As Chinese churches, particularly those in the urban areas continue to grow and mature, leaders are increasingly focusing on where the church needs to go from here. This article, published in the Christian Times, is about Pastor Zhang of the Beijing Gospel Missionary Church, and his thoughts on the issues facing the Chinese Church in the near future.
Since China's reform and opening policy began in 1978, the Church has been flourishing throughout China. Many churches have emerged in the cities in large numbers, and we are very thankful for this. Yet as the Chinese Church blossoms everywhere, they do not have a mature model for how to pastor a church, and they lack a clear picture for how to proceed. What path will the Chinese Church choose?
Today in China, a rising urban church has appeared suddenly and is undergoing a refining process. What path will the Chinese Church choose? This is a question that the entire Chinese Church needs to consider. Although each church has their own vision, the Chinese Church as a whole needs to have a common responsibility toward this age and a vision for this age.
Zhang Yongsheng, head pastor at the Beijing Gospel Missionary Church, has a burden for how the Chinese Church will develop in the future. In exploring his own church and its development, he also pondered four major tasks that the Chinese Church will encounter soon:
1. Passing leadership down from one generation to another
Pastor Zhang remembers the Chinese Church during its most difficult times in the past, during the Cultural Revolution. During that period, a whole host of church leaders appeared, including Watchman Nee, Wang Mingdao, Allen Yuan, Moses Xie, and Samuel Lamb. Amazingly, they not only had a huge influence on the Church at that time, but also on society, as even the people who persecuted them later became believers.
These people were lights which God established for the Chinese Church at that time. They brought up a new generation of Christians. These good pastors and leaders showed the people after them how Christians should live, which is very important. Although the Church at the time was under harsh persecution and oppression, we're thankful that that generation had leaders to emulate.
Following the launch of the 1978 reform and opening policy, the Chinese Church had comparatively more freedom. China became the center of attention for many other countries, especially as its material and economic conditions improved. But did such persons like Watchman Nee or Wang Mingdao, leaders who could influence an entire generation, emerge in the Chinese Church at that time? Nee and Wang not only influenced the Church, they also spoke to a generation via the Church. Are there such lights in the Chinese Church today? We should ponder this, and offer up more prayers that leaders will raise up the next generations of leaders. Not only do we need to establish more seminaries, but the Church must be devoted to praying for these and other things.
If the Israelites hadn't had Moses, what would they have done after the Exodus? They needed to be guided, so God put Moses in Egypt for 40 years and then brought him to the wilderness for 40 years. God spent 80 years preparing Moses to become the leader of his time. Why did he spend that much time? Because church leaders who are truly devoted to Jesus Christ, who are true disciples of Christ, must first go through a lot of testing and molding.
So, again we ask, have these kinds of spiritual leaders appeared in the Chinese Church in our generation? If we could proudly say "yes," the Chinese Church would have hope. If we think there arent such leaders, we need to pray hard for this. We need to spend more energy praying for the Churches and seminaries. The passing of leadership from one generation to another is an extremely important issue. Without this, it will be difficult for the Church to mature.
Pastor Zhang emphasized that God uses truly devoted pastors who have undergone all sorts of training and equipping. He believes that this type of leader will emerge in the Chinese Church, because he knows that pastors in their 40s, like him, have encountered many changes and disturbances in society. Mao Zedong was in power when they were young; Deng Xiaoping was in power during their middle school years; and more recently they have experienced the rule of Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao. This demonstrates the many changes in China that they have seen and experienced. This generation is experienced and seasoned, and they have gained a lot of knowledge. Many pastors have gone overseas for more training, so we can see that the Chinese Church has experienced conditions suitable for developing leaders. But how many leaders like Watchman Nee, Wang Mingdao, and Allen Yuan have there been, leaders who are after God and who would give their lives for Christ?
"The prospects for the Chinese Church are beautiful, because it has the right overall environment, and an environment can train up a person," Pastor Zhang vehemently affirmed.
A leader who can influence a generation should have certain qualities: he must be spiritually very sincere and devoted, and must understand the times, have a global perspective, and foresight. Pastor Zhang said very honestly that, in the past, the Chinese Church experienced what it was like to hold onto faith in the midst of persecution. However, she didnt experience the revival of the Church or the Church focusing on global missions. In the past we had warriors, but we lacked shepherds. Leaders in this generation must become good shepherds. We need to communicate more with overseas churches who have a longer history of Christianity, but we must not blindly copy them. We must learn lessons from them, and make these relevant to China, so that China can reveal to the world its own model for how to lead a church.
Leaders from the generation of Watchman Nee and Wang Mingdao didn't just leave behind churches, but also hearts that sincerely love God and the idea of reaching the nations. Just as the Apostle Paul, they loved God, loved the Church, loved society, and loved the world; only this type of person can be a leader of a generation. So, the first problem the Chinese Church needs to solve is that of passing leadership from one generation to the next.
2. The disciple-ization and professionalization of the Church
"Disciple-ization." In Matthew 28:19-20, the Lord Jesus commands His disciples to share the Gospel, making disciples of all nations. This is the churchs ultimate objective. So the Church needs to be "disciple-ized" in order to achieve the goal of world evangelization. The most important model for the Church is to become "disciple-ized," since the Lord saw this as an important method of spreading the Gospel, which is the objective of the Church. When we look at the Church, we shouldn't simply focus on an increase in numbers – we should pay close attention to the increase of disciples. Only this kind of church will be a good and mature church. Only this kind of church will mobilize more people.
Professionalization. Pastor Zhang knows from experience that the Church needs to be professionalized. Pastors of churches need to be well-trained in all areas. As society is developing so quickly, people's workplaces, office equipment, and even desks are becoming more and more professional. Professionalization is internationalization; internationalization is professionalization. Our Chinese church must not continue to be such a motley crew.
The Chinese Church of this generation should attract people from society when they go to church. They need to believe that the Church isn't behind the times. So, both the concept of church and the model of church management need to be professionalized. Must a church look like a warehouse? The Church has already fallen behind the times in terms of development, yet we must also fight against the blind pursuit of luxury, extravagance, and waste.
At the same time, Pastor Zhang said that some churches have a misconception that the simpler and plainer their church, the more it shows they love God. This is a misconception of the times. We want to be fishers of men. We can't expect people who have just started coming to church to be very spiritual. What they see is the outward appearance of the Church. We must give them a feeling of closeness in our messages. The message of the church must not lag behind societal standards.
The professionalization of the Chinese Church is very important. How can we get more people? People in offices work in clean and beautiful workplaces. If they can't accept the physical environment of the Church, it'll be hard to attract their hearts. Moreover, pastors need to be well-equipped spiritually and intellectually. Pastors must understand what people in this day and age are thinking and what they need. Adapting itself to local conditions – this means the professionalization of the Chinese Church, and it is a task the Chinese Church is facing.
3. The rise of and standardization of missions
Many Chinese churches take missions very seriously. While enthusiasm is important, many churches only have an enthusiasm for missions, but don't have any real preparation. We must pray more for missionaries, and we must learn more from overseas churches that have a lot of experience in missions. South Korea's missions efforts have borne a lot of wonderful fruit. China missionaries are now involved in missions work in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, but some people return home very soon after going because they don't have enough support, and because missions hasn't been standardized.
As the missions movement is rising in the Chinese Church, it needs to be standardized. Missionaries need training and revival. Pastor Zhang shared that their church plans to gather all their sent missionaries once or twice a year for training. Chinese missions needs to be revived and standardized – this is a great task that the Chinese Church is facing.
4.) The Church needs to be of service to society
Pastor Zhang shared the story of the Good Samaritan. In his teaching, Jesus often stressed serving the society. In Luke 10:25-37, Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan. A man was attacked by robbers and left on the road. A priest and a Levite both walked by and didn't pay attention to the man who was hurt. Only the Samaritan had compassion on him and helped him. Is the Chinese Church the priest, the Levite, or the Samaritan?
How do people in society see the Church? Actually, Chinese society doesn't know much about the church, assuming it is the same as a Buddhist temple. Some young people, having seen church weddings in movies and on television, think it is very fashionable, but that's all. This demonstrates that the Chinese Church hasn't served society well enough. Many people think serving society is only a way to share the Gospel. However, in our Lord's eyes, Christians and the Church are duty-bound to help poor people in need. Even if they don't become Christians, we still need to serve them.
These days the Chinese Church is not always completely free to help society. Those in power have placed restrictions on churches, and there are historical reasons why society does not always want help from the Church. So the Church must serve quietly, bit by bit, without attracting a lot of public attention. We must have hearts that are willing to obey God and serve society, and the Church needs to create new and good methods for serving society.
Pastor Zhang suggests that besides going to nursing homes and orphanages, we need to think of new ways to serve the society. We also must be careful that, when we go to orphanages, the children won't think we're there only to be in the limelight or to take pictures, as that will make them very uncomfortable. Pastor Zhang told the children of the church to become friends with those children. This is something we must be careful of as we serve in society.The Chinese church today needs to find and create opportunities for connecting with society. Of course we still need to go to orphanages and nursing homes, and make them feel our selfless love. Yet we also need even more creative channels.Pastor Zhang is also thinking about how to serve families. Many Chinese families have problems; we need to help restore shattered families. The Church can organize marriage and family training or coaching, using less, or avoiding altogether, Christian jargon. Once family relationships are restored, we can show them that the people who helped them were from the church, were Christians. Slowly, they'll come to have a more accurate idea of church and Christians. This is a critical opportunity, and we must persevere in doing these things.
The Korean church, while it has done a good job, is very isolated from society, because they only pay attention to strengthening the Church internally and sharing the Gospel overseas. They don't do much service in society in their own country. If the Chinese Church doesn't work hard to serve society, it could easily go to extremes, blindly pursuing success or blessing, the success that society can offer. A lot of churches talk about how to receive blessing. It is easy for the Church to become a closed group. How can we avoid this closed state? We must go out and get in touch with society, being salt and light in their midst.
Finally, Pastor Zhang summarized, these are four great tasks that the Chinese Church is facing. We need to learn how to complete the tasks God has given the Chinese Church of this age. Whoever completes these tasks will be able to establish a good church, and may become the navigator of the Chinese Church in this generation.
Original article: 北京福音宣教教会张牧师：中国教会未来面临的四大课题
Image credit: Smart Mai, via Flickr
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