Praise the Lord that throughout recent years the 100 million believers found in Chinese churches have become more and more burdened with missions. Today, Chinese people are found everywhere in the world, so we can say the era of Chinese missions has come. This is the work of Almighty God. However, it means that Chinese churches need to prepare for a new era. The following is a reflection on both the advantages and difficulties facing the Chinese church in its mission endeavors.
Mission: an absolute necessity for the church
The essence of mission is to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in different or similar cultures. God wants all people on earth, regardless of race or color to worship him. Revelation chapter seven shows us the future worship scene in heaven:
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”Revelation 7:9-10
In Matthew 28:16 Jesus tells his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations. This command, given to the church, by the head of the church, is a mandatory, absolute, and non-negotiable order. All nations and nationalities of the world are our goal. Our mission is to reach them. Some may think that mission is exclusively the business of foreign missionaries; Chinese churches only have to evangelize Chinese. However, Christians should have a universal perspective and heart because our Lord Jesus is king of the universe.
Difficulties facing mission among Chinese churches
While the Chinese church has many participants, how many missionaries has it sent? Many countries have received missionaries but very few of these are from mainland China or overseas Chinese. The numbers are out of proportion to the tens of millions of Christians in China. Why has the Chinese church not sent more missionaries? The following are some reasons for this failure.
The lack of desire for mission in Chinese churches is closely related to the national character. Chinese are very attached to their families. While the parents are alive, a son or daughter may not go very far abroad. Parents are reluctant to let go of their children—especially nowadays when many families have only one child. Many children have been spoiled from childhood, are unable to bear hardships or responsibilities, and are selfish. In addition, parents are not willing to let their child go into Muslim areas or other dangerous places. How will they become missionaries, soldiers for God’s kingdom?
No spirit of adventure
Chinese are not used to international living. They are unwilling to face danger and lack the will and spirit of giving, in both money and life. Being self-centered, the church has no burden for missions.
Need for revival
Chinese house churches have a tradition of prayer—and prayer can move mountains. The new generation of Chinese churches can follow this wonderful tradition by uniting in prayer and launching national, missionary prayer meetings. Prayer can revive Chinese churches.
Bias between domestic and foreign ministries/missions
The Chinese mindset is closed and selfish. Chinese people often believe that one should not interfere with another’s business before solving one’s own problems. This is a manifestation of Chinese cultural isolation. This exclusivity is seen in Chinese proverbs such as these:
- To resist foreign aggression, we must first get rid of the enemy within;
- Put your affairs in order before you help others;
- Each one sweeps the snow from his own doorstep and doesn’t heed the frost on his neighbor’s roof.
In addition, Chinese think there are so many people in China who have not heard the gospel, why should they spend effort and money preaching to foreigners? The bias that differentiates between domestic and foreign ministries/missions has divided the church. This blocks the advance of missions by the Chinese church to the extent that the church becomes the “Chinese” church rather than part of the universal church.
“Life” without mission
Some churches put a special emphasis on spiritual life, which is good, but life without mission is dead. Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” (John 4:34) Jesus knew full well that his mission on earth was to fulfill God the Father’s plan and finish his work. On the cross he said, “It is finished.” The Father’s will was done and his mission was accomplished. Is there a mission in our lives?
Immaturity in the church or individual lives
Sometimes we use the pretext that our life is not mature enough to be involved with mission. Yet, how does a believer’s life grow without involvement in mission? In addition, mission should not be postponed until a church is “capable” or “mature.” Some may think that because a church is not mature enough, it should lay aside missionary ministry.
Lack of mission agencies
The history of missions makes it clear that no single church can fulfill God’s mission; there must be cooperation among churches. I believe the mission agency is the best mode of cooperation among churches.
Churches in China are largely congregational and operate independently. However, mission requires cooperation, including training of missionaries, provision of finances, dispatching, fellowship on the field, and so on. Chinese churches need mission societies, but at the moment, the number of local mission societies is very few. Those that have had some success in China are the large, house church networks. While they are not mission societies, they are large groups and have mechanisms similar to those of a mission society.
To establish a mission society, cooperation is essential, but this is very difficult for Chinese churches. What is the basis for cooperation? Scripture says, “Until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God….” (Ephesus 4:13a) Unity in truth is true unity, and only such unity has mission power. In other words, unity of fellowship is the foundation of a mission society. A church that sends missionaries should be a church with a healthy fellowship that is united with several churches in truth.
The selection of missionaries should be carried out by both the church and the mission society. In this respect, Chinese churches can learn from Western and South Korean churches. At times, I hear brothers or sisters say that the model of Western missions is wrong; we should have our own mission procedures with Chinese characteristics. While I believe God has a special leading for the churches in China, there are similarities in some basic mission principles that apply to many countries. We have no basis or right to judge the Western church’s mission that has at least 200 years of history behind it. A humble start for the Chinese church is necessary. Learning from pioneers can help it avoid many stumbling stones.
Difficulty in conquering the language barrier
Language is of great importance for missionaries. Learning a language costs money, effort and time—often a long time, even years. Many churches are capable of sending missionaries but unable to support and wait for them to learn the language. In mainland China, few missionaries have received higher education meaning that very few have had experience in mastering a foreign language. Thus, some Chinese missionaries may not be prepared to pay the price. On the other hand, during this time, while missionaries are spending money for their family’s livelihood without any concrete “fruit,” some churches want to give up and put pressure on the missionary to see results or learn faster. Nevertheless, language learning is a necessary part of missions. The most effective way to understand a culture is through learning its language so that one can communicate with the local people in their heart language.
Advantages: the Chinese church’s inheritance
In spite of the difficulties, God has given the Chinese church an inheritance that can help in mission work. Many people state that the 21st century is China’s century. Others state that China is about to take up the last leg of missions. However, we should not say this for it implies there will be only Chinese churches doing mission work in this century—and that idea is not biblical. Rather, the Chinese church should take this as an encouragement for a church that is young in its mission endeavors. Foreign churches will continue their mission work—it is an essential feature of all churches. Statements suggesting that only Chinese churches are doing mission work are arrogant. Rather, we should say that in the 21st century Chinese churches will participate in and become members of the great ministry of the universal church and its mission. Nevertheless, God has given a special inheritance to Chinese churches.
The house church example
Preaching the gospel to Muslims is very difficult. Most Islamic countries do not issue a missionary visa, so missionaries cannot minister publicly; they have to establish underground churches. That is exactly the feature of Chinese house churches—it is what we Chinese do best. Western and South Korean missionaries are more comfortable with a church model that has fixed meeting places and licensing qualifications for clergy, but these are not necessary to establish underground churches in Muslim countries. Because of their strong hostility against Christianity, it is very rare that a church is built in an Islamic country. Generally, these countries will not allow their people to convert to another religion. If individuals do so, they are at risk of being imprisoned or even beheaded. A missionary may only see several people believe in Jesus in his lifetime, and all of the believers will remain in underground fellowships. This is the same fellowship mode of the Chinese house church.
The Chinese language
The worldwide popularity of the Chinese language is beyond imagination, especially in central Asia and Pakistan where Chinese teachers are very popular. Because of this, Chinese people do not need any special skills or business to survive outside their country; they can survive with just the Chinese language. In Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, the Chinese language department at one university has more than a thousand students. Pakistan has a large number of schools that need Chinese language teachers, and they will provide accommodations and salaries. The need to learn Chinese is everywhere in the five central Asian countries and Pakistan. Chinese Christians can get a Chinese Language Teacher Certificate in China and then go out on a mission. Some ministries offer help in training and tests for Chinese language teaching qualifications. What a great grace the Chinese language is for us when it comes to missions!
Rapid development of the Chinese economy
The rapid economic development in China over the past 30 years is a miracle which provides opportunities for missions in Chinese churches. Financial support and investment in missions become possibilities. With growing economic power and a large population, Chinese are now beginning to fill the world. We see the grace of God with more and more Chinese being converted. I am convinced that God has given the Chinese church these many Christians so that missions can move forward.
Friendly relationships for many years
One country that has been extremely friendly to China is Pakistan. Pakistan’s relations with the United States and the West have declined greatly in recent years, but relations with China have been consistently friendly. Its people like the Chinese quite a lot. In northern Pakistan, there is a road called China-Pakistan Friendship Road which historically was the road for silk trading. Starting from the Khunjerab Pass in China, it goes all the way to Islamabad. Taking nearly 20 years to build, the Chinese government sent tens of thousands of workers to build this road, and hundreds of them died during the construction process. Now in Gilgit a northern city of Pakistan, 88 Chinese workers who laid down their lives for this project are buried in a martyrs’ cemetery. The people there welcome the Chinese. Is this not similar to the voice of the Macedonian calling for someone to come help them?
The Chinese church’s participation in missions
How then should the Chinese church participate in missions? Following are four important aspects.
Pray for missions.
God listens to prayer. Prayer is not speaking in vain, but speaking to the living God. Pray for all nations, missionaries, and China. We now have a prayer ministry for all nations that is held every two weeks. We look forward to seeing more churches participating in prayer for missions.
Contribute to missions.
Set aside a proportion of the tithe, say 10%, for missions. Some Korean churches take 51% or even 70% of tithes for mission work. The church should not spend all its money on domestic ministry; rather, there should be monies for mission work as well as the training and support of missionaries.
Promote missions through education and training.
Make short-term mission trips.
These can be either abroad or in national minority areas. If you have a missions’ spirit, encourage other brothers and sisters to become missionaries.
Even as God spoke to Joshua, his words are an encouragement for China’s church today:
Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them…being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.Joshua 1:2b, 6 -9
Chinese churches should take on greater mission responsibility in this new century and spread the gospel to every corner of the world. I am truly grateful that God has blessed us in China with such a great population and with many Christians in our churches! May the gospel be spread over the whole earth through Chinese missionaries, just as the waters fill the seas! Hallelujah!
- For information about these courses, see the following links: Kairos website, Course Descriptions at https://www.kairoscourse.org/course-descriptions; Perspectives website with course information at https://www.perspectives.org/#.
- “95/25 Gate” is a refinement of the 10/40 window that is becoming popular. It identifies a square block defined by longitude east 95 to east 25 and latitude 10 north to 40 north. This gate represents an area from north-west China in the east to Egypt in the west; and from sub-Saharan Africa in the north to Indochina Peninsula in the south. It represents most of the unreached blocks in the world, covering the Islamic, Hindu and Buddhist world. This concept is often presented in seminars and talks.