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From Training to Mentoring

From the series 7 Trends Impacting Foreign Christians in China


In a previous From the West Courtyard post I wrote about seven trends, or transitions, facing foreign workers in China, along with the factors that are driving these transitions.

Here I begin a seven-part series looking at each of the transitions in detail. The first is the shift from foreign workers serving primarily as trainers to their assuming a new role as mentors.

According to recent research by the China Gospel Research Alliance, a consortium of China-focused organizations, Christian leaders in China continue to see training as a major contribution from the global church. Long a mainstay of service to the Chinese church, basic biblical and theological training has served a critical need. This was particularly true in the early years of China’s opening, when the demands of a burgeoning church far outstripped the supply of available leaders.

Going forward, however, these leaders anticipate that the need for training from outside China will fall in proportion to the need for mentoring. Several factors account for this anticipated shift:

  • More Chinese believers have received advanced theological training and are now available to train others.
  • A host of training options are now available in country, including networks of unregistered schools, online offerings from overseas, and the approximately 20 seminaries and Bible schools operating under the auspices of the China Christian Council, many of which offer extension programs through churches around the country.
  • As believers in China branch out into new areas of ministry, there is a need for specialized equipping that is best done one-to-one or in small groups rather than in a classroom setting. These specialized areas include consulting, family ministry, youth ministry, service to disadvantaged segments of society, and non-profit management and fund raising.
  • Formal ministry training has imparted knowledge and skills, but has not necessarily addressed personal life issues. As this generation of leaders hits roadblocks in relationships, family life, and spiritual growth, there emerges a need for mentors who can guide them in addressing these critical areas.

Writing in the spring 2017 issue of ChinaSource Quarterly, Steve Z, a Chinese Christian from a house church background, makes the case for mentoring:

Simply introducing courses from overseas will impact how the Chinese church develops. However, for the Chinese preachers who have received training from the West and Chinese seminaries overseas, the challenges they encounter in their ministries cannot be resolved in ways based upon their predecessors’ experiences. Quite naturally, they seek help and wisdom from the overseas resources that are familiar to them. This is the primary reason that Chinese Christian preachers long for the company of a mature and experienced pastor from overseas. The question is, however, are the pastoral colleagues overseas prepared to deal with their issues? Are they willing to be humble, to devote themselves to understanding all the issues the Chinese churches encounter including: societal, and economical, as well as the unique cultural and theological implications?

As Steve points out, the current need of China’s Christian leaders raises the bar significantly for those who would go to China to serve them, and in doing so it raises the question of how Christians outside China will rise up to meet this challenge.

Further details on the findings of the China Gospel Research Alliance study may be found in the Spring 2017 ChinaSource Quarterly.

Image credit: Gauthier DELECROIX - 郭天 via Flickr.
Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton

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