Turning a Corner in Leader Development in China

It is a well known principle of leadership that the activities and strategies of leaders that bring an organization or movement to one level of achievement, if continued, will stall and not allow the organization to move to the next level. Even highly successful leaders have to change, adapt and reevaluate if they are to navigate forward. Often, this means a change of leadership as some leaders are gifted at guiding organizations at a certain stage of their growth but are ineffective at others.

China’s church has experienced unprecedented numerical growth, and there have been many efforts in leadership training, both indigenous and in partnership with Western churches and organizations. We are clearly at a turning point where the kinds of leadership development that have been done are going to need to change and adapt if Chinese church leaders are to shepherd their flocks, continue to reach out domestically and abroad, and move from a marginalized place to having a major impact in all aspects of Chinese society and culture. It is going to take new approaches to leader development, and translated versions of Western programs are not going to be sufficient. There needs to be a new commitment to genuine partnerships and the development of multiple types of leader development. The Chinese reality demands Chinese Christian leaders who are not only leaders in their churches but leaders in business, academia, the health fields and all aspects of Chinese society.

This issue of the ChinaSource journal is dedicated to the crucial area of leader development. While leadership training concentrates on the knowledge and skills that leaders need to possess to be effective, new approaches are focusing increasingly on the kind of person the leader needs to be. This brings in areas of calling, community and character as well as skills and competencies. Beyond asking what an effective church leader looks like, we need to begin to ask questions such as: What does an effective Chinese Christian business leader look like? What does a Chinese Christian civic leader look like? What does an effective Chinese church leader look like in an urban center? What do successful Chinese Christian medical leaders look like as they help China tackle the growing HIV/AIDS crisis? Conventional approaches to leadership development are not adequate to raise up the next generation of Chinese Christian leaders in all domains that will allow the believers in China to make a broad impact for the Kingdom of God.

The foundation of this issue is a two-year, multi-agency study on leader development in China. This study sought to define the landscape of leader development in China and to identify current needs, emerging opportunities and best practices. The study also identified a typology of leaders in China that include, apostolic, evangelist, grass-roots, thought, community, mercy and missionary leaders. Each of these types of leaders will need a development process that is tailored to them and the challenges they face. It is clear that we cannot continue with conventional modes of leader development. New approaches need to be developed to equip and empower Chinese Christian leaders for the new reality of Chinese society and the tremendous opportunities those realities present.

Image credit: Journal Entry (Joel Montes de Oca) by Chris Lott, on Flickr.

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Gary Waldron

Gary Waldron, PhD is the director of the Faith Leadership Initiative and has been involved in China service for 22 years. He may be contacted at gwaldron@faithleadership.net.View Full Bio