Editor’s note: For those in the West, “partnership” with the global church has often been perceived as sending Westerners to do outreach overseas. The idea of partnership, however, is much broader and richer than this. There are many ways to pursue fruitful partnership, most of which involve investment in long-term relationships. Although building partnership is not quick or simple work, it is worthwhile, and offers a chance to help the Western church rejoice as they are reminded of how God is working across the globe.
At a time when the American evangelical church is greatly divided over a host of issues, missional church partnering for ministry in China offers great riches in the form of expanding the horizons of the body of Christ. Such partnership can rally the church together behind an important vision. American churches unfamiliar with the church in China can begin to learn from first-hand testimonies about the challenges and victories of our brothers and sisters on the other side of the globe. This serves to strengthen the congregation’s scope and understanding of the world-wide body of Christ, while also casting vision for the next generation of young missionaries in our U.S. congregations.
What Does Successful Partnership Look Like?
What would it look like if a house church in China were to partner with American churches? I’ve been asked this several times over the last decade or so. The question sounds simple, but a host of follow-up questions pop into my head: is the church in the States ethnically Chinese, or is it primarily a non-Chinese, English-speaking congregation? If it is the latter, then what is meant by the word “partner”? For example, let’s say that our definition of “partnership” is for a U.S. congregation to find some meaningful way to help a Chinese house church in need.
A few years back, China Partnership helped broker this kind of partnership between a large American church and a house church pastor and his wife. The Chinese couple came to the States for an extended period to live with and observe the U.S. congregation’s worship, activities and leadership. With the American congregation’s help in hosting their stay, the couple was able to learn a great deal from how this large congregation nurtured, discipled, and interacted as a covenant community. Since the house church pastor had many years of campus ministry experience but was relatively inexperienced in pastoral ministry, the partnership helped him see how pastoral ministry could be conducted on a practical level. After the trip, the couple returned to China. Upon follow-up, they reported several areas where they were greatly blessed and where their pastoral ministry was enhanced by the visit.
Facilitating Cross-Cultural Relationships
Partnership could also involve a greater level of give-and-take between U.S. congregations and Chinese house churches. To navigate this kind of partnership, at least one person must act as the “bridge.” This bridge facilitates complex cross-cultural communication, not only through language, but also with expectations. In addition to communication and navigating expectations, a host of security concerns must be successfully addressed before such a partnership could take place.
Would You Pray With Us Today?
In looking for someone who can serve in this bridge role there are a few options. Candidates to serve in this role could possibly be a seasoned missionary in China who is fluent in Chinese and English. Given the current situation, the number of these is dwindling quickly. Perhaps a more likely person to serve as a bridge would be a returnee who has been abroad, and who understands both cultures and languages. Assuming this person is a mature Christian, this can work quite well. Several years ago while serving in China, I helped a U.S. church that was involved with China Partnership find a returnee to act as a bridge in helping them partner with a local house church in ministry. The relationship worked well, because the returnee was fluent in Chinese and English, knew American and Chinese culture, and helped the church navigate expectations with the church partnership.
Long-Term Rewards are Worth the Investment
A word of caution: these partnerships work best if they are nurtured over time. American pragmatism needs to be tempered with the Asian mindset of building relationships over a much longer period. It is common for relationships involving Chinese and Americans to be more similar to the first definition of partnership rather than the second, primarily because the second type of partnership is more complex and happens more naturally over time.
Keeping these thoughts in mind and being aware of the challenges should not discourage churches from pursuing both types of partnership. After assessing which style of partnership is desired and feasible, churches should maintain a long-term mindset as they build and develop the partnership. The spiritual dividends are well worth the investment.
For many churches, these partnerships may not be immediately accessible through direct contact with a house church in China. If this is the case, a U.S. congregation should consider partnering with a local Chinese church in the States as they seek to reach out and form a relationship with a Chinese house church. The bridge function is built-in with this kind of partnership, since the American Chinese congregation is much more likely to be able to navigate communication, expectations, and security concerns. Things to be aware of with this model of partnership are language issues (Cantonese congregations may feel less equipped to minister in Mandarin) and culture issues (Mainland China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong are very different from one another, both politically and culturally). Many Chinese churches have both Mandarin-speaking, Cantonese-speaking, and English-speaking congregations within one larger congregation.
There are a host of voices challenging the legitimacy of Western missionaries and questioning whether we need missionaries at all. Some of the concerns raised in these discussions are legitimate and important. The Western church needs to recognize the mistakes of the past, humbly admit and repent of historical wrongdoings, and look at “younger churches” (such as the Chinese house church) from a posture of learning what they can teach us. The relationship between China and the West should be one of partnership on equal footing. So what is a good answer to the question? Does China still need partnership with the church in the U.S.? The best way to answer this is to ask the house church in China. From them, I hear a resounding “yes.
Urban Farmer is a pseudonym used by an American who works to support and strengthen the Chinese house church.
FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION
Prayerfully consider whether God is calling you and your church to pursue this type of missional partnership with the Chinese house church.