Resistance to Chinese Missionary Sending and Strategies to Defuse Resistance

Facilitating Sustainable Chinese Missionary Sending in the Present Context

From the series Missions from China—A Maturing Movement

In this series of articles, through a survey of the recent missiological literature and field research with Chinese missionaries and potential missionaries, I have considered social, cultural, and financial challenges currently confronting the Chinese mission-sending movement. I have highlighted the need for mission-sending organization development. The role of the international church has been contemplated. In this the final article of this series, I would like to examine potential and actual sources of resistance to the Chinese missionary sending effort. There are many forces acting for and against (Figure 1, See below). Three important sources of resistance to Chinese missionary sending that I will focus on in this article include: 1) the Chinese government, 2) the Three-Self church, and 3) the Chinese house church itself. At the conclusion of this article, I will propose strategies to defuse this resistance.

Chinese Government Sources of Resistance

Previously, the governing Communist Party, through the Religious Affairs Bureau, set up the Chinese Christian Council, and under the auspices of the Three-Self church, attempted to unify all Protestant believers in one “patriotic” Christian organization.[1] [2] Leadership of the Three-Self movement was loyal to the central government, and emphasis doctrinally was placed on those aspects of the Christian faith that were felt to be conducive to building a just, stable society.[3] [4]

Bishop Ting and other key Three-Self church leadership promulgated a hermeneutical approach known as Theological Construction based in the Neo-orthodox approach of theologians like Paul Ricoeur.[5] Scripture was viewed, not through a historical, cultural lens with an emphasis on what the text meant to its original author and hearers, and then application to the present context. Rather Scripture was viewed in the framework of communist party objectives. Portions of Scripture that helped construct a just socialist society were emphasized, while those passages, for example, teaching an eschatological end of the world in the return of Christ were deemphasized. Cross-cultural mission was not a focus of the Three-Self church. Cao Sheng Jie, President of the Chinese Christian Council wrote in 2007,

Because of the heavy duties of pastoral work, we do not have strength at present to respond to calls to assist in the ministry of churches in other countries . . . In the past dozen years, some international church groups have spread the idea that in Asia and the Middle East there are still a lot of “unreached peoples,” (meaning those who have not received Christian faith). They advocate concentrating their strength for a “mission drive” directed at atheists and Muslims . . . If the people I have been referring to put their plan for “evangelism” into practice, I fear there will be even more bloody conflict among religious believers. Can this be in accord with God’s love for humankind and God’s gift of peace to humanity?[6]

The appointment of clergy and admission to advanced theological training were also generally at the pleasure of the Chinese communist leadership.[7] Yet the communist Religious Affairs Bureau was flexible when offending lay Christians would run counterproductive to implementation of United Front policy, which sought primarily the development of Chinese governmental and economic goals.[8]

This basic framework of selected Chinese historical information is important as a context for understanding Chinese missionary sending. The Chinese government places priority on the building of a just and stable society, on harmony between ethnicities and nations. To the extent that cross-cultural evangelism is seen as hindering those goals because of resultant interethnic and interreligious friction, missionary work can attract government censure. When Christian activity is compatible with Chinese societal development, Chinese church goals suffer less. To the extent that missionary activity can fit within the larger framework of Chinese societal development without compromising Christian faith essentials, it has greater potential to succeed.

The goal of mission service is the spread of the Christian faith. A country hosting Chinese missionaries, under pressure from its citizens feeling threatened by conversions to Christ, may complain to Chinese authorities, thereby placing strain on relations between the two countries.[9] Inside China, conversions from minority Muslim groups could contribute to interethnic friction. Such friction in recent history has led to instability in regions with significant minority populations. Understandably, the Chinese government wants to take all available measures to promote peace and harmony in order to further its vision of a better living situation for all its citizens and therefore might restrict efforts leading to Christian conversions. Well thought out strategies for evangelism, discipleship and missionary sending which have the potential to encourage unobstructed development of the church are needed in the present context.

Chinese Registered Church Sources of Resistance

The Chinese registered church is governed by the Chinese state, and its agenda thus includes both secular and spiritual goals. Parts of the Bible emphasizing justice and peace are emphasized. Mission initiatives, though promoted from the pulpit and in song, must inevitably feel the impact of a weighty priority, namely the economic and social goals of the Chinese central government. Missionary activity by the registered church that does not conform well to these goals would invite censure. Perhaps because of this, Chinese registered Three-Self church leadership has discouraged Chinese involvement in mission in the past, while citing limited personnel resources.[10] Restrictions on where evangelists or missionaries are allowed to travel have constrained the forward thrust of the missionary endeavor in the past.[11]

Chinese House Church Sources of Resistance

Chinese house churches vary in opinion as to how much emphasis to place on cross-cultural mission service. Conservative fundamentalist Protestants generally are not strongly oriented toward mission sending, believing that too much work yet remains to be done in China. Evangelical Protestants by contrast are interested in mission-sending preparation, but feel that China does not yet have the resources or capability to sustain a successful effort.[12] Among those who feel strongly that mission activity is a present overarching concern, some hold that the task of Chinese mission sending belongs exclusively to the Chinese.[13] Nationalistic enthusiasm may sometimes accompany this view.[14]

Strategies to Defuse Resistance

In order to defuse resistance to missionary-sending organization development, the positive aspects of Chinese missionary service need to be emphasized while deemphasizing or appropriately managing perceived negative aspects. The Chinese government has a goal of improving the quality of life for all its citizens. Material prosperity, better health, and better education are all seen as key components of this vision. Where possible, methods of aligning with these Chinese governmental goals should be found.

In the case, for example, of doctors, mission activity has potential to contribute economically. If Chinese physicians are able to provide excellent care for Chinese expat businessmen through a tentmaking international clinic model in, for example, Istanbul, Chinese businessmen would be more willing to locate themselves there, thus furthering the economic goals of both China and Turkey. Further, peaceful, harmonious goodwill engendered by medical care across ethnic lines can be highlighted. Within China, compassionate medical care for Chinese minority groups holds promise to build bridges of understanding between different ethnic groups, thereby promoting harmony and a stable base on which to build a strong and just society. Evangelization done quietly and sensitively with friends and other natural contacts is frequently not offensive. Successful financial operation of international clinics by Chinese missionary physicians may at the same time answer objections from evangelical Christians who feel present resources are insufficient for the missionary task. Positive results and advancing momentum potentially create alignment of activities and vision between unrelated groups and individuals.[15]

For both registered and non-registered churches, strong impetus for missionary service is found in the call to make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:18-20), the knowledge that God is not willing that any should perish (I Tim. 2:3-4), the command for Christians to love their neighbor as themselves (Matt. 22:39, Mark 12:31), and the fact that no Christian gift of love can be given that is greater than a personal relationship with a God who truly is and who fills all of life with meaning. Although some in the Chinese church regard Chinese mission sending as exclusively a Chinese task, foreigners willing to support the Chinese indigenous mission-sending movement could initially begin with Chinese Christians open to receiving help while emphasizing that, in Christ, spiritual bonds connect Christ’s church across national and ethnic boundaries (Gal. 3:28, Col. 3:11).

Figure 1: Lewin’s Force Field Model Depicting Important Forces for and against Chinese Missionary Sending [16]

In this model, size of the arrow may perhaps represent the relative strength of a factor for or against Chinese missionary sending. Credit goes to Kim-Kwong Chan for highlighting many of the below noted social and geopolitical factors related to Chinese missionary sending.[17]


  • 2007a. South Korean Hostage Apologizes for Being Captured.
  • 2007b. Taliban Say S. Korea Paid Over $20 Million Ransom.
  • Aikman, David. 2003. Jesus in Beijing: How Christianity Is Transforming China and Changing the Global Balance of Power. Washington D C: Regnery.
  • CAO Sheng Jie. 2007. “Mission in the Chinese Church.” Chinese Theological Review no. 14 12.
  • Chan, Kim-Kwong. 2005a. “Missiological Implications of Chinese Christianity in a Globalized Context.” Quest: 55-74.
  • Chan, Kim-Kwong. 2009. Mission Movement of the Christian Community in Mainland China: The Back to Jerusalem Movement (Draft).,
  • Chan, Kim-Kwong and Eric R. Carlson 2005b. Religious Freedom in China: Policy, Administration, and Regulation: A Research  Handbook, Santa Barbara, CA: Institute for the Study of American Religion.
  • Clinton, R. 1992. Bridging Strategies: Leadership Perspectives for Introducing Change. 1 vol. Altadena, CA: Barnabas Publishers
  • Collins, James C. 2001. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap—And Others Don’t. 1st ed. New York, NY: HarperBusiness
  • Hunter, A. and K. Chan. 1993. Protestantism in Contemporary China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Jiang. 2003. “Gaodu Zhongshi Minzu He Zongjiao Gongzuo” (Greatly Stress Ethnic Minority and Religious Work).” In Xinshiqi Zongjiao Gongsuo Wenxian Xuonbian (Selections of Documents from Religious Work in the New Era). Beijing: Religious Cultures Press.
  •  Nyiri, Pal. 2006. “The Yellow Man’s Burden: Chinese Migrants on a Civilizing Mission.” China Journal Volume 56: 83-106.
  • Vala, Carsten T. 2009. “Pathways to the Pulpit: Leadership Training in “Patriotic” and Unregistered Chinese Protestant Churches.” In Making Religion, Making the State, 96-125. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
  • Veale, Jennifer. 2007. “Korean Missionaries under Fire.” Time,,8599,1647646,00.html.
  • Wang, Ambroise. 2001. “Understanding Theological Construction in the Chinese Church—A Hermeneutical Approach.” Ministry in the Chinese Church.
  • Withheld, Name. 2012. Assisting Chinese House Churches to Become Great Commission Churches, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.


  1. ^ A. Hunter and K. Chan, Protestantism in Contemporary China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 24.
  2. ^ Carsten T. Vala, “Pathways to the Pulpit: Leadership Training in “Patriotic” and Unregistered Chinese Protestant Churches.” In Making Religion, Making the State, 96-125. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009, p. 99.
  3. ^ Jiang, “Gaodu Zhongshi Minzu Gongzuo He Zongjiao Gongzuo” (Greatly Stress Ethnic Minority and Religious Work).” In Xinshiqi Zongjiao Gongzuo Wenxian Xuonbian (Selections of Documents from Religious Work in the New Era). Beijing: Religious Cultures Press, 2003, quoted in Vala, p. 100.
  4. ^ Hunter, p. 24.
  5. ^ Ambroise Wang, “Understanding Theological Construction in the Chinese Church – A Hermeneutical Approach.” Ministry in the Chinese Church, 2001; Vala, 2009, p. 100; CAO Sheng Jie, “Mission in the Chinese Church.” Chinese Theological Review no. 14 12, 2007, p. 4.
  6. ^ CAO, pp. 10, 11.
  7. ^ Vala, pp. 103-108.
  8. ^ Vala, pp. 109-110; Hunter, pp. 48-49.
  9. ^ As an example, South Korean missionaries in Afghanistan were taken hostage in 2007 in a situation that rapidly became an international affair (“Taliban Say S. Korea Paid Over $20 Million Ransom,”, 2007,,8599,1647646,00.html.) (See also Kim-Kwong Chan, “Missiological Implications of Chinese Christianity in a Globalized Context.” Quest, 2005 p 67.)
  10. ^ CAO, pp. 10-11.
  11. ^ David Aikman,  Jesus in Beijing: How Christianity is Transforming China and Changing the Global Balance of Power. Washington D C: Regnery, 2003, pp. 228-229.
  12. ^ Name withheld, “Assisting Chinese House Churches to Become Great Commission Churches,” The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2012, p. 179.
  13. ^ Unnamed Chinese house church leader.
  14. ^ Pal Nyiri, “The Yellow Man’s Burden: Chinese Migrants on a Civilizing Mission.” China Journal Volume 56, 2006, p. 106.
  15. ^ James C. Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap–And Others Don’t. 1st ed. New York, NY: Harper Business, 2001, Kindle location 3061.
  16. ^ R. Clinton, R. Bridging Strategies: Leadership Perspectives for Introducing Change. 1 vols. Altadena, CA: Barnabas Publishers, 1992, Appendix G.
  17. ^ Kim-Kwong Chan and Eric R. Carlson, Religious Freedom in China: Policy, Administration, and Regulation: A Research Handbook. Santa Barbara, CA: Institute for the Study of American Religion, 2005, pp. 66-67; Chan, pp. 63-64, 74;  Name Withheld, p. 213.
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Si Shi (四石)

Si Shi (pseudonym) has lived in China for more than five years and has many friends who work in the medical profession.View Full Bio