Member Care Is Part of the Mission

The sending of missionaries from China and the high attrition rate among those sent have highlighted the need for better member care. Standing in the way of providing this needed ministry are deep-seated theological convictions and cultural values that make it difficult for Chinese workers to even consider or understand what member care is. Unless these barriers are addressed from a solid biblical foundation it will not be easy to convince Chinese workers that member care is a necessary part of fulfilling the great commission.

This issue of ChinaSource Quarterly speaks to these barriers and to the areas that have suffered so much due to the lack of attention to the needs of workers from China.

In our lead article, we seek to clarify what member care is as we look at the biblical basis for missionary care as ministry. Emphasizing the need for a holistic approach, we point out various areas that need to be addressed.

Two articles in this issue unpack the theological and cultural assumptions that prevent a fuller understanding of member care in the Chinese context. Asking why it is so difficult for Chinese workers to recognize the value of rest, Peng Xiaohui points to the Confucian emphasis on duty that is embedded in the language and symbols of the culture. Dennis Ahern surveys the role models of the Chinese church, for whom suffering was a key part of their Christian identity. Both authors touch on the concept of “eating bitterness” as central to the Chinese ethos of ministry. While suffering is a necessary part of the Christian life and certainly has had a significant place in the contemporary Chinese church experience, Ahern reminds readers, “There is no place in Scripture that teaches us to feed bitterness to our Chinese brothers and sisters by abandoning them and their member care needs.”

Daniel Sher continues this theme in his article on fatherhood and missions by looking at how the Chinese understanding of what Christ said in Matthew 19:29 has led some Chinese workers to neglect their families, believing that this demonstrates the depth of their Christian commitment. Paul’s teaching in 1 Timothy 3 is not given as much importance. Unfortunately, it is often the breakdown of relationships within the family that results in workers having to leave the field. Using the example of Abraham, Sher maintains that God’s way of blessing the nations is through families. He urges missionary husbands and fathers to return to the core of spiritual fatherhood and to reflect on the call to fatherhood even as they respond to the call of the Great Commission.

In her article on missionaries and marriage, Lisa Tsai offers some surprising observations from her field research on cross-cultural workers from China. Her practical suggestions for agencies and field leaders provide a roadmap for helping workers thrive by nurturing healthy marriages.

Our book review for this issue looks at China’s Ambassadors of Christ to the Nations: A Groundbreaking Survey by Tabor Laughlin, who also conducted fieldwork on Chinese cross-cultural workers. While highlighting some of the key issues affecting Chinese workers’ longevity on the field, Laughlin’s work also points to the need for further research, particularly in the current era when it has become more difficult for sending churches to maintain contact with and serve those who have been sent out from China.

In the Resource Corner we feature Serving Together: Caring for Chinese Missionaries, a handbook newly released in Chinese and forthcoming (October 2022) in English. Bringing together the insights of pastors, counselors, and agency leaders with deep experience in serving Chinese cross-cultural workers, this handbook makes a welcome and timely addition to the existing member care literature.

Member care is not an add-on, a luxury, or a distraction from the “real work” of cross-cultural ministry. As Lisa Tsai states in the conclusion to her article, “The well-being of missionaries is part of the mission.”

It is our prayer that the articles in this issue will raise the profile of this vital service to God’s servants, prompting deeper discussion and sparking new practical efforts to prepare and to come alongside those being sent.

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Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton

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

Ruth C. Chang

Ruth C. Chang received her doctorate in clinical psychology from Rosemead School of Psychology in 1980. Since 2006, Chang has been an associate staff of Narramore Christian Foundation, serving missionaries as well as speaking and writing about marriage, family, and other relational topics. From 2006 to 2012, Chang and her …View Full Bio