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Keys to Effective Leadership Training in China

"We've trained hundreds of church leaders in China!" How many times have you heard this (or maybe you've even said it yourself)?

Decades of overseas involvement in equipping Chinese church leaders have shown that training involves much more than unloading knowledge on a classroom of eager students. In discussions with dozens of experienced trainers over the course of several years, the following have emerged as essential factors for effective training.

Clarity of purpose

Training or resources should fit into the long-term plans of the entity providing assistance as well as the church in China, both the specific local body and the church as a whole. Too often, well-meaning outsiders have taken a "one-size-fits-all" approach, assuming that their particular program would be successful in China since it worked well in other parts of the world.

Holistic methodology

Intellectual development is but one part of a process that should encompass the spiritual, relational, and practical aspects of the leader's life and work. As Dr. Robert Clinton has pointed out, the development of the leader starts even before the point when the individual is aware of God's working in his or her life and continues through a variety of life experiences.

A balanced curriculum

There is a critical need for curriculum that addresses not only Biblical knowledge and ministry skills, but also character, relationships, and the leader's stewardship responsibilities in a multitude of areas. Developed in consultation with local leaders, the curriculum should be appropriate to their culture (for example, urban or rural, Han or minority), educational level, existing skill level, and to the individual callings of those being trained, and financially within their reach to reproduce without outside support.

Experienced trainers

Since much of what is learned comes from the person, not the material, trainers should demonstrate the qualities ultimately desired in the trainees. Trainers should be committed to building relationships with trainees over time, yet should also anticipate gradually decreasing their involvement (or changing the nature of it) rather than seeking to perpetuate their role.

The right leaders

Paul's instructions in 2 Timothy 2:2 imply an intentional process of teaching is and multiplication. If one does not first identify those with the gifts, calling, character, and commitment needed to reproduce themselves in others then it is not surprising that the results of one's training efforts fall short of expectations.

Long-term sustainability

The value of any contribution must be evaluated on whether it helps the church meet its long-term leadership needs. Leaders need to agree together on their direction in leader development in order for outside resources to be appropriately utilized; only then can true partnership take place in co-creating long-term solutions. Without this ownership, outside programs will likely be discarded after a few years, or sooner if support is withdrawn.


A commitment to leader development includes defining desired outcomes and evaluating results. Desired changes should be stated up front and appropriate measures designed to ascertain whether these have taken place. Measurement of results should be both evidential (hard data that enumerate what is different as a result of the training), and evocative (impressions about what has changed from trainees themselves and from those whom they have influenced).

Brent Fulton

President of ChinaSource. Follow Brent on Twitter – @BrentSFulton.

For further resources see Leadership Development.

Image credit: Yen L., via Flickr

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Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton is the founder of ChinaSource. Dr. Fulton served as the first president of ChinaSource until 2019. Prior to his service with ChinaSource, 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 …View Full Bio

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