Dear Praying Friends:
Although I have frequently pointed out the necessity of using their mother tongue to communicate the Gospel to Chinese, there are times when English can be used with great effect. In particular, the role of English-speaking churches deserves greater attention than we sometimes give.
In the West
As we know, Chinese by the millions can be found all around the world (see the recent articles on globalization on our websites for more on this). They go overseas to study, do business, work as researchers, travel, and engage in all the multitude of activities characterize that today’s global village.
While away from home, many take advantage of the opportunity to visit local English-speaking churches. Often, they are motivated by a desire to improve their facility with the language; sometimes they find it hard to refuse an invitation from a Western friend or host; not infrequently, they are curious about Christianity itself.
Thousands of them continue to attend church regularly, even if they don’t entrust themselves to Christ. After all, such a momentous decision usually requires years of observation, evaluation, and worldview transformation before a lasting commitment can be made.
A Tale of Two Churches
Two congregations with which we are quite familiar engage in effective ministry to ethnic Chinese: The Chapel Hill Bible Church (CHBC) in North Carolina, and Trinity Presbyterian Church (TPC) in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Since 1978, CHBC has hosted the Chapel Hill Chinese Christian Fellowship meeting. Members of CHBC have befriended the Chinese, many of whom also attend the English service on Sunday. One has even been chosen to serve as an elder.
TPC likewise attracts Chinese to its services. A Mandarin Sunday school class meets in the Senior Pastor’s office during the adult education hour to discuss the sermon, share concerns, and pray. Other Chinese prefer to attend classes in English. More than one hundred TPC folks serve as Friendship Partners to ethnic Chinese, most of whom are connected to the University of Virginia. The majority of the people in the Chinese Christian Fellowship at UVA, which Dori and I serve as advisors, also go to TPC.
In the East
In Taipei, Taiwan, where I am composing this letter, there are a number of English-speaking congregations. Formerly, most who attended belonged to the international community here, but now the majority are ethnic Chinese.
Friendship Presbyterian Church, for example, is an English-speaking congregation meeting in the same building as its Chinese counterpart. About a hundred come to Sunday worship, most of them Chinese, mostly young professionals. The church offers a full range of services, including education, small groups, counseling, etc., and plans to augment these with learning opportunities in Mandarin also.
Why English Churches?
In addition to the motives mentioned above, other attractions lead Chinese into English-speaking churches. Perhaps, having first heard the Gospel or even believed, through English, they have not yet made the adjustment to Chinese as the language of their faith, which could be because their foreign friends did not introduce them to Chinese-language materials.
A great number of Chinese people feel more comfortable in English-speaking congregations for theological reasons. They say that almost all Chinese churches they visit tend to be legalistic; the preaching often amounts to little more than “baptized” Confucian moralism, with little focus on God’s grace to us in Christ. Often, those who come face pressure to join a group or participate in ministry, or even to be baptized.
Having gotten accustomed to the “freedom” of Western Christianity, they are reluctant to re-enter an obligation-based Chinese congregation.
Dori and I join in the ministry to ethnic Chinese in our church in Charlottesville. I shall be preaching at Friendship Presbyterian Church here June 19th and 26th. Jason Truell will be installed as assistant pastor of FPC during the service on the 26th; that evening, he will graduate from China Evangelical Seminary. With his ability in Chinese and theological training, we believe he, along with Kristie, will have a significant ministry among this very strategic group.
Please pray for God to work mightily in Chinese who elect to attend English-speaking churches.
Yours in His mercy,