The dialogue on sending missionaries from China has moved from theoretical discussions to implementation, and the slowly increasing, cumulative experience of Chinese working overseas has added substance to this exploding phenomenon. While it is still premature (and missiologically incorrect) to claim that China will become the leading country in mission sending, one can say with confidence that China is emerging as a significant player in this arena as it learns to partner with other sending nations. The variety of articles in this issue is a vivid illustration of this.
However, warning signs are looming on the horizon.
First, there has been an unhealthy introduction of controversial topics into the cutting edge of missiological debates about China as a mission sending country—debates that have no conclusive final verdict as yet. High on this list is the insider movement, a topic that has occupied center stage in Muslim ministry. The relationship between Chinese mission and Muslim ministry is like love at first sight, an emotional chemistry that cannot be explained. Regardless of our position on the insider movement, the concern is the strong, inflammatory rhetoric being used by opponents of this movement, accusing its supporters of diluting the biblical demand for a public confession of faith. Muslim ministry workers from mainland China who were invited to missiological meetings left such conferences in a state of confusion but were too polite to voice any of their feelings. The lessons here are simple. Do not expose a child to an adult presidential debate no matter how important the issue may be. Be respectful of other believers with differing opinions—Western and Chinese worldviews have very different understandings of opposing opinions, particularly when strong language is used.
Second, in trying to connect and support Chinese involvement in missions, we often ask the leaders to give their opinions on missiological issues—as if they are qualified experts on the subject matter. We have observed many leaders being asked to describe their church’s involvement in a certain field. The reality is this “expert” is no more than a novice by all standards, having spent two or three short visits of no more than three to six months each in the field. The Chinese proverb “揠苗助長” (ya miao zhu zhang, pulling up a rice seedling to help it grow) is an apt metaphor here. Careful planning and critical evaluation are absolutely necessary if we want to help Chinese missions grow. There is no magic bullet and no short cut.
Third, there is a resurgence of outside agencies reopening recruitment offices in China to invite aspiring missionaries to join their teams. This is akin to undoing the task of eliminating colonialism, a process that, by the hand of God, has taken several decades to give China a truly indigenous church. Hoisting an outside agency’s flag will not help China build its own mission program unless an explicit agreement is reached to train such aspiring missionaries for a specific period of time and then release them back to their own church or sending structure in China. What China does not need is a structure of branch offices of outside agencies similar to the way Western denominations organized as they carved up China as a mission field before the 1940s. What China does need is to develop its own mission leaders so they can build mission structures that can be owned by the Chinese church. In the spring 2013 issue of ChinaSource Quarterly, we pointed out the urgent need for field directors to be trained—and this is a unique void that outside agencies, specifically, can fill.
Image credit: Keyboard by Ash Kyd via Flickr.
WU Xi (pseudonym) began serving China during the mid-70s, just before China’s Open Door policy was implemented. He served in many different capacities including working with Chinese scholars studying in the West, front-line evangelistic work, and church mobilization for China. He now focuses on developing China’s mission ecosystem.View Full Bio