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Two winged concept flies in Asia
October 24, 2008
MACAU, China — When small groups from Macau Mennonite Church meet, members include one empty chair in the circle. Those gathered together pray for the person who will eventually fill that vacant seat.
Like members of the early church 2,000 years ago, those at Macau Mennonite are working to find wholeness by making space for both large and small forms of church.
Palmer Becker, who has served in pastoral and educational roles in Canada and the US, helped the ministry team articulate their vision when he spoke at their church retreat in fall 2007. Becker shared ideas about the “two-wing church,” which is based on the model of church created by the first believers and described in the New Testament: “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts” (Acts 2:46).
The Macau ministry team—comprised George and Tobia Veith and Tim and Cindy Buhler, mission workers supported by Mennonite Church Canada Witness and Mennonite Mission Network, and Bailey and Treasure Chow—envisions a church in which members both meet in the temple for worship and in homes for the breaking of bread.
According to Becker, who is writing a book on the topic, the two-wing church is like a soaring bird. One wing is celebrative worship—the Sunday morning service. The other wing represents small groups—regular meetings in homes. The tail of the bird stands for equipping—it is the guiding rudder enabled by times of Christian education.
Becker sees celebrative worship nurturing a vertical relationship with a transcendent God. Small groups nurture horizontal relationships as people care for each other.
Equipping includes training small group leaders, as well as providing times of doctrinal study for all church members through seminars, workshops and retreats.
The Chows wrote in an e-mail, “We have embraced the two-wing church model because we believe it is faithful to the biblical intention for what the church should be. “But,” they continued, “putting it into practice has had its frustrations and discouragements, as well as its joys.”
Because of the burgeoning casino industry, Veith said money is flowing into Macau, but most people do not benefit.
The Veiths, who have lived in Macau for 12 years, say the casino work is disrupting cultural patterns. The Veiths observe that busier schedules have led to neglected relationships and stress within families.
Encouraging commitment to a faith community is also an uphill battle with the temptation of long hours and high wages so near.
“In this place where so much ungodly worship happens,” said Tobia Veith, “it's been a very slow and challenging process.”
Veith said challenges to small groups include needing to engage all parts of a diverse congregation, achieving consistent small group attendance and empowering new Christians to take leadership in small groups.
When entering into the two-wing concept, Becker said leaders should not overestimate what they can do in one year or underestimate what could happen in five years.
Through persistence, the two-wing church style has taken root in several other Mennonite churches in East Asia, including Meilun Mennonite Church in Hualien, Taiwan, and the three churches of Hong Kong Mennonite Conference.
Palmer Becker and his wife, Ardys, are heading to West Bank, Palestine for a special assignment with MC Canada Witness to teach at Bethlehem Bible College from January through May, 2009. Palmer will instruct two seminary level classes while Ardys teaches English as a Second Language to ministerial students in addition to assisting the college library and gift shop. The Beckers’ home congregation is Waterloo North Mennonite Church, Ontario