I feel a little bit like Gavin Hewitt or Gavin Esler bringing you a news report on loication from Hong Kong. Sounds exotic, except I’m a pastor feeling just a little guilty because I’ve lost my flock on the other side of the world. All because of some volcanic ash from Iceland? Sounds a rather lame excuse.
So what am I really doing here? I came to China two weeks ago to learn what God is doing in and through the Church in China. To find out how you do mission in a hostile environment. Not just in a sceptical marketplace, but under persecution. In competition with ancient and deeply rooted superstitions.
The 19th Century was the era of British mission. The 20th Century was the era of American mission. And if the Lord does not return, the 21st Century will be the era of Chinese mission. In the next decade or two, we are going to see the Chinese church send our millions of mission partners to reach the world for Christ. Do you realise there are more Christians in China than members of the Communist party?
Let me illustrate. Wednesday I spent the afternoon with Ching. He was one of our translators in China. He’s a young man gifted in languages and music. He has a passion to share Jesus Christ with Jews and Muslims. Does it sound strange that Chinese Christians have a burden to share the gospel in the Middle East? Think about it, if God can place that burden on the heart of Brits or Americans, why not the Chinese?
No, the 21st Century is going to become the era of global Chinese and Indian mission, just as we are seeing Nigeria become the powerhouse of Christian mission in and beyond Africa. It will not be long before European and American mission agencies become a minority in the global Church. When instead of being sending countries, we become receiving countries. Humbling isn’t it?
The question is not will they partner with us and with Western mission agencies, but rather will we partner with them? That is why I came to China. I made plenty of notes. I thought of a few ideas to try out on you when I got home. I made some good contacts for the future.
But then at the end of ten days in China, God gave me a test. There was no mention of an appraisal in the schedule. But that is typical with God. Full of surprises. My test was simple. He took away my flight home. He might as well have taken away my passport but the ticket was enough to make his point.
He took away my Tuesday morning with the staff team on the Mercedes Benz World skid pan that I had been looking forward to sooo much. He took away my week to recoup, be with the family, wash my clothes, prepare for today’s services and be rested and ready for my mission trip to the USA from tomorrow. He took it all away and left me here in a hot and humid and sticky Hong Kong for another week. Because he had some unfinished business for me.
Despite my best efforts to find another way home, the earliest date I could get a flight to the UK is 10th May – in three weeks time. God has a real sense of humour. He took me out of my comfort zone – my carefully organised schedule. He said, “loosen up Stephen, chill out, stick around, and see what I am doing here in Hong Kong a bit longer. Lets see if you can apply the theory. Follow me and I will make you…”
God is like that isn’t he? He is always testing us, stretching us, pruning us, refining us, because he has an ultimate purpose. What is his purpose? God has put us on this earth for at least five reasons,
1. You were planned for God’s pleasure – to know him and love him.
2. You were formed for God’s family – to find a home and family.
3. You were created to become like Christ – to be holy and blameless.
4. You were shaped for serving God – with a unique mix of talents, skills and passion. He has given us spiritual gifts to build up the Church. That is your assignment and mine.
5. You were made for a mission – to introduce other people to God’s 5 purposes.
As a pastor, when you are separated from your flock, from your family, from your community, your friends, your books, your diary, and dare I say it, from your computer, what are you left with? Your personal relationship with Jesus, the biblical values that shape your life, and your calling as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
You don’t stop fulfilling your assignment just because you’re not where you thought you would be today. You continue to glorify God where ever he sends you.
In the West church affiliation is often based on worship preferences, on music taste or preaching style. We’ve turned Church into another form of consumerism. Biblical discipleship, by contrast, is purposeful, intentional. It focuses on our becoming disciples, making disciples, who are themselves, making disciples. We were, as Dawson Trotman, the founder of the Navigators put it, “Born to Reproduce”.
The Church in China – through 60 years of adversity – has grown faster than the Church in the West. The blessing of democratic government and material prosperity have not necessarily made us fruitful.
Let me illustrate. Despite living in an authoritarian State that institutionalises atheism, that tries to regulate the activities of the Church, Christians still engage openly in evangelism. Their strategy is very simple but effective. In Beijing University, when a student opens the door, the believer says, “I am a Christian. Would you like to know why? It will only take 10 minutes.” Polite but direct isn’t it? Hardly rocket science. You don’t need to go on a course on evangelism. You just need to know who you believe in, what you believe and why. Guess what? On average, seven out of ten students invite the Christian into their room, and three out of ten pray to receive Christ. Does this excite you as much as it does me?
For the last 13 years our mission strategy at Christ Church has been very simple. “To know Jesus and make Jesus known”. We achieve that in three ways – evangelism, discipleship and mission. Our priorities can be summed up in three words – win, build and send – This is the core of my ministry and I expect it to be yours too.
Everything we do as a Church should accomplish one or more of these three, and preferably all three, at the same time. For me, the most important event last year was the launch of our 2020 Vision and Five Year Plan. It sets our agenda. It summarises our priorities. The Church Council have owned it. Now its your turn.
By the grace of God, we are dedicated to accomplishing great things for God. 2020 may seem a long way ahead. In all probability I will not be here in ten years time. You may not be either. So, if we are to fulfil our vision and realise our goals we are going to have to focus on our core priorities – winning, building and sending others – to reproduce ourselves. This will involve cooperating with the Holy Spirit and with one another, learning, innovating, experimenting, failing, reflecting, adapting, reappraising, refocusing, motivating, equipping, training, delegating, empowering, releasing, recruiting, and so reproduce ourselves. Our vision as a Church is really very simple. Our vision is to grow stronger through worship; warmer through fellowship; deeper through discipleship; broader through ministry and larger through evangelism. To God be the glory.
One thing is sure. If you are expecting our church to stay the same in 2010, you are going to be as frustrated as I was on Monday when I realised I was not coming home. Then I realised God had more work for me here.
That is why I am still in China. To know Jesus and make Jesus known. That’s why I will be flying to the USA tomorrow – to know Jesus and make Jesus known. And God willing, that is why I hope I will be returning home on Friday 7th May, to know Jesus and make Jesus known. So now you know what my earnest prayer for you is, today and everyday, whether with you in body or in spirit. I pray that you will share wholeheartedly in our 2020 Vision. I pledge myself unreservedly to fulfil my part in realising our 2020 Vision, with all the strength God gives me, for as long as he gives me on this earth.
Will you join me in re-dedicating yourself as a member of Christ’s Church in Virginia Water? Will you rededicate yourself to the mission of Christ Church? To the 2020 vision?
I was going to preach on Ephesians 1 this morning. I’m sure Francis did a better job than I could, so instead, let me use the passage as a prayer for you. Make it your prayer for those sitting around you and on the podium in front of you.
“For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all his people. I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that can be invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.” (Eph 1:15-22)
To him be the glory, forever and ever and ever, Amen.