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A previous generation of Chinese Christians, cut off from all outside contact and separated from its leaders, was forced to rely upon the Lord alone as the Christians sought their way forward. This seeking after God was an important part of their maturing process, and their testimonies bear witness to His faithfulness. While acknowledging that China and its churches are at a much different place today, it is nevertheless worth considering whether outside intervention may unintentionally serve to short-circuit the process by which God seeks to mature the current generation of Chinese church leaders.
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 can provide needed context for Christian leaders. 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.) help 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).
Mentors that model acceptance and tolerance while discussing issues that may create conflict provide tools for conflict resolution. These tools help 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.
The natural tendency of those looking into China from the outside seems 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 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 the challenges.
Nonetheless, in an age of increasing global interdependence, the ways in which China’s Christians choose to move forward will have implications beyond the region, as these churches 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.
(c) Brent Fulton. All rights reserved. Republished from ChinaSource Blog with permission.