Read Acts 13:1-3, 14:19-28
Intro: OCBC was planted as a church in the spring of 1976 to reach Mandarin-speaking immigrants in the Ottawa region. Over the years, God has blessed our congregation with people and resources to continue serving as a light to this community. In the nineteen eighties, our English congregation was added to minister to the Canadian-born children of those immigrants. Today, our Mandarin and English congregations strive to work together as one family to establish believers in the Gospel.
Being an ethnic church is not without its struggles. In a presentation given at the Association of North American Chinese Evangelical Free Churches (ANACEFC) Conference in 2009, Keynote Speaker John Auxier of Trinity Western University delivered a message outlining an ominous life-cycle he observed through his research of Chinese and other immigrant churches.
Phase 1: The Missional Phase: This is the initial phase of the immigrant church, usually occurring during a time of booming immigration. The church serves as a place for these displaced immigrants to connect with others who share their cultural background. In this stage, the focus of the church is external. Evangelism thrives. Outreach drives the church and is contagious, for as the church engages itself in mission, it sees people coming to the Lord, which encourage it onward in mission.
Phase 2: The Maintenance Phase: Sooner or later, however, immigration slows. Because there are less people to reach, evangelistic attempts become less fruitful, and missional activities diminish. It’s during this time that the focus turns inward, on maintaining what has been established. Programs turn inwards. It is also during this time that English Congregations are added, generally first as children’s or youth ministries to minister to the second generation.
Phase 3: The Monument Phase: During this phase, the first generation who started the church is now aging. Generation 1.5 (those first generation immigrants who were not part of the first wave) struggles to please everyone, wanting to please the elder generation, while concerned about their Canadian-born kids. And the kids? Most of the second generation leaves the church after the age of 25. The younger generation has no vision for reaching their generation for Christ through the church, so the ones who seek to reach out do so through other organizations. A survival mentality develops; people are so scared to further damage the church that innovation becomes very difficult. In this sensitive environment, church politics becomes more and more of a problem.
Phase 4: The Mortuary Phase: Most churches, upon getting to this stage go down one of these paths.
1) Over several generations, the church will become transformed into an English-speaking congregation with a Chinese heritage.
2) Over several generations, the church will shrink to the point of closing its doors.
We believe that neither scenario is attractive to us. As long as Chinese immigration into Ottawa remains at substantial level, our church must continue to shine as a beacon to new immigrants looking for a home. At the same time, our children and young people need to be part of a church in which they can envision a future for themselves, retaining their ties to their families and community while also branching out as members of the broader Canadian society. In some ethnic churches, these divergent goals have been perceived as being antithetical to one another, leading to conflict within and loss of unity in mission, yet we believe that it is possible a find in the scriptures a common vision and strategy that can unite a diverse church such as our in one mission.
Two Congregations, One Mission
The missionary teams sent out in the book of Acts did not go out aimlessly into the world, but went out with a clear mission. Acts chapter 13 and 14 give the clearest synopsis of this mission, from the sending out of the missionaries to their return at Antioch. At the end of this account Luke writes a very interesting phrase, in Acts 14:26. He writes, “they sailed to Antioch where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work which thy had fulfilled.” It’s this last phrase that is most important to us. When these missionaries went out into the world, they were given a work to do, a task which they were complete that was clear enough so that when they came home, they could say, we did it. So what was their task? We can quickly summarize their strategy found in chapters 13-14, in what has been referred to as “The Pauline Cycle”.
1) Evangelize Strategic Cities: Interestingly, we do not see the apostolic teams planting churches in every city. Instead they focused on key cities, strategic places for God’s kingdom. When they got there they made contacts and shared the gospel of Jesus Christ with those who would listen.
2) Established Believers into Local Churches: The pattern again and again throughout the New Testament is that believers were to be baptized and accepted into the local church. While baptism is an initiation into the body life, it is only the beginning of the establishment process. In verse 22 you see Paul strengthening the believers, encouraging them in their faith, and teaching them about life as a member of Christ’s body.
3) Entrust to Faithful Leaders: Paul did not stay long in the churches he planted – Ephesus was his longest stay of three years. But in the short time he spent in the churches he has very busy training men to be capable leaders to guard and guide the church after he moved on (see verse 23).
4) We must understand that this is not the end of the cycle! In fact, if the cycle were to end there, the church that was planted would be a phase #2 maintenance church. Yet this is not the case of the New Testament churches, and this is vital to us to understand. You see, the Antioch church that sent Paul was not the originator of the Pauline Cycle. They themselves had been planted by the Jerusalem church and as they were evangelized, and established and had leaders appointed, they continued the cycle geographically sending Paul and his team out. However, the church must not only keep the cycle geographically, but also across generations. This is seen most clearly in 2 Timothy 2:2, in which Paul instructed his protégé Timothy, In this passage Paul refers to four generations. The church needs to be replanted in every generation. The cycle must continue for everyone who comes into the church, whether they walk in here off a plane from China, or are born in the church.
This final arrow makes all of the difference between a church being a phase 1 or a phase 2 or 3 church. It gives purpose to everything we do in the church. For in order for the cycle to continue, we must be continually evangelizing, continually engaging our culture with the gospel, continually establishing new converts in the faith, continually raising up and training leaders, and continually sending some people out to continue the cycle geographically while keeping others in to continue the cycle generationally.
The Pauline Cycle gives us a clear mission as we seek to become a phase #1 church again. It brings unity to both of our congregations as we both seek to labour in the same vision, even as the outworking of that mission will look very different given the cultural context of each congregation.
1) Why do you think there is often such tension within intergenerational or multi-cultural churches?
2) How does a focus on the mission of the church alleviate some of the potential tension?
3) What is required from those further along in the Pauline Cycle in terms of their relationship to those less established?
4) Where do you see OCBC as being strong in our establishment of people along the Pauline Cycle? Where do you us as still needing to grow up?
5) Where do you see yourself as fitting into the Pauline Cycle of OCBC?
Project: Write a half-page reflection on where you see yourself fitting into the Pauline Cycle at OCBC. How could you build into people less established? Through what means could you possibly become more established yourself?