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Chinese Indigenous Missions

A Reading Round-Up

Many people in the west first became aware of Chinese indigenous missions with the rise of the Back to Jerusalem Movement in the early 2000s. The thought of missionaries going out from China was one that captured the hearts and imagination (rightly so), especially after years of seeing the Chinese church primarily through the lens of persecution and oppression.

While the Back to Jerusalem Movement may not have produced the numbers and results that were initially described in the early days, there is today an indigenous missions movement in China.

On December 31, Christianity Today published a piece titled “Made in China: The Next Mass Missionary Movement.” This article provides an excellent introduction to the topic and some of the related issues.

To help provide context and background, we thought now would be a good time to highlight some of the resources that ChinaSource has published on the topic over the years. We hope these will be helpful to those wanting to learn more.

A good place to start is by reading the 2013 spring edition of the ChinaSource Quarterly, which is devoted entirely to the Chinese indigenous missions movement.

In the article, “The Indigenous Mission Movement from China: A Historical Review,” Kim Kwong Chan reminds us of the importance of definitions when discussing the movement.

Before we look into the history of indigenous missions from China, we need some clarifications on the concept of "China" or "Chinese" as to what it denotes; otherwise, we may easily end up with broad slogans and vagueness. It must be clear from whom and from where the mission comes and to whom or where it reaches.

Yi Du Kam continues this theme in his article “The Indigenous Mission Movement from China: A Current Assesment.”

A missionary (in Chinese xuan jiao shi) is one working cross-culturally, not an itinerant evangelist (in Chinese xun hui chuan dao ren) who practices "preaching as he/she travels." In other words, an itinerant evangelist sent to serve in another part of China within the same culture, even if such an assignment is a long-term assignment, is not counted as a missionary by the Chinese church at large. He or she should not be counted as such by others, including BTJ.

Going back in time a bit, the Spring 2006 issue of the Quarterly took it’s first look at Chinese indigenous missions in an issue titled “Training Cross-cultural Workers in China.” Since that was a time when the Back to Jerusalem Movement was the main storyline of Chinese indigenous missions movement, most of the articles are devoted to describing and evaluating that movement. It’s interesting to do a side-by side reading of these two issues on the same topic, but separated by ten years.

The theme of the spring 2012 issue was “Global China: Implications for the Church.” The lead article, “The Chinese Church and the Global Body of Christ,” was written by Rev. Jin Min Ri, pastor of Zion Church in Beijing. After giving a brief history of the Chinese Church’s development from 1949 to the present, he highlights six challenges that still face the church today, including the church’s involvement in world missions and evangelism:

Finally, and most importantly, in the next thirty years China's house church will be much more involved in worldwide evangelism and mission. We have been singing the song, "Missionary China," for the past twenty years, and we believe this will be a reality in the next thirty years. The house church in China is joining forces with the larger world church in places such as Brazil, Africa and Southeast Asia in order to do our part in the task of world evangelization. While China remains the largest mission field, it might also become the world's largest sending country.

In the summer of 2013, a hundred or so Mainland church leaders, many of whom had been blocked from attending the Lausanne Congress in 2010 gathered in Seoul, South Korea for the Asian Church Leaders Forum. In response to the conference’s reaffirmation of the 2010 Cape Town Commitment, the participants from China drafted their own commitment to engage as partners with the global church in world evangelization. The document is called The Seoul Commitment, and can be read in its entirety here.

In a post titled “Toward a “Sending” Church in China,” ChinaSource president Brent Fulton cautions against focusing so much on getting large numbers of Chinese missionaries to the field, and instead urges us to think through deeper issues such as preparation and sustainability:

The past decade has seen a groundswell of passion among Christians in China to pursue cross-cultural ministry. A corresponding wave of activity among outside organizations and churches has aimed at equipping China's church for this task.

Much of this activity has centered around training individual workers and establishing the "highway" by which they might make their way to countries neighboring China and beyond. A closer look at the current movement suggests that, while these efforts are an important part of the overall equation, there are other, perhaps more fundamental, pieces that need to be put in place in order for a sustained sending effort to emerge.

Finally, on our Chinese Church Voices blog, you can read articles written by Chinese Christians and published in various online platforms in China that take us beyond the academic analyses and debates and give us glimpses of some concrete steps that are actually being taken. Here is a sampling of some of those posts:

“Cross-Cultural Ministry in the Chinese Church” (January 12, 2015):

A church in the Northwest sent a married couple to a remote area to establish a minority group church. The remote area is accessible by a 10-hour drive from the couple’s church. They have been doing this work for four years and have established a church with more than 80 people that is made up of Mongolian, Hui, and Tibetan believers.

Bringing the Gospel to Tibet” (July 10, 2013)

When we think about missions in China, we cannot help but think of one area where the soil remains hard: Tibet. A variety of factors, including the severe climate, relative inaccessibility, and the influence of Tibetan Buddhism have led to the slow spread of the gospel. And despite a published Tibetan Bible, gospel tracts, and a gospel radio program in Tibetan, the region still remains largely unreached.

Paying the Price: An Interview with a Shenzhen Pastor about Cross-cultural Missions, Part 1” (February 2, 2015):

In the interview, Pastor Jimmy shares about his passion for missions, the experiences and lessons he has learned from taking short-term mission trips, the significance of missions, and his hopes for the Chinese church in the area of missions learns him.

Part two of the post can be found here.

1·1·1 Missions Campaign” (January 19, 2016)

In November, churches all across China began to put legs to this initiative with a 1·1·1 Missions Campaign. One large house church in Beijing launched this campaign by handing out “globe banks.” Those in attendance were asked to donate money to missions by putting coins into the globe each day. We have translated the accompanying brochure.

There are more; we hope these will simply whet your appetite to read more on this important topic. Just do a search for “Indigenous Missions” on the website and you’ll have plenty to keep you busy.  

Image credit: World Map – Abstract Acrylic, by Nicolas Raymond, via Flickr.
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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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