Collaborating with Nationals in Church Planting, Part 3 – Choosing Partners

China-Partnership-Collaborating-Nationals-Church-Planting-Choosing-Partners

In this three-part series, Sa Zhong Zi makes a case for the necessity of partnering with locals in ministry. Today, the author discusses how to choose local ministry partners and the need to “date” them before committing to working together. If you have not yet read Parts 1 and 2, make sure to do so in order to better understand the author’s full argument.

Sa Zhong Zi (meaning “sow seeds”) is the pseudonym for an American assisting with the support and strengthening of the Chinese house church. 

Choosing Partners

The practical question arises now of who should we partner with when we engage in the ministry of church planting? I believe our goal of reaching biblical koinonia is well served by continuing with the illustration of marriage to better understand this issue. 

The brother in Christ who discipled me as a young Christian, working in full-time campus ministry, was a very wise man. After decades of being in full-time campus ministry he had learned some hard lessons. Early on in our discipleship relationship he gave me some sage advice. “Before you partner together with another Christian you should ‘date’ them.” The idea was that it is often unwise for us to jump into partnerships, even with fellow Christians, before we get to know and understand them. Their personality, gifts, theological stance, situation in life and many other factors will be relevant when we consider how to partner with another individual. These are all factors we consider before we select a spouse (or even have one chosen for us). 

I realized the wisdom in this brother’s advice after I had invited a member in our church to work with our ministry, only to find out later he was not suitable for the responsibilities I gave him. Eager to give him responsibility, I asked him to lead our weekly Bible study with Chinese graduate students. After the first study I realized I had made a big mistake. He often would focus the discussion on controversial political issues during the Bible study that were a distraction for the non-Christian Chinese students. We were trying to help them understand the gospel, but this brother kept putting up obstacles. These stumbling blocks were unnecessary, but despite my continued warnings, this brother could not resist the temptation to discuss these issues. The decision I made to place him in this position was too hasty.  I “married” him to the ministry role before “dating.” I should have invited him to participate and observed to see if he was gifted in this way.


Never miss a story

Sign up to receive our weekly email with our original articles.

Could I have koinonia with this brother? Absolutely, yes. Should I ask him to lead a small group in our investigative Bible study? Probably not. At least not until I trained him for the role. Koinonia, therefore, must necessarily be understood in a broader sense than the specific area of whether or not I include this brother in leading our Bible study. Directionally I could seek to understand and even look for new ways to partner with this brother, but it must be based on understanding those elements of his subordinate identity (namely personality, gifting, theology, political views, and many others).

My specific focus in this paper is on who we should select to partner with among local leaders. With respect to choosing national ministry partners there are two potential groups. 

I will call the first group, Group A. In many cases with Group A, the selection pool might be quite small or even non-existent. In those cases the problem you face is whether you should start with those you already have among the small Christian community or wait until God raises up new leaders that may hold greater long-term partnership potential. 

The other group is Group B. For Group B there is a larger pool of potential local ministry partners to choose from, in which case the missionary may find it more prudent to be more selective in who he or she chooses to partner with based on the principal stated above. I would like to focus my comments mostly on Group B in particular although some of the principles I address would also be applicable for Group A as well.

I would like to propose three principles that can potentially help us in choosing national ministry partners. These are not the only things you should be aware of; rather, these are the things that I have seen most often neglected among the foreign worker community that I have interacted with over the past twenty years. The three principles are:

  • Balancing your primary and secondary identity

  • Finding a common vision

  • Consider the uniting potential of creeds and confessions

1.  Balancing your primary and secondary identity

As a young seminary student I was invited by Chinese church leaders in the U.S. to join with them in planting a church. I was very excited and eager to share what I had learned in seminary, but it quickly became obvious that many of the Chinese who wanted to work with me did not like my theology. They assumed that we were all on the same page because we are all Christians and I probably assumed they would like what I had to say. After all, I was the theological expert, right? Those assumptions were based on a naïve view that differences such as theology and ministry philosophy are not important. While it is true that they should not separate us, there needs to be some time spent understanding each others positions before we jump into a project, a church plant, or some other ministry endeavor. We need to be realistic about those issues that can divide us and diligent in searching for ways that we can cultivate real directional koinonia despite those issues.

This leads us to the first principle. Do not underestimate secondary identity. To truly engage in koinonia we need to merge an intensely realistic perspective with a faith-filled passion to see God do what man cannot, namely unite in directional koinonia. We cannot afford to ignore our subordinate identity as Baptists or Presbyterians or Non-Denominational any more than we can ignore our identity as being American, Dutch, or Korean. At the same time, we need to understand and live out the truth that those identities are subordinate to our primary identity in Christ. Our union with Christ is fundamental and must form the foundation of any true koinonia

Nonetheless, sometimes in our efforts to reach out to our fellow Christians and move toward greater koinonia, we downplay those differences only to find out later, when conflict arises, that those differences played an important role in the conflict that occurred.

2.  Finding a common vision

The second principle has to do with finding common ground. Something that has been immensely helpful to our church planting ministry in China has been the presence of a common ground through which people from different theological backgrounds (different secondary identities) can work together. This common ground rests between the two common areas of conflict – doctrinal beliefs and ministry methods. This is what Tim Keller calls a theological vision. He writes, “…Between one’s doctrinal beliefs and ministry practices should be a well-conceived vision for how to bring the gospel to bear on the particular cultural setting and historical moment. This is something more practical than just doctrinal beliefs but much more theological than ‘how-to steps’ for carrying out a particular ministry.”  

When we initially gathered house church leaders together to start church planting training, it was not everyone’s cup of tea. Most of them did not follow through and there was no pressure for them to do so. Four of the original participants, however, did want to continue. Four years later, that group had grown from four churches to hundreds. Some of these were new church plants, but most were existing churches. The focus was on one simple question: “What is the gospel and what are the implications of it in my life and the life of my church?” Churches, pastors, and lay leaders were hungry for the training and the community that came out of this group. There were Presbyterians, Baptists, and non-denominational churches that flocked to these trainings and the work continues to expand as I write this article.

This common theological vision has helped us to foster a directional koinonia that has enabled churches from all over the country representing many varying theological stances and ministry philosophies to work together in real partnership for the sake of the gospel. It serves as a common final goal that all team participants agree to work toward.

But having a common vision needs to be coupled with an agreement among the team on how to reach that goal. There needs to be smaller, short term goals that serve the final goal. There also needs to be a mission statement of how the team plans to reach that final vision and what strategies the team plans to use to reach that vision. In their book Leading Multicultural Teams, Evelyn and Richard Hibbert give some very valuable tools to help develop these aspects of the team. They write, “A team’s purpose drives it to overcome the challenges of working together to create strong group cohesion and achieve synergy, in which the performance of the team is greater than the sum of individual members’ efforts.”

There was a defining moment in our church planting movement in China when we gathered leaders together to hash out the mission, core values, and strategy of the movement. The churches represented had a common theological vision, but the mission statement, strategy, and core values were not clear. During the meeting, the large group split up into several smaller groups representing churches from the four regions of China (north, south, east and west). After the smaller groups reconvened, they were astonished to see that what they had written nearly identical content. This was a defining moment for the group. Not only did it highlight the presence of the Holy Spirit working to unify these churches (they were all existing churches coming from differing theological stances), it also showed the strength of having a common theological vision as a starting point.  

3.  Consider the uniting potential of creeds and confessions

Another practical thing that can help cultivate this sense of directional koinonia is the use of creeds and confessions. We recently formed a coalition of seminaries in China to work together around our common theology and belief in the classic reformed confessions. In our group we have both Baptists and Presbyterians working side by side. Although the coalition is young, I have been surprised at how quickly the group gelled and got down to business.

The current sentiment around creeds and confessions is not positive. Most people look at the dividing element that has surrounded creeds and confessions. Consider, however, the Apostle’s Creed and how many Christians subscribe to this simple statement of the Christian faith. While many would find such a simple creed too limited to address the deeper theological issues that divide Christians, it is nonetheless an excellent place to start. The potential to bring together believers from differing denominational backgrounds, cultures, and languages around this simple creed is great. Consider the positive elements of how a commonly agreed upon creed can foster unity and partnership.

Creeds and confessions can be historical or modern. Some other examples of this would be the Cape Town Commitment, a document written by a working group led by Christopher Wright, and the Lausanne Covenant, which was written under John Stott’s leadership. These documents were written to articulate what the Lausanne movement embraces and what errors they seek to avoid. While these documents do not bear the nomenclature of creed or confession, they function with the same purpose.

Summary

Whether you are serving in a field where locals are mature in their Christian faith or one where the work is just getting going, the need to partner is necessary. In some cases that partnership may only be a plan for the future, in others it is a living reality. No matter the situation, it is my hope that we follow the wisdom and instruction of the Holy Spirit as we approach this indispensible aspect of ministry. 

There are opportunities to partner with all kinds of people on the field, but we need to approach this with a sense of both godly conviction and Spirit led discernment. I trust that following the principles outlined in this article will be a needed bit of helpful counsel for the foreign worker, regardless of what his or her field looks like. May the Lord bless the work of his church and may his kingdom come and his will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Are you interested in connecting further with the house church in China?
Discover CP’s four fundamentals to partnership:
Learn, Pray, Encourage, and Give.

Share This Story

Further Reading

shio-yang-g_C8w1QBca0-unsplash
Nanjing: Love Under Pressure
Read More
zhang-kaiyv-L9NHlk2CGOQ-unsplash
Why Should I Love My Enemies?: Give Up Revenge, Love Enemies
Read More
yifei-wong-HfLKjg2ic64-unsplash
Nanjing: Bringing the Gospel Into Life
Read More

LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA

With rising pressure and persecution in China, there are two challenges imperative for church leaders. The first challenge is for current leaders to love Christ above all else, and not to stray into legalism or love of the world. The second challenge is to raise up the next generation of leaders, who will humbly model Jesus even if current leaders are arrested.

WILL YOU JOIN US IN PRAYING FOR LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA? PRAY FOR:

  1. Current leaders to grow in their daily walks with Christ
  2. Current leaders to shepherd and raise up new leaders
  3. New leaders who love Christ and will model him to the world
  4. New leaders to love and care for the church

Videos

ABOUT LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT

About Shenyang

Shenyang is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Liaoning Province. It is known for its rich history and cultural heritage, including the Shenyang Imperial Palace, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Shenyang is also a hub for China’s heavy industry, with companies such as the China First Automobile Group and the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation having their headquarters in the city.

Videos

Stories from Shenyang

About Qingdao

Qingdao is a city located in eastern China and is famous for its beaches, beer, and seafood. The city is home to several landmarks, including the Zhanqiao Pier and the Badaguan Scenic Area. Qingdao is also a major port and has a thriving economy, with industries such as electronics, petrochemicals, and machinery.

Videos

Stories from Qingdao

About Xiamen

Xiamen is a city located in southeastern China and is a popular tourist destination known for its beautiful coastal scenery, including Gulangyu Island, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is also a hub for China’s high-tech industry, with companies such as Huawei and ZTE having research and development centers in Xiamen.

Videos

Stories from Xiamen

About Chongqing

Chongqing is a city located in southwestern China and is a major economic center in the region. The city is known for its spicy cuisine, especially its hot pot dishes, and is also famous for the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric dam. Chongqing is also home to several historic sites, including the Dazu Rock Carvings, which are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Videos

Stories from Chongqing

About Nanjing

Nanjing is a city located in eastern China and is the capital of Jiangsu Province. It is one of China’s ancient capitals and has a rich cultural history, including the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, the Nanjing City Wall, and the Confucius Temple. Nanjing is also a modern city with a thriving economy and is home to several universities, including Nanjing University and Southeast University.

Videos

Stories from Nanjing

About Changchun

Changchun is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Jilin Province. It is known for its rich cultural heritage and is home to several historical landmarks such as the Puppet Emperor’s Palace and the Jingyuetan National Forest Park. Changchun is also a hub for China’s automotive industry, with several major automobile manufacturers having their headquarters in the city.

Videos

Stories from Changchun

About Guangzhou

Guangzhou, also known as Canton, is a city located in southern China and is the capital of Guangdong Province. It is one of the country’s largest and most prosperous cities, serving as a major transportation and trading hub for the region. Guangzhou is renowned for its modern architecture, including the Canton Tower and the Guangzhou Opera House, as well as its Cantonese cuisine, which is famous for its variety and bold flavors. The city also has a rich history, with landmarks such as the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall, the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, and the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees. Additionally, Guangzhou hosts the annual Canton Fair, the largest trade fair in China.

Videos

Stories from Guangzhou

About Kunming

Kunming is a city located in southwest China and is the capital of Yunnan Province. Known as the “City of Eternal Spring” for its mild climate, Kunming is a popular tourist destination due to its natural beauty and cultural diversity. The city is home to several scenic spots, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Stone Forest, Dian Lake, and the Western Hills. Kunming is also famous for its unique cuisine, which features a mix of Han, Yi, and Bai ethnic flavors. The city has a rich cultural history, with ancient temples and shrines like the Yuantong Temple and the Golden Temple, and it’s also a hub for Yunnan’s ethnic minority cultures, such as the Yi and Bai peoples.

Videos

Stories from Kunming

About Shenzhen

Shenzhen is a city located in southeastern China and is one of the country’s fastest-growing metropolises. The city is renowned for its thriving tech industry, with companies such as Huawei, Tencent, and DJI having their headquarters in Shenzhen. The city also has a vibrant cultural scene, with numerous museums, art galleries, and parks. Shenzhen is also known for its modern architecture, such as the Ping An Finance Center and the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center. Despite its modernization, Shenzhen also has a rich history and cultural heritage, with landmarks such as the Dapeng Fortress and the Chiwan Tin Hau Temple.

Videos

Stories from Shenzhen

About Chengdu

Chengdu is a city located in the southwestern region of China, and the capital of Sichuan province. It has a population of over 18 million people, and it is famous for its spicy Sichuan cuisine, laid-back lifestyle, and its cute and cuddly residents – the giant pandas. Chengdu is home to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, where visitors can observe these adorable creatures in their natural habitat. The city also boasts a rich cultural heritage, with numerous temples, museums, and historical sites scattered throughout its boundaries. Chengdu is a city of contrasts, with ancient traditions coexisting alongside modern developments, making it an intriguing and fascinating destination for visitors to China. 

Videos

Stories from Chengdu

About Beijing

Beijing is the capital city of China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 21 million people. The city has a rich history that spans over 3,000 years, and it has served as the capital of various dynasties throughout China’s history. Beijing is home to some of the most iconic landmarks in China, including the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven. The city is also a hub for political, cultural, and educational activities, with numerous universities and research institutions located within its boundaries. Beijing is renowned for its traditional architecture, rich cuisine, and vibrant cultural scene, making it a must-visit destination for travelers to China.

Videos

Stories from Beijing

About Shanghai

Shanghai is a vibrant and dynamic city located on the eastern coast of China. It is the largest city in China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 24 million people. Shanghai is a global financial hub and a major center for international trade, with a rich history and culture that spans over 1,000 years. The city is famous for its iconic skyline, which features towering skyscrapers such as the Oriental Pearl Tower and the Shanghai Tower. Shanghai is also home to a diverse culinary scene, world-class museums and art galleries, and numerous shopping districts. It is a city that is constantly evolving and reinventing itself, making it a fascinating destination for visitors from around the world.

Videos

Stories from Shanghai

give

A short message about partnering with us.