Creative Access Mission – Indigenous Training in Chinese Church

According to Operation World edited by Patrick Johnstone and Jason Mandryk, Asia is still the most populous and the least-evangelized area of the world (2001:39-41). Among the East Asian countries, more than 80 percent of the population resides in creative-access regions (Prescott 2001:3-4). “Creative-access regions” are countries where there is a political barrier to missionary entry and missionary service. These governments seek to prevent or restrict efforts at evangelization from foreign support; in particular, they deny entry to those identified as missionaries. However, although creative-access regions may be closed to traditional forms of mission, they are rarely closed to all foreigners. Many Christian professionals have found ways to access these regions creatively as professionals in secular fields, such as English teachers or medical doctors. Though direct proclamation of the gospel in this context may not be possible, the way these Christian professionals live in a non-Christian world has a significant impact on non-Christians’ perception about the gospel of the kingdom. It is not by word or act alone but also by their presence; sometimes their presence is itself a threat to the government. Perhaps in these situations overt witness is severely limited and a witness by life becomes the primary means.
Christian professionals are on the missionary frontier in the twenty-first century creative-access mission. They have the primary responsibility to share the good news of the kingdom to the needy. Consequently, a widespread need for better formation of Christian professionals in the faith becomes increasingly clear in today’s churches. However, the complexity of today’s life in this world has made it difficult to design and establish an equipping ministry that is effective and manageable. This rapidly developing mission trend needs to be presented as both challenge and invitation to all Christian professionals as they begin to be equipped for mission.
In the Asian context, the spontaneous expansion of the Chinese church forces us to rethink the strategy of training next generation leaders. In the past, Chinese Church receives much help from the western missionaries. Today, many local pastors, with limited theological training, have taken major role in leading churches in Mainland China. These leaders also catch a vision to share the gospel cross-culturally within China and beyond. However, some church leaders argue that Chinese Christians do not need cross-cultural training in order to be missionaries in their home country. The church continues to send more and more workers to serve cross-culturally from Han to minority, but without sufficient training and preparation. The need for equipping these cross-cultural missionaries are urgent.
In the past, mission responsibility in the church has been limited to a small number of specially trained and specially “called” professional missionaries and/or ministers. The underlying mentality has rendered God’s people passive. For the rest of this paper, we attempt to unfold the difficulties in releasing the underdeveloped resource of laity in the Western church. The rapidly expansion of the Chinese church forces us to rethink the strategies for indigenous leadership training in a more relevant context. Instead of only sending the elite, the whole people of God should be actively involved with cross-cultural mission. Developing a conceptual framework for a more inclusive curricular design that is theologically rigorous and contextually appropriate for these cross-cultural workers who have a heart for the Great Commission is urgently needed in response to the rapidly developing creative-access mission in this century.

Four difficulties in releasing the underdeveloped resource of Christian professionals have been identified in the Western church by Po (2004:59-60):

    1. Passivity of the laity. One of the regrettable characteristics of the church today is the passivity of the laity. Many Christians just let others take up responsibilities while they themselves remain passive and disinterested in church business. The pastors are hired to get certain jobs done in the church. Apparently this problem is widely recognized by pastors and acknowledged by the laity. There are many reasons for the passivity of the laity: hierarchical organization in church offices, domination by intellectual meritocracy, and common misunderstanding of Christian vocation in the church.
    2. Hierarchical organization. There has been a mounting criticism that the church has adopted hierarchical structures, similar to many secular organizations. Thus, there are some people who are perceived to be more important than others. This criticism is particularly true in the Chinese culture, where relationships such as teacher-student and employer-employee are hierarchical. The church will not get far in equipping the whole people of God for mission in such a hierarchical organization.
    3. Domination by intellectual meritocracy. The criticism that church leadership is dominated by intellectual meritocracy is more widely heard among laypersons than among the clergy. In many churches, status is earned by knowing. Ted W. Ward has rightly criticized the situation in most mainline denominational churches: “Once a magic bag of merit is in one’s possession, it can be traded for honor and prestige (plus a salary) at the friendly local church, and thus one maintains oneself – career and salary – more in terms of what one knows than what one is” (1996:29).

Misunderstanding of Christian vocation. Both the clergy and the laity tend to limit their understanding of Christian vocation as a call to the priesthood or religious life. In other words, pastors are called to full-time service in churches, and missionaries are called to serve cross-culturally. Ministry outside the church is rarely recognized and seldom rewarded. Ordinary Christians do not know or at least they are not taught that their daily work ought to be undertaken as a divine service to the glory of God. Consequently, the impact by the laity to witness for Christ at work is diminished.

In response to the trends of rapidly developing Chinese church, we need to rethink the strategies of training leaders in the new century. Unlike the leadership training in the West which is dominated by intellectual meritocracy, many church leaders in the Chinese church are from grass root. They have minimum education and limited theological training but they take up important role in leading the church. Many lay pastors work in the secular world and serve in the church. The theological understanding of Christian vocation and the meaning of “calling” need to be addressed in a cultural appropriate way. The rapid development of house church movement further flattens the hierarchical structure of the church. There is a great potential of releasing the underdeveloped resource of laity in the Chinese church. In the next section, we attempt to address several issues related to equipping lay leaders in the context of Chinese Church.

As Chinese Church plays an increasing role in cross-cultural mission, it is urgent to give attention to prepare the workers. A holistic equipping approach for kingdom workers requires an ongoing process of decision-making to keep the process theologically sound and contextually appropriate.
The purpose of indigenous cross-cultural training is the first question to be answered. The answer to the question of “why?” then becomes the principal guiding value along the way. The purpose of training cross-cultural missionaries in Chinese Church is to equip them for serving in creative-access regions. One of the main goals of leadership development is to multiply emergent spiritual leaders. As emphasized by the Apostle Paul in his second letter to Timothy, he committed to Timothy the task of entrusting what he had learned to faithful men who would teach others also (2 Ti. 2:2). Paul repeatedly demonstrated the importance of this expectation of leaders in his own ministry. Thus, the equipping of cross-cultural missionaries should focus not only on expanding God’s kingdom, but also on the lifelong development of individuals.
However, education is geared to the political and economic ends in Chinese culture. Individual needs are not regarded as an area of high priority. As pointed out by Daniel D. Pratt, for the Chinese, human rights are derived from the society; there can be no such thing as individuals claiming rights against the society (1991:294). Rights are presented as privileges that can be granted or withheld by the state, depending upon the political or economic conditions. In addition, the emphasis within China on superior-inferior relations, obedience and order, and the maintenance of stability at the expense of individual rights indicates a good deal of external control and sanction which affect people’s identity (1991:295). This is obviously different from the Western culture in the sense that education is the expression and cultivation of individuality. As a result, the Chinese education system is more rigid than the Western ones. The difference in the Chinese culture and the Western culture helps us to reexamine the aims of equipping next generation cross-cultural missionaries in Chinese Church.
Two types of people need to be identified in any training system, the trainees as well as the trainers. When applied to training cross-cultural missionaries, the learner selection functions as a confirmation of one’s calling. It is important for the leaders of the church to broaden their theological understanding of missionary calling, not only limited to a special group of professional missionaries doing church planting and direct evangelism, but also recognizing tent-makers teaching Chinese in the third world as bi-vocational missionaries of special calling and special training. These tent-makers have been welcomed by the government in creative-access regions as medical doctors, engineers, social workers, teachers, and others. They can make use of their natural abilities, acquired skills, and spiritual gifts to serve the local people in creative-access regions and can bring new opportunities for service to the kingdom. The role of Christian professionals in the marketplace will be strengthened if they reckon all gifts and talents to be blessings from God.
The rapidly growing Chinese church has forced the leaders to rethink the strategy for training lay pastors to serve cross-culturally. These lay pastors are called to follow Jesus and they may not have rigorous theological and/or cross-cultural training. Due to limited resource in the church, many lay pastors have to work in the business world (tentmaking) in order to reduce the financial burden of the church. Many of these lay pastors are called to serve cross-culturally, ministering from one province to another, from Han to minority people group.
Ideally the trainers also serve as mentors to their trainees. The trainers should have cross-cultural missionary experience so that they can empathize with their trainees and identify with the challenges and hardships their trainees will face. They should be healthy spiritual examples in faith, prayer, commitment to Christ and passion for cross-cultural mission. They will be seen as models by those they train. The trainees will tend to repeat their trainers’ views, reflect the trainers’ lifestyles, including spiritual, family and ministry.
The content of any Christian leadership training program is the whole gospel and the obedience it requires. The focus should be on the long-term effectiveness of the person who is serving rather than just a short-term engagement (Elliston 1999:247). In the creative-access context, three major areas of preparation are identified to equip cross-cultural missionaries in the Chinese Church.
(1) Work theology and job skills
For equipping cross-cultural workers, an often neglected area in the Chinese Church is the practice of the “cultural mandate.” The “cultural mandate” often refers to “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it,” recorded in Genesis 1:28. Many leaders of the Chinese Church assume that equipping their members is mainly a “spiritual” ministry. They have invested most of the resources in training Bible study and personal evangelism leaders; for example, though these areas should not be neglected. Facing the tremendous changes in the twenty-first century “creative-access” mission, the Chinese Church needs to reevaluate the feasibility and suitability of the current leadership training program. In particular, the training program must include a wide range of content, such as spiritual formation, development of relational skills, Christian vocation, theology of work, theology of presence, ethics in the workplace, lay leadership training, and spiritual gifts in order to address issues that have long been overlooked.
(2) Spiritual life and Christ-like character
If the missionary candidates have no healthy relationship with Jesus, it is difficult for them to convince others to put their faith in Jesus. If the missionary candidates do not learn and practice the total dependence on God and the power of the Holy Spirit while they are in the pre-field training whether in church or in the market place, it is difficult to project how they can cope with the challenges after being sent to the mission field.
The pre-field training should emphasize Christ-like character development of the missionary candidates. The spiritual qualities of an elder or deacon, recorded in the Pastoral Epistles, focus not on academic credentials or ministry skills (except the ability to teach), but on Christ-like character development. Paul had proved his courage to preach the gospel cross-culturally and Barnabas was well known as a good man who was able to encourage others. They were both regarded as trustworthy.
In the Mission history to China, some western missionaries tended to feel a sense of superiority. After two hundred years, the Chinese church is mature and is ready to send out missionaries to different parts of the world, but they tend to repeat the same mistakes that their western colleagues did. Han Chinese also tends to feel a sense of superiority towards the minority. They may not want to invest time to study the minority language with the misconception that Mandarin Chinese language is sufficient. Duane Elmer asked local Christians around the world what missionaries could do to more effectively minister the gospel in various cultures and the answer is that “they did not think they were so superior to us” (2006:15). Thus the character development of humility and self-awareness is vital in the pre-field training. David Harley summaries the main issues as:

“Many missionaries today, wherever they come from, show a desire to be in control, to want to introduce new programs, to tell the local people what they need and what they ought to do, to impose on them new ways of doing things, new patterns of worship, new styles of church leadership. This is just another form of imperialism, which militates against the growth of a healthy, mature, national church” (2009:74).

(3) Biblical, theological, and cross-cultural training
Church growth in contemporary China moves from rural to urban. In the past, local pastors from villages have minimum Bible training but they played a key role in leading the rural churches. Moving from rural to urban poses a big challenge to today’s Chinese churches. What types of training and/or education are needed in order for these pastors to be effectively ministered their own people – indigenous leadership development?
In my past fourteen years of cross-cultural training experience in China, one of the main challenges is that the trainees lack the ability to reflect missiologically. That is, the ability to reflect and learn from the past, either succeed or failure. If the next generation Chinese missionaries can learn from their predecessors, they will be able to repeat their success and avoid their mistakes.
Many missionary candidates do not know enough about the part of the world in which they are called to serve. For example, those who are called to serve the Muslim need to dedicate more time for Muslim ministry before heading to the mission field, love and care the Muslim neighbor, read books about Muslim by both Western and non-Western authors. The trainees need to develop their own theology of mission.
The delivery system provides the mechanism for conveying missiological education to the learners. To have an optimally effective delivery system, one needs to balance contextually three basic training modes[1] and to give attention to the educational media and technologies to be used. The delivery system also serves as a significant formational influence on the learner. Elliston suggests some variables of the delivery system that need to be tailored to the local context: (1) the balance between self-directed learning and teacher-directed learning, (2) the balance between extraction from the ministry setting and extension of the learning to it, and (3) the focus on the dominant learning styles of the students (1996:248).
The teacher-directed learning fits more for the traditional Chinese learning style especially the learners are from the grass root. Non-formal or informal training may be more appropriate. Moving from rural to urban, from grass root to intellectuals, if the learners participate in the design of the learning, they will learn to design. Upon receiving the calling from the Lord, these Christians become highly motivated and highly independent to learn, they should be able to learn by themselves with minimum supervision. Thus, incorporating some kind of self-directed studies into a formal training setting seems feasible to meet the needs of these Christians for their lifelong development. In addition, since the high-technology media is accessible to these Christians, they can complete the studies in the mission field without being extracted from the ministry. Finally, Christians need to break with their old passive learning styles and adapt themselves by seeking a more self-directed approach to equipping in response to their calling to serve in creative-access regions. It is a paradigm shift of training culture in the Chinese Church.
To optimize effectiveness, timing is an important issue to consider when designing training programs for Chinese cross-cultural workers. Flexibility in timing within the training programs reflects a contemporary value that affects virtually every dimension of modern life. In other words, how can the timing be adjusted to best accomplish the purpose, given the constraints of these other variables? (Elliston and Kauffman 1993:159-160)
The non-formal and the informal modes of training are typically more flexible and shorter in terms of individual learning segments. They often fit better with in-service training. This is perhaps the trend of training cross-cultural workers in the Chinese church. Many Chinese Church leaders even argue that there is no need for formal theological/missiologically training for their co-workers. However, Elliston rightly reminds us that the Apostle Paul’s formal education was put to a very good use for the strengthening of the church (1999:250). One should not, therefore, totally decry formal education. Sherwood Lingenfelter also suggests a way to return the university to the service of the Church and the kingdom by refocusing on mission (1999:123). In the Chinese Church tradition, many local pastors do not receive formal theological training, and thus they are considered to be the second class to a group of professional missionaries with special calling and special training. With flexible design in the training programs, these pastors can pursue formal training without interrupting their service in the mission field and the church.
Universities and seminaries should be able to make some significant timing adjustments, such as offering evening or weekend classes, one-week intensive courses, or self-directed learning programs, to allow students to complete a formal degree. Some degree programs even relax the residency requirement so that students can get the degree without coming to the campus. The training program, a combination of course work and fieldwork, structures the offering in such a way that students can complete the degree according to the individual’s time span.
The venue for equipping cross-cultural workers is the mission field, the community and the workplace. The general principle is that the venue where equipping is done should be as similar as possible to the projected ministry environment and the local people to be served (Elliston and Kauffman 1993:161-162). Flexibility and creativity with the venue may be fostered in many ways, including offering intensive courses, extension courses, and self-directed studies through the use of advanced telecommunications technologies. Many on-the-job training and/or internship are offered to equip these cross-cultural workers. The pressing need is the availability of the mentors with cross-cultural competency

Looking toward for the trend of leadership development in Asia in the twenty-first century, the laity becomes the mission frontier. The equipping of Christian professionals from the West requires a paradigm shift in order to release the full potential of the laity in the church. In the context of Chinese house church movement, the tremendous church growth requires rapid multiplication of leaders and mutual equipping. However, this shift from authoritarian to shared participation may be threatening to the existing leadership hierarchy in the Chinese culture. It challenges the leaders’ spiritual authority. Though the mission tasks are many, the following recommendations center on the people to be developed.
Develop An Integrated and Lifelong Learning Perspective
Acknowledging the difference between Chinese and Western culture, the leaders of the Chinese Church must place greater emphasis on the lifelong development of cross-cultural workers according to an individual’s potential. Not only does this help with sharpening individual’s ministry skills, but also enable individual to do more missiological reflection in order to reduce the failure rate in the mission field.
Implement Self-Directed Formal Training
Self-directed formal training is desirable for lifelong development of cross-cultural workers. They can receive a formal training in intercultural studies in a self-directed learning mode in a few years while serving in the mission field. This approach to learning combines the advantages of the other two training modes—informal and non-formal; namely, practicality and flexibility. It helps to raise the competency of the cross-cultural workers.
Exercise Mutual Equipping and Empowerment in a Cultural Appropriate Way
Empowering others requires working beside them without holding them back. The Biblical leadership figure is Barnabas. When Barnabas and Paul went to Cyprus, the people observed that Barnabas was in charge (cf. Ac. 13:1–13). After leaving, Barnabas continued his growth-encouraging role by following Paul. Barnabas empowered Paul and was not afraid to see Paul lead. No longer were they referred to as “Barnabas and Saul,” but now as “Paul and Barnabas” (Ac. 15:36). More spiritual mentors like Barnabas are needed in today’s Chinese Church.
<strong>Undertake Research and Development in Creative-Access Mission
The Chinese church needs to invest more resources towards research and development in creative-access mission so that it will not establish a long term dependency from the West. The commitment is high, as much as the commitment to take up the cross and follow Jesus Christ.

Reference cited:
Elliston, Edgar J.
1996. “Moving Forward from Where We Are in Missiological Education.” In Missiological Education for the 21st Century. J. Dudley Woodberry, Charles Van Engen, and Edgar J. Elliston, ed. Pp. 232-256. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.
1999. “Moving Forward In Missiological Education.” In Teaching Them Obedience In All Things: Equipping for the 21st Century, Evangelical Missiological Society Series. Number 7. Edgar J. Elliston, ed. Pp.240-278.
Elliston, Edgar J., and J. Timothy Kauffman
1993. Developing Leaders for Urban Ministries. New York: Peter Lang.
Elmer, Duane
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Harley, David
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Johnstone, Patrick, and Jason Mandryk
2001. Operation World: When We Pray God Works. 6th edition. Bethany House.
Lingenfelter, Sherwood
1999. “University and Church: Prisoners of Culture or Partners for the Great Commission?” In Teaching Them Obedience In All Things: Equipping for the 21st Century, Evangelical Missiological Society Series. Number 7. Edgar J. Elliston, ed. Pp. 111-143.
Po, Ming Suen
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Pratt, Daniel D.
1991. “Conceptions of Self Within China and the United States: Contrasting Foundations for Adult Education.” International Journal of Intercultural Relations 15:285-310.
Prescott, Ian Charles Herbert
2001. “Creative Access Mission in East Asia.” D. Miss. dissertation. Pasadena, CA: School of World Mission, Fuller Theology of Seminary.
Ward, Ted W.
1996. “Servants, Leaders, and Tyrants.” In With an Eye on the Future. Duane H. Elmer and Lois Mc Kinnney, eds. Pp. 27-42. Monrovia, CA: MARC.

* This paper was presented at the Group Session of the AMA Convention in Manila, 2016.

[1] Available online at (accessed July 6, 2015).

Dr. Hau-Ming Lewis Chau received his Ph.D. in Computer Science from University of California at Los Angeles (1989) and Ph.D. in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary (2002). He has been serving in China since 2002. He is actively partnering with a network of local churches for leadership development. His vision is to see the local church in China actively involve with cross-cultural mission.

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