Surveying the leadership development landscape in China one finds literally hundreds of outside organizations and churches contributing trainers, mentors, curriculum, print and digital resources, scholarships, and other types of assistance. Yet simply training more leaders does not necessarily address the church’s long-term need to be able to raise up its own indigenous leadership. In fact, some of the approaches utilized today may actually stand in the way of truly indigenized leader development.
As Malcolm Webber points out in this issue, the notion of training trainers has become a popular watchword among many involved in leader development. In keeping with the 2 Timothy 2:2 mandate, equipping leaders to train others is a sound goal. Yet in the long run these leaders will be hobbled if they are only able to parrot formulas but not able to adapt what they know to their own or to others’ changing life situations.
If the emphasis is on reproducing knowledge, not on reproducing values or behaviors, it is possible to end up with many who can teach but not many who can lead.
Vast advances in technology have opened up new avenues for providing training resources. These mediated resources are vehicles not only for sound teaching; they also indirectly import outside models, values, cultural biases and theological emphases. Without an understanding of the context in which these ideas emerged or the ability to ask questions about them, learners have no way to gauge their appropriateness to their own situation or to sift out what is cultural and what is biblical.
Yet these foreign standards may become the measure by which some leaders determine what is sound teaching and practice and what is not, thus precluding them from working through these issues together within their own context.
Not a few organizations that have developed successful training programs or resources outside China approach the Chinese church as a monolith.
Their question is too often not whether the Chinese church really needs what they have to offer (This is assumed.), but rather, how to deliver it as “strategically” as possible. Pastor David’s treatment in this issue of the growing complexity of church leadership in China provides a pointed reminder that a “one size fits all” approach may fall short in adequately addressing any particular leadership situation.
The “packaged” approach also perpetuates the notion that outsiders can do it better, that the local Chinese church does not have the skills or resources to develop its own leaders. As a result leaders become accustomed to looking outside China for what they need instead of searching within the church to discover the gifts that are there, waiting to be developed and utilized.
There is a role for believers outside China to encourage the church in its efforts to develop leaders. It is our hope that this issue will stimulate healthy discussion about the nature of that role, “so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:12b-13).
Image credit: Journal Entry (Joel Montes de Oca) by Chris Lott, on Flickr.
Brent Fulton is the founder of ChinaSource. Dr. Fulton served as the first president of ChinaSource until 2019. Prior to his service with ChinaSource, 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 …View Full Bio