Wednesday 17 July 2019

Ruth 2: Day 7

Ruth 2: Day 6

Ruth 2: Day 5

Ruth 2: Day 4

Ruth 2: Day 3

Ruth 2: Day 2

Ruth 2: Day 1

Monday 1 July 2019

The most international church in Cambridge

Which is the most culturally, racially and ethnically-diverse church in Cambridge?

I suggest you, the answer is: The Chinese Church.

Yes, I agree that there are other churches with larger numbers of internationals - with larger programmes for internationals - in this very international city. The Chinese Church, by comparison, seems almost mono-cultural. Everyone here is Chinese.

And, yes, other churches do a better job at welcoming internationals to Cambridge, even training internationals who live in Cambridge, whereas the Chinese Church tends to focus on, well, Chinese people.

Still, yes, others have done more to adapt to internationals - through food, though bible studies in Chinese and Korean, through English language classes.

The Chinese Church doesn’t do this well. We remain very much Chinese in our thinking and doing as a church. We don’t even serve coffee on Sundays. Just tea. Chinese tea.

If this is true, how can the Chinese Church be the most culturally, racially, ethnically-diverse church in Cambridge?

For two very sensible, very scriptural reasons.

1. The Chinese Church is a church

Number one, the Chinese Church is a church - not a programme, not a strategy set up to reach Chinese or be relevant to Chinese people - but a church, like any church, borne through the gospel and redeemed through the blood of Christ.

Back when none of the present international outreach initiatives existed, when it was not “cool” to reach internationals, and, dare I say, not “worthwhile” reaching out to so few internationals here in Cambridge, the Chinese Church began as a bible study in someone’s home. We attended her funeral last weekend. There it began and there it grew: In Aunty A’s living room.

What makes it diverse is the fact that it began here in Cambridge. Not in China.

International ministry today is essentially the majority reaching the minority. That is not true, of course. There are many more Chinese in China than there are British in the UK. The statistics tell us there are many more Christians in China than there are here in the UK. But until I said that, most of us didn’t think that. We think international ministry is about us, the majority reaching them, the minority.

Back then, though, we were the minority.

That small bible study of Chinese Christians in Aunty A’s? It reached out to cooks, to labourers and to immigrants. Someone reminded me today there wasn’t a single white-collar professional until the early 90’s. And we didn’t start out as believers either. Outreach happened. Bible study happened. Discipleship happened. The minority reached out to the minority with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

And my point is this: We are still the minority. The Chinese Church will never be a mainstream church like the Anglicans or Baptists. I’m not talking about numbers. Even if we somehow miraculously quadrupled in size overnight, any Chinese person will tell you (as any international will tell you): We will always be the outsider.

We will always be seen as a minority here in Cambridge.

And that’s a good thing. Because, isn’t it ultimately the goal for any international ministry worth its salt to prepare internationals to reach internationals? That’s how the Chinese Church began. That’s how the New Testament church began - with God reaching the outsider with the gospel of Jesus Christ, what the Apostle Paul calls the “mystery” of the gospel in Ephesians Chapter 3.

Meaning: There is something quite marvellous about that reflection of gospel diversity seen simply in the fact that there is a Chinese Church here in Cambridge. And that brings me to the second reason: The Chinese Church is not (very) Chinese.

2. The Chinese Church is not (very) Chinese

I was reminded of this today at a barbeque for the English-speaking congregation at the Chinese Church. It might surprise you to know there is one. I know some people think there shouldn’t be, that it’s unnecessary, that we’re not very good at it, that it would be better if they went to an English-speaking church. The people who say this might have a point.

Except, of course, all of them who were there today happened to be kids of parents who go to the Chinese Church, who have been coming to this same church all their lives.

You see, when a local church starts an international ministry, they are thinking: students or wives of PhD students. They might even be thinking: Future missionary or bishop of Singapore. As for the parents at the barbeque today - all they were thinking was: I want my son to know Jesus. I want my daughter to not hate coming to church.

They are not thinking strategically. They are thinking sacrificially. I am invested.

It’s not just the English congregation either. I remember at the turn of the century when large numbers of Mandarin speakers flooded the church, how quick the church was in appointing a Mandarin-speaking (lead) pastor, to start bible study groups in Mandarin, to even start a Mandarin congregation overnight. The equivalent today would be for an English-speaking church to switch its main Sunday service to Welsh. For me, this response from the Chinese Church leaders was one steeped in much graciousness, not to mention, godly wisdom. It was not easy but it was the right move.

I suspect that same shift is happening with the increase of second-generation Chinese Christians born in Chinese Churches around the UK. We sometimes forget that God’s means of raising believers is not simply through the conversion of non-believers, as important as that is, but biblically-speaking, through the raising of godly children by God-fearing, God-honouring parents (Malachi 2:15, 1 Corinthians 7:14). That’s the main way the church has grown historically and biblically. Through Christian offspring.

In many ways, that’s harder than reaching the newcomer. When your son grows up speaking a different language from you. When your daughter grows up thinking of God in categories so differently from you. And in order to reach them with the gospel, you do everything you can to remove any and all obstacles to that same gospel. You preach to them in their heart language. You sit in the back row of the English Congregation for five years praying that maybe today, my son/daughter will give their lives to Christ.

One pastor said to me, “People tell me the Chinese Church is not diverse. Everyone is the same culture, same background. They are the same. There is no diversity. I tell them, I look at my congregation and see a young doctor sitting next to an eighty-year old grandma. I see a takeaway chef doing bible study with a PhD student. I think that is a lot more diverse than a roomful of people from all over the world who watch the same Netflix, eat the same food and go to the same school.” Ouch.

Ultimately, what I’m getting at is: The reason Chinese people go to the Chinese Church has very little to do with the fact that they’re Chinese. I’m one of them. I don’t speak Chinese (yet I lead a bible study in Mandarin). It’s wonderful. It reminds me that apart from Christ, the only thing we have in common is our sin. It’s not our Chineseness, our education, the colour of your skin and my skin. The biggest common denominator between you and me is our sin and just condemnation under God. If, that is, we are not in Christ.

But if we are in Him, those differences - your Chineseness and my lack of Mandarin, your love for cheesecake and my lactose-intolerance - only serve to amplify the abundance of His grace and love and mercy through Jesus Christ, your Lord and my Lord.

So my question to you is: Where are you going to see this?

This gospel-focussed, grace-filled diversity that exists amongst God’s people redeemed by the blood of his only Son? This all-out investment in one another that costs us everything for the good and salvation of the outsider, even if that outsider happens to be an insider: your own son/daughter/mother/father/sibling?

I see it here in this church - the Chinese Church. I really do.

And I pray you see it in yours.