This entry is part 19 of 25 in the series 30 Days on the Chinese Church

When people are looking for a new church (or deciding whether to stay at their old church), they want to know not merely what the church is like now but also where the church is going. The vision of your church will attract certain people, but may turn other people away.

What is “Vision”?

Vision has been defined in numerous different ways, but one thing that all writers seem to agree on is that vision is about the future. A simple definition is “Vision is the description of a preferable future.” Vision tells people where you believe God wants to take you as a church.

In some churches the “vision” seems to be to keep everything exactly the same as it is now. Really this is a lack of vision. Considering the rapid changes in the world and the opportunities for the Gospel, it’s difficult to believe that God calls any church simply to stay as they are. Churches that have no idea where they are going will have trouble attracting and keeping people who are gifted leaders. Leaders do not want to board the train to nowhere.

I heard about the senior pastor of one Chinese church who boasted about the fact that he did not have a vision. He claimed that they would only do what the Holy Spirit led them to do. My question to him would be, “Well, what is the Holy Spirit leading you to do?” Of course our vision should be inspired by the Holy Spirit, but that is no basis to spiritualize the lack of vision.

What the vision for EM in a Chinese Church?

There are a few possible visions for the English Ministry in a Chinese church:

  1. Care for the children of the immigrants
  2. The vision is that the EM exists primarily or exclusively to care for the children of the Chinese speaking immigrants. A consequence of this vision is that once the second generation becomes adults they will look for a new church. There is no longer a place for them at the church unless they feel called to children’s or youth ministry. A church with this vision will nearly always lack adult co-workers for the English ministry because they do not really fit into the church.

  3. Raise up workers to reach Chinese
  4. This vision goes a bit beyond reaching the children, to include other ministries to Chinese around the world. We once had a senior pastor candidate whose vision was to turn our church in to a base for sending people to minister in China. The problem with this is that most ABC adults are not called to be missionaries to China, so there is still no place for them in the church as adults.

    I have a friend who used to be the English Pastor of a large Chinese church. A few years ago the church elders created a new vision statement which defined the church vision as reaching immigrants. Some of the EM leaders were frustrated because apparently their ministry was not a part of the church vision. He is no longer serving at that church.

  5. Reach their own peers with the Gospel
  6. This vision allows the EM to take the Great Commission seriously in their own context. The EM exists to raise up disciples and reach their peers with the Gospel. This will include ministry to the children of church members from the Chinese congregation, but also those from non-Christian backgrounds, including non-Chinese Asians and other ethnic groups.

    As the EM members reach out to their peers they will want to invite some non-Chinese to the church. After all, many of their neighbors and co-workers are from other ethnic groups. If the church vision is focused exclusively on reaching Chinese then they feel very limited in their outreach. For this reason, a few years ago Rutgers Community Chinese Church decided to change their name to Rutgers Community Christian Church. Read their explanation of the reason for this change.

    Another interesting example is our sister church, CFC Hayward. A few years ago they decided to give their EM a different name to create a somewhat separate identity. The EM is called The Crossing. Their web site describes The Crossing as “an Asian American ministry” and “the English speaking multiethnic ministry of Chinese for Christ Church of Hayward.”

  7. Cross-cultural Great Commission ministry
  8. The EM exists not only to reach their own peers, but also to cross ethnic and cultural boundaries with the Gospel. Some of this ministry will need to take place outside the boundaries of the local church, since not everyone will fit into a bilingual Chinese church. Some ABCs might even be called to “cross-cultural” ministry to China! Of course not everyone is called to cross-cultural ministry, so much of the outreach will continue to be to peers.

Chinese churches with the EM vision described in 1 and 2 above will have a very difficult time reaching and retaining English speaking adults. Those with the vision in 3 can develop into a healthy English congregation. As they mature they can move to number 4 and broaden their ministry to include cross-cultural outreach.

Now it’s your turn. . .

  1. If you are in a Chinese church, what is your vision for the EM? Does your vision provide a place for English speaking adults to “belong”?
  2. How can a Chinese church encourage the EM to reach their peers while allowing the CM to continue to effectively reach Chinese speaking immigrants, all in the same church?
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  1. Most churches will not say outright that their vision is #1 or #2. Our church also dropped the word “chinese” in the name. But functionally, and I think not deliberately, we remain only a #1 and #2. As long as the leadership is OBC, though they may say the vision is #3 and #4, they can’t get out of their skin to drive that vision forward. And if the EM pastor tries to do it, the OBC side feels uncomfortable, begin criticizing, thus foiling the EM pastor’s efforts. They don’t even know that they are in effect keeping the EM in a 1 and 2.

    What’s the solution to that?

  2. In some cases the OBC leadership might see the need to move toward #3 or #4 but not know how to do it. If they can embrace the vision to move in this direction and share the vision with the church then it is possible. But along with the vision there needs to be a relationship of trust and mutual respect between the CM and EM pastors and lay leaders. The EM leaders are the ones who will need to move the EM to the next stage, but there must be good communication and trust for that to happen. Sometimes there will be a few OBC leaders who clearly see the need to expand the vision who will help to promote it in the Chinese congregation.

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