It was with a note of sadness that I read the thoughtful essays by Jerry An and LI Jin in the 2019 summer issue of ChinaSource Quarterly. I have deep respect for the way the Chinese church has taught us in the west the meaning of perseverance, courage, sacrifice, and commitment. My prayer has always been that the church in the west might equip the church in China theologically without also exporting many of the challenges inherent in our institutionalism and personality-dominated pastorate.
The articles in this issue remind us that even in our passion to follow Jesus, we are sinners at risk of being deceived by pride and corrupted by a narrow fundamentalism. To whatever extent the leadership forms taught by the west, and our approach to church polity have done a disservice to the church in China, we should ask for forgiveness.
Jerry An rightly identified the problems with the classic “servant leadership” approach in stating, “in an Asian society with a culture of authoritarian leaders, servant leadership easily degenerates into a mere slogan or item of propaganda. It is difficult to really put into practice. It can even be taken as a method of control.” He concludes: “Servant leaders also become ‘servant leaders with Chinese characteristics’ with all the ‘selflessness’ of a master in servant’s clothing.” If there is anything we’ve learned in the west, it’s that servant leadership, charismatic leadership, and patriarchalism do not solve the problem of leadership abuse in the church.
In the same way, without a new paradigm for leadership, institutionalism could increase, not decrease, the abuse of power by church leaders. LI Jin states this well when he comments: “Recently, many urban churches have learned to import membership systems and denominational governance from Western churches. They are becoming more regular in terms of church finance and discipline. However, this has not completely overcome the power of the traditional, paternalistic system. On the contrary, in terms of institutionalization, it has even strengthened some previously informal abuses of power.”
In addressing the rise of leadership abuse of power and the systemic corruption that can hide within an increasingly institutionalized church body, I wonder if one solution may be a new paradigm for leadership. Let me offer one idea. At the heart of abuse of power and institutional corruption is a high-control attitude. When leaders see themselves as owners of their church or ministry, they will justify whatever power is needed to succeed. Ownership and control are destroying leaders in the west, and I wonder if the same is now happening in China.
I would suggest that an alternative is to equip leaders to cultivate the heart of a steward leader. Steward leaders acknowledge God’s ownership of everything and seek only to faithfully carry out the work under his guiding hand. Steward leaders give away power and know the truth that spiritual victory only comes through surrender of everything to Christ. They lead humbly but courageously, not swayed by the lure of ownership or the temptation to control. They obey God’s leading and trust him for the outcomes.
This attitude toward leadership is reflected in Kerry Schottelkorb’s reflection about his own leadership journey, “It was often a bumpy ride because I wanted to be great for God instead of strong in him. I wanted to do great things to see his church grow and his kingdom advanced. He was calling me to be his humble worshipper and follower.”
In every corner of the world the church is desperately in need of faithful and courageous leaders. My prayer is for the church in China to embrace the theology and practice of the steward leader at this critical moment in its history. As it does, may God guide it in his way for his glory.
Image credit: ChinaSource
Scott Rodin has a passion for helping Christian ministry leaders take a biblical approach to leadership development, strategic planning, board development and raising kingdom resources. Over the past thirty years he has worked with hundreds of organizations in the U.S., Canada, Middle East, Great Britain, China, India, the Philippines and …View Full Bio
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