Given the relatively opaque nature of China's church, international organizations have often found it difficult to know where to connect. Chinese representation at several high-profile international conferences in recent years has, in some ways, been a welcome breakthrough. These events have ostensibly helped to bring together a wide spectrum of leaders from within China with those from abroad who are seeking to partner with them.
However, while such connections are now being made with increasing frequency, these conferences inadvertently raise the question of who speaks for the church in China. The participants who have the means to get to the venue, who are able to make their voices heard, or who are there because they know the organizers of the meeting may not be those who are best prepared to engage constructively in international collaboration. Some who may appear to the foreign community to be leaders may not have the support of the mass of Christians inside China. Participants from urban and rural backgrounds (not to mention official vs. unregistered church!) will likely approach ministry from very different perspectives. Depending on who one listens to, one may come away with very divergent impressions of the state of the church in China.
This is not to downplay the importance of such connections, but simply to say that building relationships takes time. Becoming acquainted in international gatherings may provide an entry point, but international organizations that are serious about pursuing long-term collaboration in China need to invest in building understanding and clarifying expectations. This means, among other things, listening to multiple voices inside and outside the country, seeking counsel from others with China experience, and spending time personally getting to know Christians on the ground in China.
Image credit: Joann Pittman
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