In light of my ministry context, I have been looking for a doctoral program that could provide me with three things: deeper studies in leadership dynamics in the context of globalization, a program that would not only emphasize knowledge but community, and interaction with a broader body of Christians outside my denominational circles. When I left Dallas to meet my cohort in Hong Kong, I did not know what to expect. In many ways I was leaving my comfort zone to start a new journey in my life, and I hoped that I would not end up regretting it. This trip was going to be the moment of truth—Would this program fit my ministry needs?
Arriving in Hong Kong was exciting. I enjoyed seeing the green mountains with tall buildings and people walking on the streets. Staying in a hotel with other students and faculty meant that we had to spend the entire day in community. This setting allowed me to meet Christians from a diversity of countries, ministries, and denominations. This was the first time for me to interact with leaders from the Anglican, Wesleyan, and Assemblies of God traditions. It felt like a microcosm of the Body of Christ.
I was also encouraged by the interaction with the faculty. Everybody was approachable and treated the students as fellow believers in the pursuit of the same journey. I remember having lunch with one of the professors. I did not realize that he was a professor until I asked him in what year of the program he was. Even though it was an embarrassing moment, it captured the essence of my experience with the faculty—approachable, humble, down to earth.
NEW KNOWLEDGE AND SYNTHESIS
Walking on the streets of Hong Kong, visiting different ministries in the city, and listening to the insights of students and guest speakers, provided a powerful combination that helped me gain new perspectives. I returned home with a better understanding of some concepts about culture, theology, and ministry.
On the surface, Hong Kong first introduced herself as a modern city, with impressive buildings and clean streets filled with friendly people who emphasized fashion and order. Yet, as we listened to the different leaders from many local ministries, a different Hong Kong was slowly revealed.
We learned about the umbrella revolution, a sign of the political unrest that younger generations are feeling as China is slowly modifying some of the pillars of democracy. We learned about the needs of the seafarers—the invisible crowds that carry a heavy load of the global market. We learned about the hurting and forgotten—people who are struggling with addiction and pursuing the path to recovery. We learned about the strong competition for education and jobs, so children grow under the pressure of academic performance since kindergarten. When I shared with one of the local leaders that I am the fourth of seven children, he made clear that he would never see that in Hong Kong as most families only have one or two kids due to the high cost for living and education. The combination of this political transition and the tight competition for jobs leads many young students to pursue a new life in Europe and America.
As we were painting an interactive portrait of Hong Kong, we asked an important question. How does our theology inform the way we engage with ministry? The common reflection that resonated across the guest speakers and local leaders was one of the simplest theological truths that can
often be forgotten by those of us doing ministry. It was perhaps best captured by the words of the Very Rev. Canon Prof. Martyn Percy, who said “Love of God, love of self, love of neighbor. That’s all it is.” He reminded us that the church is not an organization like a business. Instead, the church is an institution, which exists to instill values over time. Therefore we must remember that our goal is not to be successful but to be faithful. As church leaders we only have two responsibilities: to be occupied with God, and to be occupied with what God is occupied—the silent, the abused, the distant, justice, peace, compassion. We are called to be driven by our love for God and to manifest it by loving people where they are.
This theological reflection was reinforced by observing and interacting
with a diversity of leaders serving in Hong Kong. Stephen Miller showed us what loving the seafarers looks like. It requires a caring presence and patience—creating a context where relational needs can be met, even if that means to make a church into a hotel. Jackie Pullinger showed us what it is like to love the addict. It requires sacrificial commitment—creating a context where healing can take place, even if that means going to bed with day clothes on in order to always be ready for an emergency. Rick Bates showed us what it is like to love the church. It requires steps of faith and innovation—even if that means hosting a growing church on multiple floors or launching a campaign to buy property in one of the most expensive real estate markets in the world. The leaders of the Hong Kong Lutheran Social Service showed us what it is like to love the community. It requires relevant engagement—creating a context where the social needs of the community can be addressed, even if that means partnering with governmental branches in order to provide quality care for the underprivileged. All of these different manifestations of the Body of Christ in Hong Kong were a powerful testimony to the impactful nature of leadership when it is concerned with loving God and loving people.
Stanley Gretz and Roger Olson remind us that “part of the process of maturing in Christian faith is examining—reflecting critically on—one’s own and other’s beliefs and lifestyles.” The trip to Hong Kong provided a context where I could reflect critically on my own and other’s beliefs and lifestyles. I discovered that this process of reflection was not one that ended the moment I landed back in Dallas. Rather, it lingers as I continue to minister in my city. Right now I can identify four concrete areas that have been impacted by my experience in the Hong Kong advance.
First, I came back with a stronger desire to engage with the Chinese community in my city. The University of Texas in Dallas (UTD) is only five minutes away from my church. A missionary that ministers to the international students told me that the Chinese students are being more receptive to the gospel than any other group. In fact, I was able to do the premarital counseling for one of those students who settled in the area. Having visited Hong Kong helps shorten the cultural gap when interacting with some of these Chinese students. I can immediately sense the positive reaction when I say that I was visiting Hong Kong for a doctoral program. They are intrigued by the fact that I visited their part of the world, and they also value education. So I can say that this experience has provided me with an advantage—I can clearly see a before and after effect. I now feel compelled to start exploring some of the steps required for our church to minister to the Chinese community.
Secondly, I have been reflecting on the use of our church facilities. My thinking was stretched in Hong Kong by staying in a hotel that is a church as well as by visiting the Lutheran social services. If as a ministry we are to engage in relevant ways with the needs of our community, how is the use of our facilities reflecting that engagement? Right now I only have partial answers, but I feel compelled to maximize the use of our facilities for community impact—even if that requires us to rethink our location and our ministry initiatives.
In addition, as I dialogued with different students I became aware of the frustration experienced by women who feel treated as second-class members of the Body of Christ. Even though I do have a complementarian conviction about church eldership, these conversations made me feel compelled to ensure that we develop our ministry in such a way that women are empowered to exercise their gifts in relevant service. Consequently, during the past weeks I have intentionally asked some respected women in our church to open the worship service by sharing a meaningful Bible text from their spiritual walk and leading us in the opening prayer. I do not believe that a complementarian conviction has to result in a disrespectful way of doing ministry. I hope to create a ministry context that is encouraging for all who desire to serve.
Finally, it was encouraging to remember the basics; that at the end of the day, as a Lead Pastor I am called to love God and to love people. I live in a context where the first question people ask after they find out I am a pastor is “How big is your church?” Treating people as numbers, and numbers as trophies is a common tendency among many churches. As I reflect on this concept, I am compelled to ensure that I care for the individual—as a shepherd who cares for the sheep. Rather than being focused on how to “grow” the church I must be focused on “being” the church—being relevant, caring, and loving. I must be intentional in creating a context where people can heal, be nurtured, serve and grow.
I returned from Hong Kong challenged and inspired. I have a renewed commitment to develop Ethnos Bible Church
into a ministry moved by a love for God and a love for people. May these two pillars be the DNA that will shape us into the church that God has in mind.
 Stanley J. Grenz and Roger E. Olson, Who Needs Theology? An Invitation to the Study of God (Downers Grove, Ill., USA: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 26.