I am back from six days in China where I traveled with Brent Fulton and met with pastors, seminary leaders and academics in Shanghai and Beijing. I preached twice at Beijing International Christian Fellowship and we also held our ChinaSource Board meeting in Beijing. It was a busy and fulfilling week. I have been asked to share a few highlights and reflections of my time.
This is my third trip to China in a year and my fifth overall. One continuing impression is how much things change every time I visit. One of the most promising changes I noted on this trip was the continuing openness the Christian church is experiencing. There are signs that the government is largely leaving unregistered churches alone as long as they adhere to a few unwritten but clear rules; don't speak out against the government, don't openly evangelize and don't get too big. Even these "rules" are not applied consistently. They are allowing a large (500+) and growing unregistered congregation to exist in the center of Beijing. I visited the church with its expanding seminary, research library, bustling coffee shop and beautiful bookstore. Other smaller congregations hand out tracts on the streets and Christian business owners use their workplaces as opportunities for evangelism, Bible study and prayer. It seems that there has never been a more opportune time for the church to grow and thrive.
On this trip I was also saddened by the growing sense of hopelessness among so many in China. In China's Next Generation: New China, New Church, New World a survey of Chinese youth is cited that indicates that 63% do not expect to have a clear purpose for their life, 53% do not believe they will be happy in marriage, and 37% have already attempted suicide. In response to this crisis the gospel of hope has the opportunity to find fertile soil.
So many Chinese seem to be lost and despairing. The new emerging middle class is finding that while they have more money, rising prices rob them of purchasing power. They have a car but traffic is so bad they have little increased mobility. They have time for leisure but pollution restricts them from doing things they want. They have studied and worked hard to rise up the socioeconomic ladder to find only marginal improvement in their quality of life. Their situation seems hopeless and it appears they have less hope for their children. Marriages are also in a crisis. In the past twenty years the divorce rate has increased 400%, and the trend is rising sharply. Churches are responding by offering marriage and parenting classes, which are over-subscribed each time they are held. Ministering to marriages and families is becoming an ever-widening door for the church.
Another area of opportunity is stewardship. We are working on a major initiative to help promote generosity as a fundamental Christian value. This, too, cuts across many cultural norms but the Bible is so clear on the subject that church leaders and Christ followers are very open to being trained and equipped to be better stewards.
In Shanghai I asked three house church pastors what they felt was the biggest challenge faced by their congregation. Without hesitation the first pastor replied, "materialism." If there is any "culture of giving" in China it seems to be restricted to the immediate needs of one's close family. With growing wealth and the rising middle class the question will be whether a broader culture of generosity can emerge. We believe that if it does it will (and should) come through the church. If we can catalyze a movement of selfless generosity among God's people in China it will have a significant impact on the church and the culture in general. Please pray for two major grant proposals that we have just submitted for this work.
A final source of continuing amazement for me is the missionary zeal of the Chinese church. They are always talking about missions work, especially their call to take the gospel westward into Arab countries. It is a standard outcome of the presence of the Holy Spirit that the good news is to be shared. There is certainly a passion for evangelizing China, but much of the missions talk focuses beyond their borders to some of the hardest places on earth. Could it be that God is raising up the Chinese church to complete the work of taking the "gospel to the whole world?"
Please continue to pray for China and those who are supporting the church and Christian leaders. This may be the greatest opportunity for the gospel in our lifetime.
Scott Rodin has a passion for helping Christian ministry leaders take a biblical approach to leadership development, strategic planning, board development and raising kingdom resources. Over the past thirty years he has worked with hundreds of organizations in the U.S., Canada, Middle East, Great Britain, China, India, the Philippines and... View Full Bio