In the last decade, China has undergone tremendous economic changes which have inevitably led to social and cultural changes as well. With the opening up of the country to globalization and the internet, all kinds of knowledge about Western civilization have become references for individuals who are not satisfied with the present communist rule and are searching for a better model for China's future development. These changes have posed challenges to the church and church leaders wherever they are located. In many cases, the situations in individual churches have already compelled their leaders to make certain changes in their ministry practices and in their way of doing evangelism in their communities.
We can safely stress one point here: the changes under way in the public arena are things church leaders cannot ignore or totally neglect. Church leaders must face these changes. Not many churches can avoid the current of these changes for long. The differences among the churches tell us how well they are coping with the changes taking place in the hearts of their congregations and their changed lifestyles. These reflect any questioning of church ethics and the building up of various secular heart idols. Indeed, with the advent of such drastic change in China, the first question we ask is how church leaders will adapt their ministry models and supplement their congregational teaching so that believers are not confused or overwhelmed and are still able to live a Christian lifestyle.
China is huge. Many churches, as well as their leaders, differ in many ways. The author's experience with these leaders, even though it has covered a good percentage of them in terms of geographical territory, is by no means comprehensive enough to represent all the models among the churches. We have mentioned the present leaders who came from the past and how they need to change; however, we have yet to discuss the emerging new leaders who have come onto the scene more recently since the advent of social and economic changes. Rather than drawing on examples and generalizing from them, this author intends to leave the generalizations for the reader. The following are profiles of different leaders that are representatives of groups of leaders with similar characteristics.
Leaders A, B and C
Leaders A, B and C are high school and middle school graduates who are pastors and elders of a rural northeastern church. The congregation size is about forty thousand. The pastor has served in ministry for more than fifteen years and was a graduate of a theological program. The elders have served a bit less time. They are in their late 30s and 40s, and all of them are eager to learn more ministry skills, church governing abilities and theological knowledge. Responding to the pressures of change, even in such a remote part of the country, they decided to attend together a seminary away from their home area. They elected three more elders to run the church in their absence. They are now working towards their Master of Divinity degree and have developed strong skills in researching biblical and Christian materials on the web.
Leaders D and E
Leaders D and E are both more like district bishops administering a group of church workers numbering more than a hundred. Both have been in their positions for decades, and both were undereducated except in the area of biblical knowledge. They know that they need help from learned Christians, and they run theological classes on an ongoing basis with the help of overseas Christian workers. Leader D allows all workers to come and study when a teacher is available while Leader E organizes study classes which take three years for a new student to graduate and be qualified to serve as an evangelist in their church group. These two leaders have found adapting to a changing environment more difficult since they are in a more self-contained, closed church. They are both rural and do not encourage young people to seek work in cities or in factories.
These leaders need an understanding of the social, economic and cultural changes that are posing threats to their separation from the secular world. As youth from their church have successfully left their area for college in the cities, these individuals are unable to follow them up. They need churches in the cities to take over the care of these college students. They themselves are in their late 50s and early 60s; they can only rely on volunteers from "somewhere out there" and do not control any curriculum or have a coherent program.
Leaders F and G
Leaders F and G are both from the past as were leaders D and E. However, the differences between them are their ministries which require Leaders F and G to travel extensively among more than twenty provinces and dozens of cities. Leader F is the top leader of a mega church system based in northern China that covers some twenty-four provinces and forty cities. Leader G is one of the founding leaders of a church covering one-third of a large city in the south. Both of these leaders decided not to join the Three-Self Movement and were to a certain degree being persecuted. Nevertheless, with God's provision, their churches were protected and have grown into mega churches in the low six figures. They continue active in leading roles. They, too, have no formal theological education and are now responsible for teaching missionaries who are sent to different parts of the country. These two old brothers are now learning how to cope with the young people in the cities. They are being exposed to the idea of building community relationships with all the local churches. Churches must be beneficial and accountable to the community in order to be more receptive, accessible and visible.
Leader H is a graduate of a seminary in the south from which he received a college level theological degree and is now pastoring a church in the north. This church is not big in terms of number but has quality. There are numerous intellectuals in various disciplines in its congregation. Leader H is young, in his 30s and without much other educational experience in the social sciences or arts and therefore has difficulty serving as a mentor to these intellectuals. Leader H needs help in this capacity in order to help these intellectuals who continue to challenge themselves with further achievements toward their goal of having a better life and making a better world. Leader H has covered this gap by asking an educated missionary to help mentor his flock.
Leader J, a junior leader, started out as a youth minister. He was a graduate of a theological class within his church and was elevated to a leadership position despite his youth because of his ability to run programs for the young people, especially college students. His church is part of a bigger church system, and he was able to call youth ministers from the different districts to form a discussion and prayer group. He gradually became the leader of this group and of other young leaders within the entire church system. After some years of coordination among the young people, he was then elected to be the second person in charge of the entire church system administration.
Leader J does not want outside help to give seminars in biblical, theological and ethical classes. He would rather establish a formal seminary for the church by himself. He wants to learn from other people's experiences in running a seminary, and he is very eager to take control of all the resources and responsibilities necessary for the success of the seminary.
Leaders K and L
Both leaders K and L are businessmen who found God and decided to follow Christ while they were having successful businesses. K is in the north and managed real estate, restaurants, trading companies and other enterprises. His commitment is to establish churches by forming focused businessmen's small groups where they share together during their devotional times. These groups grow, becoming stable churches. Leader L is a merchant from an eastern city. He houses a seminary in his factory. Besides ministering for evangelism, both of these leaders also spend money for benevolent purposes. Recognized as successful businessmen and devoted individuals, they need more mentoring in how to walk the path of righteousness with God.
Leaders M and N
Leaders M and N are both intellectuals of a professorial level. They have endeavored to serve the Lord by holding Bible study groups and then gradually gathering friends and relatives for Sunday services. They are in cities thousands of miles apart; however, they pray together for the cause of our Lord. They have many common friends and mentors. They have a good cultural background and knowledge and are skillful in handling church matters. However, apart from self study, they do not have much theological training and have difficulty coping with theological and holistic issues that are posed by their congregations. It is even more difficult for them to separate issues of redemption and freedom. Sometimes, even when they want to call for separation from evil forces like the Falungong, they are blamed by their colleagues for being too Christianized.
Leaders P, Q and R
These are leaders who returned from overseas where they converted to Christianity during their time abroad. They decided to come back and work in China, but as they are now Christians, rather than going to a traditional church they have established their own Bible study groups in various cities. Usually they are closer to the work force and mainly intellectuals. They have a great time worshiping God, but they have a difficult time separating themselves from secular practices. They are learning to understand the way of the cross as the most precious aspect of Christianity. While obtaining biblical knowledge is easy for them, living a clear-cut, faith-based lifestyle remains their greatest challenge.
The above is just a partial list of the different types of church leaders currently found. However, this author believes that we should spend more time building new leaders for tomorrow. The most important elements in a new leader are a heart of purity and humility along with the willingness to forsake worldly glory while submitting totally to God's guidance and provision. One testing point is how much suffering they can bear for Christ. In training and mentoring leaders, each one might need something different, but the goal should be the same. Whether present or future leaders, we can prepare them using the following rubrics: be able to walk in faith; be knowledgeable in the faith and able to give an apologetic for it; be able to serve by evangelism and mission; be able to teach and preach in the biblical tradition; be able to love our neighbors and care about communities; and be able to reconcile any enmity with human institutions but stand firm against any Satanic forces and idols.
Image credit: IMG_6691 by Keith Tan, on Flickr