If Chinese Christian families are to break out of traditional understandings of family and to weather challenges from modern social norms, they must build Christian institutions that both teach Christian ethics and are strong enough to engage with wider Chinese society. One such institution Chinese Christians must continue to develop is Christian education. The authors in the recent ChinaSource Quarterly, "Christian Ethics and Family Living in China," have helpfully analyzed many of the challenges facing Chinese families. As an outsider looking in, I would like to offer a word here about the importance of Christian education for Chinese families facing these challenges.
As John Cheng has articulated well in a past issue of the ChinaSource Quarterly, there are many challenges to developing Christian education in China. To be sure, the challenges are great, but the need ought not to be ignored. Li Jin notes in the current Quarterly in his article, “A Theology of Family for the Chinese Church,” that equipping families with a healthy Christian worldview that can speak into the culture around it is one of the most pressing needs for families in China today.
Ma Li helpfully touches on several of the problems with the state education system and the challenges from wider culture in her article, “The Decay of the Chinese Family.” In my work in China, I regularly meet Chinese Christian families who are confronted with these challenges, but are at a loss for what to do. Most Christian families that decide to opt out of the state-run education system band together and do the best they can with relatively inexperienced teachers, a mishmash of curriculum, and little funding. Some families take advantage of the few, already well-functioning, private Christian schools available. What families and budding schools lack in resources they make up for in zeal.
A minority of families send their children abroad for Christian secondary schooling. These families hope a Christian host family and Christian school abroad will provide what China cannot. However, for many Chinese Christian families this is simply not an option. And although this might sound like a solution for some families, it is not a long-term solution for the church and society.
Fostering Christian education in China is good for Christian families, the church, and for the country. Christian schools are good for families because they align a Christian worldview and faith with what parents have a responsibility to teach at home. They are good for the church because they reinforce a gospel-driven narrative by which Christian families should live. They are good for the country because they provide a mechanism through which Christians can become productive members of society in addition to providing a sorely needed ethical voice in the public arena.
Chinese families know the risk they take by pulling their child out of the state-run education system. Yet, many still choose to do so because they cannot in good conscience leave their child in that system. What will it take to meet their need for Christian education in China? Christian families must be willing to forego the state-run schools and their utilitarian benefits. Parents must step up at home to become the primary educators of their own children. Chinese Christians who study abroad must be willing to return and invest their skills and training into Chinese Christian schools and other Christian institutions. More resources and training must be made available to families and church leaders from those more experienced Christian educators. If Christians in China are to challenge prevailing social norms with Christian ethics and foster healthy Christian families, Christian education must play a vital role.
For North American Christians who wish to support and learn from our brothers and sisters in China, Christian education is a unique point of contact. As Christian education seeks to find its footing in modern Chinese society, at the same time it is facing historic challenges in North America. Recent court rulings and challenges in the US and Canada have contested religious freedoms that schools have enjoyed in each country for most of their histories. Many Christian schools and Christian parents will be forced to consider how much they are willing to suffer for the sake of Christian education. Christians in North America will experience increasing pressure to conform to new social norms. As we look at the state of family structures in China and the challenging social norms Chinese Christian families face, we in North America should take the opportunity to begin asking questions about our own future.
- Are we ready to suffer for the gospel?
- Are we committed to instructing our children at home as the Bible teaches?
- Are we ready to live counter-cultural lives?
- Are we ready to forsake utilitarianism and materialism for what is biblically commanded?
- Are we ready to speak out against unethical practices, even if it costs us?
For many Chinese Christians, these questions are necessarily a regular part of what it means to engage with wider society. For Christians in North America, we can learn from Chinese Christians by asking these questions of ourselves.
Image credit: IMG_2850 by David Woo via Flickr.
Jonathan Jiang (pen name) lives and works in mainland China. He previously served a wide range of local church fellowships and specialized organizations to develop children and youth programs. Currently he serves local fellowships in training and equipping future church leaders.View Full Bio
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