese are very well-educated compared to their parents and they are usually very successful academically under a typical Chinese family education, therefore they have a lot of choices of what they can do. Through the Congress, how are you going to inspire the young people to response to God’s calling and to take up the Great Commission?

W: Since this is our first ever English parallel track, we have to stay in focus with our vision. Therefore our target audience will be the existing and emerging leaders in our English ministries/congregations. Such as pastors, deacons, elders, seminarians, lay leaders in the English ministries. The purpose of the parallel track is not so much as inspiring young people to respond to God’s calling; rather it is casting a vision to the leaders as to the urgency of the need as well as presenting the resources and successful models of raising up godly leaders for our next generation.

GH: There is a huge cultural gap between the first and second generation Chinese. In the Congress, how do you help the Chinese churches to meet the challenge?

W: Definitely there are cultural gaps but I don’t think they are insurmountable due to the fact that we are from the same ethnic background. In fact from my research, I have found that many of the younger generation have great appreciation for their heritage and culture. For the upcoming 7th CCOWE, there are several workshops that will deal with this issue, addressing how to develop healthier partnership between the generations. There will be an evening joint session that is devoted to the modeling of intergenerational partnership in the ministry.

GH: What are the other problems in the Chinese churches you are trying to tackle through the English track this time?

W: Since this is our first ever English Parallel Track conference, we chose to stay in focus with our vision.

GH: Do the challenges mentioned above also exist in churches of other non-Chinese speaking countries, such as Europe?

W: As we understand, the challenges of other non-Chinese speaking countries are similar in the areas of ministry needs; perhaps the needs may even be more critical and desperate. For that reason, we truly appreciate the forerunners of English- speaking Chinese churches in North America. For the past decades, they have opened tremendous headway, be it within a bi-cultural or even a tri-cultural Chinese church. At times they still lament that the progress appears slow and incremental, but we are most grateful that because of their efforts, we are much healthier and progressive in the English ministry here in North America and in many regions of Southeast Asia and Australia.

GH: As this is the first time a parallel English track will be held, there must be many things to be considered and planned well during the preparation. Can you share with us some of the difficulties you have encountered so far and how you are going to solve them?

W: As we think through our goals and plans there are a number of major obstacles that we are putting efforts on:

a. Differences: The diverse needs between the various regions raises enormous problems

- Cultural differences: While North America and Australia share similar cultural issues with respect to the ABC/OBC agenda, this is not shared by our SE Asian counterpart.

- Stage of development: Different churches and regions will be at different stages of their development with respect to the training and challenging of future leaders. While Australia has a movement already taking off with respect to challenging and training people for ministry, it appears there is not such a concerted efforts in other parts of the world

b. Distance: In order to keep the vision alive and actionable goals implemented, teamwork is important. As a team we are able to encourage each other, exchange ideas as well as to keep each other accountable and focused, particularly when distraction and discouragement comes our way. But how do we do this given that we are separated by such great distances. We will need to be creative in thinking through this obstacle.

c. Busyness: Every pastor is very busy with their own pastoral demands. Unfortunately this often means that the task of finding, challenging and training the new generation of leaders is forgotten or placed as a low priority. And even if the pastor does recognize its priority, this may not be the same for the church, which places pressures on his time. Our work must include, both helping the church and the pastor to see the uncompromising need of this work.

d. Experience: Many pastors lack the skills and the experience to train up pastors for the future. While many of us are probably well experienced in training people for various ministries within church, many lack the confidence, the skill to mentor, or to train pastors for the future

e. Partnerships: The task before us is enormous to say the least and we need to humbly acknowledge that we cannot do this alone, and to recognize that we may not have all the necessary resources to meet the challenge. For this reason we need to ask ourselves whether there are other already existing ministries that we can be in partnership with, who share both our passion and our vision.

f. Theology: Following on the previous point, this raises the question of whom we can and cannot be in partnership with. Large international movements such as CCCOWE continue to face many obstacles and dangers along the way, one of which is to lose or compromise on their theological and evangelical heritage. Because our focus is on reaching the Chinese, in particular the English speaking Chinese, it is very easy to be so focused on the goal, that we loose sight of our theological roots. When or if this should happen, CCCOWE becomes more focused on being a CHINESE Christian movement, rather than a CHRISTIAN Chinese movement. While this may not be a problem in the initial set up of our implementation program, it is certainly something we need to be constantly vigilant. For this reason part of our discussion and planning will involve discussing the extent of our involvement and engagement with other Christian institutions which share a different theological emphasis.

GH: How many times the English track preparation committee has convened? When and where was the last time held? What were the key topics that have been discussed? What is the upcoming plan?

W: We have met twice: first in HK in November 2004 then in LA in November 2005. However, we have been in touch with each other through email as well as teleconference meetings through out the year. The main emphasis in our latter meeting was on implementation.

With the 7th CCOWE conference fast drawing near, there is a danger that all our energy is focused on ensuring that the conference is a well run and exciting event. However, we must always remember that conferences such as these can only have a limited effect. This is all the more so when we recognize that this conference happens only once every 5 yrs. What then is the value of such conferences? This conference can and does serve a very strategic role in fulfilling the long-term vision of CCCOWE. The conference serves as a platform to cast our vision globally and to challenge people towards the same unified goal. This is an opportune time when the energies of all the delegates will be harnessed to move in one direction. Seen in this light the conference serves a very strategic role in the overall scheme of things. While there can be opportunities to learn new skills and ways of doing things, the reality is that such learning, while useful will have its own inherent limitations.

For this reason, the success of such conference lies not only in what happens at the conference, but what happens afterwards. Without any clear, concrete and achievable post program strategy and activities, the conference will end up being nothing more than a grand talk fest.

This is where the implementation committee comes in. The strategizing on how each region contextualizes the vision and the model, applying the principles. Coordinating and encouraging each other as we strive to fulfill our vision.

GH: Lastly, can you tell us about your expectation for the English track?

W: In this postmodern era, one of the few redeeming factors is that there is still hunger for something of eternal value. We have a great crop of young leaders coming up, but the problem is we have great temptations that stalk them and the drop out rate is extremely high. The CCOWE 2006 English track will attempt to set forth a compelling strategy to groom the next generation of leaders to enable them to navigate these thorny paths. The strategy is made up of apprenticeship, discipleship and mentorship to be guided by practitioners who are gospel centered, biblically based, humble in spirit, culturally sensitive. During the conference, there will be tested models that will be shared by our plenary speakers and workshop leaders. We humbly beseech your prayers.