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Reflections on China 2014: Two Ships - Different Directions

This is my third blog reflecting back on six days I spent in China recently with Brent Fulton where we met with pastors, seminary leaders and academics in Shanghai and Beijing. I shared in the first blog about my amazement at the growth of the church and the window that seems to be opening for the gospel, and in my second I raised concerns about the environmental disaster that is overtaking China and the key role of the church in calling people to care for God's creation.

This final reflection is more of a vision than a report. As I traveled and spoke with people concerned about the future of China and the church my mind kept going back to my deep concerns about the future of the church in America. As I moved back and forth and considered the past, present and future of God's people in both countries, an image took shape in my imagination. I had a recurring vision of two ships passing on a great ocean. Here is what I saw.

One ship was emerging from a terrible storm. Behind it the sky was black and the waves were enormous. This ship resembled a battleship equipped for war. It had been tossed and battered by the tumult from which it was slowly emerging. The people on board were focused, tested and resolute to guide the ship out and into calmer waters. Although it was still navigating rough seas, it was clear that it had survived the worst, and ahead of it lay smoother waters and clearer skies.

The ship that was passing it was a cruise liner. Its decks were filled with people in lounge chairs enjoying a leisurely sail. They were well-fed, satisfied and somewhat oblivious to the state of the ocean upon which they were sailing. Behind the ship was a smooth and placid sea with warm sun and gentle breezes. The ship was, however, heading directly into the storm from which the battleship was struggling to emerge. Already some of the rougher water was lapping at its sides causing some to take note and be concerned. But most seemed oblivious to the darkening skies and tossing seas that seemed to lie just off its bough.

In this scene there are critical questions for those sailing on both vessels. As the church in China emerges from its decades of persecution and isolation, will smoother waters beckon its people to abandon the battleship? Will a growing societal acceptance give way to cultural compromise and accommodation? Will increasing economic opportunity produce an equally increasing materialism and consumerism? Will the decrease in persecution also decrease the willingness to sacrifice and suffer for the sake of the gospel? In short, will smoother waters turn a battleship into a cruise liner?

On the other ship the questions concern its readiness for an unprecedented storm fueled by a growing anti-Christian agenda? Will the church leave its lounge chairs in time and awaken to the growing threat into which it is blithely sailing? And when the storm rages, will cruise line passengers be able to change into warriors when they have never been equipped or prepared to do so? Can a cruise liner become a battleship, and can tourists become soldiers?

This image has continued to take shape in my thoughts and I wonder how the passengers on each vessel can minister to one another? What can we in America learn from a church emerging from persecution that can steel us for the journey ahead? And what can the church in China learn from us about the price of cultural conformity and the accommodation of radical kingdom values to secular standards and norms? We can be a symbol of warning to them, and they can be a call to action for us.

Two ships, both headed for a version of ruin if the captains and passengers are not prepared for the challenges ahead. My prayer is that we will take a good long, hard look at each other as we pass on this ocean, and learn what God has there for us to learn, that we may all be equipped, as brothers and sisters in Christ, for the voyage that lies ahead of us.

Image credit: Joann Pittman

R. Scott Rodin

R. Scott Rodin

Scott Rodin has a passion for helping Christian ministry leaders take a biblical approach to leadership development, strategic planning, board development and raising kingdom resources. Over the past thirty years he has worked with hundreds of organizations in the U.S., Canada, Middle East, Great Britain, China, India, the Philippines and... View Full Bio