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Ethical Foundations for China Service

I have been involved actively in China ministry since 1996. I often tell people that those years have been some of the most exciting times for China, her government and her church. Just as I was actively getting involved, the Chinese government was beginning to wrestle with what place people of faith could have in Chinese society. It seems clear that they are still wrestling with that question today!

Significant changes abound in China today. The last 15 years have specifically been significant in regard to change. Most China analysts (this one included) could not, in 1996, have predicted such great change in areas of China’s economy, governance, religious affairs, international relations, and redistribution of rural populations to urban areas. Likewise, foreign involvement in China non-profit service has changed significantly in its approach and scope. Many of the other significant changes have led to a reevaluation of how Christian non-profit organizations serving in China do their projects and activities. Many non-profit leaders are still taking a look at the China they find themselves in and are revising the way their standard operating procedures work today.

In 2005-2006, I was a part of a team of ministry leaders that wanted to reevaluate foreign involvement in China to maximize effectiveness. The result of our meetings was a “statement paper” that would guide foreign organizations serving in China and would be used to help the foreign Christian community make the most of their service in China.

Although a number of years have passed, I believe that these guidelines for China service are as applicable today as they were when first developed. The current edition of Ethical Foundations for China Service follows with additional insight into each point.

My hope is that you may be able to apply these points in your own service in China, and use them as a guide to evaluating your service.

Ethical Foundations for China Service

Recognizing the changes in China, the significant growth in the church in China and the complexity of Chinese society and its regulatory structures, we offer these guidelines for service in China and to support the Christian community in China.

We commit to the following:

  1. We will demonstrate the credibility and relevance of Jesus Christ by our words and actions.
  2. We will strive to respect local government and regulations; and the culture, history, and aspirations of the Chinese people.
  3. We will serve the whole body of Christ in China and promote its harmony and self-sufficiency.
  4. We will promote a spirit of unity in the China-concerned Christian community.
  5. We will communicate accurately only information about which we have verifiable knowledge.

Addendum notes corresponding with each point above

1. It is well understood in government circles that most Westerners are Christians, and the implication is that how we act reflects negatively/positively on Christianity. Most China watchers agree that there is no longer a need to hide our identity as Christians. In our attempt to be relevant, are we positioning our message about Christ in reference to what the Chinese people are asking? Do we recognize that our credibility in China is earned?

2. Are we seeking to understand how the system works in China? Are we investing in relationships in China? Are we being careful not to promote our own agenda before we learn of the agenda of local Chinese agencies? Many times, the real needs of China are not the felt needs. Where the two do coincide, the most fruitful outcomes result.Are we learning about what is already being done locally or by other outside agencies?

3. By choosing the word “serve,” we as foreigners want to take a position of support and encouragement as Chinese Christians take the lead in the Christian community. Are we promoting the concept of indigenous Chinese Christianity? Are we recognizing the many facets of the Church in China including house church/open church, rural church/urban church and professional church/working class church, etc. and seeking to view the Church in China in its entirety? Are we challenging ourselves to view the Church in China as a whole? Are we communicating to the Chinese and others from the perspective of God’s desire for us to be part of the reconciliation of any tensions that exist in the body of Christ? Are we striving to use our resources to support the concept of self-sufficiency in the Chinese Church in a God honoring way? Are we making sure that we are not allowing outside funds to set the agenda for Christians in China? Are we being mindful of the intended and unintended consequences of financial investment in China? Are we ensuring that stories in which Chinese church planters become translators for foreign Christian organizations or Chinese seminarians become immigrants in the West are no longer being written? Do you have an exit strategy (how the work will continue with Chinese ownership after the money and foreign involvement are gone)? Are we perpetuating need in order to raise funds?

4. Do we have a sense of transparency? Are we encouraging people to come to China and see for themselves what God is doing? Are we attending conferences, actively seeking information sharing, spending more time praying for other groups, visiting other groups? Can we use Biblical based conflict resolution principles when there is a difference in approach as opposed to taking our disagreements public? We should not question others’ faith or calling into ministry even when approaches in China differ. How do we develop tolerance and mutual respect among diverse ministries to China?

5. Refer to ECFA Standard 7.1 on Fund-RaisingTruthfulness in Communication. The standard reads, ” narrative about events must be current, complete and accurate. References to past activities or events must be appropriately dated. There must be no material omissions or exaggerations of fact or use of misleading photographs or any other communication which would tend to create a false impression or misunderstanding.” Have I put my information in an appropriate context? Was there an inappropriate inducement of the source? As new information comes to light, am I diligent to make it available? Am I sure my information is verifiable through reliable sources? Am I deliberately perpetuating old stereotypes (e.g. China is a police state, no Bibles available in China)? Am I corroborating my information with data from other reliable sources? Are we aware of potential conflicts of interest, either because of fund-raising needs, organizational agendas, etc.?

Mike Falkenstine

Mike Falkenstine is the President of One Eight Catalyst, a ministry motivated by a deep conviction to reach unreached people groups in China. Mike and his wife Sherie live in Lone Tree, CO with their three kids and one Wheaton Terrier. Mike's book on Christianity in China, The Chinese Puzzle, was  …View Full Bio

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