Luther points out in his article, "A New Era for House Church Leaders," that China's unregistered church is "breaking through the surface of the water" and becoming more visible. This new visibility has implications both for how the church relates to the larger society and for how church leaders can now relate to one another.
While all would agree this is a welcome trend, it does challenge some of the common operating assumptions of those outside who seek to serve the church in China. Whether purposefully or by default due to security concerns, many such organizations have made a practice of isolating those whom they serve in country. In extreme cases, this isolation takes the form of telling Chinese believers that, if they are going to receive assistance from x organization, they should not relate to any other outside groups. Others, through their insistence on certain doctrinal or theological positions, make it clear, implicitly or otherwise, that to interact with Christians who do not support these positions would be unwise, perhaps even heretical.
Understandably many outside partners, concerned for the doctrinal purity of those whom they serve, thus seek to protect them from harmful influences. Yet, taken to the extreme this isolationism not only keeps Christians in China from interacting in helpful ways with their counterparts outside China; it also can promote further divisions inside. As a result, leaders are deprived of opportunities to learn from one another and to share both external and internal resources.
Barnabas's experience in the Antioch church, recorded in Acts 11, provides a helpful model of how, by playing a catalytic role, we can help leaders during this new era of visibility to enter into mutually beneficial relationships with one another. After coming up from Jerusalem and serving for a time in Antioch, Barnabas sought out Saul, recognizing that his unique background and gifts would serve the Antioch church well. Barnabas did not need to remain in the center of that ministry. His concern was the maturing of the church, not his own future career or longevity in Antioch. He trusted God for what would eventually come about as a result of bringing Saul together with the Antioch believers. This humility and position of servanthood enabled him to facilitate a partnership that would eventually see the Gospel spread throughout the known world.
One of the most valuable contributions outside partners can make to the development of leaders in China is simply creating the space in which these leaders can come together as peers, encourage one another, grow together and launch new partnerships built on relationships of trust and mutual respect. We echo the challenge that Luther poses at the close of his article in this issue of ChinaSource: Chinese church leaders are changing their strategies. Is the global church ready?
Brent Fulton is the founder of ChinaSource. Prior to assuming his current position, he served from 1995 to 2000 as the managing director of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Wheaton College. From 1987 to 1995 he served as founding US director of China Ministries International, and from 1985 to... View Full Bio