January 19, 2018

A Modern-Day Macedonian Call


What can we do for China?” Everywhere I go people ask me this question. With over a billion people over a vast land area, China defies a short answer. Since missions groups can come up with a whole variety of strategies, I think it is wise for us to ask the house churches what they see as their greatest need. Yes, they give various suggestions, but one idea keeps coming to the forefront. One house church pastor said it to me succinctly and powerfully: “We need teachers teaching teachers!

All of us immediately think of 2 Timothy 2:2—“the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” In keeping with Paul’s missionary strategy, we need to see teaching teachers to be the primary focus of our outreach to China.

The house church has grown so fast that they need disciple-makers. Maybe you have the idea that the typical Chinese Christian has been in jail twenty years for his faith and has withstood all kinds of spiritual and governmental attacks. While these are not rare, the vast majority of Chinese Christians are new believers. Perhaps the day you read this article 20,000 believers will be added to the church. Who will disciple these people? The house church leaders are overwhelmed and are crying out to us to come and help them teach.

Heresies are spreading throughout the churches in China. Some heretical groups prey on individuals and even subvert whole churches, at times using violent means. What may be more insidious are the heretical teachings, extreme views, and odd emphases that seep into orthodox churches. The churches need—and they are humbly begging for— systematic teaching through the Bible and Christian doctrine.

At present the government does not allow house churches to set up Bible colleges and seminaries. For this generation to prepare the next generation of church leaders, they are going to need widespread, organized teaching. The best strategy will be for us to teach the key house church leaders and then let them teach other leaders throughout the house church networks.

It’s true that there is a crying need for Bibles, Christian books, sacred music, counseling, and so on. But the good news is that now Bibles are available legally in some cities. About fifteen doctrinally sound books are available during specified hours from a few government-sanctioned stores. Some foreigners have allowed the unlimited copying in China of their sacred music CDs. And, counselors and counseling materials are starting to make their way to China.

The question that follows is, “What do we do now?”

Let’s start with the old standbys that the Bible gives us—Pray, Give, Go.

Pray—Maybe you remember back during the forty years between 1949 and 1989 when there wasn’t anything else that we could do other than pray. We did, and God did wonders in China. The church grew from a splintered, foreigndependent trickle to a national movement of indigenous networks that is the second largest in the world! Don’t stop praying for China! Organize prayer cells in your church and meet together weekly to pray for God to work in China. Some organizations will give e-mail updates on what is happening in China, and there are some helpful print publications that will help you pray specifically.

Give—Because missionaries to China cannot be as public about their needs as other missionaries, you are going to have to take the initiative to find out their needs. Call the mission boards that you are familiar with and ask whether they have missionaries to China. If they give you the names, communicate with them discreetly; but if they don’t, you can still communicate with the missionaries through the mission board and ask what special projects they have. Do they give out Bibles to Christians or non-Christians? Do they need funds to purchase doctrinal books that are available through the government church? Do they need couriers who can bring in books and other materials to use in their ministry? Could they use a photocopier to duplicate the materials they have permission to copy? Even if your church finds out the names of the missionaries, it may be wise in your public prayer meetings to use pseudonyms for them.

Go—Put your man in China! It is still possible to go to China and evangelize, disciple, and build up churches. You can’t be a missionary in the traditional sense, but you can settle down in China long-term, learn the language, and be dedicated to stay the rest of your life. Choose a location; get in touch with house churches in your area; find out their needs; get Bibles, Christian books, and other materials to them; share their burdens with people in your home country; and coordinate the visits by couriers and short-term teachers. Take heart from the many people already serving in China and join in this needed ministry.

Maybe you are asking, “How do we do this?”

Because of the present situation in China, we have to take a different approach to ministry. Unlike in most other countries, missionaries going to China find an indigenous (self-governing, self-propagating, self-supporting) church already active and growing. We should respect the work that the Holy Spirit has done in China over the past fifty years and be careful to augment this work rather than dilute it. Since the church is already self-supporting, we should avoid creating a dependence on foreign money. Expand the work of the church by providing helpful materials, but don’t pay salaries or support their ministry monthly. Since the church is already self-propagating, enhance their outreach by getting tracts and discipleship materials to them instead of drawing local churches into foreign structures that take over their outreach programs. Since the church is already self-governing, work through the existing authority structure rather than challenging it. As a missionary gets to know church networks, he can ask the simple question, “How can we help you?” At that point he can fine-tune what he has to offer in the way of teaching, Christian materials, and advice.

Because China is a large country and the Christian church is the body of Christ with each member having differing gifts, we need to work together for maximum impact. More and more people are already embracing an approach that was suggested by Mark Vowels:

Step 1: Along-term missionary, which we will call an “anchorman,” chooses a city and settles down there. He makes contact with house churches and builds relationships with the leaders.

Step 2: Over time, English teachers and Christian businessmen come and settle in his town. They meet with him for church on Sunday and receive spiritual oversight from him. He suggests Christian materials for them to use in evangelism and discipleship efforts. He can also give cultural tips and share strategies with them. They, in turn, reach out to the people they are in contact with daily and find genuine seekers that they can bring to the anchorman for fuller training and to introduce to a local house church.

Step 3: The anchorman also coordinates foreign couriers who bring in books and materials for use by him, the tentmakers, and the house churches. He also augments his teaching by bringing in short-term teachers that come in to help that location.

In one of the locations where I have taught, I have seen this method working well: the anchorman oversees one church and is in contact with many others. He gives spiritual oversight to many tentmakers who live in his city and attend the service for foreigners that he holds in his home each week. He coordinates book couriers and shortterm teachers that come to his city. I believe this method will work for cities all over China.

“Where do we begin?”

It is legal to be a language student in China. You can go to China as a language student and live there for several years as a language student. You can meet people and get to know them and begin sharing the gospel with them. Perhaps at first you will need to use English and reach out to the 2% or so that can relate in that language. But as time goes by you will be able to reach out to the vast majority who don’t speak English. Even if you have a desire to be a Christian businessman in China or a Christian professor, I would recommend that you learn Chinese in order to be clearer in your evangelism.

While you are learning Chinese, work alongside an experienced anchorman, learning from his experience and meeting his house church contacts. You can watch how he teaches the house church leaders and perhaps even take part in the teaching. All along, prepare yourself to pioneer in a new setting.

At an appropriate time, move to a city where you can become an anchorman and begin gathering around you a team of other church workers, tentmakers, and short-term helpers. Contact the house churches in your area to offer assistance in teaching the Bible and Christian doctrine.

The house churches’ Macedonian call today is for anchormen— long-term Chinese speakers who teach the Bible to house church Christians and coordinate our joint efforts to help them. This is what the house churches beg for. Will you answer their call?

Jerry is the pen name of a missionary who wishes to remain anonymous.

For a list of materials suggestions for ministry to China go to http://joyabounding.myweb.hinet.net/joyabounding/.

(Originally published in FrontLine • September / October 2004. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)

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