The desire of all those who work with the Chinese church is to see a healthy church established in all areas of the nation. Healthy churches are the result of sound leadership and sound doctrine. In the Western world, we have the same battles as in China. We all know that the “success” of a church is not measured in numbers but in the soundness of its leadership and doctrine, thus creating an environment in which people can become all that Christ wants them to bemature sons that do the work of the Father. It is not he who starts well but he who ends well that is commended by our Lord Jesus Christ. In order to end well, we need to continually develop as leaders and model before those we lead what it is to be Christlike. It is his character that we want; it is his passion for doing what pleases the Father that we seek.
The Chinese church has strengths for which we envy them. They are strong in evangelism and are willing to sacrifice all for the Lord, to name some. Yet, our strengths can also become our weakness. Tony Lambert writes: “It is ironic that the explosion of the number of Christians in China can also lead to the growth of cults through the lack of sufficient teaching.”
It is for this reason that we believe that the church in the West has something to contribute to the church in the East. In the West, we know what sound leadership looks like and what sound churches are, although we acknowledge that we still have too few of them. Our weakness and their strength, and vice versa, means that we have need of each other, and together we can come to completion. We can learn from the Chinese church, and they can learn from us. I believe that this is in line with what God wants.
The only reason we are working in China is because the Lord has led us there—not because we know it all. We desire to come alongside those leaders in China who, in as far as skills and exposure to sound leadership is concerned, have been at a greater disadvantage than we have. We have many resources available which they do not yet have.
Focus on the “Real Person”
The danger for every organization is that we tend to focus on achievement, numbers and results. When we talk about leadership, we should not forget that leaders are people. Too often we come across organizations that have all sorts of strange and hurtful mechanisms to push for results. These results may look impressive in newsletters but are destructive for the people we want to see become saved, sound in character and sound in doctrine. God’s focus is people, not numbers. Leaders are, in the first place, people—people who have personal needs. We, as Christ’s disciples, should also care about the person regardless of his or her influence or position.
Working in China, the biggest challenge is to get to know the real person. Both in China and in our own culture, we have a fear of loss and rejection. It can safely be stated that this fear is a major issue in China. All of us have encountered the frustration that comes when we try to get close to an individual. However, if we want to counsel those whom we train or the leaders whom we work with, we need to communicate with the “real person.” The Chinese, based on their own experience, see openness as foolishness, and they view Westerners as naive in this regard. As Westerners, we can help by understanding their fears, by dealing with our own fears, and by trying to build a relationship that results in allowing one to deal with the “real person.”
When training leaders, it does not suffice to just fill them with knowledge. Knowledge is often just another wall people hide behind so that no one can get to know their inadequacies and weaknesses of character. It is a general principle that when leaders fail, they do not fail because they lack knowledge; they fail because they lack character. However, to change a person, someone needs to come alongside that individual. Then, training becomes more mentoring which automatically means dealing with small groups in order to spend time with each person individually. When mentoring, you need to be honest, to be real yourself. Intimacy is “in to me see.” Dare to share. Jesus Christ himself not only spoke about meekness, humility and dependency on the Father; he modeled it day by day.
Facades of Fear
There are many issues that that are tremendous obstacles for the church in China. We need to deal with these areas first before we fill potential leaders with the knowledge of the truth. When truth is poured into a troubled mind, what is the result? We see distortion of the truth, sectarianism, abuse of believers and leaders falling into sexual sins. Some organizations might even have worked for years with leaders who are now found to be living in sexual sin without ever having realized the great need of the “real person.”
We have found that when we become close to other individuals and help them name the issues they face, they will overcome their shame and shyness. However, naming the issues does not mean that individuals know how to deal with them. So, together we look for scriptural keys on how to deal with these facades. For instance, white lies in order to save face, strategic thinking in order to outdo the other person or to get even with someone who has wronged you, lack of accountability in areas of finances or sexuality, distorted concepts of leadership that lead to manipulation and blind obedience are examples of a few of the facades that must be dealt with.
A Clear Conscious
In talking with others about forgiveness, we have shared the scripture, “Confess your sins to one another.” One young leader let it drop that the Chinese never do that. The older ones were quite perturbed; the young man had clearly let the cat out of the bag. When we questioned him he said, “We never confess our sins because there is no need for it. The Bible says forgive one another, so when I do wrong the other has to forgive me. So why would I need to ask forgiveness?” However, this type of thinking causes strained relationships. When difficulties are never acknowledged and dealt with there is brokenness in the relationship.
Paul warns Timothy to fight the good fight with faith and a clear conscience. Because some have neglected this, he says their faith has shipwrecked. What did they neglect? Not their faith but their clear conscience. In China, there is no lack of faith. The Chinese church outdoes the Western church in the faith department. However, we have come across leaders who were so burdened in their consciences that they suffered from depression and anxiety. A troubled conscience leads to compromising the truth of the gospel, not hearing the voice of God and to abuse and sectarianism.
Identity and Intimacy Lead to Unity
Many Chinese leaders we work with struggle in the area of identity and intimacy with God, their spouses, their children and their co-workers. It is a wonderful testimony and encouragement when they share that we are able to help them in this area. If they are able to see that they are loved by their heavenly Father for who they are, and in spite of what they do, they change. They need to know, as never before, that they are loved. We have seen how those who have had an encounter with the Father’s love have started to grow in their God-given identity. In finding their identity, they experience intimacy which leads to real unity.
Modeling Versus Teaching
“Most lessons are caught and not taught,” is what the British say about childrearing. When we first went to China, we taught eight hours a day, five days a week, without any problems. We had much knowledge to share. However, this left us unfulfilled and drained, and we were never able to see the fruit of changed lives. To excite the mind might be interesting for the intellectual. To excite the emotions might be interesting for the preacher. However, the Lord taught us to test the fruit. Scripture does not tell us to test the knowledge or measure the emotions. Rather, the fruit we look for, as seen in Galatians 5:22, 23, is the character of the Father. This is how we came to develop a non-curriculum based, participatory style of training that we find very productive in reaching our objective, which is healthy leadership.
Caring about the Person
One leader, who was in our training, was so damaged by all that had happened in his network that his leadership was unproductive. Nevertheless, he could not imagine that God would allow him to lay down his leadership. However, we believed that staying in ministry would destroy him more.
We advised him to lay down his leadership role so he could be healed and grow sound in doctrine. At present, he is living in a city spending time in study, rest, counseling and prayer for a year. Because we cared for the person, we gave unpopular advice. How can we ask a person to forsake his calling and lay down his ministry? It is because we believe that when he is restored he will be a leader of sound mind, sound doctrine and sound character.
Christianity Is Relational
One Chinese leader shared:
We were knowledge oriented and only had many problems and no answers. Through the training, we understood that it is all about relationships. Now we are relationship oriented. The result is that our relationships within our marriages and with our children are functioning better. The relationships among our Bible school students and co-workers have also improved, and things are starting to happen in our church.
Coming to know the Father is like a homecoming, and it gives tremendous freedom and release from a performance-driven life. That is sound leadership.
Image credit: ChinaSource