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Questions for the ‘adulting’ next generation church

Grace Lung serves on the pastoral team of Brisbane Chinese Alliance Church, is Director for Asian Contextual Engagement for the RICE Movement, and is a Research Fellow for the Centre for Asian Christianity.

When I look around at our Asian churches in Australia, I see a church that is coming out of adolescence. The second generation church is learning how to ‘adult’ − taking on the responsibility of working in the real world, starting families and so on. But part of this ‘adulting’ also involves learning how to re-relate to our parents − the first generation church.

For some of us, the relationship between the two churches is estranged. Abuse may have been involved. There is trauma and wounds on one or both sides. Other second generation churches are feeling the tension, like a working adult still living at their parent’s home – who still need to stick to the rules of the family, yet have a different way of life and values to their parents. We work in silos, venturing out of our metaphorical rooms to speak with our parents when there is a combined meeting, or there is an event or anniversary to organize. The home/ church is like a ‘hotel’ that we physically reside in, but hardly relate to the owner. Others have ‘moved out’ so to speak. Our parent’s church may ask us to come over more often to visit, but we are content to leave it at a respectable distance.

As we learn how to ‘adult’ as our own second generation churches, we are faced with 3 questions:

1. When is it time to move out?

Unlike our American counterparts, whose ‘Silent Exodus’ of the second generation gave rise to a new crop of large, pan-Asian churches, our second generation Australian adulthood has coincided with the church planting movement e.g. Geneva Push, Acts 29 and City to City. The result has been a larger number of smaller and largely autonomous congregations. As a movement that has come out of the States, it mirrors the individualism of the Western church. Though only just reaching adulthood, the church is quickly autonomous − to learn and achieve independence.  While this model has obvious benefits such as acting as a safe place from dysfunctional homes, it can also function as an exit point for disgruntled and broken young adults. They do not have the opportunity to address their wounds and can take the brokenness with them to new church fellowships. The growth of new second generation congregations with autonomy is to be celebrated, yet my concern is the lack of healing and dysfunction that can impact their new congregations.

2. Who gets to be in my new family unit?

As second generation churches grow into maturity, a big question is who is going to be considered ‘my people’? Will it be mixed race? Will it be the same ethnicity? Do we have our own name, removing any traces of ‘Chinese’ or ‘Vietnamese’? Even as we decide to be much more open than 1st generation churches, sometimes we cannot deny that we are Asian, and to be Asian often means a strong emphasis on relationships in church growth. As those who were or still are the minority in ethnic churches, our leadership and group dynamics can often mimic the dynamics that were in our home churches. As those who were unheard, with new power we are finally heard, but need to be wary of failing to listen to other ethnic minorities in our congregations. We will look around and wonder why our efforts to be more open may not achieve much fruit.

3. What is our new identity?

I am not like my parent’s generation, but what am I? Many of us leaders have been educated in a system (including theological) that assumed we were Caucasian. We lacked sufficient tools to critique and contextualize for ourselves. And so, our so-called biblical neutrality can sound a lot like the Western church, which is in decline. If you close your eyes in your congregation, can you tell that the gospel has been contextualized to this particular people group? Or does it sound very similar to an Anglo church? We lack mentors amongst us and so we look to Anglo resources: coaches, trainers and psychologists to help us, but they cannot ever understand our Asian context. At the same time our parent’s generation don’t understand us either. Like new parents listening to the conflicting methods of Western medical experts and Asian traditional methods on raising healthy children, we need a discerning mind of the Spirit as we listen and critique the different voices, knowing neither offers the full answer but both provide wise (and contextually bound) advice. We will need creativity and innovation. We will need time to make mistakes and experiment as we develop our own indigenous theologies, our own voice and ministry methods to nurture people within our context.

Without processing and healing, how we answer these questions, may be characterised by unprocessed wounds and dysfunction, resulting in the passing on of pain on to our own church families.

My goal and hope is to help our churches achieve healing and interdependence. Part of this will involve the first generation, like parents handing over their child on the wedding day, being ready to release their children to fend for themselves. The next generation will see the first generation as a place of warmth and support. Like a healthy extended family, they will love eating together regularly, sharing and laughing together. They are two distinct households, at the same time, one family under Christ.

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