Barry CHEUNG, General Secretary
Hong Kong is in the eye of the storm as international relations are in turmoil due to the pandemic of the century. Many things we have been accustomed to for a long time may not be fully restored. In fact, the impact on Church has been severe. In this time of what the world sees as a crisis, how can God’s people turn it into an opportunity?
Church growth was a principle adopted by many in the 80s and 90s, which catalyzed growth in congregations and in church planting. However, behind this growth was a value that was more economically oriented, with the congregation’s own “interests” at the forefront. The Gospels describe the pattern of Jesus’ ministry, “Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Mt. 9:35-36) The outreach of the gospel is not based on any strategy or plan, but “seeing”, seeing the real needs of people who are lost like sheep without a shepherd. However, “seeing” alone is not enough. At the heart of it is a “compassion” for people that takes one out of his or her own circle and into the suffering lives of others, which Jesus reminds us is the real motivation for outreach.
The proposition that “congregational expansion equals the realization of God’s kingdom” is no longer tenable in the context of Hong Kong today. Yet, can we humbly admit that we have been going further and further astray from the gospel call? The Book of Matthew tells the story of Jesus healing the blind men (Mt. 20:29-34). It was a great multitude roaring to welcome Jesus into Jerusalem as King. When Jesus heard the cries of the blind men, who were being oppressed and neglected, he put aside his ongoing “public lecture” or “mega event”, went up to the blind men to talk to them, and invited them to express their needs, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mt. 20:32) In the noisy and bustling situation, Jesus listened attentively to the humble plea of the weak, “Lord, we want our sight.” (Mt. 20:33) Jesus’ heart was touched, then touched the eyes of the blind so that they would see the Lord face to face and follow Him. (Mt. 20:34)
Whether we accept it or not, Hong Kong and the rest of the world have entered a new normal. Can the Church remain complacent or just cut the feet to fit the shoes? Apart from understanding the situation and assessing the risks, we should face authentically the gospel’s challenge which is the most crucial trial. The “gospel” exposes the falsity of human nature and overturns all rigid and dehumanizing value systems and institutions. Perhaps the “gospel” is first and foremost a call to the present leaders of the church to repent, to re-learn to “see” and “listen” and, more fundamentally, to comprehend the Lord’s compassion for humanity.
What is the shape of the church in the new normal? If the congregation-centred growth model can be released, it seems inevitable that congregation should be connected to their communities. Open our eyes to the community, we will see that the church is part of it and that the community is the locus of the Lord’s will and compassion. In this way, the images that we are used to visualizing, such as worship and fellowship, are no longer confined within the church’s walls, but also require a renewed understanding of where truly the “church” is.
In addition, the meanings of “division” and “unity” should be redefined in the new shape. Perhaps “color-coded pastoral care” is not a perfect way out of an impasse, but we should not underestimate the fierce controversies that arise from differences of position (in fact, the deeper conflict is differences of belief). Amidst the reality of Hong Kong and while the Kingdom of God has yet to be fully realized, can we accept a temporary division and still be part of each other’s body of Christ? Another statement of Jesus, which we sometimes find ourselves afraid to confront, becomes so truthful at this very moment, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Mt. 10:34) The “division” brought about by the gospel prevents anyone from holding themselves up as the banner bearer of “unity”, but only in the grace of reconciliation accomplished in Christ can we understand the mystery of “unity”.