Blog Entries

Being Legitimate


For anyone serving (or wanting to serve) in China or other so-called “creative access” countries that do not allow foreigners to engage in religious work or activities, the issue of legitimacy is front and center. What are we willing to say or do in order to not only gain entry into a country, but how do we establish a legitimate presence that not only allows us to stay, but also to carry out the work we are called to do?

This is the topic of the short ebook, Legitimacy in Missions Matters: 5 Marks Towards Legitimacy, by Steve Schirmer, president of Silk Road Catalyst.


In the book, Schirmer identifies five key marks of legitimacy:

  1. Relevant and beneficial—is the work we are doing relevant to the local community and does it provide actual benefit, as defined by the local community?
  2. Reasonable lifestyle—is our lifestyle in keeping with what our local salary is or is perceived to be? 
  3. Intentionality—do we have a plan, not only for our platform, but for our ministry as well?
  4. Sustainable—whether we operate a business or NGO, or are employed by a local entity (school or business), is our work sustainable enough to allow us to remain?
  5. Be truthful—while there may be times and ways of not telling everything, are we prepared to follow the principle that “intentional deceit is not an option?”

Conversely, Schirmer also reminds us of what legitimacy is not:

  1. It is not persecution-free. At the end of the day it is possible that we are simply not wanted in the country or community.
  2. It is not about being 100% self-funded. We may still need to affiliate with an organization rather than do “tent-making.”
  3. It is not a flawless model. Like all models of ministry, it is neither perfect nor fail-safe.
  4. How legitimacy is defined is not the same for every worker in every field. We each need wisdom for our particular situation.

For anyone working in or considering serving in a creative-access country, I highly recommend this ebook. Please take the time to read it; there is much for both veterans and “newbies” to consider.

In writing this ebook, Steve has done the community a great service!

You can download the book here. It is free, but I’m sure that Silk Road Catalyst would appreciate a donation.

Image credit: Tim Mossholder via Unsplash.
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

Are you enjoying a cup of good coffee or fragrant tea while reading the latest ChinaSource post? Consider donating the cost of that “cuppa” to support our content so we can continue to serve you with the latest on Christianity in China.