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Gospel Ministry for the Asian Century

“Asian immigration is saving the Australian church.” So declared Mike Raiter at this year’s Oxygen conference. Bemoaning rising levels of biblical illiteracy and the hostility of Anglo-Australians to the gospel, Raiter speculated that about four out of five converts in Australia are Asian—from China, Malaysia, Singapore and the South Asian subcontinent.

According to the 2016 Census, Australia has more foreign-born residents from Asia than Europe. And given the typically younger age of Asian immigrants, the future of the nation is set to look very different from its past.

But what will be the face of the Australian church? Will we “become all things to all people, so that we may by every possible means save some” (1 Cor 9:22)? That is, will we be Asian enough to reach Asian immigrants with the gospel? And will we help Asian Christians in Australia live faithfully between two cultures?

Fundamentally, if Asian immigration is saving the Australian church, will we be an Australian church that saves Asian immigrants with the gospel?

TGC Australia is meeting this challenge head-on.

Will we be an Australian church that saves Asian immigrants with the gospel? TGC Australia is meeting this challenge head-on.

On 21 July 2018, we convened a National Consultation to form an inaugural Asian chapter. Joining the existing Victorian, Queensland and Illawarra chapters, TGCA (Asian) will mobilise churches from across the country to advance gospel-centred ministry into what has been coined, “The Asian Century.”

The consultation welcomed 34 delegates from five States and four cultural backgrounds. We explored common challenges, such as reaching both first and second generation Asians, and highlighted points of difference in theology, ministry practice and leadership development. Most importantly, the consultation created a shared space to facilitate deep gospel partnership across ethnic, cultural and geographic lines.

The consultation highlighted myriad cultural, theological and ministry issues, three of which we introduce here.

Encouraging culturally-sensitive ministry

Effective gospel ministry among Asian-Australians demands both biblical faithfulness and cultural sensitivity. Almost all of us can think of ministries that have failed not over theological disagreement or even personality clashes but simply lack of cultural awareness.

Just as John Stott called us to listen to both God’s Word and world, we must have an ear to the worldviews of Asian-Australian communities. This involves the ability to cooperate with first generation Asian leaders, bridge the generational and cultural divide between first and second generation Asians, and understand relational and power dynamics in collectivist high-context cultures.

More importantly, both our discipleship and preaching needs to reflect a deep understanding of the Asian-Australian mindset—not simply how we see the world but why we see it that way.

Navigating a diverse theological landscape

A clear and coordinated strategy to strengthen Asian gospel ministry across Australia will involve navigating a diverse theological landscape. Our theologies are shaped by not just our cultural backgrounds but also the cities in which we live.

As CS Tang points out, ‘The ABC (Australian-born Chinese) of Killara is totally different of the ABC of Liverpool because they imbibe the surrounding culture.’

While Asian churches in Melbourne have been historically shaped by the charismatic and Pentecostal movements, our northern siblings strongly reflect the evangelical commitments of Sydney Anglicanism. Words such as ‘evangelical’, ‘Reformed’, ‘Bible-based’, and ‘broad’ and ‘narrow’ all have slightly different meanings city to city.

The extent of diversity therefore gives us pause to ask in humility: ‘Is our ministry practice biblically or culturally driven? And if it’s culturally driven, which culture?’

Creating strategic partnerships

Despite being the second largest group of migrants living in Australia, there is a surprising dearth of gospel ministry devoted to reaching migrants from India, Sri Lanka and the rest of the subcontinent. Indeed, the total number of migrants from across South Asia is almost double that from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan put together.

One of the key blockages to planting subcontinental gospel ministries is simply the lack of resources—this should not be the case. How might other Asian networks meet this need? Could we strategically partner to support planting such a ministry?

Such gospel partnerships could also develop clear leadership development pipelines that acknowledge our shared cultural challenges, chief among which is “not my son” syndrome.

Given these shared challenges and the extent of under-resourced solo ministry, creating strategic partnerships across cultural, denominational and State lines is of paramount importance.

Creating strategic partnerships across cultural, denominational and State lines is of paramount importance.

It will take much more than an introductory article or consultation to resolve these ministry challenges—if indeed, they can be resolved at all. But this is our first word in a long conversation.

Expect to see more online content addressing Asian-Australian issues across every channel of TGC Australia. Later this year, our Arts & Culture channel will review Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians. Our Bible & Theology channel will biblically assess Asian and Western attitudes toward family. And our Faith, Life & Work channel will feature stories of vulnerability in churches gripped by honour and shame.

The chapter will also be convening a further consultative conference in 2019, drawing in churches from a greater number of Asian networks and workshopping solutions to our shared challenges.

The vision of the gospel is not colour-blind. It is a glorious picture of every tribe worshipping Christ as king (Rev 7:9–12). God has brought many of these tribes from across Asia to our schools, universities, workplaces and cities. God is calling us to join his mission, to be caught up in that vision of world-wide worship—will we heed his call?

TGCA (Asian) Committee:

CS Tang, Cornerstone Presbyterian Church

Ying Yee, Chinese Christian Church Milsons Point

Kamal Weerakoon, Epping Presbyterian Church

Steve Oh, Sydney Living Hope Community Church

Nam Doan, Vietnamese Evangelical Church

Adam Ch’ng, Cross & Crown: Melbourne

Photo: by bady qb on Unsplash