As we saw in my previous post, “From Trailblazer to Fellow Traveler,” foreign workers in China over the past three decades have represented a generation of pioneers. Their entrepreneurial spirit has served them well in an era when much needed to be done with limited resources.
Today, due to attrition, shifting organizational priorities, and a changing environment in China, this entrepreneurial generation is shrinking. The entrepreneurs who paved the way in many areas of service in China and who are now in leadership today are also significantly older than the emerging leaders whom they seek to serve.
In a 2015 study of foreign and overseas Chinese organizations engaged in China, more than three quarters of respondents were over 45 years of age. Forty-one percent were over 55.
The same study looked at church leaders in China, where most respondents were under 45 years old, and only 12 percent were over 55.
How can a shrinking generation of experienced China workers serve a growing number of Christian leaders who themselves have become increasingly entrepreneurial?
Today’s Chinese church has been gifted with emerging leaders, abundant opportunities, great vision, and growing financial means. The foreign Christian community brings a breadth of experience, many relationships, and access to various kinds of resources both within and beyond China.
One of the most significant roles that this generation of foreign Christian workers can play at this juncture is that of catalyst, making connections and introductions on behalf of believers in China so that they can use what God has given them effectively.
Simply bridging relationships can be a significant contribution. Often it is easier for a foreigner who knows both parties and who has gained their trust to play this bridging role. Taking time to understand the vision of Chinese leaders and then introducing them to other leaders or organizations outside China who share common interests can be a great encouragement and can save the Chinese leaders time and effort in their search for suitable partners. Connecting certain individuals with specialized training opportunities can help them go to the next level in their effectiveness as leaders.
The example of Moses speaks powerfully to the current generation of entrepreneurs in China ministry. After Joshua had been chosen to take Israel into the Promised Land, Moses’s job description changed. No longer called to lead the charge, his new assignment was to “encourage and strengthen Joshua” (Deuteronomy 3:28).
As willing catalysts, this generation of leaders can encourage and strengthen a new generation of indigenous ministry entrepreneurs within China.
Image credit: Shanghai by canduela 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