In part two of this series we looked at the transition from leading to modeling. For many foreign organizations, China’s new Overseas NGO Law is hastening this transition. Duties that had been the responsibility of foreign workers must be passed to local colleagues as the role of foreign leaders is redefined.
On the other hand, while the Chinese government is making it more difficult for foreign organizations to operate in China, it is encouraging local groups to join the NGO sector in meeting needs that the government has identified as priorities. Like the new overseas NGO registration process, the road to successfully establishing a local NGO is not necessarily a smooth one. Yet for China’s Christians, the burgeoning local NGO sector provides a legal avenue for social engagement in a variety of areas.
Having created viable social service models over the past decades, entrepreneurial foreign NGO leaders whose own positions in China may be in jeopardy have the responsibility to transfer this knowledge and expertise to local colleagues. In some cases they can also pave the way through opening up relationships in the community, with officials, and with financial supporters.
In this excellent series on localization, one foreign NGO leader in China outlined many of the difficulties inherent in this process. The transition from being seen as the one doing the work to being the one who makes it possible for others to succeed requires a great deal of intentionality and humility. As this leader explains, coming from a culture that views attainment to a position of greater authority as a sign of success, one of the biggest obstacles to making this transition may be a misplaced notion of stewardship:
More troubling is the belief that an expatriate who isn’t leading is somehow burying his or her talents. The notion of “career” has infiltrated the mission world, and so “success” in mission is sometimes tacitly understood to mean advancing along a career ladder from position to higher position. To step backwards—to give authority to others and take a back row position—can thus be considered foolish. If you are not leading, then you are somehow not “stewarding your gifts” faithfully or “leveraging your resources.” This is western thinking, enmeshed in the prideful thought that the best kind of service is leading. While some may be called to leadership, most are not—and the question itself misses the point of service in the Kingdom (God is looking for “good and faithful servants”). This was the folly of the disciples, and runs contrary to the gospel truth that the “First shall be last and the last shall be first.”
Being a faithful steward involves stewarding relationships, not for the purpose of enhancing one’s own ability to get things done, but for the fulfillment of the greater purposes that will be fulfilled through the lives of others.