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A Few Unanswered Questions

During our webinar, “What Is It Like to Be a Christian in China?”, with Dr. Mary Ma in September, participants were able to ask questions following the presentation. There were eight questions submitted that we did not have time to respond to during the time allotted.

As promised during the webinar, we asked Mary to respond to the unanswered questions in writing. We thought that our readers would be interested in these questions and answers as well.

1. What is the impact of the US political antagonism towards China on the acceptance of western Christians who serve in China?

There has been rising anti-foreign sentiments in general since a few years ago, especially during the Christmas season. The US-China trade war may add to this kind of sentiment. But in terms of how Western Christians who serve in China are accepted, I don’t know of first-hand data or statistics to answer this question.

2. For those who travel in China visiting Christians, is there any particular advice or issues to be aware of?

I would advise against bringing too many believers to one location for gathering. Foreigners may become a connecting node for natives’ social networks. Try to fragment the connections in order to avoid surveillance. Diversify the use of communication tools.

3. What are the greatest discipleship challenges for Christians in the church today?

For believers to become disciples, they need mentors and close fellowship groups to help them grow. The biggest challenge remains the lack of mature, humble, life-giving, and long-term mentorship. One outcome is a kind of spirituality that compartmentalize certain areas of life as sacred and others as secular. A second challenge involves how a church nurtures its members emotionally and spiritually. Due to the predominance of fundamentalist theology, unfortunately a lot of time, people become members of a church community only to find themselves insulated from other parts of society. This is partly because not many churches open up to their neighborhoods and there tends to be a secretive atmosphere.

4. How are foreigners able to participate in/with Three-self churches?

Many foreigners have used Three-self churches as contact points for fellowshipping with/mentoring local believers. I think there is tremendous need in this area. The key is always in building authentic relationships. If foreigners can form relationships with pastors and leaders of a local Three-self congregation, and walk along side of them as mentors, that would be a good ministry, too. Three-self pastors really need mentoring and fellowship.

5. Is there a medium for deep conversations?

I think in these days people prefer to use Signal as a safer tool. But the best medium for deep conversation is always in person and face-to-face.

6. What do you think the current Chinese church needs most from western church supporters?

First, western churches who want to help with churches in China need to have a sensitivity about not dominating in a collaborative relationship. Power and domination happen a lot in the mission field, because the West has been privileged with resources. There needs to be more self-awareness about mission dependency for the local church. Second, western churches need to enter with humility and the willingness to find out the gifts of the local church. A good friend who has served in all kinds of collaboration with foreigners told me that he has been disappointed to see power domination a primary hurdle, and this problem plagues the majority of foreigners’ involvement in mission.

7. What do you believe are the main factors that lead to Christians and others leaving the church in China?

First, many received a watered-down and simplistic/shallow gospel message. These include many college students who got in touch with campus ministry. When they enter into the job market, their version of the Christian faith cannot answer their life’s struggles. Some local churches do evangelism but are only satisfied with the number, and that has often compromised the depth of discipleship. Secondly, power abuse and spiritual abuse by church leadership has always been an important factor leading many people to leave the church. Nowadays, there are many young people in China who used to attend some church but later quit for this reason.

8. How do you understand that the Chinese church is navigating increased nationalism along with the State-media restrictions?

There are two extremes in dealing with rising state-nationalism. On one end, you have churches and believers who buy into the narrative of a Glorious China, and mix that with their mission vision—China is becoming the next Christian revival and thus the center of the world’s mission-sending. On the other end, you may have churches that oppose this nationalism so vehemently that it became confrontational or antagonistic. It conveys a message to unbelievers that Christians carry a heterodox ideology. For the past century or so, this has always been the primary challenge to churches in China. Churches have not come up with proper theological reflections on the role of nationalism as a challenge to our loyalty as Christians.

If you missed the webinar, you can access the recording here.  The cost is US$5.00.

Image by Jose R. Cabello from Pixabay
Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman is Vice President of Partnership and China Engagement and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University …View Full Bio

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