The view from the pew in an Australian Uniting Church isn’t always inspiring. Many long-term congregation members are all too aware of empty seats, voices that waver on beloved hymns and the lurking spectre of a budget committee meeting when the service ends…
It’s true that church attendance in Australia is in decline, as it is throughout much of the Western world. But that’s not the full story. Globally, and particularly among our Asian neighbours, Christianity is still the world’s largest and fastest growing religion. In China, three new churches have been either re-opened or newly built every single day for the past thirty years. And as a global church, partnering with brothers and sisters throughout Asia, Africa and the Pacific, we’re renewed by this growth.
Through an historic new partnership with the China Christian Council, we’re also faced with a unique opportunity to shape the future of global Christian leadership.
“The China Christian Council has looked world-wide for a ministry partner to support its development and share what it’s learning about this massive revival among God’s people. Closed for 12 years during the Cultural Revolution, the Chinese Church now conservatively numbers anywhere between 23-70 million worshippers every Sunday and is set to be the largest on earth within a decade,” says Ji Zhang, UnitingWorld’s Church Connections Asia Manager.
“The reality is that Christianity is moving from the West to the East – a hundred years ago 80% of all Christians lived in Europe and the Americas. These days that number has dropped to 36% and the fast-growing churches of Asia and Africa are becoming the face of the global Church. In supporting the future leadership of the Chinese church and learning from them, our relationship with China is incredibly significant.”
Deng Xiao, a 27 year old theological student from Nanjing Theological Seminary, is likely to become the sole ordained minister of a congregation numbering up to 10,000 people within the next few years. Like many young people in China, he heard the gospel at a time in his life when he was seeking peace, purpose and a sense of community.
“I aim to use my training to tell others the good news about Christ,” he says. “I hope to influence others so we can make a difference to society – I have learnt at the theological college here that we seek understanding of people’s needs, not just focusing on faith but on the wellbeing of the people.”
Deng’s appointment is likely to be to a remote community who have waited many years for his appointment. That’s because in many parts of China, only one ordained minister is available for every 18,000 Christians. By contrast, one Uniting Church Minister is available to every 39 parishioners in Australia.
China’s severe lack of trained leaders presents a critical challenge to the nurture of God’s people right now and the shape of the Church to come.
“The harvest is large, but the workers are few,” says Reverend Kan, General Secretary of the China Christian Council. “Our most critical need is for more trained leaders for our church. We are reaching in partnership toward the Uniting Church of Australia because we see a unique global Church with a theology, commitment to social service and love for God’s people that we share.”
Through UnitingWorld, the UCA partnership aims to help train a new generation of global church leaders like Deng and learn from thriving, engaged congregations of God’s people. Theological scholarships will be offered, particularly to women and students from remote ethnic communities, while exchanges will be fostered between Australian and Chinese students, lecturers and congregations to share knowledge and resources that will invigorate the local church.
“This exciting partnership represents a significant opportunity for the Uniting Church in Australia not only to support our Christian brothers and sisters right now but to help shape the Church of the future.” Ji says. “The students who participate in the scholarships will become the leaders of the Chinese Church, while the UCA will have valuable opportunities to learn together with one of the largest growing communities of faith in the world.”
To find out more about how to take part in this exciting new partnership, or to have Rev Ji Zhang speak with your congregation about the opportunity to support this ministry, contact UnitingWorld on 8267 4267 .