Last week I stopped into Beijing, as one does, and went to a church called Next. This church is part of the larger BICF, but it meets separately in this funky restaurant. They were a wonderful and whacky group of young internationals and they asked me to share a story. OK . . . why not?
I told them the story of a Chinese book that changed my life, a book that is celebrating its 100th year anniversary this year.
The book, Missionary Methods: St Pauls or Ours (1911), by an Englishman named Roland Allen, was a harsh critique of Western missionary methods that the author found to be unsustainable and quite unhelpful.
Somebody say "MISSIONARY COMPOUND" and keep a straight face.
Allen recommended going back to the New Testament [HELLO!] to discover the way of Jesus and his disciples, something that he felt would enable a more indigenous and less Western approach to ministry. His book was based on insights from China as well as a search of the Scriptures regarding how the Apostle Paul achieved such remarkable results.
In many ways, the book was forgotten for its first 50 years, as the author anticipated, but was re-released to the world through Bishop Lesslie Newbigin who wrote a glowing intro to the book and highly recommended it to a Western world struggling with a post-Christian identity. Allen's later book, The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church and the causes which hinder it (1927) was also helpful in moving the church to its roots with a more simple and reproducible strategy.
The lack of Chinese-oriented books that teach an indigeonous Chinese way of following Jesus and doing ministry in a Chinese context worries me. And not just China. When I was in Hong Kong the week earlier, I asked a Seminary student what Chinese books he was studying and he stared back blankly, not able to name a single book.
"What about Watchman Nee? The Normal Christian Life?"
"Ahhhhh . .. No"
Now that worries me!
The church in China is vibrant and strong, growing rapidly over the past 60 years to become one of the largest in the world with some estimates as high as 130 million, a number including registered and unregistered churches.
THEY MUST HAVE DONE SOMETHING RIGHT!
On the other hand, the church in the West has not grown for 150 years and today it is in deep, deep trouble. Why should be we exporting our dysfunctional, resource-sucking church models to the world when other countries have already discovered a better way? The Chinese have much to teach us, and much to teach themselves, based on a rich heritage including both Chinese leaders and missionaries like Matteo Ricci who is still honored in China today. I hope to see more Chinese-inspired and Chinese-authored books available in the future, not just in China, but around the world.
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