In the first part of this blog, two approaches to serving in China were identified and the first advantage of joining a sending agency was discussed.
2. Personal Accountability and Counseling
Before we officially joined our organization, they required us to sit through several sessions of biblical counseling. An experienced counselor helped us to work through issues in our marriage, with our families, and other habitual idols. Anyone who has lived in another country realizes that many issues that could go overlooked at home become magnified under culture and ministry stress and can lead to burn out, divorce, depression, and a litany of other problems.
As we continued with our organization, this type of conversation has become habitual—and lifesaving. Even though we were quite isolated in our first couple of years here, living far away from any other expats we knew and intentionally focusing on developing our Chinese language and relationships, we had people from our organization and our home fellowship keeping tabs on us and holding us accountable, regularly skyping and emailing with us. As we have gained a small team of coworkers, the conversations with our “boss” in the organization have only become more valuable as we discuss team relationships and ministry strategy.
3. Financial Accountability
Most people value earning their own income, and, for this reason, many expats we meet are quite resistant to the idea of raising financial support. Before studying support-raising from a biblical perspective, my husband felt the same way—happy to give generously to others but reluctant to raise money for his own ministry. He warmed up to the idea simply through studying it more thoroughly, seeing many examples of support-raising in Scripture, and acknowledging that his resistance was rooted in pride.
Though my husband has a full-time salary through his job, he is paid according to a Chinese pay scale. We have no desire to live at a much higher level than the average Chinese family, but our circumstances and priorities are simply different. In the vast majority of Chinese families, both spouses are working full time. Therefore, if we wanted to survive here on his salary alone, I would also need to work full time. But unlike Chinese families, we don’t have parents able to live with us and care for our kids. Furthermore, if I were to work full time, how much time would we have for building relationships, for sharing the gospel, for discipleship? Some, but not much. The small amount of support we raised before coming has given us an immense amount of freedom and stability. We have the money to invest in really learning Chinese, as well as in ongoing training.
The harsh reality is that our time, resources, and energy generally follow a money trail. My husband’s income reminds us of the importance of his need to do excellent work. The support we receive keeps us focused on our ministry priorities. Because we have friends at home who have invested their resources to send us here, we are driven to be wise stewards of these precious resources, not to slip into the comfortable routine of life without examining the impact we are having. And it must also be said that depending on support keeps us humble and dependent on God, as it would be much harder for us to claim that we have earned those precious dollars through our own hard work.
Many expats come to China for the alluring financial and benefits package offered by a big multinational company. However, for those working for Chinese companies, starting their own businesses, or teaching, finances and benefits (or lack thereof) can be an ongoing source of stress. Finding and paying for your own insurance, or being able to afford the tuition at international schools for your kids (or trying to navigate local schools) can be so difficult that it’s hard to survive here for longer than a few years.
My husband and I try to live as locals in many areas of our lives, but we also acknowledge that our situation is fundamentally different. Even practically speaking, we do not have parents living with us to provide childcare [You’ve mentioned this above. Is there another example you could use?], our kids do not need to take the Chinese gaokao at the end of high school to attend college and thus need not go through the stresses and rigors of Chinese middle and high school, and we do not need (or want) to invest in purchasing a house in China to provide for our retirement. Having a sending organization and raising a small amount of support has enabled us to have adequate health insurance and, while many international schools would still be a huge stretch financially, we have the support and advice of others with more experience as we navigate our kids’ schooling situation. Furthermore, because my husband’s salary is not our only source of income, we have survived when his salary has been delayed for several months because of bureaucratic red tape, and if he were to lose his job, we could make it for a few months while he tried to find another one. This stability, again, frees us to be more effective in ministry.
Though it’s perhaps clear at this point that I advocate for more people, even those who don’t need to raise any support, to join a sending organization, there are, of course, downsides.
1. Requires an investment of time
As I mentioned before, we’ve spent a total of six weeks in preparatory trainings of different kinds. Four of these weeks were required by our organization, the last two were strongly recommended. Different organizations have different requirements for orientation and pre-field trainings. We’ve found every bit of our training to be extremely helpful, but none of that time has been easy to come by, as we had to take big chunks of vacation away from our previous jobs.
Our organization also requires ongoing trainings and conferences—we attend a yearly conference outside of China over Spring Festival, and we are asked to attend various conferences and trainings at the home office every four-six years. The annual conference is a lifesaver for our morale—we are always desperately in need of a break for spiritual refreshment right around February, when our city is at its coldest and bleakest—but it does require a week or more of travel. And the periodic trainings require us to spend some of the precious time we have in the US at meetings rather than with family and supporters.
Finally, raising support itself requires a great deal of time spent in meeting with potential supporters and churches to share your vision, as well as in maintaining ongoing contact with supporters. That accountability I mentioned above comes through relationships, and relationships take time.
2. Requires an investment of finances
Part of why we have chosen to raise partial support is to fund our membership in a sending organization. The trainings and conferences we attend all cost money, and our organization also asks all members to give a percentage of what they raise to the organization for administrative costs. Those who do wish to join an organization but don’t want or need to raise support will need to invest their own money in paying for the training and traveling required to receive the benefits an organization can offer.
3. May lead to a poor quality work ethic
The recent history of vocational Christian workers in China is littered with failed business ventures and half-hearted work. After living on a student visa for a few years, those who have joined organizations and raised full support to cover all their expenses find themselves in need of a new visa. Their passion is in making disciples, and unfortunately, a small percentage have come to see the necessity of a job as a hindrance to that primary work. So they start businesses that would never survive without funding from their supporters, or they teach English half-heartedly, or they take some other job that requires little of them. Not only is this attitude towards work not biblical, but it can also compromise the witness they have, especially among Chinese who highly respect hard workers. This is solved when the need for a job is seen as an integral part of ministry. Perhaps even better, when a portion of a worker’s income comes from the job there may be a higher level of commitment to that job.
Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to join a sending organization is obviously between each person and God. Only God can grow his kingdom in China, and in the grand scheme of things, our joining or not really doesn’t make a big difference. We simply rejoice that he chooses to use us not only despite our faults and weaknesses but in fact through them. I have written this article mostly to encourage everyone to see that the choice of whether or not to join a sending organization is actually a choice to be made, as many missional professionals may not even consider the option. If we can acknowledge the choice and make that choice under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can examine our hearts and our motivations more thoroughly and ultimately be more obedient in our calling as disciplemakers.