In recent years the church in China has continued its steady growth. A number of phenomena have emerged which have never been witnessed before.
First, the average age of believers is gradually going down— more young people are being attracted to the faith. Second, the general educational level of believers is rising, and many intellectuals are turning to Christ and the church. Shanghai’s renowned Mu En church confirms these changes. Of the 440 people taking part in training courses for new believers, most were young people, and nearly 25% had completed some form of higher education. What are the reasons for this? In the past, intellectuals harbored an indifferent attitude toward Christianity viewing it as a foreign import that opposed traditional Chinese cultural values. This perspective has been re-evaluated and a new openness has emerged.
According to Dr. Wilson Chow, President of the China Graduate School of Theology in Hong Kong, the church in China has three main needs.
First is a great need for training good volunteer workers, Yi gong. These volunteer workers are like ministers, not laymen. They have given up their jobs or have retired and now work full time in the church. For example, in the province of Zhejiang, there are 7,000 of these volunteers, most untrained. The Chinese church leadership is currently training these Yi gong at a rate of 150 at a time, for forty days, four times a year. At this pace, it will take 12 years to train them all indicating the great need that exists for help with training.
Second is the need for training emerging leaders and future pastors who are attending seminaries and Bible schools. Existing seminaries and Bible schools need to be enlarged so that more students can be enrolled. The China Christian Council (CCC) is currently building four new theological schools in China; nevertheless, there is still a long ways to go.
Third is the training of seminary and Bible school teachers and faculty. In order to reach out to intellectuals, pastoral workers need to continue their own growth and learning. Seminaries and Bible schools need to set up suitable courses for this purpose. Trained pastors and Christian workers must be given the opportunity to return to seminary every few years for a period of time for “top-off” training and spiritual refreshment. However, the reality is that present seminary faculties still experience major struggles and shortages in coping with the need to provide basic theological education. The CCC leadership has recognized this need and has appealed for short-term and longer-term (six months to two years) seminary professors from the West to fill this gap. Courses in the areas of apologetics, family and pastoral counseling, pastoral theology and leadership development are desperately needed.
Evangelicals are faced with the challenge of assisting in this training which can have a profound effect on the future of the church in China. Seminary professors need to be encouraged to spend a sabbatical year, or a couple years of their retirement, in this strategic ministry. China’s millions, literally, could be affected. If we do not rise to this occasion others will.