The China Partnership website recently carried the story of an urban pastor who planted 16 churches in a major Chinese city. The article profiles the transformation in this pastor’s thinking concerning the nature and purpose of the church. As he tells it:
In the past our vision was just to build a grand church, a big one. We learned from America and from South Korea, because in the last few decades there have been a lot of mega churches in America and also in South Korea. We see their pastors always preaching. We see that they are building grand, big cathedrals. They can’t even park in the parking lot because there aren’t enough spaces. And after worship, there will be lines everywhere—you can’t even make it into the bathroom. So as a Chinese Christian, when I came to America and saw this, I was very envious. [Doing the same thing in China] would be the pride of my life.
As he progressed in building what might have become a Chinese mega church, this pastor encountered two obstacles.
The first was relational. Early on he emphasized personal decisions for Christ and expected the increasing numbers of new believers to step immediately into positions of service in the church. As a result he found himself alienated from the very people he intended to serve. He realized that his priorities were upside down. What he was really serving was his own desire to build a huge church; the people had become a means toward that end.
[O]ur coworkers’ relationships became tense, because we all wanted to build this big church and see the pastor as this big boss. So coworkers kind of became your employees. As time progressed, the church started to split. Coworkers started to have tension and members were leaving, and other similar problems. So we started to reflect—what is the church? Is the church just a building? Does the church have to be big and grand?
The other obstacle was political. Planting another church was not on this pastor’s mind until the SARS crisis hit in 2003. Suddenly it was forbidden to hold any large-scale public gatherings. Unregistered church meetings that had previously managed to avoid attention by authorities found themselves under increasing scrutiny. Faced with this pressure, the church was forced to split into four groups.
A similar dynamic in 2005 caused a doubling of these new churches, now becoming eight congregations. Then in 2008 the Olympic Games came to China. Again, non-sanctioned public gatherings came under scrutiny, necessitating another split. Hence the 16 congregations.
This “passive church planting” strategy may not have been what this pastor originally had in mind when he set out to grow his church. Looking back, he can now see how the Lord used both internal and external events to bring about church multiplication.
Brent Fulton is the founder of ChinaSource. Dr. Fulton served as the first president of ChinaSource until 2019. Prior to his service with ChinaSource, he served from 1995 to 2000 as the managing director of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Wheaton College. From 1987 to 1995 he served as founding …View Full Bio
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