Is it okay if I make some broad generalizations here based on some of my observations?
Mark Dever asked me last week what I thought the advantages/disadvantages of a Chinese Church over an American church were and vice-versa. I mentioned that one of the things I could see being improved in the Chinese church was how our actions were measured more by pragmatism than by trying to be deliberately Biblical. But he responded, “But isn’t pragmatism also a problem of the American church?”
So I thought it about it some more and I realized that though American churches and Chinese churches can both be very pragmatic, but this pragmatism will look very different, because Chinese congregations and American congregations will look very different. Think about some of generalizations we can make about Chinese culture (particulary among overseas born congregations):
– more submissive and respecting of authority
– disciplined and consistent in performing what they consider their duty
– place a higher value in performing public duties, in order to save face
– prefer avoiding public controversy
What about American culture today?
– more individualistic and assertive
– proactive in either fixing what they consider to be problems
– enamored with new and exciting technologies and entertainments
– higher expectations of leaders to earn their trust
So with such different congregations, pragmaticism will look very different among Chinese and American churches. For Chinese congregations, pastors will tend to employ a minimalistic approach. As long as they keep the status quo, as long as church gets “done”, then people will keep coming because they are supposed to. On the other hand, for American congregations, pragmatic pastors will need a very active approach. It will involve keeping up with the latest fads, creating new programs every month, fashioning worship services to suit people’s tastes, fitting the church with the latest technologies and conveniences, and so on. Both are opposite approaches, yet both come out of pragmatism. Interestingly, as more and more American-born Chinese grow up influenced by American culture, the minimalist approach to church will be increasingly frustrating for them. The results of this can usually be seen in ABC youth growing up in a Chinese church, heading off to college and experiencing an exciting, dynamic church, and then coming back to their home church and feeling alienated and frustrated by it.
The solution to all this isn’t more pragmatism, but rather to repent of pragmatism and to pursue Biblical faithfulness in our ecclesiology. God intends to display the glory of His holiness and love through the church and I believe that Scripture actually teaches church leaders how to build churches that display God’s glory.
For more info on a biblical vision for Christ’s church, visit www.9marks.org