Ray Bakke Centre for Urban Transformation, Bethel Bible Seminary Christian Communications Ltd. CC Leadership Development Institute Ltd. December 2019
In order to understand the needs of churches and believers in the Extradition Bill Social Movement in Hong Kong, a joint research has been done to understand the situation that churches are facing, the personal challenges of pastors and the upcoming challenges of church. Our research begins with focus group interviews with pastors in Hong Kong.
In September 2019, we conducted 9 focus group interviews involving 44 pastors from different churches across Hong Kong. The pastor participants serve in different ministries and positions and they represent different denominations. On average, half of the pastor participants come from churches with congregation of under 250 people, with the smallest congregation below 100 people and the largest about 1,800 people in their congregation.
Most of our pastor participants come from churches that have reacted to the Extradition Bill Social Movement through different discussions and actions, only one of the pastors indicated that his church did not mention or react to the movement.
The key results from the research are as follows: (words in italic are direct quotes)
Theme 1: What are Churches Facing and how do They Respond?
In the beginning of the focus groups, many pastors recalled that the experience from 2014 Umbrella Movement has much influence on their response in the Extradition Bill Social Movement. From the experience of 2014, most brothers and sisters and pastors already know each others’ political view and stance. It is therefore more natural in 2019 for brothers and sisters to put their relationships as priority and stay away from discussing with brothers and sisters with different political stance. However, in social media context (especially in WhatsApp chat groups), there were plenty of discussions regarding information sharing and post of different stance, which it is quite common for church members to quit the social media groups.
We wouldn’t argue face to face. When church brothers and sisters are close to each other like family members, we know what political stance they represent.
Relationship is built between brothers and sisters, and we all know the boundaries, what can be said and what not. We won’t make each other feel difficult because of the differences.
As for response from churches, the challenges are more obvious and challenging. Brothers and sisters of different political views and stance have difference expectation towards the response of churches. Pro-establishment church members and those with neutral views mostly reckon churches should not mention political related messages in sermon or even in prayers in worship services. In this movement, many churches have made different levels of response, and therefore plenty of pastors have received complaints from the abovementioned types of church members, and some of them even left the church. For brothers and sisters who are more concerned about justice and democracy, they hope for more responses from their churches but they also understand churches’ limitations. Under such circumstances, they usually liaise and express in their own ways as they join different protests and online petition with other brothers and sisters. From the focus group discussions, many pastors also noted that their youth pastors or senior pastors would go to the protests with their younger church members as they reckon the importance of pastoral presence. Below are the key themes of the challenges that churches are facing in this movement:
Theme 2: State of our Pastors and the Challenges they Face
Many pastors participants shared that they feel tired and heartbroken in the past few months; and it was even more challenging for senior pastors as they have to make crucial decisions and handle complaints. Pastors have to go through thorough considerations on whether they could express their view, stance and personal feelings during this time. Some pastors have expressed their stance already in the Umbrella Movement in 2014. In this movement regarding the Extradition Bill, some of them have joined the protests or posted their views on their personal social media platform. However, they remain to be unbiased and refrain from mentioning their personal view in their sermon messages or ministry. They hope to respect and protect brothers and sisters with different views, but they still receive plenty of complaints and “reminders”.
One brother said to me “You make a lot of post on your Facebook, are you representing church or what? You are a pastor, are you speaking for the church?”I told him that it is my name on Facebook and therefore I represent myself.
We know each others’ stance, so my church members actually laugh at me saying “Our pastor is transforming again, once he takes off he suits, he will put on his black tee”I just tell them I am “going out for a walk”.
Pastors shared that they also face much emotional struggles and doubts, but due to their pastoral roles, there ain’t much channels for them to express their own needs. Pastor participants reckon that network between churches and sharing like these focus groups can help them learn from fellow pastors, and also share each others’ burdens.
There have been times I don’t even know how to pray. In church, I am in my own room and I dare not share with my colleagues as I worry this will affect them. They look up to me to lead the church.
Theme 3: The Challenges and Opportunies of Hong Kong Churches
In the focus group interviews, many pastors mentioned the suppression of Mainland churches by the authorities. In this Extradition Bill movement, several churches and pastors have been smeared, which pastors are aware that the real suppression can be coming to Hong Kong soon and we need to be prepared. Several pastor interviewees reckon that Hong Kong churches need to take reference the house churches model in China. More importantly, we have to learn from the persistence in faith of Mainland believers. Below are some of the ministry direction mentioned by our pastors:
This study captured some perspectives of the experience and challenges faced by churches and pastors in Hong Kong. However, this is only part of the scenario and we hope this study can help the Christian community to better understand the challenges in church and ministries, so we can support each other in prayers as we witness our faith in this difficult timing in our city.
The current situation provides the best soil to build human hearts. We can search for what God is doing in our city and be part of it. I see that God is preparing the hearts of many and I believe there is spiritual revival to come.