Is Church a leisure club or a mission training school?

是俱樂部,還是宣教學院?(董家驊)2017.09.18

Link to Chinese article: 中文: http://behold.oc.org/?p=34504

Author: Pastor Dong Jia-Hua

Translation of article in “Behold” magazine by Keith Ranger

He says – “I recently attended a Conference of workers from a number of different places in North America on how to do lasting and effective evangelistic ministry in the lives of international students, especially in the area of being up to date and not behind the times in reaching out to those from China. The expressed need was for relevant and engaging methodology and really making an effort to keep up to date with ‘where these people are now coming from’ in terms of their expectations and priorities. Things can, and do, change so fast! We cannot, and must not, live in the past!

I found it disturbing. There are so many pitfalls and crises attending such an important outreach today! Possibly the greatest cause for concern – and remedial action – is the high drop-out rate. Not more than 25% of students from China who profess faith in Jesus in North America continue to live a church-going Christian life after their return home. Why?

Two years ago a fellow pastor from China came to America for further theological study. He sadly admitted – ‘If I’m honest, I am afraid and reluctant to receive hai-gui (those returning to China). They constantly extol the good points of the churches overseas and say that those churches are hugely superior to churches in China. Many of these self-confessed Christian believers have never offered themselves for baptism, or, if they have, what does their confession of faith really add up to? How can true confession and profession of faith really exist, without real commitment? In China, coming to faith in Christ means acceptance of costly commitment! However, it would seem that the churches of North America simply, strongly and warmly major on the ‘evident advantages’ of believing in Jesus, using all kinds of attractive means to lead people to profess faith. The inevitable result is a group of baptised people who don’t necessarily understand what the gospel is all about!’

These words of my friend aroused considerable interest and discussion. The general consensus was – ‘although hai-gui’s high fall-out rate cannot be attributed to just one cause, the way the gospel is being preached, together with the way pastoral care is being offered, cannot be exonerated as a big contributory factor.’

As a slogan in these times of rapid social change and its attendant new expectations, the Chinese churches of North America largely say – “The Truth never changes”. The hidden meaning is – “What served us well in the past is as good as ever today!” That style was dogmatic and didactic teaching from church and Bible Class leaders, with little opportunity for feedback and interaction. This was alright for the current generation of seekers for ‘objective truth’, and was quite attractive for those seeking truth for themselves and China in that now past generation.

What has now happened as this early wave of Chinese students settled into professional and later retired life here in the USA, is that many Chinese churches, Fellowships and Christian Study Groups have lost their initial Bible teaching and evangelistic zeal, the general atmosphere becoming something of a club and support group for the older generation, the ‘insiders’. (Keith’s comment – a good illustration of this is a church that ‘maintains aquariums’ for already ‘caught fish’ rather than using up-to-date ‘fishing-tackle’ for those outside, where easy in-reach has replaced difficult outreach). In many cases evangelism was replaced by a cosy sharing, of good food events, historical visits and sight-seeing, a Fellowship becoming what was in effect a club!

A further disturbing phenomenon was the way outreach has become typical among the new generation of many much younger Chinese students who are not so likely to remain in America but are the potential new returnees. Didactic Bible study receives much less enthusiastic take-up with them! It often becomes disappointingly ineffective as a means of attracting these lively young people. Two major effects of this can now be widely seen, a withdrawal of effort to reach the younger and a retreat into work with visiting academics more prepared to discuss life issues, alongside use of a range of attractive activities and programs designed to draw the younger ones in – but the crucial thing is, is the gospel that really changes lives being lost in the whole process, the ‘advantages’ instead being given prominence?

I do not oppose games and activities as means of attracting people, but these must be accompanied by a true exposition of the unchanging, historic gospel of Christ, fully relevant to the age-group to be reached. Otherwise, games and activities every bit as good can be found in not a few places outside the church! How, in that case, can a church be seen as special and distinctive?

A big problem now is that many younger overseas students see the church as conservative, rigid, unapproachable and inaccessible, its slogans and clichés becoming ever more unattractive and unintelligible. So if returnees do in fact come from overseas churches where the ways they have been reached and taught do not really mesh with modern life, they will arrive back in their motherland poorly evangelised and not effectively prepared for integration into a 21st century, up with the times, Motherland church! If they have been taught and nurtured overseas in a context where they have not developed true gospel understanding and where the sinews and muscles of their spiritual lives have not been stretched and strengthened, their succumbing to the tests and temptations surrounding return to China becomes all but inevitable! No wonder so very many fall by the wayside! The church overseas needs to address the issue urgently! Otherwise the distressingly high fall-out rate among returnees seems inevitably set to continue”.

Pastor Dong’s insightful article, humbly but so very earnestly written, although especially addressing a specific North American situation, would seem to have clear implications for all of us in DRM. Quoting the book of Proverbs, he calls us all to plead with God for spiritual wisdom and discernment, for evangelistic and follow-up ministry that is up-to-date, sensitive, searching and relevant, with a call for root and branch acceptance of Jesus as Saviour and Lord in a way that gladly accepts the deep cost of life-long Christian commitment, whatever and wherever the circumstances. He asks – does a typical “Christian” hai-gui really understand what Jesus at Calvary has done for him or her? Have we faithfully communicated a radical and life-changing conversion message? Only in this way can we address the disappointment of seeing so many supposed “converts” falling away!

(translation respectfully offered by Keith Ranger, February 18 2018)

Comments are closed