Just before I left Beijing in October, I received an invitation to return to China six weeks later to attend a special conference on theological education. Eager to build on the relationships I’d made on my first trip, I flew into Shanghai on the December 5th.
The conference was attended by forty leaders from China’s twenty-one officially-recognized seminaries. I was included as a special guest of Overseas Council Ambassador Manfred Kohl, who has a personal relationship with nearly all of these seminaries.
We were invited to attend a special dinner with four top leaders in the China Christian Council (CCC), which oversees all ministry and training activities for the official church. In addition to enjoying a feast of exotic dishes, we had a candid discussion about the challenges and opportunities faced by churches in both China and the U.S.
Most of China’s official seminaries have been in existence for less than twenty years, so they are on a steep learning curve. They have no standardized curricula, and the quality of faculty, programs, and graduates varies from school to school, many of which are equivalent to an American Bible college. Speakers covered a variety of topics, including biblical foundations, spiritual formation, faculty development, theological research, Christian ethics, advanced degree programs, opposing heresy, impacting society’s conscience, and mentoring future church leaders.
Each talk triggered spirited yet respectful comments and questions. I was told that because of their shame-honor culture, Chinese educators enjoy rigorous discussion but shy away from open debate, which might seem to be disrespectful—in contrast to many American seminaries! There was broad agreement among these leaders that they have a great deal of work ahead of them to meet the educational needs of the rapidly growing church in China, but I sensed both the commitment and energy needed for such advances.
When I was invited to address the group, I described how equipping pastors to teach and model biblical peacemaking can strengthen an entire congregation’s ability to live out the gospel and lead others to Christ. At the end of my talk I mentioned that I’d brought each seminary a set of resources that included Mandarin translations of The Peacemaker and our Bachelor of Arts curriculum, Conflict and Reconciliation, which we developed specifically for seminaries. Interest in the material was vividly illustrated at the end of our session by the rush to the resource table at the back of the room—every set was gone within thirty seconds.
Afterwards I had several inquiries on how to use the materials, as well as discussions about possible future training arrangements. On December 10th, just two days after I left Shanghai, I learned how genuine this interest was. The seminary vice president who served as our interpreter throughout the conference wrote me the following:
When I returned to my office I immediately talked with our principal about your material and ministry. The result is we are going to use it in our Conflict Management course and in church leadership trainings as well.
I will use it in our afternoon lecture time next semester. I just read the materials you gave me, and see I need to understand it better, so that I will know how to use it and teach it. My first impression is that it will bring great help for our churches and future church leaders in our school.
I could not have asked for a swifter or more affirming response to my brief presentation.
We will see what other responses we receive in the days ahead, and then we’ll seek to discern how God is calling us to serve his church in China. Please pray for open minds among seminary and church leaders, for wisdom on how we can best serve them, and for the staff and financial resources we will need to respond to these opportunities (in addition to other invitations we are considering for 2012).
In the meantime, may God grant you and your loved ones a Christ-centered and peace-filled Christmas, and a new year that is filled with a passion to live only and entirely for Jesus, the Prince of Peace.