Secularization affects the church everywhere and China is no exception. This article from Christian Times points out that the connectedness of our current age contributes to the challenges of secularization. In this conversation, a pastor from East China, with a wealth of pastoral experience, shares how spiritual growth is hampered by secularization.
Conversation| An East China Pastor on the Challenges of Pastoral Ministry—Severe Secularization.
We must help believers learn to invest in developing intimacy with God.
Along with economic and technological development and progress, the challenges thrown at the church and at believers have multiplied—especially in relation to the quality of believers. Among the many challenges, secularization is a crucial problem that cannot be ignored.
Our society has long since entered the Networked Age through the improvement and spread of digital technologies coming in the wake of rapid economic growth. Being increasingly connected brings great convenience, but at the same time we must be alert to the challenges it brings us.
Pastor G from Eastern China recently shared with our co-workers the ways in which secularization challenges the pastoral care of Christians. He currently leads two churches in an eastern city. Having served there for many years, he brings a wealth of pastoral experience to the question.
Pastor G said that believers becoming increasingly secular is a very serious problem. People spend a lot of time on entertainment and not on faith. They are not focused on God. A common problem among believers is that the individual’s personal relationship with God is relatively weak. The world is now tempting believers on all fronts and the temptations are very strong.
In previous years, back in the day, if they didn’t go to work on Sunday, believers lost barely 80 to 100 yuan [around US$12–$15] a day. But now, if they don’t go to work on Sundays, they make significantly less money, and some believers feel like they’re missing out a lot because of attending services. And that’s just the money side of it.
Another thing is that there were no smartphones, let alone entertainment apps like TikTok or Kuaishou or whatever; no WeChat; no mobile games. All these things that are popular now simply didn’t exist. Everyone just used dumb phones, and mobiles were just for calls and contacting people. “Backward” as it was, believers could concentrate on their faith. Alas, now these things fill up almost all of Christians’ free time. And it’s not just ordinary Christians—pastors, too, can accidentally fall into temptation in these circumstances.
Pastor G stressed to us the importance of how we use and allocate our time. A person’s life is made up of time, and unfolds in time, and everything to be done is done within time. Our faith is no exception: if you want to be in a good place with your faith, you must put real effort into it, to establish an intimate relationship with God. If you make no effort and give all your time over to other things, you cannot have an intimate relationship with God and you cannot grow or mature.
In this day and age, why do many Christians have no power in their faith, no passion and no power in their ministry? In response to this Pastor G said:
The reality is, a big reason lies in the fact that they put too much time and energy into their mobile phones and into many superficial things, “spending money to suffer.” Playing online games and all that costs money, and some believers spend plenty of money without putting any effort into their relationship with God. As a result, once something difficult comes along, they immediately collapse, and as soon as an opportunity to sin presents itself, they take it, and their faith is immediately weakened. Their faith is all just for show, with a nice look to it and a mouth that knows all the right things to say, but no inner strength, no real learning under the surface, essentially made out of junk. Why do many believers run away when the church is in a state of flux? It is because their faith has no foundation. If someone’s faith has no foundation, they will not truly commit to a church.
In the course of his pastoral work, Pastor G found that many believers are, in fact, refined egoists who will rush to do what benefits themselves and will be happy to stay in the church if they can get something nice out of it. If the atmosphere and environment of the church makes them feel more comfortable, or if they can get something out of church, they will stay. But if they are only given the pure Word of God and spiritual resources, some will have other ideas and leave.
The opposite is also true: where personal faith is firmly established and where a very close personal relationship with God has been built, a believer will consequently have a real commitment to the church. Whether they encounter storms in the course of church life or problems in their individual situations, such Christians will be able to walk with the church.
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