Encouraging and supporting local believers as they pursue God’s calling in their lives is much more difficult than simply teaching what is most comfortable for the teacher. Here are a few suggestions to help ensure that outsiders ministering in China remain focused on serving local Chinese Christian communities rather than the other way around.
- Create an environment that welcomes and encourages local believers to disagree with and offer constructive criticism for expatriate Christians. This will require expatriates to frequently and freely admit their own mistakes and may initially require expatriates to give voice to doubts or criticisms that locals feel uncomfortable expressing on their own.
- Create situations where expatriate Christians sit under local believers who are teaching them and/or in authority over them. This not only encourages local believers but also provides a unique opportunity for expatriates to learn the passions and priorities of local Christians on their own terms. This is also one of the few ways to overcome the sense of local hierarchy that typically gives preference and deference to the foreign guest—regardless of merit or warrant.
- Include local believers in strategy meetings, allowing them to have real input into the agenda. This means recognizing the right of local believers to determine which issues are most pressing in their churches and communities. It will likely require extensive one-on-one pre-meetings to create the kinds of trust and security that are necessary for Chinese coworkers to express honestly their own ideas and opinions.
- The ultimate implication of points 2 and 3 above is that local believers should be leading. Period. They should be running strategy meetings, and they should have authority in their Christian communities: any expats ministering in those communities should be serving as willing participants under the local leaders.
- Make it a priority to use Chinese language materials developed by Mainland Chinese believers in as many situations as possible. What is familiar for the expat may not be best suited for the local believer. This will likely require judicious and discerning use of China’s burgeoning homegrown on-line resources. While showing respect for local Chinese brothers and sisters, this practice also helps highlight local interests and priorities.
- Finally, when responding to questions from local believers, it is important to acknowledge which parts of our answers are rooted in God’s word and which parts come from our own experience and preferences. Making this distinction clear helps Chinese Christians to grasp where God’s commands are at stake as opposed to simple questions of personal preference, all the while encouraging them to develop their own ways to apply God’s truth to their culture and society.
Helping others grow into the people God has made them to be requires tremendous humility and a great willingness to embrace inconvenience for the sake of others. But once personal agendas, pride in our own wisdom and that ever-present need for control are set aside, we open ourselves up to be God’s instruments for working his purposes—so much better than ours!—for our Chinese brothers and sisters in Christ.
 Thanks to Joseph W. Handley of Asian Access for this point.