The celebration of Chinese New Year is upon us, with most of China shutting down for at least a week as people return to their ancestral homes to celebrate with their families. For Chinese Christians, the holiday brings with it the excitement that everyone else experiences coupled with instances of their faith clashing with cultural expectations.
I recently had the chance to interview a mainland Chinese pastor about the opportunities and challenges faced by Christians during this holiday season. Here are three questions that I asked him.
1. What are the opportunities and challenges for Christians (and churches) during the Chinese New Year holiday season?
First of all, Christians should be prepared to share the gospel with families and friends during Chinese New Year. In my church, we try to help our members prepare for this by preaching and providing training. This is something I have been doing in the past few weeks. What is the gospel? How do we share? We want them to know how to share the gospel when they go home. We also pray specifically for our people who will be returning to their hometowns to visit their families, that they will have opportunities and the courage to share the gospel.
We never know how God will use these opportunities. Twenty years ago, I traveled to a southern province to visit a church that had been planted by a pastor from another province as a result of a Chinese New Year evangelistic effort that had begun several years before. The pastor had urged the members to share the gospel when they returned home, and as people were interested, to form Bible studies groups. At the time we visited, there were 100 Bible study groups. The pastor then traveled all over the province training up local leaders. Within three years, there were 20,000 people in the church. It all began with sharing the gospel during Chinese New Year.
Secondly, going home for the new year is a chance to serve their families, even if they don’t have the opportunity to directly share the gospel. I remind my people that their presence in the home or community may be the only opportunity others have of being served by a Christian and the Christ-like nature of that service will be noticeable, and God will use it. There may be opportunities as well, for the local church to follow up.
That then relates to the third opportunity that the new year affords. Going home provides an opportunity for believers to encourage and edify local churches. I remember yearly visits to my wife’s hometown in another province. We were able to connect with the local church, and then each time we returned we brought them books and other resources, and even helped with some youth training. This was an encouragement both to them and to us.
Finally, it is important to remember that if the opportunities mentioned above don’t happen, we can still spend time alone with God.
As to the question of challenges, we need to remember that many of the customs and rituals of the Chinese New Year celebration are rooted in superstitions that can confuse the faith, particularly of young believers. Should we bow? Should we burn incense? Should we go to the temple? This highlights the need for churches to provide sound practical theological training for church members.
Also many gatherings with family and friends during the celebrations involve lots of alcohol and secular discussions of career and money. It can be very difficult.
The final challenge is that the busy schedule of the holidays can easily crowd out regular devotions, Bible study, prayer, and even Sunday worship. Sometimes church attendance will be down by 50–60%. This is true even in this era of online services.
2. In a preliminary exchange that we had on this topic, you mentioned the need for Christians to be “sober in Christ during this holiday season.” Can you explain in more detail what you mean by that?
I don’t mean sober in the sense of being somber or sad. What I mean is this: in the middle of the hustle and bustle, I would encourage people to spend time with God no matter what happens. At the end of the day, it is the Holy Spirit who works not ourselves. We need to invite God to go with us so that he can lead, guide, protect, and use us for our benefit and for the benefit of the kingdom.
3. How can we pray for Chinese believers during Chinese New Year?
Pray for the opportunities and challenges that I have mentioned so far:
- That believers will be prepared to share the gospel as they return to their families.
- That believers will be equipped to share the gospel.
- That believers will serve their families and friends with Christ-like humility.
- That local churches will be encouraged.
- That believers will have wisdom in navigating the difficult customs and rituals.
- That believers will be sober in Christ, remembering that he is with them.
- That God will use all of the gospel conversations and service in Jesus’ name to build his kingdom.
Joann Pittman is Vice President of Partnership and China Engagement and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University …View Full Bio
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