Rather than providing solutions, partners from outside should be encouraged to instead bring tools which, in the hands of Chinese leaders, may provide the means for devising suitable approaches to the challenges they face.
These tools would include, of course, hermeneutical resources and access to classic works of theology, ecclesiology, apologetics, church history, spirituality, and practical Christian living that have historically served as reference points for the church globally. Formal educational programs, whether in China or abroad, are also important.
Less tangible, but perhaps of greater long-term value, are opportunities to interact with, and learn from, Christians in other parts of the world, particularly in non-Western contexts, whose experiences can inform Chinese Christians' efforts to formulate responses to their own current challenges. Mentoring by experienced Christians in various fields of endeavor (pastors with pastors, writers with writers, business leaders with business leaders, educators with educators, counselors with counselors, etc.) can provide needed context for Chinese Christian leaders to grapple with issues in their particular domains and can guide them in knowing what questions they should be asking (provided the mentors are themselves willing to become students of China and of the Chinese culture).
Modeling acceptance and tolerance while discussing issues on which all Christians do not necessarily agree, as well as providing tools for conflict resolution, can provide a way forward for Chinese Christians who will need to engage with one another in substantive but potentially divisive interchange around issues of mutual concern for the church.
Given the natural tendency of those looking into China from outside to want to frame the needs and challenges of the Chinese church within familiar categories, actively listening and intentionally putting aside, or at least being mindful of, the filters that might otherwise distort the voices of Chinese believers are essential, particularly at a time when information on China is proliferating yet understanding China has never been more difficult. It is important to keep in mind that these challenges are ultimately those of the church in China, and it is up to today's generation of church leaders to address them.
Nonetheless in an age of increasing global interdependence, the ways in which China's Christians choose to move forward will have implications beyond China, as China's church can be expected to assume a more prominent role within the international Christian community in the coming years. At this juncture Christians both inside and outside China have an historical opportunity to create new models for partnership that can both meet the challenges of the church in China today and set the stage for greater global collaboration in the future.
(Excerpted from Brent Fulton, Ph.D., "Perceived Challenges of Christians in China," in Bruce P. Baugus, ed., China's Reforming Churches: Mission, Polity, and Ministry in the Next Christendom, Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2014. Available on Amazon.)
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