Choosing A Visa for Church Planting: The Principles Behind the Decision

As many folks know, there is no visa for missionary work in China.  Does that mean we are not to obey the Kings Command to preach Christ and the forgiveness of sins?  Of course not!  So if one’s intention’s are church planting, what options does one have in selecting a visa?  We could talk about each kind of Visa that China offers, but frequent travelers to China know that the requirements for these visas change constantly, so it is not names or details of the visas that we’ll discuss but the principles and scriptures behind the decisions.  Some visas will work better for church planters than others, so it is an important decision to be made:

Principle #1: We cannot allow fear of persecution or of “failure” to cripple us from obeying the Gospel directives. (Mark 8:35; 2 Cor 4:11; 2 Tim 3:12-14)

This means we will not be taking a “James Bond for Jesus” approach to missions.  Folks coming to China for missions work may feel restricted to use certain visas, because of a fear to be kicked out before they’ve been able to make an impact.  Many business platforms and English teachers (not all) subscribe to a covert missions philosophy. Success is not measured in how long we can stay in the country before we are expelled, but remaining faithful to the patterns of Gospel ministry expressed in the New Testament. So in choosing a visa, rather than choosing a visa that will best conceal our true purpose, we will choose one that will allow us to preach the Gospel effectively.

Principle #2: Disciples, let alone church leaders, cannot be factory produced through programs or methods that produce quick conversions, but require a great deal of time in personal sacrificial discipleship. 

Not just any visa will do.  If you should choose to teach English, or work for business just for the sake of attaining a visa, you must be prepared to do a good job for them.  One would not want to harm their testimony for Christ by serving their employers hap-haphazardly.  Therefore if the employer would require you to work 40 hours a week, one must do so.  Even if one’s heart purpose isn’t really in English teaching, medical offices, or business enterprises, the pressure to fulfill those obligations is a reality.  That is why we will choose the visa options that will allow us to be available to mentor.  Knocking out 40 hours of our week teaching English or in another business platform is not an ideal way to plant churches.  Though it can be done, it isn’t the most practical, and definitely not our first choice.  Also you must consider, we’re not church planting simply to hold services and start programs, but we’re planting churches that will have capable men in leadership to see it through, that will take a great deal of time and work.  Tourist Visa’s and Student Visa’s currently are the best ones in our view that have the least restrictions on our time.

Principle #3: Persecution and pressure from the world is a reality in serving God so be flexible. (Matt 10:16; Acts 8:4; 2 Tim 3:12)

We often enjoy to say that the church is not the building but the people.  This is a principle that is applied to visa options as well!  Persecution is a tool in God’s hands. In the Acts 8:4, God used persecution to scatter the church out from congregation into one gigantic mega church in Jerusalem.  As the people moved abroad the Gospel was preached and new churches began to spring up, more disciples were made and the body of Christ multiplied all over the world.  Certain visa’s may restrict you to a certain area.  Obviously if you are working for an employer then you must stay in the location you are given to work.  House churches in China are nomadic, they do not put their roots down into a building.  Because of their ability to travel their survival and reproduction are wrought in persecution by the hand of God.  We will select a visa that will have the least restrictions in mobility.

There’s plenty more that can be said on this issue, but hopefully by looking at the principles in Scripture can simplify the matter for anyone entering restricted access nations.  For the benefit of the missionary candidate I say this: It is wise to refrain from your opinion and telling senior missionaries what your plans are.  Instead, ask questions and learn all you can before making any sort of plan.

In Review:

1. Choose the best available visa that honors the most direct approach in obeying the Gospel.

2. Choose the best available visa that will give you appropriate time to mentor new believers.

3. Choose the best available visa that will offer flexibility as your work.

4. Ask questions, don’t make statements.

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