Models of Ministry in Chinese Churches
About 7-8 years ago someone gave me a copy of an article by Victor Lee of Toronto on “Models of Ministry in Chinese Churches.” I thought that it was quite helpful at the time, and even made copies for our church board members. His description of the stages of development in a typical Chinese church fits in very well with what I have described in the past few posts. I will summarize some of the key ideas from his article. The names of the models are his, but the the descriptions are based partly on my own experiences.
The Paternal (Father/son) Model
Most Chinese churches begin with a structure and leadership style influenced by traditional Chinese culture. Often the OBC leaders run the church in the same way as they run their family, with a top-down approach. In this stage the EM is started under the supervision of an OBC leader, and it is expected to serve the needs of the children of the OBC church members. In fact, the EM is viewed as one of the departments of the church, along side of all the other (Chinese) ministry departments. Worship services at this stage are often translated. There is some frustration among the EM leaders who have grown up with a more participatory style of leadership but find a paternalistic style in the church. Eventually as the younger generation begins to grow up and seek their own identity there is recognition of the need for an English worship service. At that point the church moves toward the next stage.
The Parallel Model
There is a growing recognition that the EM needs its own ministry departments, separate from the Chinese ministry. The EM begins to develop its own worship ministry, Sunday School ministry, etc. In the church that I serve we even had two college fellowships, one using English and one using Mandarin. Gradually the EM establishes its own ministries in parallel with those of the Chinese Ministry.
At first the EM is still run by OBC leaders and directly overseen by the OBC board. But the EM leaders desire to have more freedom to design their own ministry to reach the second generation rather than doing everything the same way that it is done in the Chinese Ministry. At some point the EM leaders are given more responsibility and more freedom. There is a move to have a few local born EM leaders on the church board. But the church constitution and leadership structure has not yet changed to adjust to the existence of a parallel English ministry, and that fact sometimes leads to frustration or conflict.
The Partnership Model
In this stage the church leadership structure and governing policy is changed to fit the new reality of two parallel, inter-dependent ministries. When I first arrived at CFC, there were positions on the Pastor-Deacon board for worship, Sunday School, Fellowship groups, and Missions. In theory the deacons in each of these positions were supposed to oversee their respective area of ministry in the entire church, but in fact they only worked in the Chinese Ministry. The corresponding EM leaders were not on the board.
Gradually we shifted to a new structure, with most congregation ministries overseen by the English or Chinese Ministry Council and the Board focusing mainly on policies and issues that affect the entire church. We still have a Missions Deacon, because we consider Missions to be a joint ministry and have a joint Missions Committee to oversee it. But most of the other ministries are handled separately. Our structure is almost exactly what Pastor Lee’s paper suggests. But one thing that we have not done yet is to modify the church constitution to recognize the role of the two ministry councils.
There are a lot more suggestions in the article about the Partnership Model, including the the following:
- promote mutual understanding of cultural distinctives
- develop vision as a unified pastoral staff
- develop a standard of leadership that is rooted in Scripture
- provide training and spiritual development helping the leaders to understand the cultural distinctives
- ensure that all joint services are sensitive to both ministries
- plan strategic events that build church unity
Now it’s your turn. . .
- Do you have any experience in a church using one of these models?
- What it necessary to enable a church to move toward the Partnership Model?
- Do you think that there are other models that we should consider?
Update: Pastor Victor Lee has kindly agreed to share an updated version of his article as well as another article that he has written. You can find them on my Articles Page.