As the church in China continues to grow and mature, opportunities to partner with congregations in the West continue to grow as well. In many cases, these partnerships provide opportunities for churches in China to learn from the experiences of the churches in the West. This is a good thing.
But partnerships go both ways, so it is also good to consider what the church in the West has learned and can learn from the church in China. I recently posed this question to a number of foreign workers involved in serving the church in China: what specific lessons can the church in the West learn from the church in China?
For my purposes here, the term “church in China” refers to the community of believers in China, whether in the registered “Three-Self” churches or unregistered house churches. Further, “the church in the West” is also a broad term that merely reflects the background and context of most of our readers. These suggestions would also be applicable for churches in other parts of the world, such as the Global South.
I’ve compiled the responses into a list of 11 lessons. Some have been edited for style and clarity.
1. God’s ways are not our ways. Before 1949, optimistic missionaries to China imagined that, under the most favorable conditions, there would be 15 million Christians in China. God had a different plan. Today, it is several times that number.
2. The true nature of the church. Much of the spectacular growth took place after believers had been stripped of everything we normally associate with church: Bibles, church buildings, denominations, pastors, and trained leaders. What remained was a core group of committed disciples, filled with the Holy Spirit, worshiping, fellowshiping, learning, and serving together—the true marks of the church.
3. The role of suffering in the lives of believers. During the darkest days of persecution Christians learned to walk the pathway of the cross. We do not actively seek suffering, but when it comes we know God will use it to purify us for his glory.
4. Faith in God’s power and provision. When our “clay jar” is broken, the power of God is revealed through our weakness (2 Cor. 4:7–10). Christians in China are marked by a deep prayer life and total dependence on God.
5. The true mission of the church. God has preserved and prospered his church in China for one chief purpose—to spread the gospel to the unreached peoples of China and beyond.
6. Where there is proper exposition, study, and application of the Word, the church (and individual Christians) can grow and thrive despite challenging cultural environments. Despite restrictions and attempts to control the spread of religious faith, church growth has been explosive.
7. God still moves and works in supernatural ways we read about in the Bible but don’t often see in our daily lives. Many Christians in rural China have told me of the role healing has played in the spread of the gospel. When faced with an illness some, in desperation, plead for Christians in their villages to ask their God to heal them. The Christian invites them to church; the congregation prays; they are healed; they embrace Christ. Such testimonies can be heard throughout the Chinese countryside.
8. Jesus is all we need for a joyful life. Though many Christians in rural areas have nothing materially, they are the happiest and most joyful people I know. They love Jesus; he is truly is the center of their lives. They may not have the latest car (or any car) or smartphone, but they have him.
9. The zeal for evangelism. Sharing the gospel has remained a top priority for the church in China despite the growing pains of the last 20 to 30 years. The church takes advantage of opportunities to share the good news with a lost world. For example, Western culture has influenced many of its churches to believe that holidays like Easter and Christmas are family-focused, causing us to turn inward. The Chinese church, however, looks at every holiday in the church calendar as a gospel opportunity. Large evangelistic programs are planned and lost friends are invited to church. Such events are usually packed with students, many of whom later say it was a first step toward their coming to faith.
10. Spiritual growth comes through the testing of our faith. It is not easy being a Christian in China. Temptations and obstacles mark every arena of life. It is one thing to become a Christian in China, but to actually live out your faith is incredibly hard. To live with integrity in a culture abounding in corruption, bribes, and back doors is a hard road to walk. The growth of both individual Christians and the body as a whole has resulted in a resolve that leads Chinese Christians to stand firm and push forward.
11. The cross is central to the faith, and persecution and suffering are marks of true discipleship. This reminder is especially helpful as the society around us in the “post-Christian” West becomes increasingly secular and antagonistic to biblical truth and morality. We can learn from our brothers and sisters in China that we must not lose heart.