Having observed the growing missions movement from China during my years in China, I was interested in the recent ChinaSource series, “Missions from China—A Maturing Movement.” Three things caught my attention in particular as I read through the articles.
The article, “Chinese Filial Responsibility and Missionary Sustainability” seems entirely accurate as to how Chinese missionaries can feel a burden concerning their relationships with family members. Because China is a collectivist culture and puts much greater emphasis on the group as a whole and particularly on unity within their families, Chinese Christians want to please their parents and grandparents. This is a legitimate factor that Western cross-cultural workers cannot fully understand because our culture is so individualistic, and we can more freely "do what we want." This in some sense aids Western workers in that we usually do not feel as much pressure to do what our families back home want us to do, especially if that is contrary to our service on the field. But, when Chinese missionaries have family members who do not understand the purpose of missions and voice their disapproval, they feel a significantly greater pressure to please their families and not go against their wishes. As the author mentioned, this is a real factor for the Chinese missions movement.
In the article “Toward the Development of Mission-Sending Organization in China,” the author mentions the limitations of Chinese missionaries using "tent making" strategies on the field. Steve Moon—in his extensive research of the Korean missions movement—has noted that, though Korean missions organizations began implementing tent making ministry in the '80s, as of 2012 only 7.5% of Korean missionaries used tent making ministries. According to Moon, Korean missions organizations were not successful in beginning effective and fruitful tent making ministries, so they essentially stopped using tent making as a missions strategy. Are there parallels to consider as mission-sending develops in China?
The topic of financial support that is addressed in "The International Church Role in Chinese Missionary Sending, Part 2" is a sensitive topic. There are numerous churches in wealthy parts of the world who regularly send large amounts of money to help fund churches or ministries in poorer countries. The people in the wealthy countries want to help Christians around the globe. The problem though—and I have witnessed this first-hand in China—is that the believers in the poorer countries can develop a long-term dependency on the foreign churches' funding. In this instance, usually the Christians in the richer countries are not actually benefiting the believers in the poorer countries, though their intention is to help them. It seems that with the development of the Chinese economy the last decade or so, Chinese house churches should have access to more money within their congregations. This means that Chinese house churches should have more money to allocate to support Chinese missionaries connected to their church or house church network.
It is no longer a reality that Chinese house churches are poor and are often just looking for money to pay for their next meal. Rather, most Chinese house churches now—especially those who would be involved in mobilizing Chinese missionaries—have sufficient money. Wealthier churches around the world need to allow Chinese churches to stand strong on their own, without receiving outside funding from Christians overseas. If the Chinese house churches continue to receive outside support, they will never have a sense of urgency to find money from within their congregation or house church network. Only if outside support is cut off, will Chinese churches stand firm on their own. And only then will they be able to grow in being self-sustaining and self-supporting. Chinese missionary-sending efforts similarly should aim to function apart from financial support from wealthier countries.
This series has been helpful for me in its analysis of the many relevant dynamics in the Chinese missions movement. There are many factors that legitimately affect how Chinese missionaries are sent, as well as limitations in the sending of Chinese missionaries. Through this series the reader can understand more clearly these dynamics and factors.
Tabor Laughlin (pseudonym) is a PhD student in Intercultural Studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He received his MDiv from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Missions and his bachelor’s degree in Aerospace Engineering from Oklahoma State University. He has been serving in China for ten years, and is president of a... View Full Bio