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Keys to Effective Service in China

1. Know Your Field of Service

► Learn from China’s History.

Study secular history to understand China’s culture, people, and the Chinese mind. Study the history of Christianity, evangelism, and church development in China in order to understand current ministry needs and opportunities. The richness and complexity of Chinese culture is worthy of life-long study. Find an aspect of the culture that interests you (art, calligraphy, cooking, etc.) and make it an area for continuous study. Your knowledge and interest in this area will enable you to gain respect and provide openings for conversation with Chinese friends.

► Learn from China’s Church.

God has done a great work in China. Even Mao Zedong, who sought to wipe out all religion from China, was a “Cyrus” who unwittingly paved the way for the spread of the gospel (for example, by uniting China with a common dialect). The miracle of the 2nd millennium is 100-fold growth of the church in one generation, from less than one million Christians before 1949 to 60 or more million today. China’s church, arguably the world’s fastest growing Christian movement, is unique in the current world and in history.

Like the early church under the Roman Empire, the church in China has thrived under persecution. In China’s church we see recovered New Testament patterns such as the tuandui, an apostolic, team ministry model. The church went from the “cathedralism” of the missionary era, when church life centered around the church building, to a dependence on the Holy Spirit and recognition of the value of lay ministry and Christian fellowship. In the absence of formal leadership and teaching opportunities, this church has learned the value of God’s Word. The miraculous demonstration of the power of the gospel has resulted in many coming to faith.

Today, in “the Chinese Century,” China’s church is preparing to take the gospel beyond China’s borders. The “Back to Jerusalem Movement,” birthed in the hearts of Chinese believers in the 1930s, has experienced a revival among leaders of China’s house church movement.

2. Equip Yourself for Success

► Receive Pre-Field and On-Field Training.

Utilize the experience of veteran workers/agencies to inform, equip and guide your vision. Take time to inform your vision. Know the value of training, research and short-term trips. (The Morrison Center can help—see the summer 2004 issue of ChinaSource.)

► Establish and Maintain Church/Agency/Candidate Relationships.

These relationships are essential to effectiveness and member care. You cannot be “apostolic” without being “sent.”

► Achieve Acculturation and Language Acquisition.

These are key to effectiveness and heart impact.

► Maintain a Balanced and Holistic Lifestyle.

Adopt a servant/learner posture. Seek health, not speed. Receive from the local culture. Maintain your home identity while you acculturate. Remember that you are still an outsider; you will never be “Chinese.” Avoid the two extremes of, on the one hand, seeking to conform your surroundings to the culture you left behind, and, on the other, seeking to become “Chinese” to the extent that you lose your own identity. God gave us two ears to one mouth and two eyes to one brain. He wants us to listen before we speak and to seek to perceive before passing judgments.

3. Emulate Proven Effective Methods

► Operate in a Relational Ministry Context.

The secret to effective and safe service in China is to reach out to and touch those with whom you have established relationships. In Chinese culture, the emphasis is on the dynamics of the group versus individual identity. Do not ignore the group context when relating to individuals. Ministry should be organic, growing out of the specific situation you are in, versus formulaic. Choose people over projects and depth of, over numbers of, relationships.

► Participate in a Team Model.

The team provides a healthy model for longevity and balance. This is where character is developed and modeled. The team provides a place for comprehensive and complimentary giftings as each member does his or her part. The team also is essential to our testimony as it bears witness to the unity of the Body of Christ.

► Maintain a Local/Indigenous Church Focus.

Commit to planting and strengthening indigenous churches as a primary strategic objective. Other ministry and outreach is subordinate to this objective. Serve, submit to, support, and strengthen local church leadership at home and abroad.

► Use Replicable Models and Reap The Multiplication Factor.

Work vicariously through local believers. Take someone with you so you can be developing others. Be a catalyst more than a primary mover. Help people grow into their place of effectiveness and then fade into the background. Give seeds not grain. Teach to fish rather than give a fish.

► Ascribe to Lasting Ministry Goals.

Serve long-term goals in all short-term strategies. Short-term efforts should be coordinated with those doing long-term work. Make sure adequate follow-up is provided.

4. Do God’s Work God’s Way

► Rely on the Holy Spirit.

“Not by might (human ability), not by power (human strength) but by My Spirit, says the Lord of Hosts” (Zech. 4:6). One kairos moment equals 100 “Roman Road” or “Four Spiritual Laws” presentations. To be effective we need the:

  • Fruit of the Spirit: “Against such things there is no law” (Gal. 5:23).
  • Gifts of the Spirit: To overcome impossible problems and circumstances.
  • Sanctification of the Spirit: Set apart for God’s purposes.
  • Unity of the Spirit: That they might know. We need the Spirit’s leading more than a strong agenda.

► Minister out of Grace not Law.

Effective service requires a balance of grace, faith and works. We need to stress identity in Christ over performance, character over duty and faith over works.

Image credit: Key maker by nadja robot via  Flickr.
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Ray Sharpe

Ray Sharpe has served both in and out of China for the past 14 years. Currently he is recruiting and training workers for cross-cultural service and travels to China several times a year.View Full Bio