What challenges do Chinese pastors face? How do they find support in the church? From other pastors? The journal ChurchChina recently published an article detailing these issues with interviews from prominent pastors in China. In this article pastors share about their own past personal struggles, as well as encouragements they have received over the years. They also offer suggestions as to how Chinese pastors can be better cared for.
Because of its length we will publish this article in three parts; this is part one. This article has been edited for brevity and clarity.
We Are Pastors Together
What kind of people are the pastors of Chinese house churches? One may say they are comrades with the most shared experiences. They have all experienced and are experiencing the Lord’s love, and were called by this faith, this love, this hope. They all lovingly shepherd the flock that the Lord has entrusted to them. In public or private temptation, they are intimate with their own failures and helplessness.
How to Go From “Lonely Together” to “Lonely Together”?
For this issue, we have mainly interviewed Pastor Wang Yile, who has served and encountered many pastors in his ministry. We have also invited several relatively representative pastors who have served for over a decade, to share their thoughts concerning their own calling and many years of ministry. Based on these interviews, this article aims to tease out: What are the shared problems that pastors are facing on their own? And what temptations are they fighting in mutual, unspoken understanding? In the end, this article seeks to answer: What methods are pastors using, and who can they be pastors together with? Finally, we provide some practical suggestions and call for pastors to build a community together.
“Fighting Alone” Together
Shared Problems that Pastors Are Facing on Their Own
1) What is the church?
Pastor Wang Yile shared that in the past fifteen years, he has encountered many pastors of Chinese urban house churches. These pastors mostly serve in the big cities, as well as in second- and third-tier cities. Wang feels that one of the great changes facing pastors—that is often neglected for lack of notice—is the increasing concern and theological reflection on “what is the church,” as well as the conscious building up of the church.
“These past 10 years have been a process of searching and experimenting with different forms of church.” Wang explains further:
Views of the church start with the basic concepts of evangelizing to bring people to Christ, a plain and simple soteriology of loving the Lord, then progress to a more comprehensive outlook of soteriology, anthropology, a new creation in Christ, eschatology, and ecclesiology. At the same time, this concerns the nature of church, the form of church, the ministry of church, and many other aspects. In short, these past 10 years have been spent exploring and reflecting on the theological aspects of ecclesiology, as well as the governance and ministry aspects. From the viewpoint of theology and church development, this is the greatest crisis in the Chinese church. The comprehensive theological reflection concerning the theology of salvation and the theology of church, will cause changes in the entire community of pastors.
How a pastor views the church will determine what a pastor focuses on and will influence the choices he makes. It is easily seen that if one does not deeply understand what exactly God’s church is, but remains only on the superficial level of individual faith, the pastor can easily lose his direction and fall into confusion.
2) The problem of the prosperity gospel
Pastor Wang also mentioned that one of the most dangerous temptations to the church is the prosperity gospel; that the church will turn into a secular Christianity. And this secular Christianity walks a path completely opposite from Jesus Christ’s cross and disciples' following in the Lord's steps to the cross. Secular Christianity is a theology of prosperity.
Secular Christianity is often associated with charismatic movements, and will sometimes be mistaken for the charismatic movement. However, some charismatic believers are very devout and willing to follow the Lord to the cross, and there has even been talk of “Reformed Charismatics.” So, in its essence, secular Christianity is not part of the charismatic movement, but is instead, a prosperity gospel.
The various prosperity gospels are the greatest enemies of the Christian church.
3) The tensions in pastoring a church
Pastor Fang Xiaojun of Xuzhou shared:
The tensions in pastoring a church may come from a difference of opinion between workers, friction in relationships, or one’s own insufficiencies. Members take time to grow, and during this time, a pastor must bear the tensions that comes from their misunderstanding or even misinterpreting pastoral advice. As a result of their own spiritual growth, members will come to understand the pastor’s sincere intentions. But by that time, the pastor may already be severely wounded. Pastoring involves care and encouragement, as well as admonishment. The pressure that comes from continued conflict with different people also becomes a burden for pastors.
4) The pressure from outside environments
The pastors who Pastor Wang Yile has encountered in ministry can be divided into two groups. The first group includes those from a background of traditional house churches; the second group is made of leaders of the new urban house churches. The latter group of pastors mostly accepted Christ in the mid- to late-nineties in the last century, or some accepted Christ early this century. These pastors are mostly between 35 and 50 years of age, and about 60-70% have a bachelor degree or above. Most have been in full time ministry for at least five years, and many have been serving over ten years.
When these pastors were called, they were in a relatively simple environment, and had a simple heart of service. In the past ten or more years, Chinese society has experienced great change. The wealth gap has widened, and different economic classes continue emerging. This has been a challenge for pastors.
Pastor Wu Yiqi from Changchun said,
I am a pastor who was born in the 70s. I’ve noticed that many of the pastors in Chinese urban churches were born in the 70s. We are a generation who was born at the end of the Cultural Revolution, grew up during the early years of the Open Door policy, experienced the upheaval of the late 80s, kept up with market economy and the emigration waves, and now witness the age of returnees. We are house churches that serve China amidst drastic urban changes and society transformation.
Pastor Wang Yile says with emotion in his voice:
In this kind of environment, facing so many temptations and pressures from the outside, in face of the difficulties of urban living, can we affirm that serving the Lord and serving God’s church is our life’s calling, that we would live, and would die for such a calling? In addition, if we do not have clarity of faith, and do not have a connection with God in terms of life, personality, and relationship, then often we find pastors falling into an inner crisis while serving. Because the outside pressures are so great, if we do not have inner strength, we would often question ourselves, “Did I make the wrong decision?”
Pastors All Face Their Own Temptations
1) A Pastor’s Character Growth and the Temptation of Power
The “character” we refer to here is the fruit of the Spirit, the inner quality of life. It comes from a reliance on God, a love for the church, and a deep distrust of one’s own flesh.
As a community, pastors inevitably face temptation when it comes to money and sex. However, these easily come to light. As pastors, the most easily hidden sins are a desire for power, greed, and ambition. “These can be packaged as piety and efficient service. The key is the pastor’s motive for these decisions,” Pastor Wang Yile explains.
For example, a pastor should often reflect on whether or not they have these problems: do I often compare myself with other pastors or other churches? Do I secretly critique others and lift myself up? In my work, am I envious of others’ abilities? Am I willing to promote, or even recruit other workers with more talent to replace me? As for young people, are other pastors the object of our admiration and efforts? Or do we admire and chase after Christ?
Pastor Fang Xiaojun shared that after some twenty years of pastoring:
When serving, sometimes we are not worried about whether or not we are being built up by the gospel, but instead seek acknowledgement and affirmation from church members. When this happens, the more we take up, love, and sacrifice, the more we feed the idol in our hearts. We might have set up a good image for others, but there is no peace in our hearts. Caring for church members is a duty of the pastor. But when we reflect carefully, our motive for caring is often their support. A pastor must sometimes objectively point out another person’s flaws or mistakes. Yet when we point it out, often times we are already biased against that person.
2) The pastor’s family crisis
But pastors are often lacking in serving their family, so that the family does not become a place of rest for the pastor. There might be deeper cultural reasons for this. “I sometimes worry that there might be an intentional neglect of the family in traditional Chinese culture [ . . .]. Family sacrifice becomes some sort of ideal,” Pastor Wang Yile explains. “I don’t know if this might cause imperceptible cultural influence to pastors.”
But in the reality of ministry, pastors often face the problem of prioritizing time. This is a tension between “God’s family” and “my family.”
If pastors simply neglect the family, is this because they find greater satisfaction outside the family? Or perhaps the situation is reverse, and the pastor continually puts the needs of his own family first, and does not attend to the needs of the church. Pastors must honestly confront their deeper motives. What is it that ultimately motivates us?
Original Article: 我们同为传道人 (ChurchChina)
Image credit: makzhou via Flickr.
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