Missions and Leadership Development

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Editor’s note: This September, we will be praying for and sharing articles about leadership development in China. Today, a missionary reflects on the future of cross-cultural work and leadership development as the center of world Christianity and global missions continues to shift away from the Western church.


The political climate both at home and abroad has become increasingly critical and even hostile toward the role of missionaries in evangelism, education, and church development in the global church. Although the landscape of who does mission work has shifted a great deal over the last hundred years as the Korean church has become a major part of the missionary effort, for many, the word “missions” still conjures up images of imperialism. This pressure, from both outside and inside the church, has been intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic. The church is now being forced to answer difficult but important questions about the role of the missionary.

Despite these challenges, missionaries remain a vital part of leadership development in the global church. While their role is changing, missionaries can still provide intangible resources such as experience, an outside perspective, and a connection with the global church community. Although the intangible resources these missionaries provide can sometimes create unhealthy dependence, partnership with global missionaries can bless the fabric of local church life.

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“The church is now being forced to answer difficult but important questions about the role of the missionary.

The burning question becomes: how can we re-structure the missionary’s role to fit the modern era? Much practice has changed over the last century, and we have learned valuable lessons about wise missiology, as well as how to avoid past mistakes. The Western church is no longer the sole source of missionary resources. Emerging churches—including the house church movement in China—are now sending missionaries abroad. As these churches enter the missionary force, they will need to wrestle with the same issues faced by those who went before them, and learn from the mistakes made by the Western missionary movement.

What is the role of the missionary in global church leadership development? Three things surface as we consider this question: contextualization, partnership, and sustainability. Any missionary that has wrestled with the penetrating questions of missionary work and takes the long-term effects of this pandemic seriously must consider these factors. Most of my experience is in China, but these concepts apply to most, if not all, contexts.


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CONTEXTUALIZATION

Contextualization was developed in the ecumenical church setting of the World Council of Churches. Taiwanese theologian Shoki Coe coined the expression in 1972 to describe something that goes beyond the nineteenth-century three-self model of Henry Venn and Rufus Anderson, which argued for “self-governing, self-propagating and self-supporting” churches and was designed to give local churches more agency. Given the term’s liberal roots in the ecumenical setting, evangelicals looked on “contextualization” with suspicion for the better part of two decades. Contextualization in leadership development means teaching local leaders to self-theologize, while concurrently addressing contextual factors and holding to the authority of scripture and what it teaches us about humanity, culture, and God.

Missiologist Paul Hiebert calls for a new approach to missions that recognizes the subjective nature of how we process reality in our contexts, while holding fast to the objective truths of Scripture. This allows the gospel to remain tethered to the normative authority of scripture, while allowing for local expressions of that truth.

SUSTAINABILITY

The second factor is sustainability. Sustainability looks at building ministry infrastructure that allows the leader to continue their work without being overly-dependent on outside sources. In the original three-self model, this aligns closely with the idea of being self-supporting. How can missionaries help train leaders, while also helping to build the infrastructure needed to sustain those leaders?

This covers a wide range of factors. To name just a few: financial resources, property, office equipment, technology, ongoing education, and training. Establishing institutions, such as bible schools and seminaries, can sometimes be helpful in this effort, provided there is sufficient local support. Otherwise, the institution itself can become an unsustainable ministry and a long-term burden that does not contribute to the building of ministry infrastructure.

PARTNERSHIP AND BEYOND

Finally, the concept of partnership is critical in leadership development. In reality, all three of factors bleed into and connect with one another in different ways. For example, partnership also connects to sustainability in the way it prioritizes the local church’s agency and the role they play in carrying on the ministry beyond missionary contributions.

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“One has to seriously reflect on what the Lord is teaching his church about developing local leaders through the conditions of the pandemic…wise agencies ought to begin to wrestle with the implications of the growing number of Christians in the global South and East.

In a provocative journal article called Covid-19, Trends in Global Mission, and Participation in Faithful Witness, Paul Bendor-Samuel calls for “indigenous witness” and a thorough re-thinking of how we do missions given the global challenges facing the church. It is not necessary to agree with all of Bendor-Samuel’s conclusions to affirm the issue he is addressing. “Covid-19, far from being a frustration to the mission of God, could be just the restraint to the global mission industry we need if we are to reimagine how different parts of the Body of Christ act together to support faithful, holistic, local witness,” Bendor-Samuel writes.

These sound like mutinous thoughts to those of us who work in large, Western-based missions agencies, but one has to seriously reflect on what the Lord is teaching his church about developing local leaders through the conditions of the pandemic.

The task of global outreach no longer falls on the shoulders of missionaries from traditional sending nations in the West, nor does it fall on the shoulders of the “younger churches” of nations like South Korea. As the global community of churches envisions the future of missions and missionaries, wise agencies ought to begin to wrestle with the implications of the growing number of Christians in the global South and East. These changes should be reflected in policies and strategies within mission agencies. For some, who have already begun, this discussion this is a hearty confirmation; while for others, this may feel like a call to a mammoth undertaking.


Urban Farmer is a pseudonym used by an American who works to support and strengthen the Chinese house church. 

FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION

Pray for the Chinese and other emerging churches to have wisdom and discretion as they become leaders in global missions.

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Further Reading

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The Internal Cross: A Pastoral Letter
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The External Cross: A Pastoral Letter
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Qingdao: How to Pray
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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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Stories from Shanghai

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