Jeff Kyle first went to China in the summer of 2004 and has been working with the China Partnership since graduating from Covenant College in 2006. He is passionate about US churches developing a global-local missions strategy. Jeff and his family live in New York City.
If you work with Christians in China, there are moments when you realize that what you are experiencing is remarkable and possibly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. For me, that moment came in May 2014 at a conference in Hong Kong for Chinese pastors.
I have worked with China for the past ten years and I have come to see just how different it is to be a Christian in the US and in China. In the United States, Christians have ample opportunities to attend conferences, concerts, etc. We take our freedom of religion for granted and do not think twice about attending a large conference. The Chinese do not have this opportunity. They are mindful of how many people attend their gatherings. They realize government authorities could disrupt them at any moment.
The church in China has struggled historically with trust. During a tumultuous century in China, people had legitimate reasons not to trust one another. This, however, is a major roadblock to the spread of the gospel. Jesus prayed that the world would know him by our love, and if the Chinese church is fragmented and incapable of working together, it presents an incomplete gospel.
We are humbled that God has used us to help pastors and churches regain that trust. China Partnership tries to balance our work between trainings, coaching, conferences, and retreats. We want the pastors and church leaders we work with to develop community, trust, and respect for one another. They have a shared theological vision and are committed to each other’s success. They have a vision for their communities, cities, and country.
For several years leading up to the 2014 conference, we trained church leaders in cities across China. We knew that to further catalyze the work, a national conference would give people a national perspective and vision. It is easy when planting a church or working within a city to develop tunnel vision. The opportunities and challenges of our context can easily overwhelm and demand all of our attention; however, a natural overflow of gospel renewal in our hearts is to be outward facing. We wanted pastors to see there are others like them in different cities working toward the same goals.
I had the privilege of being on the planning team for the conference. We were thrilled to have over 1,500 Chinese leaders come from all over China. We invited Tim Keller to speak five times as one of our plenary speakers and had five Chinese pastors speak on the same topics he addressed, but from a Chinese perspective.
I was running around during the conference, but knew I needed to take the time to enjoy some of the sessions as an attendee myself. During one time of worship, I had that experience of realizing just how amazing this event was. As I looked around and heard people worshiping in Chinese, led by a Chinese worship team, and surrounded by Chinese Christians from over one hundred cities, my eyes filled with tears and I felt immense joy. We were giving these leaders an opportunity to freely worship together, and to focus their minds and hearts on the gospel. Seeing their joy and their celebration was more than enough for me.
We knew leading into this conference that it would be a catalytic event and that afterwards we would face an increased demand for training from new cities. We prepared for that demand by training pastors to become trainers with us and were able to meet that demand when it came.
My greatest joy in my job is that I am supporting Chinese in their own work. There is still a role for pioneering missions from the West, but that is no longer the case in China. The Chinese church has grown throughout the past century and it is time for our role as Americans to move into a support and partnership. We need to empower them, send them out, and encourage them in that journey.
This new role of servant partnership can feel like an affront to the individualistic pull within me. But there really is so much joy when you pass the baton to the next person. China Partnership is humbled to see the baton being carried by our brothers and sisters in China as we take on the role of encourager and supporter.
We are planning another national conference in May 2017 and are praying for those who attend to remain grounded in the gospel and continue pressing forward, united in their shared commitment. I will once again be incredibly busy leading up to and during the conference. But I will make sure to take time to engage as a participant in order to be reminded of the satisfaction of being an encourager and servant partner.