Advice to an OBC Senior Pastor

This entry is part 23 of 24 in the series 30 Days on the Chinese Church

It’s already June, but since I took a break for a few days for Memorial Day Weekend I want to finish up this series with two more posts. Last time I wrote about advice to a young ABC pastor. Today I want to address the other side of the equation and address OBC pastors and church leaders.

I have a great deal of respect for anyone willing to take on the challenge of pastoring a Chinese church in the U.S. It’s not an easy job! If you are an OBC pastor, then you have experienced first hand the difficulties of moving to a new country and learning to adjust to a very different culture. You were convinced that coming here was the right decision, but you have sometimes experienced the downside as well. If you have children who grew up here, then you know the frustration of not only the “generation gap” but also of the “culture gap” experienced by immigrant families. So your concern for reaching the next generation is personal as well as pastoral.

Of course every situation is different, and I can only speak in general terms. I also recognize that most of my time is spent serving in the English Ministry, so my understanding of the Chinese Ministry is limited. But I know that you care about reaching the children who grow up in the church, and so I will share some thoughts from my perspective as an English Pastor who has also had missionary training and experience. What can you do as an OBC senior pastor or board member to develop a mature, effective English Ministry?

  1. Recognize the importance of cultural differences
  2. You might feel that ABCs talk far too much about cultural differences, but please remember that they have grown up feeling pulled in two directions by two different cultures every day. At home they lived in a Chinese cultural environment, while at school and with their friends the culture was more American. Out of necessity they had to adopt one cultural pattern of behavior at home and another when there were away from home.

    Many of our ministry practices in church are greatly influenced by our cultural backgrounds. (See the article in this series on Culture and Biblical Truth.) An important part of your role as a leader is to help church members discern what is a cultural practice (and is therefore negotiable) and what is a biblical absolute (and is therefore not negotiable). Don’t be too quick to assume that what seems like the “right” way to do something is the “biblical” position unless you can find clear exegetical evidence to back up your claim. In a bi-cultural church the pastors have to be part missionary and part theologian.

  3. Allow young ABC leaders the freedom to make some mistakes
  4. It’s tempting to keep everything “under control” so that no mistakes are made, but that approach will inhibit the development of young leaders. ABC English Ministry leaders, who may be much younger than you are, need to have enough freedom to try new things and customize the EM to maximize its effectiveness. They will make some mistakes, but that is part of the learning process. The job of older leaders is to provide some guidance, so that they don’t make really major mistakes, but to allow enough freedom for them to innovate.

    Just as I reminded young ABC pastors to overcome issues from their past, you also must be careful not to let past experiences poison your relationship with EM co-workers. If you had a difficult relationship with your own teenage children or a past EM leader, try not to let those feelings affect your present relationships. I remember one incident during my first few years at CFC. I was suggesting some type of change in our leadership structure and I felt that a number of the deacons suddenly became very defensive. I knew that a number of key leaders had left with the former English Pastor and created a lot of hard feelings in the church, so I realized that they were afraid that I was headed in a similar direction and the church would be split. But the situation was completely different, so I said to them rather strongly in Chinese, “I am not Pastor <name>!” After that they calmed down and we could continue to discuss the issue.

  5. Stand behind your ABC leaders
  6. There are few things more terrifying to a young ABC pastor than to find himself in a controversy in the church and to see the senior pastor and board members back off and leave him to sink or swim alone. The feeling of abandonment and lack of support could easily lead to the end of his ministry at the church. I wonder how many young leaders have been destroyed by this type of situation.

    If you want young leaders to be loyal and committed then you need to support them, and to stand at their side when they face a storm. Young leaders need to know that you believe in them and stand behind them. That does not mean that you must defend all their decisions, but it does mean that you need to shield them from unfair criticism and attack. You are an experienced leader and can take the heat, but they are young and need protection. In fact, people who are quick to criticize and gossip are a major cause of turmoil in many churches, and the senior leaders need to speak out against this sin and call people to repentance.

    When I first started at CFC they had a welcome party for me as the new English Pastor. During the party I heard a long time church member standing nearby ask the senior pastor, “What will his wife do?” The senior pastor replied, “We are hiring him, not his wife. His wife will be an ordinary church member.” Earlier during my interview we had discussed my situation and he knew that my wife was busy home schooling our two boys. I had made it clear that she should not be considered an “extra” staff member. I deeply appreciated the support of the senior pastor when the question was asked at the welcome party.

  7. Promote a vision for a mature English Ministry
  8. The English Ministry in most Chinese churches begins as a youth ministry. Even if the EM at your church is at an early stage, what is your vision for the future? Do you see the EM as never being anything more than youth ministry, with the implication that once they become adults they will find another church? Or do you see the EM as gradually developing into a mature congregation that will be an equal partner with the Chinese Ministry? If the latter, it is important that you help the other church leaders and core church members to understand the vision for the EM.

    The senior pastor at a Chinese church near here recently made a statement at a joint worship service that he saw the EM as the key to the future of the church, and that one day the EM would probably be larger than the CM, and the senior pastor would be the EM pastor. This was a very visionary statement made by an OBC senior pastor, and the EM leaders felt energized that they were a very important part of the vision for the whole church. (I have shared additional thoughts about English Ministry vision in an earlier post in this series.)

  9. Help CM co-workers to understand the EM
  10. Sometimes co-workers will want to make the church more “unified” by doing things the same way in both congregations. While this can work at times, we must remember that unity does not come from doing things the same way. (See my earlier post on unity and diversity.) Because the two ministries are reaching out to different groups of people, they must do some things differently in order to succeed. For example, there may need to be some differences in the food we eat, the way we dress, and the type of music we sing.

    A number of years ago our board at CFC came to a clear understanding that both congregations are working toward the same overall goals, but that we may sometimes need to use different methods. This understanding has been a helpful tool as we have worked through various issues, especially questions concerning worship style. The senior pastor and board members have an important role in helping the church members to understand why the EM needs to have its own identity and way of doing things for the sake of the Gospel (see 1 Cor. 9:19-23).

These are my suggestions. I’m sure that others could improve this list, and your feedback is appreciated.

Now it’s your turn. . .

  • If you are an EM leader, what is the most important thing that your senior pastor could do to help the EM to fulfill its mission?
  • If you are an OBC senior pastor or church leader, what would be your advice to a new English Ministry pastor?
  • If you are part of a Chinese church, what are your observations on the relationship between the EM and the CM?
Series Navigation<< Advice to a Young ABC PastorReflections on a Series >>

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