The Hardships of Pastoral Ministry in China

Pastoral ministry is typically not a desired vocation among Chinese Christians. Although pastors in China are revered for their rich spiritual gifts and selfless service to the church, pastoral ministry itself is poor, lonely, and draining.

In this article from Green Olive Books, the author highlights the difficulties of being a pastor in China, as well as the need for Chinese Christians to better support their pastors. The author, a layperson, provides one unique look into how Chinese Christians view their pastor.

Pity the Chinese Pastor

The Poverty of the Pastor

In China, as soon as you mention "pastor" or "serving the Lord," people immediately think "poverty," referring to material poverty. 

There is a sister who is very mature in her walk with Christ who once shared in our Bible study :

When I heard that my brother wanted to quit his job and serve the church full-time, I was happy, but I also felt sorry for him. The salary serving in the church is quite low, and he has children to raise. The days ahead will definitely be financially tough for him.  When your loved ones choose a road like the life of full-time ministry, you realize how very weak your own heart is. Please pray to God and ask that he will have mercy on us, that we will not value the treasures on earth, but that we will focus on our Father in heaven. 

Some time ago, I read an article online called, "The Poverty of Pastors is the Disgrace of Believers." The article pointed out a problem that really shocked me: How can there still be "impoverished preachers" during such affluent times? 

The article says, "At a luxurious church where only a few people attend the service, one shabbily dressed preacher lives in a leaky home next door to the church. When faced with the plight of the preacher's livelihood the affluent believers would very piously offer their solution for him—‘Live by faith!’"

The article stirred up sympathy in me because the pastor of our church is a poor pastor. His monthly salary is only 1,500 RMB (Approx. $216). The pastor of my mother's church is the same. His monthly salary is less than 2,000 RMB. One time, my mother smiled and said to me, "Our pastor is really cute. Today he happily told us that we don't need to worry about him. He's already saved up 20,000 RMB (Approx. $2,887) over the years and he always thanks the Lord for that. Everyone started to laugh when we saw how happy he looked. We were all thinking about how little he makes each month. How could he possibly have saved up 20,000 RMB!" My heart ached after hearing this. 

Most of the preachers I know are on a low income. They are often worried about paying the rent of their churches, and they don't even have crude church buildings! 

My mother came back from church one time with a big bag of old clothes. She told me, "The church is too small, there's no place to put these old clothes." I asked her, "Why don't you throw them away? These are all clothes that nobody wants." She answered, "Our pastor's wife and their child will still pick out some of these clothes to wear. It's better to keep them and give to those in need." 

At the end of the article, tears were trickling down my face. It said, "Don't let preachers continue to wear the donated clothes of believers and live such a hard life of embarrassing poverty." In a prosperous city like this, how many people are there still willing to wear strangers’ old clothes? 

The Loneliness of the Pastor

When Henri Nouwen’s book The Wounded Healer came out in Chinese, the popularity was surprisingly high. From the title of this book, it seemed as though the book was especially written for pastors. The ironic thing, however, is that the book has also touched the hearts of countless believers. 

In the book, the author not only talks about the believer's heartfelt needs, but he also writes about a pastor's limitations, inabilities, weaknesses, and scars . . . this isn't just written about pastors. From the wounds of pastors, we can also see our own pain. Pastors and believers are part of one body, they are all one finite creature. They are a group of lonely people all redeemed by Christ's blood; sinners saved by God's grace! We are called by the Lord to be salt and light for him. In fact, broadly speaking, every Christian is both a believer and a pastor. 

Therefore, our loneliness is also our pastor's loneliness. Our pastor's scars are also our scars. We often claim to be servants of the Lord, yet, pastors are the ones who serve us. They are the servants of the servants. The loneliness that they bear is a loneliness within loneliness. 

The Wounded Healer says, "The loneliness in a pastor's life is even more riddled with scars because while needing to share the plight of humanity's loneliness, he discovers that the effect of his ministry becomes increasingly frail with each passing day. The mission of the pastor is to preach the ultimate concerns of life: life and death, gathering and scattering, love and hate. He deeply longs to give meaning to people's lives, however, he discovers that he can only watch from the sidelines. People can only think and act for themselves. Only after difficulties come do they reluctantly agree to allow him to remedy the problem which could've been avoided. Even if a pastor's teaching could turn swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks, he has no way to melt people's hearts of stone. The saddest thing is that pastors want to open the hearts of others, but then find themselves rejected by the very people they want to help. Even if he begs them to let God into their hearts, still no one will answer." 

When we are in a hopeless situation and we don't know where to turn, our Christian brothers and sisters will often remind us, "Talk to your pastor. See how he can help you." When we sink to a spiritual low-point, brothers and sisters still remind us, "Go to your pastor, maybe he can straighten you out." When you encounter hardship in life, brothers and sisters around you will still remind you, "Go ask your pastor. Ask him to help you think of something." 

Are pastors really the "Supermen" God sent to earth? Or, are they our spiritual "garbage cans?” 

While concealing their own wounds, injured pastors seek out the lost sheep from the gaping jaws of roaring lions. Even though he is rejected by people, even though his imploring goes unanswered by people, the pastor still uses that wounded heart to warm their hearts of stone. 

People's selfish concealment is a very painful and lonely process. A pastor can't save anyone. A pastor can only sacrifice his heart in order to become a guide for the frightened. Who doesn't have fear deep in their hearts? When we receive the love of a pastor, is it possible to have glimpsed their yearning soul and loneliness? 

The Frailty of the Pastor

Many pastors are highly educated and highly capable, but have given up high-paying jobs to assume the pulpit and shepherd the flock. When they face opposition from family, when they are abandoned by friends, when they face the pressure of reality, don’t they have moments of weakness?

We assume that pastors are those of us who are the most faithful, the closest to the Lord, and the strongest. In reality, this seems to be the case. We often see believers confessing to each other about their weaknesses, but we rarely see pastors talk about their own sense of ineptness.

I came to our church a year ago and I heard from someone serving there that our pastor was always tormented about how to counsel single sisters in the faith. This made me feel a sense of comradeship with our pastor because, all along he was like me; he also has weaknesses. Pastors like this are sincere. He is no longer just a teacher standing at the pulpit talking about deep truths, nor is he just a person who is busy serving everyday, only known to be a selfless "giant." Instead, he is like me; a weak man with a true life. I no longer hid my pastor from the sinfulness of my heart. Instead I was eager to share those weaknesses with him. 

One time, a friend shared with me about when her pastor's mother died. Even though this pastor is over 60 years old, he became like a child. With tears in his eyes he said, "As of today, I am a man without a mother!" This made my heart ache for him. I couldn't help but silently cry out, "O Lord, please send your angel to comfort your servant!" 

When we are suffering and in despair, we can cry out, "O Lord! How can this be? What am I supposed to do?" Then our pastor will pray with tears in his eyes, "O Lord, at this moment, how can I shepherd your flock?" 

Every pastor is a wounded healer. As believers, when we see their weakness, do we have mercy for their scars, or do we feel nothing and believe that if their faith is strong enough, they can overcome anything with the Lord? 

When we ignore our pastors' weaknesses, we're just like that group of people who saw Jesus suffering on the cross and shouted, "If you are the Son of God, come down then from the cross!" 

O Lord, may your grace remain on every wounded pastor and arouse the heart of every believer so that they may learn from their wounds, just like the wounds on your hands and side. We pray that every wound will become a sign of your glory! 

Original article: 原创 | 令人心疼的中国牧者  (Green Olive Books)