The 2006 China Church Leadership Study, conducted jointly by ChinaSource and Geneva Global Research, identified seven types of Christian leaders in China. While three of these are in traditional church roles at various levels, the other four function largely outside the bounds of the local church and represent the growing role of Christians in China's larger society.
The Thought Leader is found primarily in official seminaries and Bible schools and in the religion and philosophy departments of universities. Some engage in Christian publishing. These scholars are writing theological texts that will influence the church at the elite level. They are also training an increasing number of urban intellectual church leaders (along with non-Christian scholars and government officials whose portfolios include religion).
Community Leaders can be found among bi-vocational pastors or elders in fellowships composed primarily of urban professionals. These emerging business and cultural leaders are often first-generation believers who may have come to faith while studying overseas or through the witness of a foreign teacher in university. Because of their position in society, they have access to resources, connections, and a level of influence that are not found in other segments of the church. Given the opportunities for ministry in and through their businesses, and given the continuing growth of China's non-profit sector, these leaders are positioned to play an entrepreneurial role in extending the church's reach into all sectors of society.
A subset of the Community Leaders is made up of the Shepherd or Mercy Leaders. While not engaged in prominent preaching, teaching, or evangelism roles, these leaders play an important role in enabling the church to be the hands and feet of Jesus to those in need. In response to the broken relationships in an increasingly fragmented society, God is raising up Christians to engage in a ministry of healing and reconciliation. Included in this area are Christians who are becoming professional counselors.
Finally, Missionary Leaders are those with proven cross-cultural experience who are able to train others to serve cross-culturally within China or beyond China's borders. The missionary impulse of the church along with China's continued integration into the global community will mean more Chinese being thrust into cross-cultural ministry contexts. Since the missionary leader in China technically does not currently exist, there is a need for a long-term commitment to the training and mentoring of individuals who have a proven ministry track record and an aptitude for cross-cultural service.
In response to the evolving needs of church and society, God is raising up a variety of Christian leaders in China today. Luis Bush and I look further at this changing face of Christian leadership in China in China's Next Generation: New China, New Church, New World, available in PDF format from ChinaSource or on Amazon.
Image credit: More People, by Mike Beltzner, via Flickr
Brent Fulton is the founder of ChinaSource. Prior to assuming his current position, he served from 1995 to 2000 as the managing director of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Wheaton College. From 1987 to 1995 he served as founding US director of China Ministries International, and from 1985 to... View Full Bio