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A proposal about building/expanding “9Marks” Chinese (Overseas) church network for overseas Chinese churches


Personal Background and US-Chinese churches situation

My name is Boaz Wenhao Yang. I am originally from mainland China, and I came to SBTS in 2017 and finished my MDiv program in 2020 and ThM in 2022. I was a member of Third Avenue Baptist Church for 4years and a half and joined 3ABC pastoral internship program in the 2020 spring. I have been to CHBC with Victor in 2017 Fall for the International Intensive Weekender. In January 2022, I moved to Houston and started my full-time ministry as a leading pastor of Northwest Chinese Baptist Church (NWCBC). I translate two books, Matt Merker’s Corporate Worship and Tony Payne’s The Vine Project. And I have assisted Getty Music in hosting the Chinese SING conference in the past three years.

 

Five years ago, one of my admired 9Marks brothers told me that the US-Chinese churches are messy. Don’t touch them. I always consider him my mentor, so I keep his words in mind. And then, life and things changed after 2020 because of various reasons, and I finally stayed in the US and became a senior pastor of a local Chinese Baptist Church. Although I stayed in the US (at least currently), I still keep a good relationship with that brother, and Chinese 9Marks team and other reliable Chinese church network which I grew up with.

 

After I started my first year as a full-time pastor in NWCBC, I progressively realized that my dear brother’s word was true. I tried my best to find if there is any Chinese pastors in Houston area who has similar ecclesiological mind with me, and I tried my best to observe different local Chinese churches and took interview with other church leaders as many as I can. But honestly, the result is disappointing. I have met some very good second-generation pastors of Chinese Americans who speak English as their first language and think in American ways. But for the first-generation Chinese pastors, I would humbly say none of them share the same biblical ecclesiology with 9Marks.

 

I have attended some US Chinese church fellowships and realized that the number of US (or North American) Chinese churches might be between 1500 and 2000. But the fact is still disappointing; the spiritual situation of the US Chinese churches is very unhealthy. There are many reasons leading to this result, including Pietism, anti-intellectualism, Charismatic theology, political tension (mainly between Taiwan and mainland China), general sin of men (pride, envy, competition, fight, selfish), age generation gap (more than 75% of Chinese pastors in Houston are over 60 years old, no exaggeration), lacking of good theological education, did not value expositional preaching, etc. But one point is very common and should be highlighted, that is the lacking of solid biblical ecclesiology.

 

Most US Chinese churches are lonely and closed. They inherited the pastoral theology and style from East Asia which focuses on personal relationship much more than the biblical truth and doctrine. They live in their own circle and usually only follow and listen sermons from Chinese side. Generally, the whole Chinese Christianity is still in a very beginning stage, many mainland Chinese church leaders (like Joshua) has realized this, but most of overseas Chinese pastors do not realized this. Therefore, I can fairly said that the current US Chinese churches situation is still in 1980s Hong Kong and Taiwan style because most of pastors from that area and that age. But the current mainland Chinese "underground" churches is very closely following the new movement of reformed theology in the US.

 

Now the strange thing comes: a Chinese church in the US, which even can be in the same area with CHBC, or Grace Community Church, or Bethlehem Baptist Church, still lives in a 1980 Taiwan style, but a church on the other shore of the pacific ocean can be very similar and close with the US healthy churches.

 

To break out the closed mind, and closed cognition about ecclesiology, something must happen. After I came to NWCBC, I start to imagine to build up a new and good churches network among the US Chinese churches. Obviously, I learn this idea from 9Marks and desire to see the new church network happens.

 

I have heard a lot of testimonies about church revitalization about transforming from a bad and terrible ecclesiology to a biblical and healthy doctrine of churches and bringing fresh air to a dying church and making a worn embassy of heavenly kingdom shining again. Honestly, how deeply I hope this can happen in our church and glorify the name of Jesus. And how deeply I hope this can happen in many US Chinese churches, so that many believers, the keys-holder, the ambassador of the heavenly kingdom, can re-discovered their identity and make the Lord's name great and acknowledged.

 

I attended T4G last year (2022) and join an international panel in 9Marks booth (entrusted by Joshua Fang Xie). And after that, I started to contact Katie and Rick to talk about the possibility to organize a US Chinese pastors team to join a International intensive weekender in 2023. By God's grace, and by 9Marks' generosity, it finally happens (in March of 2023). And if every things going well, I very desire to see this program continue in the future.

 

This month, the February of 2023, I attended the Texas 9Marks weekender in High Pointe Baptist Church and had a brief meeting with Ryan. He encouraged me to write a proposal to share my vision. And then, here this document is. I really looking to expanding the current 9Marks Chinese network we already have, or building up a new 9Marks Chinese network that is especially for overseas (outside of mainland China) Chinese churches. Honestly, I, totally, don't mind to combine this network to the existed network which is led by Joshua. That is not the point. The point is I really look to see more and more overseas Chinese churches can start to think ecclesiology biblical, and find good partnership with each other to support and love and pray to each other through our efforts to building up this network and spreading healthy and biblical truth about churches, so that millions of overseas Chinese Christians and churches can be blessed by the healthy church ministry.

 

Evaluation:

I will very briefly list what I have observed among current American Chinese churches and my personal evaluation. Because it realtes to many cultural and historical details, the following session will be very brief and limited. I will try to list some similarities and differences between mainland Chinese churches and overseas Chinese churches, and points out such similarities or differences might become a positive or negative element for my above proposal.

 

1.     Similarities with mainland China churches: language, similar culture (East Asia Culture). These similarities would be helpful when we use current existing material or contribute our strength to provide more Chinese material. 9Marks Chinese (Shanghai) has prepared a huge resource library about 9Marks Chinese resources. I very much appreciate their efforts. And I believe that the current resource library has enough ability to equip overseas Chinese churches to have a solid and stable foundation for healthy ecclesiology. We also can say that the munitions are ready, but the strategy still needs more analysis and discussion. Contextualization is always a difficult task. Overseas Chinese Churches share similar East Asia culture with Mainland Chinese churches but live in a very different context from them. That makes them not look like Chinese, and also American. They have their unique struggle, challenge, and situation. In a word, I would say honestly that: almost the ecclesiology of most of them is poor, unhealthy and unbiblical.

 

2.     Differences: The overseas Chinese churches are more diverse. “Chinese” is a very general title which can included people from different countries, or different dialects, or different ethnic groups. Taiwan and Hong Kong, Mainland China, and Southeast Asia Chinese share different "Chinese culture", under different political environment. Someone from mainland might grow up in a diatactorship. Someone from Taiwan might has some democracy experience. Someone from Malaysia might grow up in a super diverse cultural environment, but also lives under a Muslim government. Diversity brings tension always. Different society shapes different memories about faith (or religion). And different memories and experience would shapes different understandings, and that usually would make our cultural gene very different although we are all "Chinese".

That makes the overseas Chinese churches needs to contextualize all the things that 9Marks want to teach. We cannot merely borrow the current experience from Mainland Christians and churches. For them, one of the main topic is political persecution. My hometown church is also under a heavy persecution now. Therefore, for mainland Chinese churches, they need to some extra thinking on how to make their membership safe and secure. But for us, our main difficulties might be distinguishing the biblical membership from all other membership and democracy thought on the earth; or fight against our negative perceptions of institutions and authority because many of Chinese has very bad experience and memory about institutions and authority  in East Asia. And many of them choose to immigrant to the US because of that reason. So they might oppose these teachings on church membership and authority instinctively.

 

3.     Differences: Different culture and society would shapes different church histories; and different histories would leaves different heritage. So like in our church, different people inherits different heritage of faith, some of them are positive, some of them are negative. For example, Taiwanese churches and Hond Kong churches grows in different tradition and background, the later one is more under British government, but the former one doesn’t. Then, Malaysia and Singapore churches shares another history which is different from the Hong Kong and Taiwanese. And now, all these different people immigrant to the US and gather together in local Chinese church. And that brings a higher challenge to pastors to put all the people together through the gospel.

 

4.     Differences: Overseas Chinese Churches lives in the society with more freedom and democracy, which is good, but sometimes would bring some annoying impact. Honestly, if we believe that our understanding of the Bible and our ecclesiology is firmly and biblical, we should teach and promote it with confidence. The current situation among Chinese churches is bad. Low ecclesiology is everywhere. For overseas Chinese churches, it is urgently need to be taught the good theology and good understanding of the churches. The vacancy of ecclesiologhy needs to be filled. I believe that we also need to wait for God's timing, but we also need to prepare ourselves, so that be ready to be a good utensil of God.

 

5.     Differences: More freedom, more opportunity and possibility;

 

The freedom also brings opportunity to us. US Chinese churches have more freedom to run a ministry. We can support mainland Chinas, and we also can do somethings that mainland China can’t do, or have no time to do, like: publishing more books through overseas Chinese Christian publishing to influence more Chinese churches; creating more videos and audios sources which usually requires more time and energy in a relatively free situation.

And I and my church really willing to be a substitute for my dear mainland brothers, support them, assist them, being a B plan for them. We have very good relationship with them, and I believe that God has his plan and calling upon us to join in this beautiful movement/battle to proclaim more healthy church doctrines and truths.

 

6.     The differences between first-generation Chinese churches and second-generation Chinese churches. Although the second generation Chinese, or Asian people, still looks not like westerns, honesty, they are more American than Asian. They speak native English and grow up in the western culture. They communicate in the American way, instead of the Asian way. So most of the second genenration Chinese churches are more like regular local English churches, and they can get all the theological and ecclesiological resources through all common and regular ways without any translations. But the first-generation immigrant churches are not like that. They are foreign. Most of them grow up in another culture that is very different from the current one. If there is no alien intensional effort, they might live in their old circle all the time although they live in a new culture. The biggest problem in this topic on the first-generation immigrant churches is: they are often gathering as a church because of the language and culture, instead of the gospel. And that is not just unhealthy, that is dangerous.

How to help first-generation immigrant churches? The strategy might be different from other second-generation immigrant churches, because it relates to the process of transforming minds. They need to jump in and out frequently between two cultures, especially, between two understanding about churches.

They always need to acknowledge this tendency, avoid it, and fight against such a worldly tendency. And the way should always be continually strengthening the proclamation of the gospel. Make the gospel big enough, and let it shines, so that people would immerse in it and be attracted by it with clear understanding.

 

Vision:

I really look to see that there is a new and healthy church Chinese church network appears in the near future which is based on biblical ecclesiology. As we look to build a church which is upon the true gospel of Jesus Christ, instead of some worldly similarities, I deeply believe that the pure gospel of Jesus Christ, and the biblical ecclesiology is powerful enough to gather many overseas Chinese churches together, because the word of our God is powerful!

I welcome any ideas about the paths on building this churches comuminity. As the leading pastor of Northwest Chinese Baptist Church, I would love to try my best to lead and teach our church to engage the “brand-new” journey, following the path of biblical teaching about churches, united with other churches which has similar vision, bringing a picture of healthy local churches to the “poor” overseas Chinese churches.

 

People:

Key people in Chinese 9Marks brothers:

Joshua Fang Xie, Chariot Lu, Victor Shu, Hanyu Wang,

 

Key people from the US side and South East Asia side:

Jason Tarn (English Pastor, Houston Chinese Church), Joel Mosier (Senior Pastor, Grace Life Baptist Church), Brandon Hembree (the Pastor of SIBC), Jeremy Young, Geoff Chang, John Lee, Kyle Newcomer (the Pastor of Christ our Savior Baptist Church which is only 15 minutes from our church), Eugene Low (Grace Baptist Church in Singarpore) and maybe more. For more potential brothers, we can consult Joshua Fang Xie, my dear brother in Christ.

 

Key local churches:

Northwest Chinese Baptist Church, Houston Chinese Church (English congregation); Grace Life Baptist Church;

 

Potential churches for the future network:

It depends on how the first International Intensive weekender for overseas Chinese pastors (This March) is. We can find our potential cooperate churches through the 10-days study and discussion together.

 

Potential source and network we can connect with:

TGC Chinese, Ligonier Chinese, China Partnership. For more potential source, we can consult Joshua Fang Xie. (1. As far as I know, the Chinese “DesiringGod” website and resource library is still in a very beginning stage, we might also can consider to do some works for them. 2. Getty Music has produced some very good lecture videos on worship theology; Matt Boswell’s ministry, “Doxology and Theology” and its conference, also has produced some very good sources. We have started another ministry called “Praise as One” which focuses on providing biblical and reliable worship resources, articles, books to Chinese churches all around the world. We have hosted the Chinese “Sing! Conference” online in the past two years. And for translating books, Merker’s book is the first book I have done. All of these can be considered as our potential resource. I hope these information are helful.)

 

Potential Project:

1.     Overseas Chinese pastors team for International Intensive Weekender;

 

2.     Potential Chinese 9Marks internship program (or similar program) in the US, and even in Southeast Asia in a long-term future;

 

3.     Potential Chinese 9Marks events in the US (panel, forum, lecture, or even church weekender in a long-term future)

 

Preliminary Five-Year Plan Proposal:

 

2023

·      International Intensive Weekender (Chinese pastors from the US)

 

2024

·      International Intensive Weekender (trying to include some Chinese pastors from all around the world, not just the US.)

·      Building up a ministry team to support this ministry; (we can consider to work with Xie Fang’s Team, if everyone think this is a good idea.)

·      Planning some Chinese 9Marks events in the US (lectures, or online panels, or seminars) – and testing the water;

 

2025-2026

·      Launching a beta version of pastoral internship program (can be in NWCBC);

o   I know a pastoral internship program requires a lot of human resouece and energy and financial support. But honestly, if we can’t start some such training program, it is hard to find some faithful and reliable elders and church leaders in the current US Chinese churches. So although I know we are still too weak to run an official pastoral internship program, we still look to try our best to have some similar program to build up some brothers.

·      Trying to start a small Chinese 9Marks event in the US (like panel, or lecture, or seminars, or short conference).

·      Trying to start a Chinese 9Marks Video&Audio source platform to provide related media resources; (Translating related sermon, and created contextualized Chinese source)

 

2027-2028

·      Trying to host a beta version of 9Marks weekender.

o   I don’t know what God will do for our church in the future. But I really look to prepare and provide a rough model for the US Chinese Churches so that we can use this platform (or pipeline) to promote the healthy ecclesiology. I will try my best, with patience and love, to equip my current church. Honestly, we are not in a good situation and base. Many tensions and difficulties. But we are in the progress of church revitalization. And I trust in the power of the word of God and the gospel of our Jesus Christ.

·      Trying to host a better version of pastoral internship.

 

For me and our church

·      Trying to make us to be a good testimony;

o   As I said above, the current situation of our church is not good and healthy. But I deeply believe that the word of God is powerful. And I believe, in God’s timing, He will finally make his church a glorious testimony for his gospel. Our task is being faithful on teaching and shapherding God’s sheep, and God will take the key part of changing people’s heart. If you also want to see the new and glorious testimony happen, could you consider to give us any suggestions and recommendations in your mind?

·      Preparing our church to be a base (if it is God’s willing);

o   I have a deep hope to equip my current church to be a "green dot" church (borrowing your word). We really want to be a blessing to the people of God and His kingdom, and becoming a church always can train, equip, send to servant of God for his gospel. So we want to be a base, a military camp of the soldiers of God's kingdom, to always devote on building and making new servant of God.

·      Preparing myself and our church to assist more;

o   If it is possible, I really look to use my sabbatical year to take the internship program in CHBC to equip more and build up a deeper relationship with 9Marks. But I am in the second year of my pastoral journey. The journey is long. So I might need to take 5-6 more years on my pastoral field first, and see what God brings to us, and then see what we can do for God.

 

Last note:

As a young man with passion, I might overestimate what I can do in the short run. May God bless his churches! And may God fulfill his will on his churches, the earthly embassy of the His kingdom!

 

Thank you very much.

Blessings.

Boaz Wenhao Yang

Feb. 28, 2023

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