The Chinese church wants to sustainably deploy long-term missionaries. The importance of calling for this goal has been emphasized. Yet a calling needs support. Mission sending organization is designed to be that support. Mission sending organization and calling are like two key pillars that encourage sustainability of the Chinese missionary. If either pillar is absent, the Chinese missionary initiative becomes unstable, and the “Chinese Missionary” (represented as an egg in Figure 1) might fall and crack.
A mission sending organization is not a substitute for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, nor is it a “magic box” from which all answers flow and all needs are met. Having a mission sending agency does not guarantee that “all will be fine” (MI#2). Yet in the context of the Holy Spirit’s very present activity in China, the development of strong, intentionally led mission sending organization is arguably the greatest need for the successful sustainable deployment of Chinese missionaries. Mission sending organization is able to muster the intentionality and competency that will sustain long-term missionary commitment.
Figure 1: Relationship between Calling, the Missionary Sending Organization, and the Chinese Missionary
I recently interviewed 12 Chinese missionaries and conducted focus groups with 14 Chinese physicians who had short-term missionary experience. Based on an analysis of missiological literature and this recent field research, I will discuss a three-fold approach to the development of missionary-sending organization in China.
The history of the development of mission sending from South Korea illustrates the potential role of foreign partnership.
Timothy Park recounts the early days of the Korean mission movement and notes, “The missions committee of the early Korean church comprise [sic] of both the Korean and the [W]estern missionaries. The [W]estern missionaries mentored the Korean missionaries and helped them to enter into the new mission fields.” It appears that this partnership formed by [W]estern missionaries and the Korean church was helpful to propel a tremendous missionary movement that has continued until this day. It seems likely that foreigners could help the Chinese house church in a similar way.
In two previous articles, I highlighted the role of the international church. In the first of these articles, I discussed strategies for general partnership between Chinese and international mission senders. In the second article, I focused more specifically on strategies for financial partnership. In this article, I will focus on the strategic role the international church has in encouraging the development of missionary sending organization through the use of didactic training material.
In China, courses and curriculum like Kairos and Perspectives on the World Christian Movement have been translated and are now being used to educate the church as to its missionary role. The Perspectives course has recently been gaining a wider distribution. Participants have generally rated this course as very helpful. With greater proportions of Chinese experienced missionaries in teaching roles over time, course effectiveness may continually improve.
In one city in China in 2007, foreign missionaries shared selected portions of curriculum from Perspectives on the World Christian Movement. Within one year, short-term teams of Chinese medical missionaries traveled to Pakistan. Eventually short-term teams served in Cambodia (multiple times), Indonesia, North Korea, and Egypt, as well as in remote parts of southern and western China. Focused teaching of the Perspectives curriculum to a group of South American churches resulted in mature missionary-sending organizations, committed missionary-sending churches, and South American missionaries who not only were sent but remained on the field. By offering Perspectives training to Chinese house church leadership, I hope that the South American success might be replicated.
Additional courses are available, or are in the process of becoming available, focusing on the training of churches or individual Chinese missionaries. Through courses like these, individuals within the church can become familiar with and supportive of missions, even if not necessarily becoming a missionary themselves.
Use of a Tentmaking Model
Historically, tentmaking has been a successful method of helping missionaries get to the field. Colin Grant, in reference to the Moravians notes, “Most of the early missionaries went out as ‘tentmakers,’ working their trade . . . so that the main expenses involved were in the sending of them out.” William Carey held, “We have always considered it an essential principle in missionary conduct, that whenever possible, missionaries should support themselves, totally or in part through their own efforts.” Jonathan Lewis adds, “There is no doubt that many of the advances made by Christianity before the modern era were accomplished by ‘non-professional’ or ‘lay’ missionaries.”
Yet tentmaking as a missionary service model also entails some significant drawbacks. Tentmakers must juggle work responsibilities with other more direct missionary witness. Time and energy focused on material success must be borrowed from ministry effort and may weaken intensity of the ministry work. Missionaries may be tempted to leave for the field without the spiritual prayer backing of churches and individuals. They may also have a tendency to place confidence in a learned skill instead of trusting God alone. Training and expertise, though potentially valuable, could become liabilities if they hinder broken dependence on God.
The Chinese church is supportive of a tentmaking strategy, believing that one important way it can achieve its missionary goals is through the tentmaking model with missionaries serving as businessmen, agricultural workers, beauticians, shopkeepers, and contract workers.   Taking doctors as an example, for those who desire to serve as missionaries, tentmaking might take the form of international clinics providing service to expat Chinese businessmen. Field research data demonstrated that the lack of financial support for current missionaries is one key factor that contributes to missionary attrition and that medical doctors who desire to serve in missions are concerned about maintaining adequate salary. Yet the Chinese church currently has difficulty financially supporting its missionaries. Through a tentmaking model, Chinese physicians could generate some or all of the needed financial provision.
Tentmaking also resolves other difficulties related to mission service including host country visa and medical licensure issues, provides an intelligible function to local host country governments, and a platform for incarnational ministry. Such a model provides a realistic entry point for some Chinese churches in mission sending. Tentmaking service is not incongruent with concurrent service through a missionary-sending organization, once such a structure exists. But neither does the tentmaking model have to wait for the development of missionary-sending organization. It can be used now.
Chinese church leadership needs to see a working model of missionary sending. They don’t just need didactic material. Real success in missionary sending may facilitate greater interest in and attention to didactic material designed to encourage missionary-sending organization development. Tentmakers who return to China for furloughs can encourage churches in their missionary-sending development. They can demonstrate to an occasionally skeptical Chinese church that mission sending from China is possible at this time.
Mission-Sending Communities of Practice
Leadership in the Chinese church has networked to some extent into “communities of practice” for the purpose of facilitating Chinese missionary sending. Though representing different, and at times divided, house church traditions, these communities have cooperated to some extent, meeting at irregular intervals in locations outside China. House church pastors interested in mission sending might learn from one another through these contacts, leading to propagation throughout China of mission-sending organization development strategies and best practices. Successful mission-sending organization in any part of China could serve as a pattern, a “turn-key” type model that could propagate through the Chinese church’s developing missionary-sending movement, resulting in greater support for Chinese missionaries from many different parts of the country where best practices in mission sending are utilized.
Mission-sending organization musters the intentionality needed for sustainable Chinese missionary sending. Support from the international church, including sharing of mission-focused educational resources, can encourage Chinese mission-sending organization development. Successful missionary sending, using models like tentmaking that are congruent with the current Chinese context, add momentum to the Chinese church mission sending efforts. Transparent sharing of successes as well as failures by mission-sending leadership may enable the Chinese mission movement to learn from itself, reproducing what works and avoiding needless repetition of common mistakes.
- 2013. Kairos, God, the Church, and the World 2011 [cited April 21 2013]. Available from http://www.kairoscourse.org/.
- Bevans, Stephen B. 1992. Models of Contextual Theology, Faith and Cultures Series. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.
- Breen, Mike. 2013, Leading Kingdom Movements: The "Everyman" Notebook on How to Change the World: 3dm.
- Chan, Kim-Kwong. 2005. "Missiological Implications of Chinese Christianity in a Globalized Context." Quest: 55-74.
- Gerber, Michael E. 1995. The E-myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It. 1st ed. New York: CollinsBusiness.
- Lewis, Jonathan, 1991, "Equipping Tentmakers: An Argentine Perspective." In Internationalizing Missionary Training, edited by William David Taylor, 158-159. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
- Niles, Nathan, 2000. "Professional Tentmakers Open Doors for Ministry." Evangelical Missions Quarterly no. 36 (3): 302-304, 3006.
- Park, Timothy K. 2010. Missionary Movement of Asian Churches. Edited by Timothy K. Park and STeve K. Eom, 2010 East-West Mission Forum: Missionary Movement of the Non-Western Churches. Pasadena, CA: East-West Center for Missions Research and Development.
- Shi, Si. 2017. "Chinese Missionary Call: Exploring the Foundations of the Chinese Missionary Undertaking." ChinaSource, May 18, 2017, http://www.chinasource.org/resource-library/articles/chinese-missionary-call.
- Shi, Si, "Financial Expectations of Propective Chinese Medical Missionaries: Understanding the Financial Backdrop to Chinese Medical Mission Sending. ChinaSource, March 16, 2017, https://www.chinasource.org/resource-library/articles/financial-expectations-of-prospective-chinese-medical-missionaries.
- Shi, Si and Lo Qi, “The International Church Role in Chinese Missionary Sending, Part 1: Strategies for General Partnership between Chinese and International Mission Senders,” ChinaSource, August 17, 2017, https://www.chinasource.org/resource-library/articles/the-international-church-role-in-chinese-missionary-sending-part-1.
- Shi, Si and GJ, “The International Church Role in Chinese Missionary Sending, Part 2: Strategies for Financial Partnership between Chinese and International Mission Senders,” ChinaSource, September 14, 2017, https://www.chinasource.org/resource-library/articles/the-international-church-role-in-chinese-missionary-sending-part-2.
- Tennent, Timothy C. 2007. Theology in the Context of World Christianity: How the Global Church Is Influencing the Way We Think about and Discuss Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan.
- The Missionary Training Service. 2002. "Tentmaking Missionaries—Principles of Business and Employment for Our Lord Jesus Christ." Shropshire, UK: The Missionary Training Service.
- Wagner, C. Peter. 1983. On the Crest of the Wave: Becoming a World Christian. Ventura, CA, USA: Regal Books.
- Wenger, Etienne C and William M. Snyder, 2000. "Communities of Practice: The Organizational Frontier." Harvard Business Review, January-February 2000: 139-145.
- Winter, R., ed. 2009, Perspectives on the World Christian Movement. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library Publishers.
- Withheld, Name. 2012, Assisting Chinese House Churches to Become Great Commission Churches, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.