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Becoming a Sending Church

Many would agree that learning to work cross-culturally is one of the greatest barriers to achieving China’s Christian dream of becoming a mighty missionary nation. Without denying the challenges involved in raising up a cohort of culturally sensitive Chinese Christians, there is a yet another aspect of the Chinese missionary dream which has yet to receive much concerted attention. In addition to calling, equipping and sending the cross-cultural workers themselves, it is also necessary to call, equip, and mobilize the local congregations to play their part in the mission project. Sustaining and developing the nascent interest in mission that the Chinese church is now experiencing means mobilizing Chinese believers throughout the country—and not just those willing to go overseas—to join in and do their part for God’s global mission.

This has been impressed on my mind anew these past few months, as I have had the privilege of presenting a series of lectures on the historical growth and spread of Christianity to a group of local believers. Beginning with the New Testament church and moving up to the present, I have utilized events from China’s historical experience in order to highlight the nature of the mission task as well as some of the Biblical principles for doing mission well. As I have interacted with this diverse group of Chinese believers in and outside of the classroom, I have been reminded of some of the ways in which these brothers and sisters will affect the missional future of the Chinese church.

  1. Congregations need to recognize that even as those they send out commit to serve for a long period of time, the sending churches must also commit to support those individuals for an extended period of time. This requires a level of planning and organization capable of maintaining a long-distance relationship over time, and means learning how to continually present issues that appear to be extrinsic to the local fellowship as matters of importance and relevance. Additionally, the unique regulatory environment in China, its unpredictability, and the impact these shifting political moods have on the longevity of any fellowship makes long-term commitment particularly challenging in this context.
  2. While the giving potential for the Chinese church is growing rapidly, philanthropy in the Chinese sense still differs from the kind of giving that is needed to support a robust overseas outreach. Giving is an act admired in traditional Chinese culture, but typically it is done in ways that benefit the giver’s own personal network or status: the Chinese countryside has many schools named after a wealthy villager who made their fortune and then erected a monument to their success back in their home town. But the foundation of Christian stewardship is the acknowledgment that our financial resources do not belong to us, but rather to God. Much Christian giving in China is still ad hoc and spontaneous, with little planned or regular, disciplined giving. Ironically, global mission awareness and involvement could provide churches with a powerful impetus for increased and systematic giving, supplying precisely the kind of financial vision that fosters healthy stewardship. Unfortunately, publicized financial breaches in China’s charity sector have created a tremendous lack of trust that discourages financial donations. Complicating matters further, supporting large numbers of cross-cultural workers in locations where tentmaking may not be possible requires pooling of finances between networks, as well as financially supporting individuals or groups that may not be personally known by the donors. This kind of trust within the Christian community has been growing since the wind up to Lausanne’s Cape Town 2010 but it can still be difficult at the local level.
  3. One local pastor told me quite frankly that while he thought global mission was great, he had an obligation to care for his own flock. Accordingly, he couldn’t really afford to put much emphasis on global mission until his church was more “mature.” This kind of thinking is common in churches outside of the large coastal cities and the few densely Christianized regions. Unfortunately, it fails to recognize the ways in which awareness of and even limited participation in the work of the church beyond one’s own community can contribute to precisely the kinds of maturity this pastor was seeking. There is still a great need for the spread of an informed “mission mentality” throughout the believing rank and file.
  4. Finally, who does the church send, and where do they go? Will parents send their only child? Will pastors and elders send their most gifted people? More challenging still, just how willing are churches to send their people to reach those who are not Chinese—even to work with people who are supposedly “at odds” with China? In the communities where I work, merely raising the idea of Chinese missionaries to Japan brings this question crashing to the fore. And these are questions that not only would-be missionaries but also donors and supporters in the sending churches must face.

There are many other similar questions that could be asked as well—this list is merely suggestive. And it is important to acknowledge that these are all questions that still challenge congregations in the traditional sending nations. They are not easily resolved. The point is that when we think of contributing positively to the Chinese church’s dream of becoming a great sending church, we need to recognize that missionaries and congregations both will require training. What does it take to equip a congregation to obediently play their part in the global spread of the gospel? What can be done to help prepare congregations for the task? Remember, faithful global mission requires not just individuals but entire congregations who are ready to give their all in order to take the whole gospel from the whole world to the whole world.

Image credit: IMG_1953 by Joann Pittman, on Flickr

Swells in the Middle Kingdom

"Swells in the Middle Kingdom" began his life in China as a student back in 1990 and still, to this day, is fascinated by the challenges and blessings of living and working in China.View Full Bio

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