The gospel breaks through in communities when we foster true partnership.
It’s time for a change in missions. For the past two hundred years, missions has relied on the pioneer foreign missionary who brings the gospel, leads people to Christ, disciples and trains converts, and eventually starts a church. Often the unintended consequences of such work are “expert” foreigners who believe the local church will crumble without their involvement and complacency among local church leadership they depend on foreign leadership.
Rather than focusing on the individual callings of missionaries, we ought to focus on the establishment of the local church and the need for foreign workers to come alongside the church as qualified and trained equippers who co-labor under local direction. Foreign workers need to listen more, ask more questions, and assist local leadership accordingly.
When the gospel breaks through into the hearts of people, they learn to live out their lives with gospel identity. Confidence grows, not in themselves, but in God who is at work in them. Therefore, we see local leaders take ownership as they experience renewed theological vision of the gospel, the community, and the city. The foreigner worker can and should come alongside local leaders as enablers, empowering local leaders to develop institutions and ministries such as seminaries, counseling centers, church polity, discipleship, mercy and justice projects, and many more.
“The word partnership hints at or implies equality. And equality means that the younger churches, the Chinese churches have things to teach the older churches in the West. And at the same time, there are things that the older churches in the West can teach and help the Chinese church with. Now the question is, what are those things? There has to be a meeting of the minds. The Chinese church has to know where they can actually help us and teach us. It shouldn’t all be just one way. It shouldn’t be a dependent relationship.
On the other hand, we need to have the humility to say you can teach us. So we have to get out of the idea that the Western church has to help the poor Chinese church. Obviously, the Asian churches can teach us a lot about evangelism, a lot about prayer, a lot about spiritual vitality. So there needs to be a sense that we are equal partners. We both have to learn from each other, we have to decide what it is we’re learning from each other and helping each other with. And then it will really change the world.
I think that the Chinese church, like all of the younger churches in the world, has this challenge: what do we conserve from the past? In what way are we true to the Christian past, true to church history, true to the old creeds? What do we conserve and where do we innovate? Where do we say there’s never been a massive Chinese church before? What do we bring to Christianity, to the Christian faith, to the Christian church that wasn’t there before?
That’s the key, I think, to real spiritual dynamism. Because if you innovate too much, you lose the basis of the gospel. If you hold on to tradition too much, you’re not really reaching your culture, your time. So my prayer for the Chinese church is that God would give spiritual wisdom to know where to conserve, where to innovate. That’s how I pray for the church.”
Tim Keller, Redeemer Presbyterian Church