The past decade has seen a groundswell of passion among Christians in China to pursue cross-cultural ministry. A corresponding wave of activity among outside organizations and churches has aimed at equipping China's church for this task.
Much of this activity has centered around training individual workers and establishing the "highway" by which they might make their way to countries neighboring China and beyond. A closer look at the current movement suggests that, while these efforts are an important part of the overall equation, there are other, perhaps more fundamental, pieces that need to be put in place in order for a sustained sending effort to emerge. These components include:
- Spiritual and emotional preparation. Some of the early failures in sending have been due to underlying emotional issues that were triggered by the rigors of cross-cultural life. These issues may stem from family dynamics, previous stresses encountered in difficult ministry situations (including harassment or imprisonment), or other factors. Focused effort is needed to identify and deal with these issues well before a worker is sent to the field.
- Historical factors that have shaped China's church have colored the perceptions of China's believers regarding their role in the church and in ministry. These underlying assumptions should be examined in the light of the realities of cross-cultural service.
- Similarly, the unique legacy of the church in China, particularly a keen awareness of dependence upon God and a willingness to suffer, should be recognized as a valuable asset which the church in China brings to the global missions effort.
- Missions education in local churches is essential if those sent out are to be properly supported. At present there appears to be a gulf between the passion of the few who feel called to go and the commitment of the rest of the congregation.
- Member care. Proven practices among experienced organizations and churches in other countries can be instructive, but sending churches in China cannot assume that these international entities will take care of workers once they get to the field. These churches must themselves recognize their role.
The church in China is making progress in each of these areas, but growing a mature sending movement will take time. Some have suggested that internships with international agencies may be a wise intermediate step for equipping the future leaders of this movement. If such arrangements are to be successful, the agencies involved must work hard to develop relationships not only with these future leaders, but also with the churches from which they are sent. In this way they can work together to address some of the fundamental mindset and attitude issues that are critical to the church's long-term success in sending.
For more information on the indigenous mission movement in China read the spring issue of the ChinaSource Quarterly "China's Indigenous Mission Movement."
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