The Rising Missions Movement in China


Originally posted on May 2015
By: David Ro, Director of the J Christy Wilson Center for World Missions at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and as International Deputy Director for the Lausanne Movement in East Asia.

Several prominent Chinese leaders from the unregistered churches have been convening in Seoul with global and Korean evangelical leaders to discuss China’s future direction in world missions. A Mission China 2030 vision was launched at the Asian Church Leaders’ Forum in 2013.

Last year, China’s leading pastors met in Seoul again to strategize on plans to accomplish the vision to raise up a younger generation to:

  • plant thousands of churches in the cities;
  • reach China’s 500 unreached minority people groups; and
  • send out 20,000 overseas missionaries by 2030.

Lessons learned

The church in China has been maturing in its theological and biblical understanding of the role of the church in world missions. Due to the limitations on the official Three-Self churches, unregistered house churches have taken the lead with hundreds of missionaries sent to Central Asia, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and even northern Africa.

A Back to Jerusalem (B2J) movement, originally begun in the 1920s, was rebirthed in the early 2000s by the ‘Heavenly Man’ Brother Yun and Peter Xu calling for a vision to send 100,000 missionaries to the Middle East. Many peasants from rural China responded to the mission call. However, due to the challenges of overseas cross-cultural missions, there was a high drop-out rate among this first wave of missionaries.

Chinese leaders are taking into account lessons from these difficult experiences.

Healthy sending bases and sending structures

Previous attempts relied too heavily on overseas funds, causing dependency issues. Strong healthy churches and sending structures are essential to support and sustain missionaries. The recent Emerging Urban Churches, made up of intellectuals and professionals with global awareness and access to global partnerships, are becoming a strong support base and example for long-term mission sending. Appropriate indigenous mission sending structures and policies are in development to ensure adequate mission training, ministry oversight, financial accountability, and member care.

Unity leads to a healthier church

In the past, local churches kept their distance from each other due to security concerns. However, this unifying global missions vision has trumped previous fears. The Chinese church is healthier due to mutual sharpening. A unifying Mission China 2030 brings together rural and urban, young and older generations, and even different theological perspectives across different regions and cities.

Less triumph, more humility

The hard lessons from the previous B2J have brought about a humbler posture as Chinese church leaders caution against the dangers of triumphant Chinese nationalism. Refraining from using images of China as the last torch-bearer in the Great Commission, they prefer to see China as one among many: mission is from every nation to every nation. Engagement with the global church will be essential for China’s future mission endeavours. While China has something to offer, it comes as a humble newcomer into an existing global mission arena. 

Economic milestone

History can attest to national mission movements occurring in periods of geo-political and economic growth, as seen in the rise of the United Kingdom and Europe in the 19th century, the United States in the 20th century, and South Korea in the late 20th century.

On December 4th, 2014, the Chinese economy overtook the US economy to become the largest in the world, and almost nobody noticed. China’s rise indirectly influences the global impact of Chinese Christianity.

We should celebrate China’s new status as the largest economy because China’s rise is God’s overall plan for China to bless the world through his church. A peaceful rise will be welcomed by the world as many Chinese believe in the Christian gospel message of hope, love, and peace.

Key characteristics

China’s ‘way of the cross’

The gospel from China comes from a church that has gone through suffering. This message of sacrificial living refined by fire reflects the cost of discipleship seen in the early church. Chinese church leaders sense an overall tightening of religious policy on the horizon. Yet Christianity in China grew fastest during some of the harshest times of persecution. Whether the political environment tightens or not, the Chinese church will continue with its call.

China’s radical discipleship to ‘go’

Long-term Western missionary sending seems to be in decline as mission sending increases in the majority world. China has much to teach the West. North American popular speakers David Platt and Francis Chan have both been inspired by the radical discipleship of China’s house church. China’s global missions movement joins Africa and Latin America to remind the global church that the message of radical discipleship must be accompanied with the action to ‘go’ to the ends of the earth.

China’s ‘gospel debt’ repaid

Former Beijing Pastor Daniel Jin estimates that 20,000 foreign missionaries have been sent to China in the last 200 years. The Mission China 2030 challenge is to see at least 20,000 Chinese missionaries overseas by the year 2030: ‘We owe a “gospel debt” to the world. Only when our missions sending surpasses what we have received can China be considered truly a mission-sending country.’

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