Peoples of China

Toward Healthy Partnerships in Leader Development

At a recent gathering of experienced church leaders and trainers from across China, participants were asked to reflect upon how the contributions of outside organizations could best promote the development of indigenous leader development. Here are some of their thoughts.

The Concept of Indigenization

For some participants the idea of “indigenization” was a new concept while others said they never considered it since the church in China is already indigenous. Still other participants noted that Chinese leaders should take ownership for the building of their own leaders, to design, establish and sustain their own leader training efforts and to grow out of dependency on the overseas body in finance and other resources. The church in China is able to raise up its own future leaders and should take the main responsibility in developing Chinese leaders while being open-minded to the assistance, input and experiences of overseas friends.

A caution was given that an extreme emphasis on indigenization could result in hypernationalism, or the idea that there must be a uniquely “Chinese” approach to leader development and anything from outside is not to be welcomed. In a global era, several participants pointed out, the mutual sharing of methods and resources is both natural and desired. Thus, the emphasis should not be upon the origin of these things but rather on how they are utilized. The key is who controls the process. Participants also emphasized the importance of a kingdom mindset with the goal being to build up the church, not simply to create something that is unique to China.

Giving and Receiving

Overseas churches and organizations have given much in the development of church leaders for which the church in China is grateful. At the same time, there is awareness among leaders that they are both givers and receivers. They do not want to be viewed by outside entities as simply the recipients of programs or resources but want to shift from the mentality and position of receivers to that of givers. What they have received, they also have a responsibility to pass on to others. They need to determine how they, as “givers,” should treat other churches in view of how they would like to be treated as “receivers.”

Most participants came away with a desire to pursue greater partnership and unity with other groups in country. They sought to recognize and appreciate the fact that God blesses different churches and movements with unique purposes, visions, gifted leaders and resources without partiality; thus, the need to learn to treat others’ ministry with more peer respect and to be more open in mutual sharing of resources.

Acknowledging the value of China’s unique spiritual heritage, some also stressed the need for Chinese church leaders to document the precious lessons that God has taught the church of China in a way that can be imparted to more people. This would allow them to appreciate and confidently keep what God has already given the church of China (spiritual life), while being open-minded to what can be learned from the overseas body. It would allow them to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of both Chinese and overseas churches in leader development so as to know what to keep (such as the precious spiritual heritage of the Chinese church) and what to avoid (such as taking by default that whatever is “imported” is better than “domestic,” or to “clone” whatever is introduced to the Chinese by overseas partners).

Developing and Caring for Leaders

Participants resonated with the assertion that true leader development consists of more than just imparting knowledge. They were impressed by the need to add spiritual and practical elements into their existing theological training and to focus more on the building of the leader (spiritual life and holistic development) rather than just processing him or her so that he or she can teach or do certain things. They also saw a need to change their own attitude as builders of leaders, to be more committed to the calling of the individual, understanding that only life can impact life, and to befriend leaders they are training.

Relationship, Relationship, Relationship

Much discussion revolved around the relationship between church leaders inside China and those from outside who seek to serve them, as well as relationships among church leaders themselves from various fellowships, streams, or traditions. Participants stressed the importance of being open-minded, respectful, and accepting of people of different theological positions or those having different ministry approaches, as well as the importance of open communication and accountability. Overseas partners were encouraged to give a higher regard to relationship building with the local leaders than to projects and work and to help in nurturing the life of local leaders (by sharing with them personal experiences with the Lord, being their friends and coaches, etc.) rather than just working together with them. Likewise, the local Chinese leaders felt they needed to interact more with the overseas partners concerning future challenges and opportunities.

Participants also urged overseas partners to work more closely with the Chinese in the area of resource distribution in order to avoid waste or inappropriate usage of overseas resources. Finally, they brought out the need for overseas ministries to know Chinese culture better, to communicate with the local leaders more; to trust and respect them more.

Healthy partnerships will result when all involved recognize the fact that it is ultimately up to the Chinese leaders to design and actually do the work of raising their own leaders, with the church taking responsibility, instead of sending emerging leaders to seminaries overseas or relying on outsiders to produce curriculum. Leaders in China do desire to work differently in their future relationships, both with national and overseas partners. They desire to work with more sharing of resources, more giving than receiving, more communication, more openness and transparency, more unconditional acceptance and by walking in humility—always learning.

Image credit: Hand drauf by, on Flickr

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Susan is a LeaderSource staff person.View Full Bio