What challenges do Chinese pastors face? How do they find support in the church? From other pastors? This is part three of an article from the journal ChurchChina on what it means to be a pastor in China. In part one the challenges and temptations common to pastors were discussed; the second part included personal stories of how God has worked in the lives and ministries of pastors in China.
In this final part, the writer and pastors offer suggestions on how Chinese pastors can be better cared for and how pastors can care for each other.
This is part three. This article has been edited for brevity and clarity.
We Are Pastors Together (Part 3)
Some Suggestions for “Pastors Meeting Together”
The various problems and trials that churches and individual pastors face cause pastors to need various resources and connections by which to support one another and grow together. Aside from close friends and peers of theology and knowledge of God, pastors also need a living community of various layers. Here is some practical, specific advice to that end:
Be Pastors Together in Church
If there are young brothers who are preparing to start their ministry, the most important thing is to affirm their callings, and to affirm their callings many times and in many different ways. Especially now, a pastor’s calling is inseparably tied to whether or not he has a sending church. It is very important that the pastor in preparation has had many years of serving and witnessing within a community.
In terms of building a pastoral team in an individual church, it is still of utmost importance to consider the theological reflection on ecclesiology, to recognize the nature of the church, and to form a vision of the church based on such reflection.
The church has three directions. It is a community that worships upwards. It is a community that looks inward to equip the saints. And it is a community that reaches outwards to bless the neighbors. “To bless” includes two aspects: one is spiritual blessings, and the other is to bless through serving these people. And so, it is important to clearly think through the church’s nature, function, and form, and for all these to be working toward the same direction and the same goal, so that ministry can progress with clear direction and clear goals.
In addition, the lead pastor must intentionally build a pastoral team, and to build such a team from the perspectives of theology, life, insight, and knowledge. In practice, this is to be continually raising up church leaders and workers through discipleship. Discipleship may not necessarily be formal classes. The important thing is, what type of people are these workers maturing around, and what influence do these people have, what message do the lives of these people bring?
Teacher Fang from Shanghai says,
Legacy is not simply received, but also passed on. These are two sides of a coin. For the older generation, we are to be humble and faithful in order to know how to encourage and cultivate the next generation, as well as having the generosity and wisdom to let go.
As for the younger generation, they too must be humble and faithful in order to treasure the blessings of the elders, value the wealth of history, be willing to offer everything to the Lord, and to pick up the baton.
We were once young as well, and it was by this handing down of legacy that we have received God’s grace and have been used by God. We cannot wait for the younger generation to rise up, and cannot wait for Elijah’s spirit to move many times over into Elisha, so that the young workers in their twenties and thirties, thirties and forties, may work together with workers in their fifties and sixties or even seventies and eighties, witnessing God together, and together committing to Christ and passing on the mission.
Be Pastors Together in the Kingdom
1) Meet with Pastors of Different Theological Views
Until now, Chinese house churches have not formed denominations. To some extent, if we really did form different denominations, it might actually be easier to talk about communication and boundaries between pastors.
But for now, it is not a matter of denominations, but a question of how we can meet together in unity despite our different theological views, and of knowing where the boundaries are.
Pastor Wang Yile thinks,
It is returning to the core of the gospel. In terms of theological views, we might have Reformed, Dispensational, or Conservative Evangelical, etc. I think we need to get back to the core of the gospel, and meet at the core of the gospel. Boundaries are set at the churches. Everyone is pastoring their own church, and must respect each other outside the churches. For example, if one brother is of Reformed faith, and he pastors on the Five Points of Calvinism in the church he serves, you should not criticize him, because he is faithfully building up the church he has been entrusted with. Also, if someone is preaching Dispensationalism, as long as it is within the church he serves, you should respect his faith.
2) Meet with the Spiritual Elders of House Churches
Teacher Fang says,
When celebrating 200 years of Protestantism in China in 2007, my wife and I thought back in terms of decades, from 1997, to 1987, 1977, 1967, 1957, 1947. . . There are so many stories in the Chinese house church, the witness of so many who were committed, so many who were custodians of legacy. This gives voice to Psalm 145:4—“One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.” [ . . . ] Thinking back to those years, we were blessed to personally experience the cloud of witnesses: Wang Mingdao, Li Tianen, Zeng Yuean, Xie Moshan, Lin Xiangao, Yang Xinfei, Lin Jing, Zheng Huirui, Wang Chunyi, Zhang Tongchang, Zhang Enzhang, Yu Ligong, Wang Yongxin, Bian Yunbo. . . Just as Hebrews says, these our predecessors did not receive the things promised, but they had faith, and this was faith in Christ.
Not only did they have faith, but because of faith they committed their lives, so that they saw them and welcomed them from a distance. It is the commitment of these our predecessors—their living for the Lord, their dying for the Lord—that gives us living witness. We receive from them God’s mission, and we receive also a heart of commitment to Christ. The insight and stubbornness of “committing to Christ, passing on the mission” has often become our motivation for service and a reminder for self-restraint.
Pastor Wang Yile says with emotion,
The older generation of house church pastors that we can interact with are those who have stood the test. And so, there is a common trait that God has left on these precious elder pastors: that they love the Lord God. This is demonstrated by the fact that they love the Bible, love prayer, love brothers in Christ, and love fellowship. They are willing to give themselves up for God and walk the path of the cross, looking down on all earthly glories, and refusing the path of a prosperity gospel. They have a very real, living relationship with God. When they preach, they are with God, God is with them, God’s guidance and direction are all very real. It’s like we are listening to God, because this is their actual experience, their actual relationship with God. They love God, which is the most precious thing.
At the same time, we must also reflect. God’s work in each era takes a different form and, after receiving God’s grace, we should consciously return to the Bible. Through biblical interpretation and theological reflection, we thus transcend our personal experience to arrive at more general spiritual principles, so that we are not bound by our own era and experience.
3) Fellowship between urban house churches and rural house churches
According to Pastor Wang Yile, some of the big networks of Chinese rural house churches are transforming into urban house churches because of the progress of urbanization and the intentional expansion of ministry. The merging of city and rural has brought about many migrant worker churches. But, from another perspective, urban churches are expanding among young professionals and students, while somewhat neglecting those urban/rural merged churches and rural churches.
In reality, of those we target by evangelizing and pastoring among professional and student ministries, many have parents who are farmers and migrant workers. Pastor Wang Yile says,
That this community and church has not entered our vision, is this not itself a prosperity gospel? I really hope that more and more urban churches might consciously say, “who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” [Esther 4:14, NIV]
Pastors of house churches must face public as well as private questions. Perhaps much remains to be done for pastors to truly love one another and meet with one another. But there is a deeper reason that pastors might feel lonely, and “being pastors together” reaches beyond the visible spiritual mysteries—union with Christ.
The Lord Jesus has entrusted pastors with souls and mission and, for the Lord’s sake, they must also sacrifice themselves and suffer on the earth—must be wronged by others, hated by people. Having to fight “alone” is the natural result of a pastor’s union with Christ Jesus, his fellowship with him, his being a co-worker.
“We are pastors together” is the blessing and reality of pastors who are in Christ Jesus, and results in the pastors’ bold and hearty cry: “Come, let us fight alone together!”
Original Article: 我们同为传道人 (ChurchChina)
Image credit: makzhou via Flickr.
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