A recent table on the OMF Facebook page has stirred up a lot of interest – I’ve seen it reposted in multiple places (original post here). It compares the Western and Eastern worldview in a whole series of areas, and shows how both must ultimately be transformed by the gospel. Here it is:
In this post my focus is just on the blue and pink column (and not the green column). And I think that the table does a pretty good job – although I don’t entirely agree with some of the elements in the pink column. In particular, I think it doesn’t quite get it right when it talks about ‘community’.
It is true that Confucius himself was much more civic-minded in his teaching than the Confucianism that we see lived out today – “Within the four seas, all men are brothers.” And so much of his teaching was actually designed to ultimately influence the state as a whole.
However his focus on the virtue of filial piety had the unintended consequence of shrinking the circle of concern from the entire state, down to one’s own family/clan/village.
And so I’d suggest that the following modifications to the pink column might better represent the Eastern worldview:
To a Westerner, the Eastern perspective may seem highly community-focussed, in comparison to the individualistic West. And so it may look ‘communitarian’ – however by and large it is more correct to think of the family as being a person’s circle of concern. The Easterner is ultimately concerned about fitting in well into their family - rather than the fortunes of people who live down the road of their village (‘community’).
In addition, ‘family’ is thought of in quite a different way from how a Westerner would view family. Because we are not talking about the nuclear family unit of father-mother-children. We are talking about the extended family of aunties and uncles and grandparents. But more than that when the Easterner thinks about ‘family’ they are also talking about ancestors (in the past) as well as future descendants (who are yet to be born).
In the diagram above notice firstly what is included in the conception of ‘family’ in both East and West. On the left the focus is on father-mother-children (and grandparents, aunties etc. will still play a significant role) – but on the right, much more is included in the circle. And it even includes deceased ancestors and future unborn descendants.
Note also that what has primacy in both diagrams. On the left is the father-mother-children of one particular family unit (in bold) – but on the right, what is emphasised is the whole line of ancestors – of which I am just a small part. It is the family, considered as a long unbroken line, that has primacy.
It is because of this focus on the ‘family’ (rather than ‘community’) that family members may be very generous to others in the same family – yet distance themselves from the poor in their own village. It’s because of this that corruption sometimes takes the form of an government official only employing people from their own village, and passing over better qualified candidates from other places. And it’s because of this much larger conception of ‘family’ that a Chinese person might not make a fool of himself in public. Because it is one thing to face the disapproval of one’s spouse – but it’s another thing altogether to bring shame on both your ancestors, and succeeding generations of family members.
This orientation towards ‘family’ is massively significant in the Eastern worldview, and you can see that it actually touches many of the elements of the modified table. It influences one’s identity, how one behaves in society, what gives someone satisfaction – and even how one judges what is true!
However OMF’s table is very right to draw our attention to the green column. In the end it’s not a matter of Western or Eastern – but of transforming every corner of our lives and thinking and values in light of the word of God!
This month at our church we are starting up a brand-new worker’s ministry. It’s off to very exciting start – and I thought I’d take the opportunity to share with you a way to think about evangelism in the workplace.
The way we tend to think about workers ministry is to classify jobs the way the world does – in terms of industry. And so you might have people in the finance industry, the healthcare industry, the media industry etc. – and we tend to group people into those industries, with hopes that they can strengthen and encourage each other in their witness at work.
However instead of industry, I think there is a better way to think about jobs, and that is in terms of the kind of people interactions involved in their work. Consider the following table. Jobs from quite different industries – but organised (in the right hand column) in terms of the kind of people interaction involved in their work.
|Kind of job||Examples||Characterised by||Category|
|Regular interaction with office co-workers
|Regular interaction jobs|
|Process worker||Manufacturing||Regular interaction with office workers
Same work place
|Lots of interaction with own kids
Some interaction with other mothers
|Low interaction jobs|
|Solitary work||Meter reading
|Teaching||High school teacher
Primary school teacher
|Regular interaction with other teachers
Regular interaction with students
Power/age inequality relationship with students
|Power inequality jobs|
Lots of interaction with patients
Power inequality relationship with patients
|Small regular team
Short intense interaction with clients
Different locations every few weeks
Dangers of travel and being away from support structures
|Very small team with opportunities for good interaction
Different locations every day
Short contact with customers
Temptations of a cash economy
Take away shop
|Lots of brief customer interaction, some repeat customers
Small staff team
|Brief interaction jobs|
|Lots of brief customer interaction
Small staff team
Unusual work hours
Notice that it is more fruitful to ignore the actual industry that someone is working in – and instead think about the sort of interaction that person has.
- Do these jobs have lots of regular interaction – or lots of one-off interactions?
- Do these workers primarily work with peers of equal standing – or is there a high power inequality?
- Do they have a lot of time with people – or only a small window of opportunity?
These are the kinds of questions we need to ask when thinking about evangelism in the workplace!
And this reveals that people of quite different industries could actually have a lot of useful things to share with each other. Someone who workers in the manufacturing industry could have heaps in common with an office worker when it comes to evangelism. And yet a bank office worker may have very little to share with a management consultant – even though they may work in the very same company. It would be more fruitful for the office worker to share their examples and approaches with the process worker, than the management consultant.
This can also give an individual an idea of the kind of job they would be best suited for, and the kinds of jobs they should avoid. Very outgoing, very open kind of person? Well perhaps that person would be most strategic in the kind of job where they have many short interactions, and can leave a good positive impression. Less outgoing kind of person? Well perhaps they are more cut out for the kind of job where they will have time to slowly develop relationships. This might also help someone know if they shouldn’t take a promotion, if it will mean taking them out of a job where they have been very fruitful!
It also highlights that the your interaction with peers – and the way you share the gospel with them – is quite distinct from the way you would relate to people in a high power inequality job. The strategies that you would use, the expectations of what you can do in the same amount of time, how directly you can address the other person – all of these are different. There is no one correct way of doing evangelism in the workplace.
There are of course other kinds of jobs out there apart from the ones on the list – for example: policeman, hospital pharmacist, mining engineer. This table is not meant to be exhaustive. It is just meant to give you an idea of how to think in terms of the kinds of people-interactions instead of industry. And just as we have done so for the jobs in the table, we can also think about these other jobs in terms of people interactions.
I think this way of thinking about jobs and preparing Christian workers for their workplace is much more fruitful than an industry based approach!
In the debate about school Scripture and Ethics Classes in NSW, I haven’t heard much about the historical background to the current arrangement between the State and churches. And I think that understanding this historical background would moderate a lot of the antagonism toward school scripture.
You have to understand that it was not always the case that the State was involved in education – that is only a relatively modern phenomenon. And this is certainly true in the early days of the colony of NSW! Back then the government was not at all interested in education – it was busy managing the business of a penal colony. And it was actually the churches who took up the role of educating children. They did this as they saw a great social need which they could serve – though education certainly wasn’t the main job of churches.
The important role that the churches played was not resented – but was in fact recognised and appreciated by those in government – and even supported. Since the early days the governor himself saw the need for churches to receive assistance from the government in the task of running schools, and this was formalised in the 1820′s with a Corporation which provided for the running of church schools. This was particularly necessary in a convict colony with only a small number of free settlers.
The colony began with strong Church of England roots – but also grew to include Presbyterians, Methodists and especially a large number of Roman Catholics. These denominations all began their own schools, not wanting other denominations to influence their children. This led to a profusion of schools – a few of them good, but more often these schools were small and badly run, even when the schools received a pound-for-pound subsidy from the government.
By the 1840′s the churches were struggling to run the profusion of churches in the colony. Under Governor Fitzroy the colony adopted a system modelled on the Irish National System. The majority of church schools would now be consolidated and looked after by the state, which promised to provide a general education that would be acceptable to all denominations, and in return the churches were allowed to come in during school hours to provide special religious education (SRE) according to their own denominations. This arrangement was enshrined in legislation.
However not every school transitioned to the government – the churches continued to maintain a few of the best schools, which continued to receive some government subsidies in the same way they had since the early years of the colony. Some of these schools exist today as the private church schools.
Today we have a situation where not many people understand the historical background of education in NSW, and think it is an abominable intrusion into public schools that should be free from religion. A lot of this feeling is based more on an understanding of the American arrangement of church, state and public schooling, rather than the history of education in NSW. We must remember that from the early years of the colony, schools were operated by the churches, and not by the state. And the public schooling system we know of now was only possible because denominations were assured they could teach Scripture during school hours (SRE).
SRE was never meant to be a threat to people of opposing religious beliefs. That is because the Roman Catholic priest, the Methodist minister, the Anglican minister could all come in and conduct instruction in their particular religion to children of their parishoners. And for the rest of the time all those kids could all receive the same general education. If anything, the arrangement between the state and the churches failed to foresee a time when there would be a militant, vocal atheist minority in the community. But even now, there are arrangements that take this into account – children can simply go to non Scripture.
Opponents of SRE would want to see SRE disappear from public schools. However this would mean that the government would be reneging on an arrangement which made our public school system possible in the first place – and which would arguably return control of public schools back to the churches!
One of the things I’ve grown more and more conscious of, however, is the need for true conversion among Chinese Christians. There is something wrong if all you find are churchgoers who do Christian-y things on the surface, while the inner affections of their heart, their values, their worldview, their desires – these all remain essentially unchanged. One post this quarter touched on this (21 Feb), and I hope it will be a challenge to us all in our ministries…
1. The interconnectedness of culture
The more I explore Confucianism, the more I am struck by the inherent interconnectedness of all its different parts. Yes we can tease out themes such as the mandate of heaven, or the role of rituals, or filial piety and discuss them in turn. However it is important to note that all of these things are deeply connected to one another – and it is almost impossible to change one part, while all the others remain unchanged.
This means that it is very hard for a person, brought up with a Confucian worldview, to replace only a few parts of that worldview – because it leaves his life essentially unliveable. If he does succeed to remove one part of his worldview, the interconnectedness of culture renders him unable to transact socially with confidence, unable to resolve conflicts properly, unable to assess himself reliably.
But not only that, that cultures are not just held by individuals, they are shared by many people in a community. And so one individual might change his understanding of how conflict is resolved – but unless everyone else in his community also experiences that same change of understanding, it means that he is unable properly resolve conflict when he is in that community. He will find that his understanding of his identity will not accord to other people’s understanding of his identity. His exercise of leadership will not be accepted by the rest of his society.
Imagine if we removed the role of the da ren (great man) from a community and instead insisted that everyone should relate to each other in a less hierarchical, and more egalitarian manner. This might be fine – but it also means that suddenly that community has no way to resolve conflicts. Because the role of the da ren was to speak to fighting parties and plead with them for the sake of his face, to stop fighting and get on with each other. The preeminence of his persona plays an irreplacable role in bringing a kind of resolution to what would be an otherwise intractable conflict.
Take also the example of gossiping. Imagine if we removed gossiping from a community and instead insisted that everyone should speak directly to the people they have problems with. Again that might be fine – but we have done nothing to help with the other person’s loss of face, and we lose the role that other people have in moderating the feelings of the complainant (“such a small thing, just let it go”).
Making a change in one part of the culture (eg. the social heirarchy) has consequences for a different part of the culture (eg. conflict) – because all these parts of culture do not stand in isolation, but are connected with one another. Not only that, making a change in one individual causes difficulties for that individual if that same change is not also made in at least some others.
2. The problems it poses for conversion
Conversion, therefore, may often only take place at the superficial level of beliefs. “Instead of praying to Buddha, I now pray to Jesus.” “I have stopped offering sacrifices at the family shrine – I now bring my offerings to the church.” However there is no real change at the deeper levels of how leadership is conducted, how people present themselves to others, how conflict is resolved. There is no conversion of the values and desires of the heart. And instead these things often remain firmly rooted in the original culture, than in any biblical teaching.
Culture, therefore, is not something that we can pick and choose from – a bit of this from this culture, a bit of that from another culture. Because all the parts function as an integrated package – a package which has proven over the test of time to ‘work’. to be essentially ‘liveable’.
The interconnectedness of the elements of culture (such as, but not limited to Confucianism) means that the conversion of deeper elements of one’s worldview will often face great resistance. Conversion through piecemeal change rarely happens. Add a training package at church about leadership in order to change the leadership culture – and people will fall back to the leadership patterns that ‘work’. Add some Bible teaching about conflict – and people will default to behaviours that conform with the rest of their life.
What can sometimes happen, however, is that an individual undergoes a wholesale and radical conversion. In a short space of time all of his life is overturned. Not only does he now call Jesus his saviour, but in all his values, in his desires for his children, in his approach to his business and conversation and in how he deals with conflict and leadership – all of these things and more will suddenly come under the Lordship of Christ. In this case, a large and interconnected segment of culture is being overturned and challenged and replaced.
Imagine a piece of elastic – it can be stretched, and pulled this way and that – but that stretching never really influences the shape of that piece of elastic. It snaps back into shape very easily – the shape it has held for many years. In the same way challenges to just one or another part of culture by itself does not make a great difference. Because that renders that person’s life unliveable – and he will soon default to the original shape. What needs to happen is a wholesale change of all the parts, all at once – much like the heating and remoulding that a piece of elastic must undergo if it is to take on a new shape.
I once had a conversation with a minister of Cantonese congregation, and I asked him how it was that people in his congregation became Christians. How did conversion happen? does it happen all at once? does it happen gradually? His answer was that it was almost always gradual. People may become churchgoers and take on the external practices of Christianity, but he would often not be certain how truly converted many of them were – even after many years!
Now his experience may be unique – but I suspect the gradual conversion he described is much more common than not. However if it is true that gradual conversion is unlikely to produce true conversion due to the resistivity of culture, this seriously calls into question traditional evangelistic approaches among the Chinese. Missiologist Paul Hiebert warns that,
Public affirmations, warm feelings, and verbal decisions are not enough. There must be evidence of repentance, discipleship, and turning to God.
Paul Hiebert, Transforming Worldviews
Further on, Hiebert warns about the danger of a kind of ‘conversion’ that only involves taking on Christian behaviours and rituals:
Although conversion must include a change in behaviour and beliefs, if the worldview is not transformed, in the long run the gospel is subverted and becomes captive to the local culture. The result is syncretistic Christo-paganism, which has the form but not the essence of Christianity.
Paul Hiebert, Transforming Worldviews
What we need in such cultures then is not minor adjustments to the elastic of culture – for it will simply snap back to what it has always been, due to the interconnectedness of culture. What we need is a heating and remoulding of a person’s whole life including their behaviours, but also their values and desires and worldview – this is the kind of conversion that we want to see in people! Perhaps then in such cultures we should place a much higher emphasis on discipleship. So that churchgoers begin to see the implications of the gospel for all of life – how conflict is handled, how leadership is exercised, how one thinks of themselves in relation to others – before they think of themselves as converted.
What we also need is for a new and transformed community that reinforces and watchfully embodies not just Christian behaviours, but Christian values and desires and worldviews. And so perhaps we should also take much greater note of the phenomenon of ‘group decision making’ and ‘multi individual decisions’ which missiologists have noticed in group oriented societies. In these societies, missionaries seek to have the whole group make an initial decision for Christianity, while at the same time delaying baptism until individuals really do convert. These approaches take seriously the effect that social relationships have on individuals, and so perhaps they are better suited to cultures where the social group is more important than the individual, and where social values need to be overturned.
I mentioned before that Cantonese pastor who was doubtful about how many long-time regular churchgoers were in fact truly converted. It is great to see the growth in Chinese churches. It is great to see many people taking on Christian behaviours and Christian beliefs. But in the words of Hiebert, could it be that some have only “the form but not the essence of Christianity”?
David Martin began ministry at Hebron Chinese Alliance Church in Westmead in January. He was previously serving part-time at North Side Chinese Alliance Church.
Douglas Fyfe began ministry at NDCCCS in January. He was previously studying at Moore.
Danny Au Yeung began ministry at Crossway Anglican (previously known as St Paul’s Carlingford).
Sarah Cheng began ministry at St Andrew’s Cathedral.
Joshua Guo began part time ministry at Cabramatta Anglican.
Dan Lee began ministry at Rooty Hill Anglican as their Maturity and Ministry pastor.
Nathan Cheung began serving as catechist at St John’s Parramatta in February, as well as Bible college at Moore. He was previously doing a ministry apprenticeship at CABC West Ryde.
Sarah Holder and her husband Darran left ministry at NDCCCS at the end of Feburary. Sarah was their women’s pastor and Darren their student pastor.
Vivian To began a part time position as pastoral assistant at North Side Chinese Alliance Church in February, in addition to continuing her studies at SMBC. She was previously at Gracepoint Lidcombe. In the new year she will be attending EFCA East Lindfield.
Ariel Kurilowicz began ministry at WSCCC in March. He was previously at St Jude’s Carlton.
Al Garlando finished his ministry at Grace CCC Kogarah in April. He has taken up a new position at Marsfield Community Church.
Alec Wallis begins ministry at Grace CCC Sutherland’s English ministry.
Fiona May left her full time role at York Street Anglican.
Nathan Dean began ministry at LIFE church in October.
Andrew Bardsley from Queensland was called to WSCCC in December as part-time youth pastor. He will also be studying at SMBC in the new year.
Gary Koo was appointed rector of Crossway Anglican churches in Carlingford in December.
Vinh Doan leaves Baulkham Hills Chinese Alliance Church (BHCAC) in December. He has been serving there as the English pastor. *
Derek Cheng finishes his studies at SMBC. Derek will be taking up a youth ministry position at CCC in the new year. *
Matt Lim finishes his studies at SMBC. Matt will be doing youth ministry at Marrickville Road Church in the new year.
Jasmine Yong finishes her studies at MTC. Jasmine will be serving at MAAC/NAAC in the new year.
Richard Chiu and Sylvia Yeung finish their studies at SMBC, and Joanne Wong finishes her studies at MTC. They are currently exploring ministry options.
Here are other Chinese ministry moves:
Frankie Law began ministry at WSCCC, Strathfield. He was previously serving at Living Springs EFCA (Kellyville).
Jacob Yung began a full time role at Living Springs EFCA (Kellyville) at the start of 2012. He was previously serving in Tasmania.
David Huynh began ministry at St Jude’s Carlton in Melbourne.
Chris and Grace Lung began ministry in Brisbane Chinese Alliance Church. Grace serves in a part time role. *
Hung Kai Wong served for a while at St Matthew’s West Pennant Hills.
Philip Wong is appointed as Assistant Pastor at North Side Chinese Alliance Church in April. He was previously a student at SMBC and serving as student pastor at North Side. *
South West Chinese Christian Chruch (SWCCC) in Kingsgrove becomes independent of CCC Milson’s Point in July. *
The English congregation North Shore Community Christian Church, which had been using the premises of Gordon Baptist Church, merged with Gordon Baptist Church in July. *
Cam Phong plants a second Vietnamese church at Canley Heights.
[ PS: * denotes additions/modifications. Any other moves you know of? let me know! ]
The 2011 ABS census data was released a few months ago to great excitement by people like me. This quarter featured some reflections on the census data relating to Chinese ministry in Australia. They go a little beyond the basic demographic data to tease out future implications for schools ministry (14 and 15 Nov), university ministry (16 Nov) and church ministries (19 Nov) among other things.
This quarter also featured a post on how to get beyond the basic, predictable conversations that we often find at church (21 Nov). That one is highly recommended for sharing with your ministry teams and Bible study groups!
If you follow me on Twitter you’ll also know that there were a number of other posts at a new collaborative blog specifically on understanding and ministering to people from Mainland China (here). Keep an eye on it!
13 Age profile of Chinese born in China, Hong Kong and Australia (2011)
14 Younger ABCs – will they stay or will they go?
15 The future generation of ABCs – and schools ministry
16 How many Mainland Chinese uni students stay on?
19 Mandarin now overtakes Cantonese in Australia (2011)
21 Six ways to get beyond basic conversations at church
30 List of postings: Sept ’12 to Nov ’12